This is Part I of a two-part blog discussing the recent tragic death of cyclist Annabelle Interian and discussing recommendations for ways to make our streets safer for all.
Our sympathies go out to the family of another Miami cyclist who was killed last weekend while riding in the area of Southwest Miami-Dade County known as the Redland. The cyclist who was killed, Annabelle Interian, was the wife of Miami-Dade Police Lt. Jorge Interian, who was also injured in the crash. Lt. Interian is expected to live.
What do we know about this latest tragedy? News reports say the crash happened while the cyclists were “riding through the Redland in deep South Miami-Dade County.” Although remote and rural, as any Miami cyclist can attest, the Redland is a popular cycling destination, widely considered to be one of the few safe places to ride. Indeed, a view of the Strava Heatmap for Miami-Dade County shows that the Redland’s “steps” are some of the hottest routes for cyclists in all of the County.
The area is popular, not for the quality of the scenery, topography, or roads, but because it is so remote. The isolation of the Redland, and its separation from the commotion of Miami, is its best quality. On any given weekend at 8:00 a.m., when this fatal collision occurred, cyclists usually outnumber cars. Many weekends I have joined friends for a ride out to Robert is Here or Knauss Berry Farm, with the reward of a fruit smoothie or cinnamon bun waiting for those willing to ride the (approximately) 60 mile round-trip. Sure, I’ve been buzzed by speeding cars near the Speedway more times than I can remember, but by and large you can count the number of cars you see on a trip to the Redland on two hands – more than you can say for almost any other cycling corridor in Miami-Dade County.
Unfortunately, like most roads in the suburbs and the peripheries of Miami-Dade County, the roads in the Redland were not designed for cyclists. The asphalt in the Redland is wide, smooth, and designed for the singular goal of moving cars quickly. Make no mistake, these are not complete streets. These roads, like much of Miami-Dade, were built with an undeniable “highway mentality,” meaning that they look and feel like highways. Drivers’ behavior, unsurprisingly, reflects that mentality.
Thus, without knowing any more than the fact that this crash happened in the Redland, I can confidently state that road design, and more specifically the speed generated by the road’s design, helped contribute to this fatal crash. I suspect the road where this crash happened was unnecessarily wide and fast, overbuilt for the volume of cars it typically services. I don’t know if the driver was traveling over the speed limit or not, but I suspect she was going at least 40-45 mph, meaning Mrs. Interian had no greater than a 35% chance of survival when struck by the car. If the driver was going 50 mph or more, the chances that Mrs. Interian would survive the crash drop to below 25%.
Do the flaws in road design exclude the conduct of the driver, reportedly a young female? Absolutely not. A commenter to the Herald article, who claims to know the driver, claims that she “dropped her phone and lost control of her car and hit the two people.” If true, it would indicate that the driver was certainly negligent in the operation of her vehicle, and was directly responsible for the fatal crash. This deadly mistake with horrific consequences means that the driver will almost certainly be sued in civil court by Mrs. Interian’s survivors for money damages.
My firm specializes in handling unfortunate lawsuits like this. As a personal injury attorney and cycling advocate, I am sadly all-too-familiar with the alarming statistics concerning distracted driving, which is now the leading cause of death among American teenagers. Statistics show that, at any given moment in the U.S., 660,000 drivers are texting or using their cell phones. I suspect the actual number is much higher than that.
You may think that a quick glance at your phone is harmless, but consider that at 50 mph, your car is moving at 73.3 feet per second, requiring 229 feet to stop. Even a quick glance away from the road for a few seconds means your vehicle -- two tons of moving metal -- has the potential to travel hundreds of feet without you knowing what lies ahead; whether it be a child playing in the street, a pedestrian crossing the roadway, or me riding my bicycle.
For these reasons, I say that this latest tragedy was no accident. It was, to the contrary, inevitable. Just the latest in a series of tragedies involving drunk or distracted drivers killing cyclists on Miami-Dade County’s dangerous roads, in and around popular cycling corridors like the Redland and Key Biscayne. This is a perfect and deadly storm, and one of the reasons I know that every time I leave my house to ride in Miami-Dade County, I am taking a risk.
We know that Miami's roads are some of the deadliest in the country, because our roads were built when design standards were different, and the County's transportation needs were different. But Miami-Dade County is changing rapidly, and our roads and infrastructure are not keeping pace. More people moving to South Florida means more distracted drivers encountering more cyclists on our outdated roadways. Unless we take strong, decisive action, serious cycling-related injuries and deaths, like the unfortunate death of Annabelle Interian, will continue to happen.
Watch this space for Part II, discussing initiatives and strategies to make our streets safer for all.