Miami DWI Death Galvanizes Cyclists in South Florida

lecanne1_1.jpgCyclists rally in memory of Christophe Le Canne. Photo: rydel/Picasa via Miami Bike Scene

The horrific death of a 44-year-old resident of South Miami has enraged cyclists across South Florida, igniting a debate over street safety in a region historically dominated by devil-may-care drivers.

On January 17, Christophe Le Canne was out for a Sunday morning ride on the Rickenbacker Causeway, which connects the city of Miami with Virginia Key and Key Biscayne, when he was hit from behind and knocked from his bike by Carlos Bertonatti, a 28-year-old aspiring musician with a long history of traffic offenses. Bertonatti drove for miles with Le Canne’s blue Cannondale wedged beneath his Volkswagen Jetta.
Le Canne died before paramedics arrived on the scene.

Bertonatti was arrested outside his Key Biscayne apartment after a police officer observed him dragging Le Canne’s bike. He was charged with DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, resisting arrest, driving without a license and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. 

This could have been written off as an isolated incident — another drunk driver with a checkered driving record takes another life. But for several possible reasons, that didn’t happen. Consider the arrogance of the killer. Bertonatti’s website, according to the Miami Herald, "had boasted of his poor driving record." Police had to strap him to a fire department backer board in order to extract a blood sample. After the crash, Bertonatti issued regrets through his publicist. He is currently out on bail.

Some also blame Le Canne’s death in part on a bungled response by emergency personnel. Due to confusion over who should handle the 911 call, it took more than 15 minutes for help to reach the victim. By then it was too late.

Whatever the reason, Le Canne’s death has acted as a flashpoint for cyclists who have long endured pariah status on the chaotic streets of the Miami megalopolis. A memorial ride for Le Canne drew thousands. Advocates are calling for
separated bike facilities, in addition to tougher penalties for drivers who harass or harm cyclists. The Miami-Dade County Commission has discussed lowering speed limits, increasing police presence, and streamlining emergency response operations.
Stricter rules for alcohol service have also come up.

It’s impossible to ignore the parallels between the Le Canne tragedy and any number of local cyclist and pedestrian fatalities. A driver with a long rap sheet is allowed to remain behind the wheel of his own car until he, almost inevitably, ends up visiting misery on innocent victims.

And as in New York, the perniciousness of motorist entitlement asserts itself in less obvious ways. There was once talk of raising the toll on the Rickenbacker at Key Biscayne, which could have funded extended hours for a fire-rescue station closer to the spot where Le Canne was hit. That station was closed at the time of the crash.

  • flp

    what a, uh, coincidence to see this reported now!! through a project i very recently received a notification about this with some similar information and news links. hmmmmm . . . .

    otherwise, indeed, this is a terrible tragedy, and i hope all the riders that came out for the memorial stick together to insist on the necessary changes.

  • Brooklyn

    My parents lived in southwest Miami-Dade for eight years and I had to grit my teeth and visit there every spring — such a sedentary, insulin-spiking waste of a week that I had to pretend to enjoy.

    To me, people in South Florida had absolutely no quality of life unless they drove a late model, no-money-down land yacht equipped with a radiator that wouldn’t explode in constant bumper to bumper traffic.

    Although I think the region serves as a real-life lab for at least one livable-streets theory: I remember when I was there summer ’07, when gas prices spiked (easily breaking $5 a gallon in Miami Beach) — local news reported with amazement the plummeting rate, at the time, of traffic incidents and fatalities. Drivers were compelled by market forces to finally drive at reasonable speeds.

  • They forgot one charge – MURDER!

    DWI and being Unlicensed should be all it takes for such a charge. It’s practically premeditated at that point because of the level of recklessness and wanton disregard for others’ safety.

    He was going to kill someone. It was just a matter of who and where.

  • Felipe A

    A lot of dicussion regarding whether protected bicycle lanes are appropriate for the Rickerbacker Causeway here in Miami. I’d be interested in hearning arguments for and againt protected bike lanes. If any of you are similiar with the Rickenbacker Causeway, please chime in.
    Tks.

  • I took a virtual tour of the Causeway via Google and seems an easy fix. Easy but maybe expensive considering how much money Miami spends on bicycle projects.

    On such a long roadway with few cross streets or driveways, side paths or protected bike lanes can be a viable alternative. The Rick would seem to be a good candidate due to the small number of conflict points over a fairly long distance.

    I see that there are narrow shoulders that are marked as bikelanes (however they are somewhat narrow to function as shoulders) and that there is also a walkway (also very narrow) but on just one side. Also I found that it is marked for 45mph but from the design (up to 6 lanes). I’m quite sure that this limit is regularly surpassed by 20mph and sometimes way more.

    My opinion as a rider for more than 20 adult years and a new LCI (from my virtual tour of the Causeway) is that I personally would prefer to ride on a protected bike lane or in this case, the sidewalk on the portions that are actually on a bridge. That’s just my opinion but I prefer not to put my back to traffic traveling at freeway speeds with such a narrow shoulder / bike lane. I don’t know the traffic volume but the speed alone is enough to get me off the actual roadway.

