Making the Venetian Causeway Safer for Bicyclists

Venetian Islands

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Making the Venetian Causeway Safer for Bicyclists:

Fatal accident leads to Transit Alliance campaign demanding action

Five months after the death Flavia Carnicelli on the Venetian Causeway, Transit Alliance Miami is demanding better protection for cyclists. This week the organization launched a new campaign – “Safer Venetian Causeway” – to raise awareness of the safety issues with the main bicycle route that connects Miami Beach to Miami and to urge the three local governments responsible for the road to install safer biking infrastructure across the Venetian Causeway.

At this week’s City Commission meeting, Miami Beach Commissioners will vote on a resolution signaling their support for a multi-jurisdictional effort to implement protection measures for the bike lanes. Commissioner Mark Samuelian is leading the effort here while Commissioner Ken Russell has taken up the charge for the City of Miami.

At the February meeting of the Commission’s Neighborhood and Quality of Life Committee, Samuelian said, “We have a problem. Right now, cycling safety on the Venetian is not as safe as we would like it to be. We all are well aware of one tragic incident that we had, but I think I can speak personally as someone who occasionally is out there on a bike and lives on the Venetian, it’s just not set up in the most safe way. One specific issue, there is no protective barrier between the bike riders and the cars. What I’m going to look for is that we approach solutions expeditiously.”

Josiel Ferrer, Miami Beach Assistant Director of Transportation, noted at the Committee meeting, “This is our premier cross-city bicycle route per se. We have many, many bicyclists that on a daily basis take this as commuters as well as for leisure riding.”

He pointed to the City’s Transportation Master Plan which seeks “to protect bicyclists wherever possible with physical barriers” but, he emphasized, the City can’t go this one alone. It will require a collaborative effort with the County and City of Miami due to the multi-jurisditional responsibilities for the stretch of road and bridges.

Ferrer’s team has had discussions with the County’s Department of Transportation and Public Works regarding the implementation of some sort of physical protection for the Venetian Causeway bike lanes including raised pavement markings and delineators.

“We’d like to put those [recommendations] on steroids and seek a higher level of protection,” Ferrer said at the Committee meeting. He told the Committee members that a resolution from the full Commission would send an important message to the other government entities about Miami Beach’s commitment to an expeditious solution.

Azhar Chougle, Executive Director of Transit Alliance Miami, said it is important that the government agencies avoid the inclination to study the problem citing “numerous studies” that have already been done, including a 13-year, 12-city study conducted by the Universities of Colorado and New Mexico that shows protective bike lanes reduce fatalities by over 44% and serious injuries by 50%. 

“This is not something that needs to be studied,” he said. “Whereas cities like New York are up to nearly 40 percent in protective bike lanes, in Miami-Dade County, we have just around four blocks. Four blocks. Four city blocks of actual protected bike lanes.”

“I appreciate the City of Miami Beach, as usual, taking leadership on this issue and I hope that we can prevent another death on the Venetian Causeway,” he told the Committee.

​​​​​​​Transit Alliance Miami is a non-profit organization advocating for walkable streets, bikeable neighborhoods, and better public transit. According to Transit Alliance, approximately 1,500 cyclists cross the Venetian Causeway every day.

City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote in a memo accompanying the resolution for this week's Commission meeting, “According to data collected in February 2018, approximately 263 bicyclists were observed using the bicycle lanes during the peak hours on a typical Saturday. Within the City of Miami Beach, the Venetian Causeway is signed at 25 mile[s] per hour; however, the speed data collected in February 2018 resulted in an 85th Percentile Speed of 33 miles per hour.”

“[A]ccording to the 2019 Community Satisfaction Survey,” Morales wrote, “47% of the respondents claimed to have a member of their household regularly riding a bike.” However, he noted, “37% of respondents claimed to feel unsafe while riding [a] bicycle in Miami Beach.”

