By: Michelina M. Witte, PhD
As a triathlete and a resident of the Brickell neighborhood in Miami, I am appreciative of the proximity of my home to beautiful Key Biscayne – a locally-dubbed playground for multi-sport enthusiasts. That’s because no matter what time of year you visit Key Biscayne, you’ll see people outside running, bicycling, paddle boarding, swimming and generally enjoying themselves in some recreational manner.
When I moved to Miami six years ago from the cold northeast, I was elated to find out that I would be afforded the opportunity to actually be outside in the sunshine nearly every single day of the year. Swimming, bicycling and running in my backyard of Key Biscayne soon became my daily routine (and still is). What I became aware of early on was that Miami contains a massive multi-sport community of people who enjoy being outside and pushing their bodies to the limits. I realized that I was not alone in my passion for sport and my love of this unique adventurous backdrop that our community is so grateful to have in Key Biscayne.
What I soon learned though was that the driving and the bicycling cultures in Miami had a rather discordant relationship – as I experienced first-hand when being harassed by car drivers while I was (lawfully) cycling on the road in my new neighborhood and as evidenced by the disturbingly high number of cyclists (and pedestrians) that get hit by cars in Miami. The fact that Miami-Dade County is consistently ranked in the top five among the deadliest metropolitan areas in the entire country for vulnerable road users (even when controlling for year-round nice weather) is unnerving to say the least. In order to help raise public awareness for bicycle safety and to help develop new neurotrauma prevention measures, I helped develop the University of Miami’s BikeSafeTM Program, and I also served on Miami-Dade County’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC).
During my time at BikeSafeTM and BPAC, it became increasingly clear that Miami-Dade County could do A LOT better for its citizens in terms of providing safe infrastructure that is characteristic of Complete Streets, i.e., designed to allow pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicle drivers to co-exist in a safe, seamless manner. While serving on BPAC, in the wake of yet another cyclist fatal tragedy occurring in the bike lane on Key Biscayne (there had been three highly publicized cyclist hit-and-run tragedies in the span of six years), I met Bernard Zyscovich when he presented his magnificent Plan Z for Miami. I was thrilled that someone had finally come up with a plan that really embodied the vision that everyone in this community wanted to see: our gem of Key Biscayne continuing to be utilized by hundreds, if not thousands, of people on any given day for the pure joy of recreation – and for people to be able to do so in a safer and more beautiful way than ever!
Not long after that, I helped launch the Aaron Cohen Road Safety Initiative with others in the community who wanted to do something tangible to make a change and help stop the unnecessary tragic deaths of cyclists on our roadways. As a team and a community, we worked hard to ultimately change the law in the State of Florida by way of the unanimous passage of the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act by the Florida State Legislature in the 2013-14 session. The passage of the new law effectively: (1) imposes a four-year mandatory-minimum prison sentence for drivers convicted of leaving the scene of a crash that kills someone, (2) boosts the mandatory-minimum prison sentence from two years to four years for a convicted DUI driver who leaves a fatal crash scene, (3) revokes the driver’s license for three years of a person convicted of leaving a fatal crash scene, and (4) increases the potential penalties for convicted drivers who injure or kill “vulnerable road users” (defined as anyone who is not confined by the metal exoskeleton of a motor vehicle).
The swift and unanimous passage of the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act by the state of Florida, indicates that as a society, we want to see the type of change that supports a safer, healthier community for all. The logical next step in promoting change on this level is to facilitate the implementation of Plan Z for Miami so that our streets can become more complete for all types of road users – from the moms pushing baby strollers, to the marathoner out for a training run, to the cyclists out enjoying the beautiful South Florida climate. With Plan Z for Miami, we have the unique opportunity to become a real trailblazer when it comes to safe and Complete Streets for all. In other metropolitan cities, like New York City and Washington D.C., you see the policymakers embracing this sort of Complete Streets policy by way of building beautiful greenways that span the entire city and increasingly incorporating the use of bike share systems to help encourage alternative modes of transportation. But the distinctly special things that we have that these other metropolitan cities don’t have are: (1) the opportunity to fully utilize such infrastructural improvements all year long (no snow days here!) and (2) a population that is growing exponentially by the minute – making such changes that much more vital to the successful growth and expansion of our great city.
It is clear that Miami’s decision makers and elected officials should act promptly to promote truly complete all-inclusive streets and safe recreational activity for its citizens, by way of ensuring that Plan Z for Miami is implemented as soon as possible.
Support Plan Z for Miami today!