By Dina M. Weinstein
It's a sweltering hot summer weekend in the Magic City and a plethora of events are underway despite the raging midday heat. Miami Critical Mass takes place on the last Friday of the month and typically attracts around 300 participants. A Velo Sunday ride tootles around a neighborhood in the far southwest side of the county. A Youth Bike ride brings inner-city youngsters together in a community park. A Road Skills 101 course taught by the county's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator imparts the rules of the road to adults. Another ride from Government Center ends at a Miami Beach protest criticizing the gushing oil well polluting the Gulf of Mexico.
The week after, many civic meetings fill the calendar, including the Miami Open Streets Team that organizes ciclovia events; a town hall meeting organized by elected officials to decide whether to approve a toll increase on a popular roadway for cyclists; a zoning meeting that affects cyclists in Miami Beach; and a meeting of the county's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. At the same time, The Miami Bike Scene, the definitive blog on cycling in Miami, promotes a first-of-its-kind Adult Bicycle Repair Class at Youth Bike in the Little Haiti neighborhood.
"All this wasn't going on a few years ago," said Kathryn Moore, executive director of the South Florida Bike Coalition — the organization's only paid staff member.
But some things haven't changed. Florida has one of the worst ratings for bicycling safety in the US. And the findings of a Florida Department of Highway Safety annual crash report, released in June of this year, reveal that Miami-Dade County was the most fatal in the Sunshine State for cyclists in 2009 — 12 cyclists died in automobile-related accidents. The death toll has drawn criticism and support from the cycling community. Thousands came out on a ride to remember and mourn the loss of racer Christophe Le Canne who was mowed down by an intoxicated driver while cycling in Miami.
Advocates like Moore say it's deplorable that Miami is one of the few US cities where one can booze 24 hours a day. On the other hand, some cyclists like being able to bike to bars and clubs until 5 a.m. And few cyclists come out to government zoning, planning and advisory board meetings to clamor for more protection on the roads.
"Here, there are a lot of auto-centered assumptions on the part of everybody, including planners, school teachers and shop owners," said John Hopkins, executive director of the Green Mobility Network, which advocates for safety and infrastructure for commuters, recreational cyclists and athletes. "One big problem is selfishness or the 'Culture of Me'. Drivers and many cyclists are heedless of who else is on the road."
Hopkins is working towards putting cycling, and the urgent need for bicycle infrastructure, on the agenda of municipal governments and other decision-makers.
Gabrielle Redfern started Bicycle Activists for a Safe, Integrated City (BASIC) to further integrate cycling — which continues to be perceived by many as something done solely for fun and leisure — into the transportation mix.