At a recent city commission meeting, what began as a simple invitation to the city manager and commission to join Mari Chael and local residents on a “joyous bike ride” around scenic South Miami has escalated into a $1 million insurance binder permit demand and other red tape requirements before the ride can proceed.
“Let me make this perfectly clear,” said City Manager Hector Mirabile to Ms. Chael. “Under no circumstances will you do this unless this commission authorizes you to do it. And two, if it does happen and you violate a law, the police will take action and code enforcement will take action.”
A clearly dumbfounded Chael was taken aback by the response of the city manager and vice mayor to her invitation. “I was surprised at the reaction,” she said. “Apparently, the city manager’s assistant e-mailed me back after I sent the initial invitation telling me that a special event permit was required, but it went right to my spam and I didn’t see it before tonight’s meeting. I don’t want to pick any fights or take on any battles at city hall, but as far as I’m concerned, it is within our rights, within the Florida statutes that a group can get together and bike ride as long as they abide by the rules of the road of the state of Florida. There is no special event here.”
There seems to be a matter of differing definitions of what constitutes an event. Mirabile said, “It’s a special event no matter how you cloak it in my determination. We were notified in writing an event was taking place. That requires the city to form some type of security and not compromise the safety of citizens, no matter what it is called. It requires us to integrate police in this whether we are invited or not, and that costs money.”
Although local architect Mari Chael did not request any street closings to accommodate the bikers, she said that she was hoping police officers supportive of making South Miami more bike-friendly would possibly volunteer to join them and offer safety tips before the ride.
The confrontational tone of the city manager to the citizen request seemed surprising, even to some of the commissioners. Commissioner Palmer commented, “Based on what I am hearing, this commission and everyone else (initially) encouraged them to ride. This is a social event and commonplace in other cities that want to encourage citizens to come out. I really want to see local people encouraged. If they have to do all this, (obtain special event permit procedures) it’s not going to happen.”
Commissioner Harris and Beasley seemed to agree, saying North Miami has similar rides twice a month and that the group can do whatever they want, spontaneously. Mayor Stoddard was not present at the meeting.
Bike SoMi is a local grass roots group, formally organized on Earth Day last April. They are the organizers behind the idea of the community ride to raise awareness, with a petition for making South Miami more pedestrian and bike friendly.
The original outing was scheduled for Monday evening, June 27, originating from city hall and ending up at Sunset Tavern after an hour tour. The group intended to make informal observations during the ride about the city’s friendliness to bikers and walkers.
When Ms. Chael referred to the ride as an “event,” it all went downhill from there. She offered different suggestions so the ride could proceed without conflicts with the city manager’s office, but to no avail. Her suggestions included a new point of origin, waiving any interest in a voluntary police escort and changing the date of the ride. She also reiterated that there was no need for street closings of any kind.
“This is an event. It came out of your own mouth,” said Mirabile. “You are not allowed to do it unless this commission approves it.”
Ms. Chael’s concluding remarks were that she would talk to her fellow organizers and follow protocol. “I apologize if I caused any distress. It was totally unintentional,” she said. “We had hoped to have a happy event and we still hope to have a happy event, and I’d like your support at some point.”
Community cyclist John Edward Smith spoke in support of the bikers saying he carries in his wallet a photograph of an SUV that ran him over and did not even realize that he was under his car. “People need to exercise their own restraint and rules of the road,” he said. “The cyclist is a vehicle and must follow the laws of the state of Florida.”
Smith has led numerous group rides, including one celebrating the 75th anniversary of South Miami, at which time he notified all area municipalities as a courtesy. “I would caution the city against going down a precipitous path and calling this an event,” he said. “I feel we should be looking at this with more support of an initiative that brings people together.”