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HomeNewsEnvironmentCycling deaths prompt calls to revive Rickenbacker project

Cycling deaths prompt calls to revive Rickenbacker project

The deaths of a cycling couple struck by a vehicle Sunday have led to calls to restart the Rickenbacker Causeway renovation process, even as police released the names of the victims: Yaudys Vera, 48 and Ogniana Reyes, 46, both from the Kendall area. Police issued citations to the driver of a vehicle, but have not released details. 

The case is being reviewed for the possibility of more serious charges in consultation with the State Attorney’s Office, said Miami police spokesman Michael Vega.

“Yaudys and Ogniana were riding in the designated bike lane,” said Dr. Mickey Witte, a founder of the BikeSafe group as she pleaded with the Miami-Dade County Commission for quick action at their meeting Tuesday. “Let’s commit to a permanent bicycle highway.” 

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Vera and Reyes’ friends and families launched a GoFundMe campaign for funeral expenses, which raised more than $25,000 by Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, hundreds are expected to gather to mourn all cycling accident victims on the “Ride of Silence” in Crandon Park at 6 p.m. A family spokesman was unsure if any representatives would attend. 

Architect Bernard Zyscovich said he was devastated by the deaths. He led the earlier effort to renovate the Causeway with separated bicycle lanes in the “Plan Z” proposal. He said he remained willing to meet with County and Key Biscayne officials to come up with a plan. 

“Now we all feel the urgency of it,” Zyscovich said. “Key Biscayne could be a partner.” 

Zyscovich had a meeting with Council Member Ed London to discuss a public presentation for the Village, but when the matter came before Council earlier this year, it was shot down.

But he also expressed frustration with what he sees as lip service. 

“I’m kind of tired of people’s condolences, because they sound hollow when you hear them over and over again,” noting that merging traffic areas on the approach to the William Powell bridge was “exactly the spot” that led him to start designing ways to separate bikes from cars. 

His $500 million privatization plan, which envisioned a redeveloped linear park and many other features, was killed by the County Commission in January having never received a public hearing. He wrote to the Mayor and County Commission offering to share much of the design details now that county procurement rules allow details to be released. 

“I wonder how many people have to be injured and die before somebody actually does something. And I’m devastated because I feel personally as if I failed,” Zyscovich said in an interview Monday. 

The future of the project is in limbo. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is now focused on replacing the Bear Cut Bridge, a project with an estimated $90 million price tag that may take eight years. 

The Village of Key Biscayne formally opposed the Plan Z privatization plan and held a community meeting in February to get ideas for the Village’s own priorities. The Village hired a consultant to help develop a concept drawings; the first meeting is tomorrow with Village staff. 

The Village’s concept process involves meeting with stakeholders to develop agreed priorities. Manager Steve Williamson said a final document is months away, however. 

Williamson noted that the County has not decided whether critical studies for the project should just be confined to the Bear Cut bridge area or a broader area that could encompass more of the roadway. Without that decision, it will be hard to proceed with larger plans, he said. Also unknown is how the project will be funded and the impact on tolls. 

At the Commission meeting, Commissioner Raquel Regalado said she is also seeking swift action for both immediate safety measures and longer-term projects, including possibly reviving Plan Z or another comprehensive approach. 

“Enough with the thoughts and prayers,” Regalado said. “We need to react to this immediately.” Mayor Levine Cava said she had directed immediate safety measures at the spot where the collision took place. The Rickenbacker and Bear Cut matters were referred to the Transportation committee, which is meeting next month. 

Council Member Frank Caplan, a former mayor who recalled the Village had already developed Causeway priorities a decade ago, said Sunday’s deaths would spur government leaders at all levels to accelerate work. He said the Village hasn’t dropped the ball, but acknowledged that work has been delayed.

“Unfortunately, bad news galvanizes,” Caplan said. “I think that is going to happen now,” he added. 

“We want to see something move,” said Mayor Mike Davey, who will be out of office in November. “We are doing all we can to move the ball,” said Davey, who also spoke at the County Commission meeting. 

But Zyscovich said Key Biscayne is in the driver’s seat, saying a private-public partnership remains the only way to swiftly proceed. He said replacing the Bear Cut was the financial linchpin of the project — and that private dollars are needed because the Bear Cut is not a high priority for state or federal dollars. 

“With the clear knowledge that the Key was supportive of taking it to the next step, I believe we could probably resuscitate it.” 

“How did I become the bogeyman in all this?” he asked. “This is not negative from my point. It’s just tragic.”

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Tony Winton
Tony Wintonmailto:[email protected]
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.
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