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Bikers Take on the State and Win

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It may not be time to take out the aged scotch yet, but you can at least crack a celebratory cerveza this weekend, thanks to a ruling this week from the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee that said bicycle groups have the right to sue the Florida Department of Transportation for failing to put in bike lanes.

The decision was the result of 6 years of the blood sweat and tears of a coalition of biking groups, including the Boca Raton Bike Club and the League of American Bicyclists, who sued FDOT after the agency refused to include bike lanes in its repaving of about thirty miles of A1A. Florida State statute says that “Bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be given full consideration in the planning and development of transportation facilities. . .”

What’s interesting is that FDOT did, in fact, intend to put in bike lanes: until a few noisy (and extremely wealthy) neighbors started complaining (one resident went straight to Jeb Bush to call in a favor and have the lanes squelched). FDOT bowed to pressure and scrapped the idea – and that, says lawyer Jeffrey Lynne, who represented the bicyclists – violates the statute.

Because the law says that bike lanes “shall” (and not “shall maybe”) be given full consideration, Lynne reasoned, FDOT should be providing a formal explanation every time they decide not to put them in – called a “design exception.” But FDOT had no design exceptions for bike lanes: in other words, Florida’s Department of Transportation was not only refusing to put in bike lanes, despite state statute telling them to do so – they weren’t even bothering to justify the decision.

FDOT argued in court that the bicyclists had no right to sue to them; it was up to their own discretion whether bike lanes were put in. But in Tuesday’s ruling, the court disagreed:

“If anyone has the ability to challenge the Department’s interpretation of section 335.065, which specifically relates to bicycle lanes,” the court wrote, “it would be those seriously involved in bicycling.”

“Reason dictates that a bicyclist organization, like appellants, can demonstrate that a substantial number of its members will be affected by the Department’s decisions relating to the construction of bicycle paths. . . Furthermore, the cost for individuals to challenge the establishment of bicycle lanes may be prohibitive to individual bicyclists.”

The bad news: it’s unlikely that FDOT will be required to back and redo the roads – the judge said that such an action was “cost-prohibitive.”

Still, the good news outweighs the bad on this one. “We’ve just empowered a hundred watchdogs in Florida,” Lynne asserts. “Going forward, everything’s’ fair game.”

Miami bike groups, take heed: the bar for FDOT to refuse bike lanes is suddenly getting much higher. And when they do refuse: we can take ‘em to court.

-- Isaiah Thompson

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