The South Florida Bike Coalition is always working behind the scenes to improve conditions for bicycling – here’s one recent (long) story about how we got FDOT to call us, and what happened next.
A Long Saga Over Bird / US 1
I was having a long back and forth with FDOT District 6’s bicycle / pedestrian coordinator Ken Jeffries about the design of the intersection of Bird / US 1, specifically how to make a safe crossing east to west at US 1 to get onto the M-Path. The usual commute involves heading south on the M-Path from the 27th and Bird area.
My main concern is people making illegal left hand turns which in the past has led to a collision. After repeated emails and reminders to Mr. Jeffries (answers were slow in coming), FDOT agreed to install a ‘skip line’ and additional signage. I’m happy that FDOT responded in action, but this simply doesn’t make it safer. It’s a band aid on a broken and dangerous intersection.
So, I asked very specific questions about the reasons for this decision and also “Do you think this makes it safer?” and was told: “I suggest that you contact the City of Miami Police Department to address the enforcement aspect of this issue”. Or, as I heard it, Leave us alone. Which I nor the SFBC as an organization can do. A few days later my phone rang.
It was Mr. Jeffries’ supervisor who introduced himself as an “avid cyclist”! Could this be the turning point? A new leaf in terms of open and honest communication?
It started out on a positive note, with “FDOT’s number one concern is safety. So far, so good.
So, what is a person on a bike to do at Bird & US1?
Then Things Turned Sour
“As a cyclist I would advise you avoid it. It isn’t safe.”
What?! Wait a second. Can’t you do something? What about your big priority, safety?
“I wouldn’t bike there…. There’s nothing we could do.”
So, FDOT is building unsafe roads and just “can’t” improve the safety standard. I guess I shouldn’t be frustrated. FDOT has that track record. So maybe it wasn’t a surprise, but it is still a huge disappointment for all of us here.
While the comments were not meant to convey official policy, the message became clear: FDOT roads are not built for bikes. When I pointed out that there are plenty of FDOT managed roads that have been rebuilt as of late – think: Brickell or Biscayne Blvd – and none of the redesigns included biking as a viable alternative I was told, again, that I shouldn’t be on those roads. “As a sensible cyclist, why would you go there? I would look for alternatives.” Now, this is all fine and well in a world which consists of highways (let’s call this the FDOT world), but neither Brickell (with has the highest population density south of New York) nor Biscayne are highways. We have I-95 for that.
What about the person who lives in an area, say on Brickell, and who has no good alternative to get to her destination? Despite repeatedly asking that question, the subtext was: You’re out of luck.
Despite honest efforts by FDOT’s own “avid cyclist,” it is clear that the agency does not understand that bikes are transportation. Because on the end, it all boiled down to the dreaded LOS (‘level of service’) argument.
The sad truth is the mindset, prevalent even at this level: We have to put those cars through and if you want to be safe don’t use our roads. Never mind that less and less people drive and more and more people are choosing or being forced to use bikes to get where they need to go.
Our conversation raised other issues, such as the lack of right of way that the County is willing to provide to FDOT. I am not an expert on this issue, but suggested that maybe we have reached the point that we have to make do with what we have. And we would have to do this smartly. Building for more traffic is the opposite of that. To that I also didn’t get an answer.
Where is FDOT?
We would like for FDOT to become engaged. After three years of participating in public meetings – from BPAC to project-specific meetings like Brickell – I have yet to meet bicycle / pedestrian coordinator Ken Jeffries in person. According to his supervisor, Mr. Jeffries has done more than we know for cyclists in this district – I will believe this when I see an FDOT project that takes bikes / pedestrians into serious consideration.
We would like to engage seriously with FDOT. My suggestion for such engagement was that they should attend BPAC meetings themselves (instead of sending an admittedly very knowledgeable contractor) to get a sense of the frustration out there. The reply was that people are busy and have other things to do. I was told that FDOT has a good sense of the sentiment in the cycling community. I don’t know how such sentiments are gauged when you don’t interact.
The upshot is that this conversation was more than frustrating. The implication that cyclists should seek alternative routes to those designed by FDOT is telling of a mindset in which bikes don’t play a role.
But I also want to believe that FDOT wants to have a conversation. It may be a long time until we see real progress. In the meantime there is hope.
PS: We invite the FDOT to respond (we also invite FDOT to cycle with us one day). The cycling community, I think at least, wants a conversation.