Miamians are taking to the streets on bicycles as they once did prior to the automobile era. Our street spaces and corresponding roadway culture aren’t changing as quickly as they should. This contradiction, marking the growing pains of an evolving transportation culture, will continue to result in unnecessary frustration, violence, and misery. . . . All the more reason to ride more: to make the change come faster.

TransitMiami would like to introduce you to our friend Emily. We wish it were under better circumstances though . . .

While riding her bicycle for her basic transportation needs, Emily Peters had a run-in with a car door. Photograph by Blair Butterfield Jan. 27, 2014.

While riding her bicycle for her basic transportation needs, Emily Peters had a run-in with a car door. Photograph by Blair Butterfield Jan. 27, 2014.

You see, Emily is one of those intrepid Miamians who — like an increasing number of Miamians across every neighborhood in the metro region — prefers the invigorating freedom of the bicycle to move around the city. Cycling is Emily’s transportation mode of choice.

That’s great news, of course; something to be celebrated.

Apart from her significantly reduced carbon footprint and her heightened physical and mental well-being, Emily’s choice to use her bicycle as her primary means of transport is also advancing a gradual transformation of our roadway culture.

As a practitioner of regular active transportation, Emily is helping to re-humanize an auto-centric Miami whose residents exploit the relative anonymity of their motorized metal boxes to manifest road rage and recklessness with virtual impunity. She’s contributing to the much-needed, yet ever-so-gradual, cultural transformation toward a shared, safer, more just roadway reality.

The more cyclists take to the streets for everyday transportation, the more motorists become accustomed to modifying their behaviors to honor cyclists’ incontrovertible and equal rights to the road. Likewise, the more cycling becomes a preferred mode of intra-urban transport, and a regular, everyday feature of social life, the more cyclists become conscious of and practice the behaviors expected of legitimate co-occupants of the road.

Indeed, it takes two to do the transportation tango.

And, of course, the more experience motorists and cyclists have occupying the same, or adjacent, public street space, the more they will learn how to operate their respective legal street vehicles in ways that minimize the incessant collisions, casualties, destruction, and death that have somehow morphed into ordinary conditions on our streets.

How exactly did this happen? Who knows, just another day in the auto-centric prison we've built for ourselves. Source: Martin County, FL Sheriff Office.

How exactly did this happen? Who knows, just another day in the auto-centric geography we’ve created for ourselves. Source: Martin County, FL Sheriff Office.

This cultural shift is one that will take place over several years. Just how many, though, is up to us.

It’s no secret: Miami has a long way to go before a truly multi-modal transportation ethos becomes the norm.

Any delay in the inevitable metamorphosis is due partially to the rate of change in Miami’s physical environment (i.e., its land-use configurations, street layouts, diversity of infrastructural forms, etc.) being slower than the speed with which Miamians themselves are demanding that change.

So what happens when some of the population starts to use its environment in more progressive ways than the environment (and others who occupy it) are currently conditioned for? Well, bad things can sometimes happen. The community as a whole suffers from growing pains.

Take our friend Emily, for example. . . .

Emily was a recent victim of a painful dooring accident. These sorts of accidents mark an immature multi-modal transportation landscape. Photograph by Blair Butterfield Jan. 27, 2014.

Emily was a recent victim of a painful dooring accident. These sorts of accidents mark an immature, underdeveloped multi-modal transportation landscape. Photograph by Blair Butterfield Jan. 27, 2014.

On a beautiful Miami afternoon a week and a half ago, Emily was riding her bike through Little Haiti (near NW 2nd Ave and 54th Street), near Miami’s Upper Eastside. She was on her way from a business meeting to another appointment.

A regular cyclist-for-transportation, Emily knows the rules of the road. She was riding on the right side of the right-most lane. She is confident riding alongside motor vehicle traffic and understands the importance of also riding as traffic.

Emily’s knowledge still wasn’t enough for her to avoid what is among every urban cyclist’s worst fears: getting doored by a parked car.

Depending on the speed, intensity of impact, angle, and degree of propulsion, getting doored can be fatal. Image source: City of Milwalkee (http://city.milwaukee.gov/).

Depending on the speed, intensity of impact, angle, and degree of propulsion, getting doored can be fatal. Image source: City of Milwalkee (http://city.milwaukee.gov/).

Photography by Blair Butterfield Jan. 27, 2014.

Photography by Blair Butterfield Jan. 27, 2014.

In Emily’s own words:

 I was riding at a leisurely pace and enjoying the beauties of the day and the neighborhood.

I suddenly notice the car door to my right begin to open, so I swerved and said, “Whoa!” to vocalize my presence in hopes that the person behind that door would stop opening their door.

For a split second I thought I was beyond danger of impact, but the door kept opening and it hit my bike pedal. I knew I was going down, and I had the strangest feeling of full acceptance of the moment. In the next split second I saw the white line of paint on the road up close in my left eye.

My cheek hit the pitted pavement with a disgusting, sliding scrape and my sternum impacted on my handlebars which had been torqued all the way backwards. My body rolled in front of my bike and my instincts brought me upright.

The time-warp of the crash stopped; my surroundings started to come into perspective and as I vocalized my trauma. The wind was knocked out of me, but I hadn’t yet figured out that my sternum had been impacted.

I was literally singing a strange song of keening for the sorrow my body felt from this violation and at the same time singing for the glory and gratitude of survival and consciousness.

In all fairness, one could argue that Emily committed one of Transportation Alternatives nine “rookie mistakes” by allowing herself to get doored. She should have kept a greater distance from the cars parked alongside the road, the argument goes. A truly experienced urban cyclist doesn’t make such careless and self-damaging mistakes.

Perhaps . . . but we cannot overlook the errors of the inadvertent door-assaulter either. . . . There was clearly a lack of attentiveness and proper protocol on the driver’s part too.

Who parks a car on a major arterial road just outside the urban core without first checking around for on-coming traffic prior to swinging open the door?

Motorists and bicyclists both have a responsibility for practicing proper roadway behaviors and etiquette.

Motorists and bicyclists both have a responsibility for practicing proper roadway behaviors and etiquette.

It’s hard to really to lay blame here. And my point is that it is pointless at this stage to even try.

The whole blaming-the-motorist-versus-the-cyclist discourse only exacerbates the animosity that is so easily agitated between the cycling and car-driving communities. The irony is that they’re really the same community. Cyclists are drivers too, and vice versa.

At this stage in Miami’s development trajectory, our efforts should be focused on pushing our leaders to ask one question: How can we change the transportation environment in ways that will minimize troubling encounters like this?

Photograph by Blair Butterfield Jan. 27, 2014.

Photograph by Blair Butterfield Jan. 27, 2014.

We can start by creating physical street conditions that encourage more cyclists onto the streets, where they belong, operating as standard street vehicles.

Show me a city where the monopoly of the automobile has been dismantled and I’ll show you a city where everybody’s transportation consciousness is elevated.

Best wishes on your recovery, Emily.

We’ll see you out there in our city (slowly, and sometimes painfully) advancing a more just transportation culture by riding on our streets as you should, even if the streets themselves aren’t quite ready for us.

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10 Responses to The Growing Pains of an Evolving Transportation Culture: Doored to the Floor

  1. Elmo Love says:

    It’s not difficult to assign blame. The law blames the motorist. This was a pretty good article aside from that date rapey forray into victim blaming.

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  2. Rollin Smith says:

    I’ve met Emily before and she’s a nice person. I do not know who was at fault, but I am really sorry this happened to her. This does, however, give me a chance to share my view on the cycle v. auto thing.

    My view is that while something needs to be done to encourage cycling, I think it is unrealistic to demand that cycles be treated as standard street vehicles, as they are not. A bicycle is no more a standard street vehicle than a skateboard, or roller blades, or a unicycle. I imagine the same reasoning one employs to justify calling a bicycle a standard street vehicle could also be used for those human-powered “vehicles” as well. My comparison between bicyclists and skateboarders/unicyclists is not at all meant to suggest cycling is a hobby rather than a legitimate means of transportation. I believe it is a legitimate means of transportation that should be encouraged. My point is only that a skateboarder/unicyclist could also make the same argument that his or her means of transportation is legitimate, but a line needs to be drawn somewhere based on practicality and safety applications. In my view, that line should be based on speed. There is nothing unreasonably discriminatory about that qualifier, as it is even seen on interstate highways where there is a minimum speed of 40 mph (ruling out use of almost all 50cc scooters).

