Florida’s streets are the most dangerous in the country – for people out walking their dogs, bicycling to work or driving to meet friends. Streets constitute as much as 80% of our public space. Our local economies and quality of life depends on these streets’ regular maintenance and proper design. Unfortunately for our wallets and our safety, the exceptionally high rate of injury for people using them is out of control. 3 out of every 100,000 South Florida residents died while walking down the street in 2008. Car on car collisions killed 694 in our three counties. Positively, in 2009, Florida traffic fatalities decreased on Florida’s state roads. Only 100 (compared to 118) bicyclists were killed. This is a 15% decrease. This is NOT ENOUGH. Our streets are still too dangerous and unless we talk about it, take action on it, Florida will remain #1.
It is not tourists or old people, immigrants or kids that make our streets the worst in the nation; it is a culture of speed and fear coupled with lack of law enforcement. Driving in South Florida is scary. How many of you have not been in an collision of some kind? How many of you have not seen another speed through a red light, apparently unaware of the intersection? How many of you have not witnessed a fender bender, a drunk person behind the wheel or someone with both tail lights out?
Distracted, drunken, aggressive, illegal driving are all commonplace here. Police seem to be focused on bigger or worse crimes but this driving behavior is spawning another increasing trend: Road Rage.
Road rage is not distracted or aggressive driving. Road rage happens when someone becomes so unhinged that threatening to kill another person and/or attempting to harm another with a deadly weapon (typically one’s car) feels normal, justified and okay.
In West Miami last Friday, a lone man on a bicycle was suddenly threatened from behind by a motorist yelling, “I’m going to run over you with my car.” The impact sent our friend to the curb and his bicycle under the car. The speeding motorist tried to flee, but the bicycle had become a crumpled steel wedge preventing the car from going anywhere. The police officer who came to the scene said, “It’s your word against his,” and no charges were filed.
Just outside of Boca this weekend, a motorist repeatedly tried to “brake check” a group of weekend riders from ahead of them. At a stop light, one of the cyclists told him he was going to be reported to the police. The motorist cursed and proceeded to run over the front of the bicycle with the man still on it. Again, police on the scene said, “It’s your word against his,” and no charges were filed. The cyclists were told that the best way to resolve the problem was to stop riding.
One of you who struggles with your own road rage tells me you yell “Learn the Law!” when a motorist beeps or passes you too closely. I’ve been doing just that – but it feels trite after a weekend like this.
As we know, even when ‘important’ people get hit, it seems too challenging for police to blame the motorist. When the son of an ex-governor was run over in a crosswalk, it was easy to pity the motorist who wasn’t paying attention. She didn’t intentionally not look where she was going and everyone who knows her says she’s a great person. Still, can you believe that she didn’t even get a ticket?
Whether you take to the road by bicycle or car, reducing traffic speeds and building bicycle infrastructure increases your likelihood of surviving a regular trip anywhere. You are worth it.
The South Florida Bike Coalition is working with individuals and groups across our region and the state to organize gatherings of people on foot, on bicycle and in cars to demonstrate our shared support for better, increased traffic law enforcement. Together, we are putting a face on the people and families that dangerous driving and road rage are putting at risk. You do not have to tolerate road rage or accept it as a part of living in South Florida.
Comment here and join us. What are your suggestions for a successful response? Ride safely, South Florida.