Referencing the accident that killed Carnicelli on August 29, 2019, Morales wrote, “While the crash occurred outside of the boundaries of the City of Miami Beach, the conditions of the road and bicycle lane are the same within the Miami Beach boundaries.”

“While County staff was open to exploring the implementation of delineators for the section of the causeway within the Venetian Islands,” Morales indicated “they expressed concerns with the implementation of delineators along the bridges due to the limited width of the structure. The County specifically cited concerns with motorists driving closer to the center line of the road and a potential increase in head-on collisions in the bridges. As an alternative, the City has proposed the implementation of vibratory pavement markings and raised pavement markings along the edge of the bike lane to warn the drivers if the tires touch the edge striping for the bicycle lane.”

Ferrer told the Committee the conversations are ongoing and his team intends to raise some additional ideas for how to protect the bike lines. “This is sort of the tip of the iceberg,” he said. 

Committee Chair Micky Steinberg and members Michael Góngora and Steve Meiner voted unanimously to recommend the resolution be voted on at this week’s Commission meeting urging action by all of the government entities responsible for the road.
 
The Safer Venetian Causeway Campaign includes a video that highlights the “completely unprotected and unsafe” bike lanes painted green and separated from the roadway by a white line. Chougle is seen on camera saying “The Venetian Causeway is one of the most important bicycle connectors in all of Miami-Dade County but between me and the next death there is just one thin white line.”

The campaign urges the three local governments to install a physical buffer to keep cars from crossing into the bike lane, widen bike lanes, and reduce the speed limit to 25 mph across the entire causeway. Cyclists and residents can view the campaign, track the status of the project and get involved at www.transitalliance.miami/venetian.

After the Committee meeting, Chougle said, “It’s always reassuring and rare to see an entire committee stand behind something so crucial unanimously.” He also appreciated the emphasis on taking action expeditiously.

“It comes down to the practicality of getting this done,” he said, acknowledging the hurdle to working with three government entities. “I think Miami Beach will be leading to the end.”

“It’s a beginning,” he said. “I think that what we’ve learned as an organization is that we often play the role, not only of accountability, but also the band aid on a very dysfunctional, multiple layered system of making very basic mobility improvements.”

“Within the context of Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami Beach is the only city that can be considered as having a significant semblance of a bicycle network and for that reason alone, the City of Miami Beach is in a position to lead because it is so far ahead of the City [of Miami] and County.”

That said, Chougle added, there is still a lot of work to be done here. With regard to the Venetian, he said, there is “an inexplicable gap between when you exit Venetian Causeway and entering 17th Street" in Miami Beach.

“At the end of the day, Miami Beach is an island that cannot survive by having an increase in car traffic,” he said. Improving the infrastructure for bicyclists is “far more cost effective and far more economically valuable than widening streets.”

One consideration for the City should it move forward with design and implementation of protective measures for the Venetian Causeway, the initiative does not currently have funding identified for it and would require a budget amendment. 

In the video for the campaign, Commissioner Ken Russell pointed to $1 million in revenue from the City of Miami’s scooter sharing program “which can only be spent on bicycle lane infrastructure,” that presumably could be used to fund some of the improvements. Samuelian also appears in the video supporting the effort.

For Transit Alliance, the Venetian Causeway is only part of the puzzle. “A safe Venetian Causeway really goes hand in hand with building out a complete bicycle network,” Chougle said. “The Venetian Causeway is definitely somewhere where we need to start to build world class infrastructure… but the Venetian Causeway should be a catalyst to completing all of the missing connections in Miami-Dade County.” 


Photo: Cars pass a bike lane on the Venetian Causeway leading into Miami Beach

Miami Beach Planning Board Gives Kudos to Urbin Concept But Tells Founder to do More Community Outreach


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
Residents concerned about noise from entertainment spaces at proposed co-living, hotel space

World-renowned Colombian Restaurateurs Planning Lincoln Road Location

Lincoln Road


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
Andrés Carne de Res concept includes music, dancing, and theater