We cover all kinds of alternative energy and transportation on Gas2.org- but, quite honestly, when you talk about clean, sustainable personal transportation nothing beats simple, human-powered bicycles. According to U.S. Census estimates, about half of all Americans live within five miles of their workplace. Those who decided to bike those 5 miles every day rather than driving an average car could reduce total household emissions by six percent– impressive for a relatively minor tweak. So how many of us are riding bikes? Just as recently as 2010, 39.3 million Americans age seven and older were estimated to have ridden a bicycle six times or more in a year (according to the National Sporting Goods Association). This was up about 3% from 2009. And while we don’t know exactly how often those folks rode on errands or to work, we do know that Americans don’t commute by bicycle as much as, say, our friends in The Netherlands.
That seems to be changing. There is a definite push in major cities across our nation to make cycling for transportation as prevalent as biking for pleasure. Bike advocates and enthusiasts have been working for years to make commuting by bike a safe and viable option for fellow citizens. Take a tour of our union from a cyclist’s perspective and see what leading-edge bike advocates are doing to push for wider adoption of bicycles as transportation in their cities, including the cultural, infrastructure and policy changes needed to make that happen.
Bike Miami-Dade County
We’re starting with what reportedly used to be one of the least bike-friendly areas in the States- Miami-Dade County. Of course, you’d think with all the flat land and hundreds of days of searing sunshine, Miami-Dade would rank as a bicyclist’s paradise. Not quite. For example, in 2008, the City of Miami ranked as one of the worst cities in the country for bike riders. While those lists are a smidgen sensational, they rang true for many locals. Much worse is the “Dangerous by Design 2011” report by Transportation for America, which showed that most of Florida’s streets were designed for speeding cars rather than pedestrian safety. Drivers in Miami also don’t seem to care much for pedestrians or cyclists, too often to horrific, fatal effect.
It’s in answer to these realities that there is a huge push throughout all of the county led by local, interconnected groups to make riding safe and effortless. I spoke with just a few players, including City of Miami Bicycle Coordinator Collin Worth, John Hopkins, director of the Green Mobility Network, Rydel Deed, bike enthusiast and blogger for The Miami Bike Scene and a Critical Mass Rider, as well as Mari Chael, one of many ardent advocates for the South Miami bike scene (or Bike SoMi). They’ve given a solid message: local advocacy is vital to any progress in bicycle awareness, infrastructure, and riding. There have been many successes over the last year that other cities might learn from; read about them in the pages ahead.
M-PATH EXTENSION: Connecting the suburbs to downtown Miami
The greatest achievement of 2011 seems to be the completion of the last mile and a quarter of the M-Path (case in point: many happy locals celebrated with a huge ride culminating in cake and ice cream). The M-Path Extension bicycle and pedestrian trail project connected the center of downtown Miami with South Dade, or the suburbs, a useful feat that other cities should pay attention to. The project was wrapped up in December thanks to the tireless efforts of the Green Mobility Network and other local groups, efforts which included attending meetings, tweeting/blogging/commenting their hearts out, and rides centered on the M-Path, according to Mr. Hopkins. The project included constructing a trail for bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as constructing a bridge over a dangerous highway entrance ramp. The city also placed new signs and traffic signals at intersections, and installed pedestrian ramps at intersections as well for around $4.5 million.
According to Mr. Hopkins, the M-Path opens up opportunities for people living in the southern suburbs. The completed trail makes Dadeland Mall, which used to be the largest shopping center in South Florida, accessible to walkers from a couple of miles away and to cyclists up to 20 or 30 miles away. Better yet, “people who live in the southern suburbs will be a lot more able to ride up to the University of Miami or all the way Downtown to take advantage of employment opportunities or cultural activities.”
The M-Path still needs some polishing, including additions of crosswalks with proper signage and additions of electronic crosswalk signs, according to Mr. Deed. “Adequate and safe crosswalks still need to be made along most of the stretch of the M-Path, particularly around Coconut Grove, Silver Bluff…” Notwithstanding the necessary changes, the M-Path is still a great way to use bicycling as transportation and not just for fun, says Mr. Hopkins. “The big issue when you start looking at bicycling as a form of transportation and not just a way to go out and work up a sweat is you want to be able to get from some place to someplace else. Connectivity is really what makes bicycle facilities succeed as a transportation, and we’ve got it with this.”
SAFETY INITIATIVES: Getting kids walking and biking to schools
The City of Miami’s bicycle initiative page states that the city “is proactively creating an education program for bicyclists and law enforcement personnel to work together towards safe bicycling habits. The State of Florida and South Florida collectively rank in the bottom 5% of states and counties respectively for pedestrian and bicycle fatalities on roadways.” Ouch. The City of Miami already works with the BikeSafe™ program, which will soon be in all schools in the county. The program’s aim is to reduce bicycle trauma in children through teaching a bike safety curriculum throughout the county.
In addition to the BikeSafe™ program, Mr. Worth is collaborating on designing digital billboards with the South Florida Bike Coalition to promote bike safety messages. In the future, Mr. Worth hopes to help educate local police on bike laws. “Our goal is to be a bike friendly city. But you don’t just get there just through adding bike lanes. There is also an educational component, and an encouragement component and making sure that enforcement takes place.”
The Green Mobility Network, which works with all of Miami-Dade County and beyond, will be working with Safe Routes to School, a national organization working on getting children walking or biking to school. The state of Florida shut down funding for Safe Routes in December of 2011; but it will continue thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
BIKE SHARE: It’s happening in Miami Beach, and more…
Bike sharing programs are a great way to encourage commutes by bike; just check out Washington D.C.’s . DECOBIKE is a private company that partnered with the City of Miami Beach to offer the city’s official bike sharing and rental program. DECOBIKE’S network of 100 solar-powered bike rentals and sharing stations with 1000 bikes is accessible 24 hours a day, and easy to use by most accounts. The program is getting rave reviews on Yelp (but getting negative reviews on local sites). Mr. Worth mentioned that the City of Miami is in negotiations with DECOBIKE to bring the bikeshare program south, which would potentially bring 50 stations and 500 bikes to the city.
There are many more improvements being made in the many municipalities; from new bike lanes to sharrows being installed more frequently thanks to petitions on Change.org, to the organization of bike days and bike races. Miami is slowly experiencing a shift in culture, and it’s decidedly more bike friendly. Read Part Two for more on the fun being had, as well as the issues being tackled in 2012.