I don’t think anyone will argue with me when I say that Christopher Lecanne’s death last Sunday could have been avoided. There are a number of factors that contributed to that tragic event, starting with Carlos Bertonatti’s decision to inebriate himself and then drive back home under the influence. This was not an accident. Bertonatti may not have set out to kill Lecanne, but the moment he decided to drive under the influence he accepted, consciously or not, that he could be an instrument to death. And he was. But there was also an aspect to the event that has to deal with the bicycling infrastructure on which Lecanne transited, namely the bike lane that puts people on bicycles right next to cars on a road where drivers routinely overshoot the speed limit.

This event highlighted something that bicycle advocates in Miami have been telling those in positions of power for days, weeks, months and years prior: our roadways are not safe for people on human-powered vehicles. Key Biscayne is one of Miami’s premier cycling location, the place where, if anywhere, going beyond the strict requirements of the law would be worth it given the amount of people on bicycles that use it. And yet, as written by Esther Calas, P.E., Director of Miami-Dade County Public Works Department, the facilities there only meet the State and Federal requirements. That’s all they shot for, without consideration that this particular area could use some specifications that go beyond.

Key Biscayne is a microcosm of Greater Miami. The tragedy that took place on Key Biscayne last week can, and has, and will, happen elsewhere in Miami wherever bikes and car are forced to co-exist without the proper attention as to how that coexistence needs to happen for safety’s sake. Need proof? Look no further than October 2009 and the sad case of teenager Rodolfo Rojo, killed on Biscayne Boulevard.

How many more Rojos or Lecannes will it take before those people in positions of power, people put there by our very own votes, will finally get the message and take action to protect the bicycle-riding segment of the population they represent and serve?

As it is usually the case, the tragedy has acted as a catalyst and now we’re getting responses and promises from people like Commissioner Sarnoff and Miami Dade County Mayor Alvarez (still notably missing is Miami Mayor Regalado). I hope these lead to actual changes, I really do. Maybe this will make people realize that bicycle advocates are not just talking to hear themselves talk when we tell politicians over and over than more and better bicycling infrastructure can and does help keep people safe when on human-powered vehicles.

Bicycle riding isn’t a fad. It is an accepted, long-standing and continually-increasing form of transportation, one that has to be taken seriously and accounted for in current and future plans for the cities and county of Miami.

When it comes to Lecanne, could a separated bike lane have saved his life? We’ll never know for sure. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could figure it out before we have another such tragedy in our hands?

11 Responses to Editorial: The Tragic Catalyst

  1. wapcaplets says:

    Your points are well made and reasonable. My comments below are not in any way disagreeing with your assertions but rather an addedum.

    I would never be dismissive about someone being killed by a traffic accident (whether pedestrian, cyclist, or motorist). I live near Toronto and there are frequent stories about similar accidents between motorists and cyclists. I personally have never seen statistics that contrast fatalities per capita of cyclists vs. motorists. Hundreds of fatalities from car crashes go virtually unreported every day yet the reaction to a single cyclist fatality garners much more attention. To be clear, 0% is the only fatality rate that is acceptable for any mode of transportation. That being said, unless cyclist fatalities involving motorized vehicles can be demonstrated to be significantly higher per capita than what we accept every day in terms of motorist fatalities (which may very well be the case; I have no idea) I can’t see law or policy makers acting in any meaningful way other than knee-jerks to placate the public.

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  2. While a memorial is appropriate for any fallen cyclist, the use of this tragedy to illustrate the inherent danger involved whenever a car and a bicycle share the road causes me great concern.

    The editorial suggests that “[t]his event highlighted something that bicycle advocates in Miami have been telling those in positions of power for days, weeks, months and years prior: our roadways are not safe for people on human-powered vehicles.”

    I disagree. To the contrary, this event suggested that Mr. Lecanne was the tragic victim of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Nothing more.

    NO amount of improvements, but for a separate and barricaded bicycle facility, could have saved Mr. Le Canne from a drunk driver. Is that what we want?

    If this was a road rage incident, we could surely demand stricter laws and faithful enforcement of those laws. But it wasn’t.

    If Mr. Lecanne was riding his bike to work and his only choice of road was to use an “incomplete street” that resulted in him being hit by a car, then we would rightfully argue that “complete streets” and “community connectivity” need to become more than lip service in our lifetimes.

    But, sadly, Mr. Lecanne was out for a recreational bike ride and was randomly hit by a drunk driver.

    The “problem” the editorial then tries to identify is that this tragedy “… can, and has, and will, happen elsewhere in Miami wherever bikes and car are forced to co-exist without the proper attention as to how that coexistence needs to happen for safety’s sake.”

    “FORCED to co-exist?” Ouch.

    Taken at face value, how do our policymakers give “proper attention as to how that coexistence needs to happen for safety’s sake”? What are our alternatives?

    (1) No cars allowed on Key Biscayne between 6am – 10am. Ok, not happening.

    (2) Construct a solid, protective barrier to completely segregate cyclists and motorists. Ok, too expensive and, from a transportation standpoint, is bad policy.

    (3) Have all cyclists in the City relegated to local parks, sidewalks or dirt paths. Now, that’s very easily do-able, costs no money, and will be without political ramifications, since we cyclists refuse to organize into a single voting bloc or have any organization.

    So, in the end, the most logical conclusion of the article is to create a justificaton for the exclusion of bicycles and cyclists from the public right of way. That simply is unacceptable.

    Memorialize Mr. Lecanne we shall. Protest a little we may. But let our message be not one of fear for our safety on our roads, but rather a demand that bicycles, cyclists, and pedestrians be elevated to prominence and motor vehicles be demoted to second-class citizenship, for the betterment of our community.

