Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Cyclist’s Departure

Below is an article written by Miami-Dade County - District 7 Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez regarding the tragic loss of Aaron Cohen and safety on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

-------

A Cyclist’s Departure

“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.

6 comments:

  1. I rode my regular training ride to Key Biscayne on the day of Aaron Cohen's memorial. All those cones laid out on the road reduced space to a single lane for cars. You know what I noticed? NO TRAFFIC JAM!!!. One lane is more than sufficient to service the traffic to and from Key Biscayne. I suggest the city makes one lane of the causeway exclusively restricted for cyclist use from, say, 5am to 10am every day except for special circumstances like the Sony Ericsson open. You don't need cones or barriers, just some painted markings and a couple of police officers to enforce the lane and make sure motorists obey the speed limit. A reduced speed limit of 35 or 40mph might be good too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Commissioner Suarez for the letter.

    What about cutting grooves in the solid painted lines that separate the bike lane from the vehicle lanes? Drivers will be able to hear/feel when they are encroaching into the bike lane and those of exercising should be able to hear the sound as well. Of course, in addition to other safety measures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The bike lanes on the Rickenbacker Causeway are too narrow for passing. Based on the sheer volume of cyclists moving at different speeds, we need a whole lane. Placing barriers to protect the bike lane will become a hazard for cyclists who accidentally run into/over whatever barrier is placed there. Even grooves can be a problem for a less experienced cyclist. A barrier will also serve to enforce the (incorrect) perception that we are legally obligated to remain in the bike only.

      Delete
  3. I agree with David. Case in point...NYC's Central Park is closed to motorists during certain hours each weekday morning and longer on the weekends so that pedestrians, cyclist, bladers, joggers, etc., can all enjoy use of the roadway in the park without fear of being trampled by a car. This would work just fine on the Key Bisc causeway.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree that speed limit can be a problem. However, if you think about the circumstances in this accident: weekday morning, prior to 6AM, hardly anyone on the road(as a regular KB cyclist, I know the volume of cars at that time), a couple of experienced cyclists on the bike lane, and a driver without a license, prior drug conviction.

    If you ask me, I would say the problem lies with Police enforcement. I see plenty speed traps during rush hour at 6PM or 8AM in and out of the different Miami Beach causeways, or plenty of other parts of the city. But where were the Police at 5AM that morning?, or every weekend afterhours when all the un-designated drivers who are under some sort of influence which makes them unfit to drive are out and about? Is police enforcement of speed limit only about hitting a critical mass of drivers at the right time (tired commuters getting to and fro) to maximize revenue for the city? or should it be more about actually stopping drivers who shouldn't be behind the wheel?
    There is NO excuse for this accident. This person should never have been behind the wheel. Period.

    I am a cyclist, I ride several times a week, KB included. Cars driving at 55 or somewhere close to that don't scare me at all when you compare them to drunk, distracted (texting, speaking, eating, make up, or anything else) drivers. Speed kills. But impaired drivers kill a lot more.

    ReplyDelete