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Florida Cities: "Unsafe at Any Speed" for Cyclists, Pedestrians?

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PHOTO: Architect Bernard Zyscovich’s plan entails making Miami's Rickenbacker Causeway four lanes instead of six, and using the freed-up space for safer pedestrian and bike travel. Image courtesy of PlanZMiami.com.
PHOTO: Architect Bernard Zyscovich’s plan entails making Miami's Rickenbacker Causeway four lanes instead of six, and using the freed-up space for safer pedestrian and bike travel. Image courtesy of PlanZMiami.com.
January 28, 2015

MIAMI - Florida's beaches and tropical weather may make the state an appealing vacation destination, but its thoroughfares are gaining a dubious reputation for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Last week, a 51-year-old rider was killed and another seriously injured by a drunk driver on one of Miami's most infamous roadways, the Rickenbacker Causeway. It's the fourth cyclist death on that stretch of road in the past nine years.

Miami architect Bernard Zyscovich is proposing a plan to convert part of the causeway to a park, freeing up space for riders and walkers. He also is working up similar safety redesigns for other parts of the city.

"This could become a really bike-centric city," he said, "if we could all get organized to create safe and protected pathways, like Portland (Ore.) and Seattle and some other model cities have run, where you just feel totally safe in being able to do that."

An average of more than 100 riders are killed each year, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and nearly 5,000 are injured in Florida accidents. Nearly one in six of the nation's fatal bicycle accidents occurs in the state.

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition's yearly Pedestrian Danger Index, in 2014, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami ranked as the top four most unsafe cities in the country for walkers. Many Florida roads simply weren't built with foot travel in mind, with small sidewalks and little or no room for bikes.

The state's large older population also is a factor, and Zyscovich said international drivers combine to make conditions especially treacherous in Miami.

"I think that part of what happens with that," he said, "is that you end up with many people who are new to this environment that are driving with different habits and different histories."

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has called the safety of cyclists and pedestrians a "top transportation priority," and is pledging to work with fellow leaders to prevent more tragedies.

Phil Latzman, Public News Service - FL