    However I just noticed that this is a cul-de-sac and serves only a limited number of destinations. THERE IS NO WAY THIS BRIDGE AND CORRESPONDING ROADWAY COULD WARRANT AS MUCH AS SIX LANES!!

    My solution. Put this roadway on a MAJOR road diet. On the causeway bridge closest to the mainland the road can easily be reduced to 4 lanes. The extra room could be used to install more Jersey Barriers (or something) to produce a protected bicycle lane.

    The center island roadway again could be reduced from 6 to 4 lanes but the protection for the bike lane should be removed in places to allow cross traffic and for cyclist to make turns.

    The outer bridge may be a more difficult solution since it is “only” 4 lanes but here a movable center barrier could be implemented (if need be) to giver drivers 2 of the 3 lanes in the peak direction. However, many bridges in the northeast just use lights to tell drivers what lanes are open to which direction of traffic. With just three lanes there again should be plenty of room to put up barriers to protect the bike lane.

    Also, something interesting could be done with that old inner causeway bridge to connect it for bikes and pedestrians.

    Alright, I wasted too much time on this but I do hope it helps.

    Andy B

  • Andy….

    “However I just noticed that this is a cul-de-sac and serves only a limited number of destinations. THERE IS NO WAY THIS BRIDGE AND CORRESPONDING ROADWAY COULD WARRANT AS MUCH AS SIX LANES!!”

    Key Biscayne does get heavy traffic. The Miami SeaAquarium is a popular destination (located on Virginia Key, the first island), and the two parks (state and federal) overflow in the summer. Key Biscayne is also home to a major tennis tournament. The island also has a population of 10,000 or so, which spikes in the summer.

    Does it warrant six lanes? Well, Im not sure why it goes from 5 to 6 to 4….but there are traffic jams in the summer.

    (I lived on Key Biscayne)

  • Oh, also, the old inner bridge is in active use for pedestrians and bikes (it’s very popular for people fishing). The problem is, there’s no way across the gap where the draw bridge was, so it’s strictly for recreation.

    As for the village of key biscayne itself….they redid the ENTIRE main avenue (crandon blvd) a few years ago (google street view still shows construction). You’ll note that all the work didn’t really include bike lanes….they just added bike stencils in the existing shoulder/drainage area.

  • I’m with Andy B from NJ: Major road diet is in order for the Rickenbacker Causeway. (I’ve done the Miami to Key Biscayne round-trip half-a-dozen times each by bicycle and by car, since the early nineties.) I recall only one traffic jam, when I happened to be driving on the day of one of those tennis matches. It occurred to me then that road pricing and/or parking pricing, combined with high-quality bus service that pricing presumably would make viable, could probably have solved that day’s traffic problem.

    I confess to not having an opinion on the bike lane issue. On the times I cycled, I was too ecstatic over the beauty and wonder of the setting to pay much attention. In the same vein, I’m astonished to read that there’s a 45 mph posted speed limit on the Rick. Who knew? Not I, which maybe tells you something.

  • Felipe A

    Andy and Jass,
    Thanks for your comments. I agree with both of you. There is absolutely no need for three lanes. We need a major road diet; bring it down to two lanes, so that a protected 11-12 foot bicycle lane with jersey barriers could be accommodated. We are on the same page here; my thoughts exactly.

    Unfortunately, this is expensive to do. I am not sure we have the political will to implement such an extensive capital improvements project. Protected bicycle lanes are very controversial issue even amongst cyclists. We need to find a middle ground.

    FYI: This is not a cul de sac. Key Biscayne is a well populated with some descent density. A lot of wealthy people live here and they may have their own special interests. Regardless, I don’t believe there is a need for three lanes.

    With protected bicycle lanes, this could potentially become one of the best urban greenways in the country.
    Thanks.

    Felipe Azenha
    Transit Miami

  • LN

    More information, photos, videos ect. Here
    http://www.ghostbikes.org/miami/christophe-le-canne

    Rest in peace Christophe.

  • brian

    i rode the rickenbacker a few years ago on a visit to miami. it was mostly full of pleasure riders with little to no commuters. it was also scary as heck at the time b/c traffic was going really fast (like highway speeds) and there’s a whole bunch of wind and some serious hills (at least for Miami)

    it’s always tragic to see another dead cyclist, but i think it should be pointed out that this is a spot for leisure riders mainly (not that that’s a bad thing, since Miami is great for exercising outdoors since it’s warm usually, why not support a lively biking culture?). THe bridges to/from miami beach didn’t seem that bad to me, but I’d def. like to see some better infrastructure there too.

  • Miami – and South Florida in general – continue to mobilize around this. Bicyclists in Miami are a very diverse group, and this has brought us together and received media attention like no other recent fatality has.

    Shout out to NYC for not only posting this but also to Time’s Up for organizing the solidarity ride this Sunday.

    http://times-up.org/calendar/detail.php?calendarid=2675

    We wish we could be there*

  • it’s always tragic to see another dead cyclist, but i think it should be pointed out that this is a spot for leisure riders mainly (not that that’s a bad thing, since Miami is great for exercising outdoors since it’s warm usually, why not support a lively biking culture?). THe bridges to/from miami beach didn’t seem that bad to me, but I’d def. like to see some better infrastructure there too.

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