Just when you think Miami couldn't possibly be more hostile to bicyclists, the village council of Key Biscayne is suggesting Miami-Dade County charge the public to pedal on the Rickenbacker Causeway, one of the most popular spots to ride.
The Islander News reports that the council voted last week on the recommendation, which they propose would help fund the construction of a barrier that would physically divide the Rickenbacker bike lanes from traffic lanes. Cars currently pay a $1.50 toll to access the Rickenbacker, which links Key Biscayne and Virginia Key to mainland Miami.
The vote comes not immediately on the heels of two fatal cyclist hit-and-runs on the popular causeway, but after the Miami-Dade School Board approved a plan that will have 1,100 Key Biscayne teens attending the MAST magnet high school on adjacent Virginia Key, linked to Key Biscayne by the Rickenbacker. (Cycling students or parents heading to MAST from Key Biscayne would not pass the current toll booth.)
"We need to assure parents that are transporting their kids there that they can do it in a safe manner," said Vice Mayor Michael Kelly at the meeting, according to the Islander.
But Transit Miami's Craig Chester points out that the last 3 cyclists killed on the Rickenbacker were riding legally in the marked bike lane when struck by drunk or inattentive drivers.
"Making cyclists pay a toll for their own safety is akin to a punishment for merely riding a bike," Chester said. "Bear in mind, most cyclists are also motorists as well, often driving to Key Biscayne and paying the toll before they ride... This shortsighted idea will discourage cycling. It will also make biking more dangerous by reducing cyclists’ numbers on the road, and eroding the well-documented 'safety in numbers' effect."
Though fellow advocate Anthony Garcia of The Street Plans Collaborative supports the idea of a protective barrier for cyclists on the Rickenbacker, he argued revenue from Rickenbacker car tolls is already dedicated for bicycle improvements.
"The idea of having cyclists pay for infrastructure that should be there in the first place reflects a fundamental confusion about how our transportation network is funded," Garcia said. "Most cyclists already pay their fair share of road improvements when they drive (through gas tax) or make purchases (through the 1/2 cent transportation sales tax). In addition, part of the Rickenbacker tolls are already slated to be used for bicycle improvements. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on highway ‘improvements’ that only lead to more traffic; why can’t we spend a small percentage of that to build a barrier on the Rickenbacker?"
But some local cycling enthusiasts weren't at all pleased with the idea of a "wall," as the Islander referred to it, saying an enclosed lane would limit space, create more bike-to-bike crashes, and would likely not be kept clear of debris.
"This 'wall' is laughable at best," wrote Miami Bike Scene on Facebook. "This is not about cyclists' safety, this is about [Key Biscayne] residents wanting to no longer be inconvenienced by cyclists."
UPDATE, 5 p.m.: Key Biscayne Vice-Mayor Michael Kelly, who said he bikes 4-5 days a week on the causeway, told HuffPost the council wants the Rickenbacker to be a "cycling-positive" road -- but above all, a safe one.
"That's the first and foremost concern," he said. "There's a lot of fear on the causeway. Our focus is trying to make it safer for everyone."
He emphasized that the council's proposal didn't specify what type of barrier should be built on the Rickenbacker. Ideas have ranged from 6-inch tall rubber barriers to the tall plastic spokes used on I-95 express lanes or even grass, but Kelly said the intention of the resolution wasn't to request "the Great Wall of China" and purposefully left out such details.
"The toll concept...was only one component of how this would be funded," he added, noting that with the roadway paid for, toll revenue now covers other improvements like re-paving parking lots and adding trees. Kelly said any toll contributions asked of bikers would be "in proportion to their numbers" and in addition to funds collected from automobiles.