Politics: On a Bicycle Lane Built for Whom?

By Jeffrey Bradley

Prairie: Preserved
28th Street: Lost
34th Street: Lost
Meridian: Maybe

That’s the not-so-good bike-lane news from the March 8 Capital Improvement Projects Oversight Committee (CIPOC), where members of Bayshore argued for a change in their neighborhood Basis of Design Report (BODR) to narrow streets and remove bicycle lanes in the plan and on the ground. Former commissioner and current CIPOC Chair Saul Gross stated he would not be in favor of removing existing bike lanes on Prairie Avenue in central Bayshore, but reminded staff that the commission was clear about not adding asphalt to roads during resurfacing to accommodate bicycle lanes.

But how does someone known for his political savvy think roadways with bike lanes are built?

A BODR is a commission-approved narrative on current conditions with already approved outcomes to guide the project, so anything that delays implementation is a red herring. And talk of the BODR’s making no mention of bike lanes is at best disingenuous because the city already committed to building these much-needed alternative transportation options when the street projects fell due. But it does leave some quibble-room for obstructionists.

If the issue at stake is too many cars going too fast on neighborhood streets, then isn’t the solution getting more bikes on those streets to reduce and slow traffic? Makes sense to us — or are we missing something?

In fact, can we ever build a bicycle-friendly city in the face of such parochial NIMBYism? This is how out of touch this kind of backward thinking is, especially coming in mid-Bicycle Month: Rather than re-stripe wider streets with dedicated bicycle facilities to calm traffic, the residents hope by lumping bicyclists and motorists together (sharing a 10-foot-wide travel lane) they’ll slow or discourage the cut-through traffic. But topsy-turvy thinking like this makes them topsy and us turvy because it’s wrong. It will not make their streets safer but more dangerous. Despite this, their desires are seriously considered by appointed and elected officials who think reelection hinges on appeasing local interests at the expense of the community. The term, we believe, is a lack of vision. Only ward-heels would continually place the misguided views of the few ahead of the needs of the many. It’s Miami Beach’s fatal flaw that these slapdash, ad hoc fixes come at the expense of the bigger picture. But then, “It’s all about the parking”, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, autocentricity holds sway, and gridlock worsens as the goal of reducing, not adding, to traffic on a barrier island recedes further. This newest NIMBY assault could be a turning point that imperils even the feeble attempts by the administration to implement a master plan calling for more reliance on bicycles.

But here’s the real deal: According to traffic experts, a well-used bike lane is the best and most natural traffic-calming device!

If so, administration officials and NIMBYists seem to be conspiring to keep Miami Beach in the transportation dark ages.

To be effective, the city must lay down a network of marked bicycle lanes that riders actually feel comfortable using — else that gridlock graveyard of tires and tin will continue dominating and deteriorating our way of life. Of all places on earth, we should be taking advantage of the natural, tropical mobility opportunities that surround us. But now, with bicycles using the sidewalks, for Ford’s sake, pedestrians are near obliged to walk in the streets, even in dark of night. Until we say No! to the NIMBY posture of shifting bike lanes to the next block over — a ridiculous demand made by unsophisticates or worse — and proliferate them wherever and whenever possible, we’ll never fulfill our urban paradise potential.

Unfortunately, sometimes people must be brought along kicking and screaming. Well, OK; if serving the greater good is the end, then aggressive advocacy must be the means.

When NIMBYism kicks in, realize that it’s just fear. When the playground arguments over who’s right or what should get done or taken out at the last minute begin, consider this:

The City Commission adopted the Bicycle Master Plan in the fall of 2007. Ratified by commission vote, this overlay to the 13 neighborhood BODRs reflects years of coordinating street improvement projects of Public Works and CIP GO BONDs to incorporate bicycle lanes throughout the city. After this 1999 bond was passed, the city brought in a consultant and produced the plan to build a system with the required work undertaken when city projects improved neighborhood streets.

The city has since adopted a posture that prohibits bicycle lanes from being built with new asphalt, simply because new lanes, not phased in until construction began, necessitated a costly change. The commission naturally expressed shock, but the delay —and overruns — were their own.

The Bicycle Master Plan calls for bike lanes along all of Prairie north of 44th Street. However, a deal was hatched during construction of the new high school between the then-principal, some neighborhood bitter-enders and compliant city staff to narrow the road and exclude bicycle lanes. When details spilled out, instead of scuttling all plans for the street, the commission, specifically Commissioner Gross, promised on the record that the lane would shift north at High-Tide to Meridian — not a bad compromise; if the marked lane could be got to Lincoln Road (along Meridian), there is ROW and asphalt aplenty. Chairman Gross, much to his credit, reiterated that promise during Monday’s meeting.

This whole argument strikes at the heart of autocentricity, because required bicycle lanes and complete streets will easily and dramatically improve our community. When it comes to bicycles, too often we’ve seen projects change to exclude bicycle facilities because of competing interests for the streetscape. And, decision-makers steadfastly refuse to see the numbers of riders out there. But until the city shows true leadership in making non-motorized facilities equitable, we’ll continue to endure gridlock and discourage the utilization of our excellent temperate environment and flat terrain for mobility. As a small, urban island, we desperately need congestion solutions to ensure a high quality of life and strong economic future.

Interested in becoming part of the transportation solution? Contact BASIC, the Bicycle Activists for a Safe, Integrated City at bikemb@gmail.com. This group networks riders to advocate for expanded bicycle facilities before municipal boards and committees where decisions are made regarding funding and programming. The change can’t come till you want it to.

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