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Don't blame budget cuts in cyclist's death

The Miami Herald: Don’t blame budget cuts in cyclist’s death

OUR OPINION: cf,gtm Miami-Dade fire-rescue, cities must work together

There’s the temptation to start finger-pointing blame in the death of bicyclist Christopher LeCanne, who was riding along the Rickenbacker Causeway where thousands of bikers, runners and beach-goers descend on weekends.

Witnesses say it took Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue at least 15 minutes to respond from a South Miami station, even though there are nearby fire stations from Miami and the Village of Key Biscayne that could have cut that response time by half or better. The first call, in fact, went to 911 dispatchers at the city of Miami, which alerted Miami-Dade. The county has a Key Biscayne station that was closed during the time of the crash and summoned the South Miami crew. Incredibly, Key Biscayne rescue was never notified.

Surely the blame lies in reckless driving, and the suspected hit-and-run driver has been arrested. But the unnecessary delay by county rescue trucks to reach the scene cannot be ignored.

Some may want to blame Miami-Dade’s budget cuts, which forced some services to be trimmed and the county’s Key Biscayne station to open later on weekends. That’s a canard.

The Miami-Dade Commission, in fact, increased the fire-services tax rate in Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s initial budget recommendation. A toll increase on the causeway was supposed to raise money to keep the county’s station operating at full strength. At least that’s what Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, whose district includes Key Biscayne, thought.

Mayor Alvarez has ordered an investigation to go over what happened and how to improve cooperation between the county and cities. It’s a good first step.

But it’s also becoming clear that ``mutual aid’’ procedures were not followed. Had they been, the Key Biscayne station would have been called, and Miami’s rescue crew would not have wasted valuable minutes, while a man lay dying, expecting the county to get there first.

The fire chiefs of Key Biscayne, Miami and Miami-Dade met in December to go over those procedures. Someone seems not to have followed through.

There are other pockets in the county where a mish-mash of jurisdictions collide. The county and all its cities should be closing stations that are too close to one another and giving the resources to those needed most. It makes no sense to have three stations nearby if life-saving paramedics don’t get to the injured in time.

It’s also important to find a way for cars and bikes to coexist on this wildly popular route. The county’s Public Works Department is reviewing the plans for bicycle lanes along Bear Cut Bridge, where the crash occurred, to see if improvements might be needed and whether other measures can be taken to protect bikers. Commissioner Gimenez also wisely suggests more police to enforce speed limits, especially on weekends.

Despite severe budget cuts in this recession, there are ways to work smart and not lose one second of critical response time in an emergency. Public safety, as the mayor promised during budget deliberations, should never be compromised.