“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle, Quoted at the funeral of Aaron Cohen by his grand-father Ron Esserman

I have only been a county commissioner for about eight months, but already have a deep scar in my heart from a tragedy that seems, in retrospect, so avoidable.

Aaron Cohen has been wrenched from our lives.  And the sense of loss is overwhelming, despite the wisdom imparted by rabbis and family members.  Because the tragedy happened in my district and because my daughter Annie practices medicine with Jim Esserman (Aaron’s first cousin), the loss hits home in a particularly poignant way.

Was the tragedy avoidable?  I don’t rightly know, but I know we didn’t try hard enough to avoid it.  We know the Rickenbacker Causeway is a narrow, dangerous, treacherous, alluring, spectacularly located and majestic roadway, rising as it does from the shallows abutting the mainland to bring us all (joggers, bikers, motorists) closer to heaven and then quickly deposit us in an island that is mostly unspoiled – as befits a critical wildlife refuge of some 400 acres.

In between the moments of sorrow, my Annie and I discussed the physics of the problem that led to this tragedy or, rather, the unavoidable elements of the circumstance that make this awful accident likely to happen again in the future.

I refer to the simple variable that physicists call “momentum.”  Simply put, a 4,000-pound vehicle, travelling at 45-50 mph, possesses about 100 times the momentum of a biker/bicycle whose combined weight is 150 pounds and who is struggling up the bridge at 12-15 mph.  A collision between two objects, one of which has 100 times the momentum of the other, means that the smaller object will suffer, in displacement and consequent damage, 100 times more than the bigger object.

In the short term, there is only one variable we can change in the above equation – and that is the speed limit for cars.  I consider that reform a no-brainer that should be instituted without delay.  Of course, a reduction in the speed limit needs to be accompanied by traffic management devices (including electronic surveillance) to monitor law-breakers.

The other possible solution is separation.  I think, in that context, that we all agree that a simple painted strip (as exists now) is not enough.  We will have to consider either rubber cones or well-lit corrugated surfaces which alert and deter the motorist from trespassing on the bike lanes.

Beyond the physics of the problem, beyond the traffic engineering and enforcement, there is the human dimension.  And that brings me back to Aaron, whose name technically means, “tower of strength,” but was further interpreted by the rabbi as referring to someone who loves life and who runs for life.  Aaron Cohen loved to run more than we can imagine.  He loved scuba diving and every kind of water sport; he loved ceramic arts and cycling, and – most of all – he loved his wife and two children.

As described by family and friends, he was special because he found something special to love in everyone he met, regardless of their station in life.  He took time, on the way to the airport, to buy M&M’s so that he could pass them out to the flight attendants.

He was, his sister Sabrina told us, like Elijah, the unforeseen guest for whom we keep the door permanently open, with a cup of wine ready, just in case the prophet visits us.

Perhaps the most appropriate analogy was offered by another rabbi who explained that the whole world is like a narrow bridge.  We must do our best to co-exist in the narrow space. 

We must, as another relative said in her eulogy, think “WWAD.”  What Would Aaron Do?

For myself, I will strive to reduce the chances that such a tragedy will happen again on the Rickenbacker Causeway – which just happens to be where I myself jog.

I will do it because it’s my obligation as an elected official and also because of Aaron – in his memory.

I never met him, but I already miss him as if he had been my best friend.

Commissioner Xavier Suarez represents District 7 in Miami-Dade County.  He represents numerous municipalities including the City of Miami, the Village of Key Biscayne, the City of Coral Gables, the City of South Miami, the Village of Pinecrest, as well as areas of unincorporated Miami-Dade County.

4 Responses to Tragedy on the Rickenbacker

  1. Mari Chael says:

    Suarez, as far as I know, was the only commissioner present in the Safety Ride last Sunday. He also represents our district, District 7, and has an office in our City Hall. As such, may we respectfully suggest that he look at safety beyond just the Causeway, and set his reform agenda towards convincing his fellow commissioners to advocate safety for the entirety of Dade County? Can we please have everyone tell him that?

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  2. Markus Wagner says:

    This is a good start – and needs to be followed up with action. The commissioner will have the support from the cycling community that he needs I hope to put this plan into action. And as Mari pointed out, this is not an issue for the Rickenbacker only, but rather an issue for the entirety of South Florida. Time to get started on this and other projects.

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  3. Roger Van Klaas says:

    It’s time for our politicians to get serious about safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. Suarez’s support can signal a new emphasis on making our roads safe for pedestrians and bicyclists county-wide. We need more support from those in charge; a new vision for the a future that is more urban, and less car-oriented. These types of tragedies are not acceptable, and need to be avoided.

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  4. Jimbo99 says:

    Disagree with this. The speed limit is not the problem. This was clearly a case where a motorist failed to maintain a road & driving lane, was where he shouldn’t have been. From any video of the area that I’ve seen, there is more than enough room for everyone from the slowest pedestrian to the motorists, some that even exceed the speed limit. The lines are painted for a reason. Those that don’t stay within the lines and the rest of the world can’t expect those to no have issues that are catastrophic. The whole nature of traffic and streets is a system of near misses. If some are too stupid or impaired that they don’t understand, they should be removed from it. Rickenbacher is a road that is 45 mph easily in some areas, could even be 55 mph.

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