    Highways today were designed for automobiles driving at higher speeds to promote speed and efficiency of movement and productivity. They were not designed for bicycles (or skateboards or unicycles) operating at much lower speeds. An automobile, even a scooter, is capable of operating on a highway at 35-65+ mph, and it will typically operates above 30 mph in south Florida. An average cyclist tops out at 12 mph. In my view, there are clear safety and practicality issues that arise in having a car that normally operates at 30-40 mph having to sit behind a bicycle traveling at 12 mph (or a skateboarder at 6 mph). The traffic bottlenecks it causes…well…the practicality issues are clear. The safety issue of placing a vulnerable cyclist on the same highway as the car should also be clear.

    That said, I do believe cyclists have a right to use their preferred mode of transportation. I just think the sense of entitlement goes to their heads sometimes to the point that practicality and reasonableness sometimes gets lost. I’ve been stuck behind cyclists moving at 10 mph on a 30 mph road, where they knew there was a long line of cars backed up behind them, but they refused to move – I assume to make a point. That is just so unwise in this country. I’ve driven across the Venetian causeway and had a cyclist (in full gear) cut from the bicycle lane as you approach the eastbound toll booth into the main traffic lane and almost hit my car, but then shout at me claiming I should watch out. I thought for a quick instant about the pleasure of either running him over or stopping him and having him express himself, but I decided nothing good could come from either, so I decided to get on with my life.

    I cycle sometimes, and I am wary of riding alongside traffic on Biscayne, as I see it as unsafe. The roads simply were not designed for cyclists to operate safely. I also do not think it is practical for me to stop traffic at my speed, so the question is what to do? My view is, just as you can’t drive a scooter on a I-95, maybe the legislative solution is to restrict the use of bicycles on highways with a speed limit of more than 25 mph. The alternative would be to put in bicycle lanes, something which I would support.

    Of course, you can expect the argument “what about my freedom to travel as I wish.” I get it, but there is pain for everyone. You can’t ride scooters on I-95, you can’t walk on Biscayne Boulevard and I’m not sure you can skateboard or unicycle on it either – maybe you can, but it would seem pretty far-fetched.

    So yes, something needs to be done. I think it is that more bicycle lanes should be built, and that cyclists should use them. I don’t think it’s safe to operate bicycles on highways with higher speeds. You may have a right to do so, but you should recognize that those roads were not designed for that. If you choose to use the highways anyway to exercise freedom, recognize the potential extra dangers involved as cyclist as opposed to a driver. Don’t want to use the sidewalk? What would you do if there were no roads?

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  3. Rollin Smith says:

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/08/3801886/miami-wants-pedestrian-friendly.html

    The above article is along the lines of what I think should occur. Widened sidewalks and speed limit lowered to 25 mph. That would make things safer for cyclists. It can’t be done everywhere though.

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  4. Mike Arias says:

    In reference to Emilys collision with a vehicle first of all she is extremely lucky that she survived and was not seriously injured and wish her a speedy recovery.

    Secondly, I do not know if she was wearing a safety helmet and if not would highly encourage and every bike rider out there to do so since it can prevent head trauma from occurring.

    Third, As a rider in her given scenario there are not many options available other than being aware 360 degrees of everything going on around you which can change at a moments notice or in a fraction of second.

    All bicyclists be safe while riding on ALL of the hazardous public roadways in Miami Dade County. Do not forget to wear a safety helmet and have the appropriate lighting on your bike ( front and aft) which can help save your life as well as ride defensively.

    Mike Arias

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  5. Matthew Toro says:

    New research on the improved cycling behaviors of New York City’s cyclists get at the point I’m trying to make here.

