Friday, October 10, 2008

Print This Article

Miami rides a green wave toward a 'bike friendly' city

• A: It's the traffic, stupid!

• Q: What's the reason so few people in Miami bicycle even though it's warm all year and the terrain perfectly flat?

Whether it's out of fear of getting crushed by two tons of speeding metal, the clueless motorists or the near-total lack of bike lanes, Miamians have long been notoriously bike-averse.

So what's a car-choked town to do if it wants to join a growing trend and foster safe cycling for recreation and transportation?  You do what the city of Miami -- incredibly, perhaps -- is starting to do.

First, you draw up a bike plan for the first time ever: identify suitable streets, create bike lanes and signage, provide bike parking and print up ''bike-friendly'' maps.  And then, to show that people do want this, pick a day when main streets in the center of town can be closed to cars and turn them over to the citizenry to freely bike, walk, skate, jog, congregate.

Say, Sunday, Nov. 9.  That day, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the city will close off Flagler Street from the Miami-Dade County Courthouse to Bayfront Park and South Miami Avenue from Flagler over the Miami River to the new Mary Brickell Village dining and retail complex.

Bike Miami, an event the city hopes will become a regular happening, is modeled after the famed Ciclovía in Bogotá. Some 70 miles of main streets in the Colombian capital are closed to cars every Sunday and holiday, drawing hundreds of thousands of people -- an example cities from New York to San Francisco and, yes, Miami, are now trying to emulate.

''We know this is our chance,'' said Mike Lydon, an urban planner and bicycle commuter who as a volunteer has worked closely with city officials on the bike plans. ``If we can get a couple thousand riders out, that will be a big statement.''  The event will mark the public debut of a months-long effort by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, eager to burnish his ''green'' legacy as his tenure draws to a close, to transform Miami into a bike-friendly city.

His aides say it's an extension of the mayor's goal of improving the city's quality of life by luring residents downtown, revitalizing neighborhoods and making streets welcoming to pedestrians, thereby reducing auto dependency and carbon emissions.  And they say there is no better time: Across the country, bicycling has spiked as urban living becomes more popular and people seek alternatives to cars amid sharply rising gas prices. New York City and Chicago, among others, have big plans to create miles of bike lanes and encourage bike commuting.

On Oct. 16, Diaz's Green Commission and Office of Sustainable Initiatives will present a Bike Action Plan to the City Commission that outlines where new bike lanes, bike ''boulevards'' and other designated bike routes should be created, including, among other possibilities, parts of Coral Way, Northeast Second Avenue and South Bayshore Drive.

Some, in fact, are already underway: When city officials recently realized the state was getting ready to redo part of Coral Way, it persuaded road planners to add bike lanes at the last minute. That means some 16 blocks, from Southwest 15th Road to Southwest 12th Avenue near the Vizcaya Metrorail Station, will likely be striped for bikes. Designated lanes will also be added when Northeast Second Avenue is repaved from Wynwood through the Design District and Little Haiti.  ''We want to get these things done,'' said Robert Ruano, director of sustainable initiatives for the city. ``These are short-term solutions we can take now. It's not about doing a beautiful map that will sit on a shelf.''

This is all the result of a groundswell of bike-activism, led by small grass-roots groups -- Emerge Miami, and the Green Mobility Network -- pining for more space for cycling and walking as an alternative to cars. Activists got Diaz's buy-in at a meeting in February after delivering a briefing paper and a big binder with examples of other cities' bike plans and ordinances.

The activists say they are impressed by city staffers' follow-through, but acknowledge that making Miami bike-friendly will require far more than slapping stripes on asphalt.  The city, they say, has agreed to supplement the mapping with public campaigns to educate motorists and cyclists alike on how to safely share roadways. (Bicycles are vehicles under state law, meaning cyclists have the right to use roadways, as well as the obligation to observe traffic laws.)

''This is an uphill battle, because Miami grew up around the automobile.'' said Hank Sanchez-Resnik, a member of Green Mobility's board and Diaz's new Bicycle Action Committee. ``The entire street grid, the buildings, it's all designed for cars to move quickly. It's a city for cars, not for people.  ``We have an awful lot of catching up to do, but at least it's happening.''

The city's goal is ambitious: to earn a designation as a bike-friendly city from the League of American Bicyclists by 2012.  That would be quite a turnaround. In its June issue this year, Bicycling magazine named Miami one of the worst cities for cyclists in the country.

The action plan is meant as a precursor to a more-comprehensive bike master plan the city pledges to develop within five years. In time, the idea is to have a network of safe, mostly on-street bike routes linking major corridors, neighborhoods, parks and schools, supplemented by widely available bike racks and covered parking.  The routes would include not just bike lanes but also ''bike boulevards'' -- side streets made safe for bikes through traffic-calming approaches such as narrower lanes.

The plan would require all city-sponsored events to provide bike parking. It would also seek ways to encourage developers to include showers and lockers in new or renovated buildings for bike commuters.  Routes would be coordinated with Miami-Dade County, which has an existing bike program. Miami-Dade planners are working on plans for commuter bikeways as well as greenways that would link neighborhoods and the county's far-flung parks.  The aim, activists say, is to allay the average Miamian's fears about cycling, not the Lycra lizards who already brave the city's mean streets.

Thus Bike Miami, which is designed to both gauge and stoke interest in cycling in the city. And, not incidentally, to show off the gradually revitalizing downtown.  Plans are still coming together, but the city and its supporters hope to create a family-friendly, fair-like atmosphere.

They encourage attendees to take public transit and visit new restaurants and shops, Bayfront Park and the new art-filled baywalk at the mouth of the Miami River. Free bike-valet parking will be available at Bayfront Park and Mary Brickell Village.  'We hope people will say, `Hey, it's safe, it sounds good, I'll bring the kids and the family,' '' Sanchez-Resnik said. ``It has great potential to galvanize the community and let people know Miami is doing something to promote bicycling.''

No comments: