Cyclists Court Death Daily

It's dangerous, but Miami is getting friendlier to bikes.

Five years ago, during her first, unsuccessful bid for a commission seat, Redfern raised a stink when Miami Beach was designated a Bicycle-Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists. The city had won only a bronze medal, but even so, Redfern's suspicions were immediately aroused: At the time, Miami Beach didn't have a single bike lane.

According to the league's director, Bill Nester, the city's application — submitted by its former director of environmental resources, Bruce Henderson — boasted of 11 miles of bike lanes. Miami Beach has since been removed from the organization's Bicycle-Friendly roster. The city hasn't reapplied.

Having debunked the imaginary bike lanes, Redfern set about getting some real ones. Her first victory was moderate: Two years ago, she successfully lobbied the commission to put a lane on 42nd Street. It was four blocks long and, until the beginning of last year, the only bike lane in Miami Beach.

Antonio Morales rides his bike downtown looking for work, but today he's out of luck — again.
Isaiah Thompson
Antonio Morales rides his bike downtown looking for work, but today he's out of luck — again.

Then suddenly last year the lanes began falling into place. She helped persuade the public works department to stripe the Venetian Causeway. She and a handful of bike enthusiasts formed a new group, Bicycle Activists for a Safe and Integrated City (BASIC), which successfully fought last March for the lane on 16th Street, just south of Lincoln Road. Most recently, a bike lane was added along Prairie Avenue, stretching from 28th Street north to 42nd Street. But it's a measured success: Redfern is pushing for the city to extend the lane south to Dade Boulevard. Some residents are opposed, Redfern concedes, but New Times was unable to find any. "That'd be great," said Prairie resident Reese Williams. "I'm for it," offered 15-year-old Tyler a few doors down. "I ride everywhere."

Redfern's next goal is the most ambitious yet: Alton Road. But, as usual, she's finding opposition, even within her own group, the Alliance for Reliable Transportation (ART). "They say it's not safe to ride on Alton Road. But it's not safe because there are no bike lanes. Bicycles will never be transportation vehicles until people feel safe to use them."

As we cruise down Meridian Avenue, a driver revs his car engine and pulls in front of us. The passenger's head juts out the window. "You don't bike in the middle of the fucking road, bitch!" he yells, and the car tears off.

"Well," says Redfern, pedaling calmly, "at least we made him slow down."

In major cities around the world, on the last Friday of every month, cyclists gather in hundreds, sometimes thousands, and ride en masse, unapologetically taking over the streets for the Critical Mass ride.

The event began 15 years ago in San Francisco, when a few dozen bicyclists gathered and rode through the streets together to show how unfriendly local roadways were to bikes. Within a few months, their numbers grew to several hundred; by 1997, the group mobilized 5,000 bikers — enough people to effectively freeze traffic. The group has spread around the world. Nearly every metropolis in the United States has one, each with its own flavor.

On a recent Friday evening, a dozen bikers show up at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center to participate in Miami's own fledgling branch. Tonight's group consists of a few bike messengers; a handful of chain-draped, black-clad punks; and a couple of high school students who received e-mails about the ride. There is a sense of newness, energy, and also a bit of confusion: It's one thing for 1,000 people to take over a street; it's quite another for 12 people to do it.

The ride is further complicated by the fact that half the group wants to ride to Coconut Grove's Kennedy Park, where several bikers are waiting, possibly with beer. The other half wants to ride across the Venetian Causeway to the Beach, where somebody someone knows is hosting an art show — which also might have booze.

Chad Cunha frowns. Bursting with enthusiasm for everything bike-related, the 22-year-old is one of the few young bicyclists who turned the Friday-evening rides into a regular feature in Miami. "When I first started biking around," he says, "I would chase people down in the street if I saw them riding a bike and be like, 'Hey, do you live around here? Do you ride your bike a lot?' And the list just grew and grew."

The ride is still an experiment in what happens when disorganized people try to organize something, but so far it's a shaky success. "Well," Cunha says to the group after a few fruitless phone calls to the lost contingent in the Grove, "how about we just bike around downtown awhile?" Everyone assents and they head off. The Heat is playing, and Biscayne Boulevard is a gridlocked sea of glowing red brake lights. Rising to the challenge, the tiny troop winds in and out of traffic, blocking together to take over the right lane when traffic moves, stretching out and whizzing between cars when it stops.

In the past year, several new bike groups have emerged — including not one but two Critical Mass rides. Tonight's is an offshoot of another ride, started by Emerge Miami, an activist group that gathers every second Saturday and draws about 50 cyclists to each outing. Adam Schachner, one of the organizers, concedes the ride might not resemble Critical Mass events elsewhere — "There's no copyright on the name," he points out — but says it has succeeded in bringing together a wide range of people interested in making a change. The ride has changed him as well: A Kendall native, he says that before last year, he had never thought of bikes as serious transportation. "It's funny, because I remember being that jerk honking at people who were on the street, saying, 'What are you doing? Get on the sidewalk!'"

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