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Riding a bike can be one of the joys of childhood, a chance for kids to feel the wind in their hair and to taste the freedom that comes with exploring the world under their own steam.

But for many — especially in South Florida — biking just isn’t safe.

Florida ranks as one of the deadliest places in the country to ride a bike, including for children.

Now Miami-Dade County Public Schools is rolling out a pilot project to try to make cycling safer. The move comes after a 14-year-old freshman died after he was hit by a van while riding his bike to school at Miami Norland Senior High in October.

National advocates for pedestrian safety say much of South Florida is “dangerous by design” — that is, designed “primarily to move cars quickly at the expense of keeping everyone safe,” according to the advocacy group Smart Growth America.

Streets that are built like highways send cars racing through neighborhoods and past schools. Many communities don’t have sidewalks — let alone dedicated bike lanes.

And pedestrian deaths across the country have increased dramatically since the onset of the pandemic, according to a 2022 analysis by Smart Growth America.

“More than 6,500 people — nearly 18 per day — were struck and killed while walking in 2020, a 4.7 percent increase over 2019, even as driving decreased overall,” the report reads.

“[E]very single one of the 20 most deadly metro areas [across the country] has grown more deadly over the last decade,” including the Miami metro area, the report continues.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol’s Crash Dashboard, 850 bicycle accidents have occurred in Miami-Dade County this year, resulting in 21 fatalities.

Key Biscayne and the Rickenbacker Causeway remain a magnant for bicyclists of all kinds. In May 2022, two cyclists, a man and a woman, died in a collision Sunday on the Rickenbacker Causeway., Miami police said. Officials had few details about how the collision took place. 

In February, a Key Biscayne cyclist was left unconscious and put into critical condition after a hit-and-run collision with a vehicle on the Rickenbacker Causeway last evening. The cyclist, Carlos Trevisson Maza, is a first cousin to Council Member Brett Moss. 

Key Biscayne is also wrestling with motorized scooters and e-bikes. Many students use them to get to MAST Academy but their peers create havoc within the Village by thumbing their nose at any type of safety precaution whatsoever.

The Miami-Dade County School Board is trying to make bicycling safer by building protected bike lanes near select schools.

“As we always say on this board, we must always do everything that we can within our power to provide a safe environment for students, inside and outside of our school campuses,” said Board Member Roberto Alonso, who is sponsoringthe proposal.

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Under the pilot project, bike lanes would be built at nine of the district’s 500 schools — one in each of the school board members’ districts.

MDCPS would work with the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization to select the schools and roll out the “safe, barrier-protected bicycle lane pilot program.”

But advocates say bike lanes aren’t enough — they also want more crossing guards and slower streets.

When it comes to why children don’t walk or bike to school, some Miami-Dade parents say they’re concerned about their kid’s school being too far away, cars driving too fast, and intersections not being safe enough, according to the 2023 Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Plans Report published by the Miami-Dade TPO.

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“Miami drivers are horrendous when it comes to pedestrian safety,” said one parent who was surveyed.

But building safer roads would make a difference, parents said.

“Would love for my child to bike or walk to school if safety traffic control conditions are clearly established,” one parent said.

“We live a block from school and our 7th and 8th grader enjoy the independence of walking. They’ve done it since 5th grade,” another parent added. “More would walk/bike if there were more safety precautions: lighted crosswalk, 15 [mile per hour] school zone lights, cross guard.”

John Pacenti with the Key Biscayne Independent contributed to this story.

Kate Payne

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.

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Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.