    The more cyclists on the road, the safer everybody’s habits will become.

    See this Feb. 4 article in The Atlantic Cities summarizing that recently published research: “New York’s Cyclists Are Getting Better at Following the Rules

    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2014/02/new-york-more-cyclists-has-led-better-biking-habits/8299/

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  6. Rima says:

    Poor Emily, she really got lucky as previous commenters have said – this could have ended much, much worse.
    This was a very well-written article. I do have to wonder though. People like Emily, who “help to re-humanize an auto-centric Miami whose residents exploit the relative anonymity of their motorized metal boxes to manifest road rage and recklessness with virtual impunity” do so at the cost of their own life and health. Is it really worth it? I know I don’t want to end up as a headline in the Miami Herald as the x-th cyclist killed on the Rickenbacker or 395. I’ll stay on the sidewalks for now.

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  7. B says:

    Wider sidewalks are good for pedestrians, but generally not for urban bikers. There is just not enough visibility on an urban roadway at driveways and intersections, and sidewalks are designed for pedestrians walking at 2-3 mph. If it’s a highway with widely spaced driveways and intersections, then a separate bike path with well designed crossings would work, but it can’t be just a glorified sidewalk either… For example, the M-Path “kind-of-sort-of” works, but many crossings are poorly designed.

    If there are too many cars and traffic is backing up behind cyclists, you should encourage the City to put in bike lanes. Cyclists aren’t going away. It is probably because there is no viable alternative for that stretch of road, and because if I ride further to the right, you’re not going to wait for the opportunity to give enough space (3 ft minimum per State law) for it to be safe when you pass, and even if you do, the guy tailgating you might not see me at all. So “taking the lane” is for my own safety as a human being and definitely NOT to “prove a point.” It also happens to be allowed under the law and should be part of driver’s ed. and the driver license test, right along with how to deal with trucks.

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  8. Rollin Smith says:

    B: As noted above, I am all for bike paths and driver education – I think the cyclist is discussed in driver’s ed in as cursory a fashion as everything else. But you rightly state that “sidewalks are good for pedestrians, but generally not for urban bikers” because “sidewalks are designed for pedestrians walking at 2-3 mph” and “[cycling on the highway] also happens to be allowed under the law.” Your point being it is impractical for you to be on a sidewalk, because pedestrians move too slowly, whereas it is legal for you to cycle on a highway.

    Your perspective is not much different from that of a driver, who could also rightly state, inversely, that “highways are designed for motorized vehicles driving in excess of 30-50+ miles per hour and it is impractical to have those vehicles stuck behind bicycles operating at 10-12 mph.

    Sidewalks are designed for pedestrians, and it is legal for cyclists to use them as well. However, because, understandably, cyclists don’t like waiting behind slow pedestrians, they opt for the less safe alternative of operating on highways designed for large mechanized boxes traveling 4x the speed of the cyclists. They then suggest that autos should accept driving behind the slow moving cyclists, though those same cyclists find it intolerable to ride behind slow moving pedestrians. It sounds like a double standard.

    For me, the fact is that much of the transportation infrastructure in South Florida was designed with either the pedestrian or the motor vehicle in mind. It is obvious that engineers failed to properly consider cyclists, but that they were well aware of the dangers of having cyclists on highways. If they did not recognize this as a danger, there would be no “bicycle lanes” at all. This has left cyclists in the unfortunate position that there are few safe and suitable places for urban cyclists in South Florida. Because of this, cyclists often accept the additional safety hazard of operating on highways because they don’t like the sidewalk. Some engage in practices with cool names like “taking the lane,” be it for “proving a point,” or be it for their own safety, as you contend. I am simply stating that approach visits on drivers the same incovenience you say cyclists experience on sidewalks. While a cyclist has a choice on where to operate – sidewalk or road – and is free to switch whenever he or she likes, a motorist has no such choice. Therefore, “taking the lane” for whatever reason unnecessarily exposes the cyclist to a new safety concern: the frustrations of a road-rage-happy drivers in South Florida. If one of those drivers loses it upstairs, and they sometimes do, the cyclist usually loses too. It just seems to be unwise for a cyclist to place much faith in people he must know he is frustrating by the blocking practice, as the driver will feel exactly as the cyclist does when he is blocked on a pedestrian sidewalk.

    Still, this is a free country, and we have only one life, and we are free to choose the risks we prefer. I’m just saying taking the risk does not always work out as we expect. I do hope South Florida makes a greater effort to have cycle lanes installed, as I would certainly use them.

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  9. B says:

    Rollin you do make some good points about both cyclists and drivers getting frustrated when we encounter slower traffic. Please note that on a given day drivers WILl be inconvenienced by numerous road conditions–taxis and busses, trucks making deliveries, construction vehicles, stray animals, road debris, ect, ect. Yes, I strongly agree 100% that it is frustrating to drive in South Florida! As a free citizen you have a choice whether to drive and at what hours to drive and how far to drive and what roads to drive on. You also have the responsibility to obey traffic laws, including giving 3 ft clearance when passing a cyclist (even if they’re in a bike lane, by the way). The cyclist is probably just as frustrated by the lack of suitable alternatives like bike lanes and paths.

    Just to clarify, taking the lane for a long distance on a heavily congested, road is not a good idea. Most cyclists and myself try to bike in conditions where drivers don’t have to be stuck behind us because it is easy for them to just pass–which is, I believe, a pretty basic driving skill. (Occasionally they still get bunched up, usually when a light changes, but if I see it happening in the mirror I pull off to the side and wait a few seconds for the traffic to pass).

    As far as sidewalks, well they are in general NOT a viable second option for cyclists trying to travel more than a few blocks. First of all many places have completely missing sidewalks. Or there are missing curbs for cyclists to transition from the sidewalk to the crosswalk…that is, assuming there even is evan a crosswalk on that side of the intersection where you need to cross! Also South Florida sidewalks too often have obstacles like road signs and light posts, ect., right in the middle of the sidewalk, making it unpractical for a cyclist to maneuver, even without pedestrians. Many such cases have been pointed out on this website. These are safety and practically concerns that there are simpy no equivalents for drivers on the road. Cars generally have multiple lanes to maneuver. Drivers do not generally encounter permanent obstacles in the middle of traffic lanes, nor do they encounter patches of dirt road with 4-inch drops in grade between the main road and the intersection. The cyclist who has to be on the road blocking traffic is probably just as frustrated at the lack of alternatives as you are at getting “stuck” behind him.

    While lane change accidents are common in South Florida, when you are driving in a lane you can generally assume no one will suddenly cut across in front of you. Cyclists on the sidewalk with many driveways simply do not have this assurance. If you’re frustrated about having to wait 10 seconds behind a cyclist on the road, chances are when you’re turning in to a business, you’re not going to be looking out for cyclists on the sidewalk, and if you do see one, you’re not going to slow down to let them pass anyway. The fact is sidewalks and crosswalks generally do not provide a continuous, safe path for cyclists to actually get somewhere, and they are in general NOT a second option for cyclists.

    Finally, I would point out that in some juristictions it is in fact illegal to ride on the sidewalk.

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  10. lolo says:

    the problem is that Miami is not a real city yet and to get your driver license in the USA its so easy , the DMV does not put cases of bicycle or scooter coming or bursting to your left or right…in Europe there are lots of bicycle and scooters and not too many accidents because number 1 – to pass your driver license you have a hell of an exam trust me , and it is pretty hard , then 2- people are used to scooter and bicycles coming in any directions…and guess what in Europe very few cyclist wear a helmet like everybody here in Florida(you better wear one in Florida)…driver in Florida are uneducated in general concerning the sharing of the road with scooters or cyclist , just like they don’t even know what a pedestrian crossing line looks like ! Again in Europe or in big cities like NY or LA everybody knows ! maybe the ignorance of the people in Miami to a high wave of immigration of people coming from 1/3 world countries , where driving do not required any license and you do whatever you want :) will cause Miami to be a mess in terms of driving, sharing and understanding the code ! and the law !

       0 likes

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