Let’s face it, whether you’re driving or riding around the streets of Downtown Miami, chances are you’ve experienced a close call. One that makes you thankful to be alive or thankful that you didn’t run someone over.
In fact, a dismaying report published by the Center for Disease Control back in 2015 showed that Florida had the highest bicycle related mortality rates. What’s worse about this fact? Florida showed the smallest decrease, merely reducing deaths from 0.63 to 0.56 per 100,000 (read report here).
Although this report was written back in 2015, it’s clear that not much has been done to make the roads safer for cyclists. Less than a month ago, Bharath “Reddy” Narahari, a cyclist who was training for the Dolphins Cancer Challenge was struck and killed by a boat being towed. And if it sounds like history is repeating itself, it’s because it is. Back in 2015, Walter Reyes was struck and killed while he was also training for the same challenge.
It is no questions that these deaths are tragic and preventable. But depending on whether you’re driving or riding, your thoughts on this issue might differ. Those behind the wheel probably find themselves screaming “get off the road!” while those behind the handle bars probably find themselves screaming “get off the phone!”.
Let’s revisit some basic rules that should be followed by both cyclists and drivers to avoid these tragic accidents. Below we will clear the air by laying out the very rules that are intended to make travelling the streets of Miami, whether in car or on bike, safe.
Behind the Wheel
Let me just throw this out here because I find myself explaining this to people way too often. Cyclists are allowed on the road. Meaning even if there’s no designated bike lane, they can still ride their bicycles on the road. It’s encouraged for cyclists to ride their bikes on the road as opposed to the sidewalk because they’re expected to follow the same laws drivers do (more on this in a minute).
This is true whether there is a “Share the Road” sign or not. So, please, drivers, let’s respect that rule. Next time you see a cyclist on the road don’t race pass them assuming their “proper place” is on the sidewalk.
Speaking of racing past them…don’t. It’s unnerving when an aggressive driver passes you while you’re driving a car, imagine that happening while you’re riding a bicycle. Drivers can pass cyclists, of course, but they must always maintain at least three feet of distance between the car and the bicycle. Meaning that if drivers cannot properly create that distance, then they must wait to pass them until it is safe to do so.
The next rule is a given, but Miami drivers are a special breed of drivers, and because of that, it must be laid out clearly: drivers should maintain speed limit while passing a cyclist. Obviously, drivers should always stay within speed limit, but should especially do so while passing cyclists. Way too often I’ve seen drivers doing 50 mph in a 30-mph zone just to pass a cyclist. This is dangerous for everyone – the cyclist, other drivers, and any pedestrian that may be in the area.
You’re never going to see what you aren’t looking for. That being said, always stay alert for cyclists. It’s easy to spot another car in your rear-view or side-view mirrors, but spotting cyclists takes extra attention. Check twice if you must, and make sure to check your blind spot, too. It’s safer to assume that there is a cyclist near you than assuming there isn’t.
So, the rules for drivers are few: remember that cyclists have as much right to be on the road, when passing a cyclist make sure to have three feet of distance and stay within speed limit, and always pay extra attention when checking for cyclists.
Behind the Handle Bars
Often, the blame gets put on the person driving the car when an accident between a driver and cyclists occurs. But there are rules for cyclists, too. Many of which I see blatantly ignored way too often.
Yes, cyclists are allowed on the road. We have already covered that. However, while riding on the road, cyclists must follow all the same laws drivers are expected to follow. This means that they must stop at red lights and go on green. Just like drivers, cyclists should come to a complete stop at a stop sign (I know someone who was ticketed for not following this very rule). Basically, all rules of the road must be adhered too while cycling around town.
This includes using signals…hand signals. These may look silly or useless, but they’re anything but. It’s important to let drivers know what your next move is going to be. Using hand signals also helps avoid accidents with other cyclists.
When riding on the road, always go with the flow of traffic and stay as far right as possible. I’ve heard a cyclist argue that driving against traffic is safer because it’s easier to dodge a car you can see as opposed to dodging a car from the back. But I can’t stress enough how hazardous doing this is. For drivers, it’s unnerving to see someone coming towards them in the complete opposite direction. In trying to avoid this accident, a driver may swerve and hit the car next to it.
One of the most important rules for cyclists to follow is to BE SEEN! Make sure your bicycle is equipped with all the proper equipment, including front and back lights. You can never be too safe, so wear reflective clothing if you can, especially when riding at night. And speaking of proper attire, wear a helmet. It just may be the difference between life and death.
Miami is a beautiful city. One that entices cyclists to go outside and ride their bikes all year long. Some follow a routine, following certain paths and going at certain times. Others just hop on their bike whenever they’re in the mood and go wherever the wind takes them. Regardless of which type of rider you are, have in mind a plan of some sort. If you’re a rider who’s afraid of riding on the road, look for and learn the streets that have bike paths. Know which is the safest route to get to where you want to go, and the safest route to get you back home. I find this map to be extremely helpful when I’m trying to figure out which route I want to ride.
In a Perfect Miami…
There would be no more news about a cyclist getting struck and killed by a driver. Both cyclists and drivers would be able to share the road peacefully, with no one fearing for their life. Miamians, this is not a goal that is too far-fetched. With drivers paying extra attention for cyclists and respecting their right to be on the road, and with cyclists following the same rules of the road, and following precautionary measures like making sure their bike is equipped with lighting and wearing proper attire, a truce between drivers and cyclists can be reached.