    Sincerely,
    Jeffrey Lynne, Esq.
    Exec. Director, South Florida Bike Coalition

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  3. Recent Migrant says:

    I have been trying to follow this story and, work permitting, I will be at the memorial. I wanted to share two thoughts, albeit, related ones.

    When I moved here about 1 1/2 years ago I had a bike! It was stolen, but, while I had one I seriously debated riding it to work from the beach to my office on 44th/Biscayne. My options were bad. The only safe way to the “mainland” was the Venetian Causeway. But that required me to ride up NE 2nd Ave or Biscayne Blvd. Not fun for cyclists… in fact… about as fun as a rush hour ride through Midtown Manhattan — something better left to professional (and fearless) messengers.

    As I read, the comments/recommendations, while completely valid, focus on the cyclists right of way. Don’t give that up. Fight for it, ORGANIZE as Mr Lynne suggests (although in an indirect way) and pray for some success. But in the meantime, there are some easier battles that could be won, at least in my opinion, to reduce DRIVER anxiety, or, more pejoratively, road rage. I think that better drivers equal safer streets for cyclists. And here are my ideas:

    1) BAN CELL PHONES in cars. The evidence supporting a cell phone ban is STAGGERING! There is little debate that talking on your phone (and god forbid texting) is the equivalent of driving around lit on a few snorts of scotch. Don’t do it.

    2) Get some traffic cops at congested log-jam intersections. For example, 36th and Biscayne/NE 2nd. There are plenty of others, I just happen to experience those intersections on a daily basis. People who block intersections should be ticketed – and heavily. Maybe going the London-route and putting cameras is too expensive and controversial, but putting a traffic cop wearing a big bright yellow vest to keep traffic flowing would be a great thing!

    My point is, while we fight for better, safer streets for cycling, we shouldn’t loose sight of the fact that better drivers would also make a marketed difference. There are some simple things we could do to improve driver behavior. A cell phone ban would DEFINITELY, essentially, take a bunch of drunk drivers of the road. And some traffic police at f-d up intersections may reduce road rage.

    WE NEED SAFER STREETS FOR CYCLISTS! But bike lanes don’t get you out of the woods… people here drive like &%^$!

    M

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  4. Robert Rosenberg says:

    “H does a young man with over 40 traffic violations, a violent criminal record and a public persona that celebrated poor driving habits and no valid driver’s license still be able to drive his own car?” This is from one of the articles here, and this is the most important issue in this tragic fatality. If the system had worked in a reasonable manner, the murderous driver would have been in a jail, or in this particularl case, had his U.S. residency revoked, a long time ago, and never had a chance to plow into a cyclist who was in the bike lane.

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  5. Les Cronin says:

    Perhaps all clubs in the City of Miami should stop serving drinks at 3:00 am?

    Maybe the problem is with late night clubs sending drunk and drugged customers out into the streets?

    Club Space open all night and all day? Isn’t that a guarantee for disaster?

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  6. M says:

    I would like to say that Mayor Tomas Regalado has commented on this issue. He responded to me via Twitter (@MiamiMance) and said that they are focusing on law enforcement and that the bike master plan, and hopefully additional safety features will be implemented soon.

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  7. [...] of the Miami megalopolis. A memorial ride for Le Canne drew thousands. Advocates are calling for separated bike facilities, in addition to tougher penalties for drivers who harass or harm cyclists. The Miami-Dade County [...]

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  8. [...] of the Miami megalopolis. A memorial ride for Le Canne drew thousands. Advocates are calling for separated bike facilities, in addition to tougher penalties for drivers who harass or harm cyclists. The Miami-Dade County [...]

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  9. FloridaHoneybee says:

    The end conclusion by Mr. Lynne is just as far fetched as the article he espouses as not rationale.

    I don’t get it. Why would you think America/South Florida (to be exact) is going to overnight become Copenhagen? It is not going to happen. Not now. Not ever. I love Critical Masses and the like but midnight vigils, ghost rides, CM’s, editorials –none of these are going to make a difference ever–the majority voting tax paying Americans drive cars and love driving them almost as much as texting and talking while driving.

    Change will only come when:

    Driving a car is ridiculously expensive (gas $10.00/gal); and the commutes are so horrifically long –unbearable and the roads sooo incredibly congested there is NO other alternative but to bike, or skate or walk–

    All future urban development will have to include alternative transportation routing including developments where cars, trucks etc. are not allowed

    Public transport image will have to improve and expand beyond (drunks, the impoverished, the homeless, undocumented citizens)

    Public transport image will have to become more reliable and more frequent

    Bicyclists become the majority and public image EXPANDS from the current image of: old rich white men on road bikes trying to recapture their youth while wearing spandex; DUI rejects; undocumented citizens going to work at 6am; DUI rejects (young ones) on Walmart Huffy’s and $400 gassers; counter culture types looking to overthrow everything and generally people too lazy or too poor to buy a car.

    In other words, a major marketing campaign that includes ever conceivable type of bicyclists:

    WHOEVER YOU ARE, WHEREVER YOU ARE, WHATEVER YOU RIDE–RIDE ON!

    FloridaHoneybee
    b7238a@gmail.com

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  10. FloridaHoneyBee:

    Read “The Tipping Point” and then get back to me.

    http://www.gladwell.com/tippingpoint/index.html

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  11. FloridaHoneybee says:

    Ive read it. And Blink? *I’m a librarian*
    I’ve read a lot.

    So….?

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