City of Miami Beach sealYesterday I attended my first Miami Beach Bikeways Committee meeting at City Hall (I also learned where Miami Beach City Hall is, after 7 years living here). I learned about the committee earlier this month from some of the Bike Miami volunteers and later from the owner of Miami Beach Bicycle Center, where I purchased my new bike. I introduced myself via email to the City of Miami Beach Transportation Coordinator, Christine Bettin, just to be sure it was ok for me to attend (the meetings are open to the public, though at 2 PM on a weekday you can imagine how appealing that is), and there I went today.

There were 10 people at the meeting, including members of the City government and one visitor from the Florida Dept of Transportation (FDOT). Except for two people, I have no idea who there belonged to the committee and who was a member of the community, but what was cool was that it didn’t make a difference, everyone was heard and paid attention to equally, including this newbie right here. Everyone was very nice as well as welcoming. We did have to wait for about half an hour for the City employees to show up (seems they were delayed), but after that the meeting went off just fine.

Before I go, I want to make clear that I am grateful to everyone that showed up, both the volunteers and the City employees. Back-and-forths always happen, and not everyone agrees on everything, but I admire and thank everyone’s dedication to improving bicycling in Miami Beach.

My general impression of the meeting was a good one, though two things were made incredibly evident to me by the end. First, dealing with government bureaucracy is going to try my patience to the limit. The speed at which things happen, the back and forth of people, committees and groups that any decision needs to go through, the lengthy and convoluted revision and approval process, these things drive me up the wall. And consider, this is actually a small city! But if I want to be a bicycle advocate, I gotta get used to the way it works, even if I don’t like it.

The second is that it makes a world of difference when you have people inside City Hall pushing along with you. The City of Miami has been able to take aggressive steps in improving their bicycle programs and establishing projects that will guide this improvement in years to come because they have the Mayor as their #1 ally and because they have a Bicycle Coordinator whose job is to be on top of all these bike programs. Miami Beach has people in City Hall that support bike projects as evidenced by their presence at this and other meetings, but it has no Bicycle Coordinator assigned to these programs, dropping it all instead on the lap of the Transportation Coordinator, adding it to everything else on her list. I can’t even speak for our Mayor’s level of support because, beyond her name, I have no idea who is Mayor Hererra-Bower or where she stands on these issues. Mayor Diaz she isn’t, I can tell that much, and that alone sets Miami Beach bicycle projects at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the City of Miami.

There were a few items discussed, some in more detail than others. First of all, the Miami Beach Bicycle Master Plan was brought up. Right away I learned that we indeed have a Bicycle Master Plan, though (surprise, surprise – the City of Miami Beach website is a mess) it is not available on the website; apparently it clocks in at over 600 megs (!) though it will be made available via snail mail by request in the near future.

The bike pathways project in Dade Blvd were discussed and this was what probably made me the happiest. I have written in the past about the dangers of bicycling on Dade Blvd and the need for a bikeway that not only provides safe transit down this street but that also connects to the Venetian Causeway bike lanes. It’s coming, folks. Sometime in the next couple of years, but at least it is coming.

Bicyclist on Lincoln Rd, which would be prohibited if changes to the codebook go through.

The next four points–listed as: Collins Park, 51 St Project, 71 St Project, and City Proposed Changes to the City Codebook, which then sublisted a couple of points dealing with some restrictions and possible penalties (like prohibiting biking on Lincoln Rd!)–were not discussed because the person from the City in charge of reporting this info did not show up.

Likewise, no information was made available about the Miami Beach Bicycle Share Program for the same reason. This I consider the biggest let down of the meeting. Miami Beach is about to launch a program unique in South Florida, one that will put hundreds of bikes on the road for both visitor and resident alike, one that will test the bicycle facilities of this city to the max, and we simply had no information available. From various online sources (and a quick Google search to confirm) I already knew that the bike share program is set to launch in the spring of 2010, and that was more info than folks there had. I’ll leave the Miami Beach Bike Share Program aside for now because I want to do a whole post on the subject.

We discussed bike racks and learned new ones are going up now in November in the North Beach area (awesome, because we sorely need them). We also discussed changes to the Bicycle Parking Ordinance, dealing with recommended codification on the minimum number of “short-term” and “long-term” bike parking options in different areas. This took a little while because the terms short- and long-term created certain expectations that did not necessarily match the proposed type of use in the ordinance. The ladies presenting the ordinance (I assume they were from the City, but no one made that clear one way or another) acknowledged that the minimums presented had been arrived at based on a national average and that they did not match up with those presented in the Miami 21 document or the Miami-Dade County bicycle plans. They also seemed to be unaware of the release and adoption of the Miami Bicycle Master Plan, which does cover bicycle parking in section 7.

Now, I love the idea of having plentiful bike parking and possibly some bike lockers and cages. I like that the ordinance would put minimum bike parking facilities as requirements for all new developments in the City. For example, the apartment building I’m moving into was recently renovated, and due to the lack of regulations, the bike rack that existed prior to the renovations was discarded and not replaced, something that now I have to deal with as we move in with two very heavy steel bikes that simply cannot be lugged up and down the narrow staircase to our 2nd-floor apt. The ordinance we were discussing would have forced the developer to provide the bike rack. My one problem with the ordinance is that it does not provide any equal responsibility for providing bike parking for public/City projects, only for private projects, which I think sends the wrong message. Why would the private sector support the idea when there is no equivalent commitment from the city government? Answers of “we already require car parking, so this is an addition to that rule” and “that’s the way business is done in Miami Beach” are not helpful at all; the city does have an equivalent responsibility to provide car parking, and it’s time to start doing business differently already, because the old ways have just led us into huge financial and urban planning messes from which we are now trying to dig ourselves out (the existence of Bicycle Master Plans being a good example of the desire to do things differently). Now, those answers were said in a somewhat resigned tone, which gave me the impression that even people with the city government do not like the bureaucratic merry-go-round any more than I do.

Lastly, we discussed the possible addition of a Lenox Ave bike corridor to parallel Alton Rd (which is soon to be worked on but will not include bike lanes/paths of any kind) on its east side. I honestly have no issue with the idea (except for the fact that Flamingo Park splits Lenox in two without a connection in between), but it struck me, looking at the map of proposed/future bikeways in South Beach, that the two north-south streets that would make the absolute most sense for a bike corridor or maybe even a bicycle boulevard, Michigan Ave and Meridian Ave, were only not on the map, but were completely out of consideration, apparently based on meetings in the past. That’s a shame because those streets make the most sense, especially for boulevards as these do not require the extra space at the sides that bikes lanes do and vehicular traffic is merely slowed, not detoured.

The guy from FDOT was there to let us know that the state agency is starting a study on the viability of bike lanes in as much as possible of A1A/Collins Ave starting at the Miami-Dade/Broward County border and extending to the MacArthur Causeway in South Beach. It’s not anything that will happen soon, though some segments are already in the works, but it was nice knowing that even the state is being proactive in exploring alternative transportation options and providing safe rights of way for them, for us.

The next meeting is on November 18, and I’m looking forward to it.