Bike safety public forum in the works following cyclist’s death

By | February 22nd, 2012 | 3 Comments
Miami Critical Mass

Following cyclist Aaron Cohen's death, local activists are ramping up their effort to make Miami a safer place to ride. -- photo by Robby Campbell

A public forum addressing bike safety in Miami-Dade is being planned following the death of an avid cyclist who was struck by a hit-and-run driver on the Rickenbacker Causeway last Wednesday.

“Lots of people are very upset about what happened — the tragic death of Aaron Cohen, and they are demanding action,” said Hank Sanchez-Resnik of the Green Mobility Network, the civic group organizing the event. “We’re trying to channel all of that energy into constructive solutions.”

At the forum, bike activists will present information about current plans to improve the safety of streets in Miami-Dade County, and attendees will have an opportunity to ask a panel of “relevant elected officials and decision makers” questions about making Miami’s streets safer for cyclists, according to a statement on Green Mobility Network’s Facebook page.

Green Mobility Network has not yet determined the time and location of the forum, which will be called “SafeStreetsMiami”. Anyone interested in volunteering or attending can email GMN at safestreetsmiami [at] gmail [dot] com.

One elected official who has spoken out about bike safety in Miami — and specifically about reducing the speed limit on Rickenbacker Causeway — following Cohen’s death is District 7 county commissioner Xavier Suarez. On Tuesday Suarez released a statement on the topic, which you can read in full below this video from a recent group ride in memory of the late cyclist.

“A Cyclist’s Departure” by Xavier Suarez

“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.

This post was produced in partnership with Open Media Miami.

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3 Comments on “Bike safety public forum in the works following cyclist’s death”

  1. 1 Alex D. said at 10:17 am on February 22nd, 2012:

    Please reach out to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee of the MPO and please try to have this on the weekend.

  2. 2 Craig Chester said at 6:28 pm on February 22nd, 2012:

    I e-mailed Com. Suarez’s office the below letter a few weeks ago – prior to the latest Rickenbacker tragedy.

    Neither Com. Suarez or anyone from his office responded. I also sent an invitation and subsequent recap of the ride to City of Miami Com. Sarnnoff and cc’d his entire staff. Those messages were not answered either.

    We only hear from them after tragedy.

    “Dear Miami-Dade District 7,

    I would like to report that a recent event organized by Miami residents – the Brickell Neighborhood Bicycle Ride and Celebration on Saturday – was a tremendous success, with over 70 riders coming out to enjoy the afternoon! We hope recent events like this one and the M-Path Celebration ride continue to show that improving cycling facilities are of great importance to the rapidly emerging bicycle community here in Miami.

    A recap with pictures is posted on TransitMiami. com at the link below.


    Craig Chester”

  3. 3 pletchertlu said at 12:33 am on March 31st, 2012:

    Learn from the mistakes of others and prevent your own.

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