Joseph Gagliardo, a longtime South Beach resident, returned home last week from a long trip. As he had for years, he cycled from his home on the Venetian Causeway over to Lincoln Road. For a block or so he slowly pedaled east down the virtually empty mall, only to be suddenly stopped by a police officer.
The cop pointed to a small blue sign several feet away and high above Gagliardo's sight line. Then he politely issued him a $129 citation. Gagliardo was far from alone. In just the first two days of ticketing for the brand new offense, MBPD issued a total of 108 citations.
The city says it worked to educate residents about the change, but some longtime riders like Gagliardo complain the new signs are tough to spot. "It just says 'Pedestrian Friendly Zone', Gagliardo says. "It doesn't say 'It's illegal: You're going to get a fine.'"
The first hint at the new rules came about a month ago, when many Miami residents and tourists were shocked to see two massive electronic signs on Lincoln Road announcing bicycling was prohibited between the hours of 9 am and 2 am.
For a few weeks, the Miami Beach Police Department handed out verbal and written warnings to cyclists who violated the rule; MBPD issued 663 verbal warnings and distributed 616 fliers between October 28 and November 25, data shared with Riptide shows, presumably all before the actual citations were first issued on November 24.
"The goal is to change the behavior of those in violation and to keep the pedestrians on Lincoln Road safe," Detective Vivian Thayer, a police spokesperson, told Riptide when the police began issuing the fines.
But many cyclists don't think the department's enforcement has been fair, or that the new, permanent signs attached to street corners -- small and easy to miss even for pedestrians strolling down the street -- provide adequate warning.
Gagliardo, who hadn't noticed any sign at all, was floored. Even as he realized he had technically broken a rule he didn't know existed, he also hardly posed a safety hazard: The mall was empty, and he was riding slowly and carefully.
He says the officer issuing the citation even admitted to him that the fine seemed heavy-handed, but said he was under direction to give out the citations indiscriminately, with no leeway or further warnings allowed even for the most minor-seeming cycling offense.
"I thought it was extremely unfair," said Gagliardo, who has since avoided the road altogether as a boycott. "How could something that was encouraged all of a sudden be enforced with this iron fist?"