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Last Wednesday the 18th, I attended the November meeting of the Miami Beach Bikeways Committee at Miami Beach City Hall. We met in the Mayor’s Conference Room and once again, City Staff were almost half an hour late to the meeting, and it was mentioned this would be addressed later on.
In general this was a very non-productive meeting, yielding only two resolutions and some updates that were not very well explained. It also left me with a bit of a sour taste in regards to the commitment of City Staff, and in turn the City of Miami Beach itself, to the Bikeways Committee and what it represents for this city.
With the minutes from the previous meeting approved and no guests other than myself, we got to the updates immediately.
Christine Bettin of the Transportation Dept requested we submit a formal resolution to have the Bike Master Plan (which I learned for the first time is actually called the Atlantic Greenway Network) be updated. The Master Plan was first approved in 2007 and needs a regular update anyway to account for lessons learned over the last two years, as well as to include new proposed additions, such as better bikeways coverage on state roads within Miami Beach, and the addition of some sort of bikeway facility on Lenox Ave, as discussed last meeting. A separate-yet-related resolution was also drafted to send a formal communiqué to FDOT requesting enhanced bicycle safety considerations along Miami Beach state roads.
I’d like to digress for a moment to comment on the proposed Lenox Ave facilities. Last meeting, one Committee member voiced opposition to any kind of bikeway on Lenox, calling it “overkill.” After bicycling around my new home in South Beach for a little over a week, including several trips up and down Lenox, I couldn’t agree more. Lenox is a low-traffic volume street (unlike Meridian Ave, which would be a prime candidate for a bike boulevard, in my opinion) that simply does not need any kind of bikeways improvement to make it amenable to bicyclists. Furthermore, because it is bisected between 11th and 12th Streets by the running track and soccer pitch at Flamingo Park, it presents a problem for bicyclists, which are forced to detour west to Alton Rd (FDOT already put its foot down that there would be no bikeways on Alton, and the sidewalk between these two streets, while of average width, also contains a bus stop right at the corner of 11th) or two blocks east to Jefferson Ave so they can cut through Flamingo Park, then ride two blocks west again on 13th St to rejoin Lenox Ave. This works just fine now because it is an organic bike route, so people adjust as needed, but for a City-delineated and paid Public Works project this is simply inefficient and a waste of money and resources. A far simpler, and cheaper, alternative would be to install Bike Route signs along Lenox Ave, officially designating it as such to both bicyclists and motorists without the need for further monetary expenditures.
Someone named Keith (I’m sure everyone else there knew who he was, though he was not formerly introduced to me), a Project Manager for the City, gave updates on some projects which, frankly, only made sense if you had been there before to catch the ongoing narrative. Something is being done on Collins Park and Phase 1 is almost done; the Bayshore Right Of Way project is also on its way; and someone is measuring traffic at 51st St but it isn’t the City, and I missed if he said something about any bikeways along that route.
Xavier Falconi from the Transportation Dept gave a quick update on the Dade Boulevard bike path he presented at length last meeting. The section along the Botanical Gardens/Holocaust Memorial (between Convention Center Dr and Meridian Ave) seems to be now a formal part of the Dade Blvd bikeway. This project, one of the most important ones for Miami Beach bicyclists in my opinion, given how dangerous the high-speed traffic in Dade is, is not set to commence for about a year anyway, though we did learn that it will include a bicycle traffic light at the intersection of Dade and Alton Rd (the first one in Miami-Dade County?).
The 71st St/Normandy Dr Bike Path project by FDOT was briefly discussed. As noted last meeting, FDOT held a public viewing of its plans for the thoroughfare which include a series of bike lanes along its length. The bike lanes will suffer from DBL (Disappearing Bike Lane) Syndrome, as they will only cover one side of the busy split east-west corridor and skip some sections near the Normandy Fountain area due to on-street parking, which is, sadly, where a bike lane would be needed the most due to the heavy traffic there. Props go to the City for getting FDOT to extend the bike lanes all the way east to Abbot Ave, two blocks more than the previous abrupt end at Bay Dr East. Personally, while I welcome the addition of any bikeways on 71st/Normandy, without this being a complete lane allowing for safe bicycle travel along its length, it becomes a bit of a joke. It will take, G-d forbid, some accidents in the area for agencies to realize that either they do it correctly all the way through, or they look for an alternative that they can properly implement right from the start.
Though Bike Racks appears last in the agenda, they were actually discussed during Keith’s presentation of updates. Bettin informed that the City had started to receive new bike racks and that some had been already installed in the North Beach/Normandy Isle commercial district (I don’t recall seeing any new ones before I moved, but I may have just missed them). Once again the issue of bike racks at the new mall at 5th and Alton Rd was brought up. I’ve visited the new Publix there repeatedly and only once have I been able to use one of the two actual bike racks available, instead locking my bike to trees or garbage cans all other times. Bettin and Falconi mentioned that they were indeed in talks with the developer to place more bike racks at the mall, but that amenable to the idea as they were, they were “unresponsive” to calls and emails.
The proposed new ordinance requiring private developers in the City to provide on-street and secured bike parking was discussed inasmuch as we talked about where developers would get the required bike racks. The City does not provide nor sell them, only directing developers to their supplier, which can grant developers the City’s discount—a measly $165 for each stainless-steel “staple” bike rack. The City, however, enforces that all bike racks that can be seen from the public right of way must be the same as that used by the City. This is yet another example of how this ordinance, which I adore in theory, falls apart in practice. On top of the City not assuming an equal role as that required of private developers in providing bike parking according to the minimum numbers stated in the ordinance, it can also penalize those developers that choose, for whatever reason, to use a different style of bike rack for their projects (the use of the City-designated standard is not enforced in the ordinance, but merely a recommendation from City Hall). Yes, in practice this City-mandated homogeneity of bike racks is not really enforced, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be; the moment you get an overzealous cop or the City needs the extra revenue, the story will be very different.
The idea of the City hosting a Bike Safety Program, like the one recently held at Tropical Park was brought up, but not really given much attention. Falconi could not really comment on how much the Mayor/City would commit to it and requested that this be formally brought up at a later meeting for discussion.
The issue of City Staff being late was finally brought up. A Committee member noted that for the past 6-8 months, the City Staff, which already is in the City Hall building, has been consistently late to meetings, whereas Committee members, all volunteers who take time off work to attend, have been on time. The idea of moving the meetings to another day and/or time was tossed about for about 10 minutes but there was just too much discord as to what would be a good fit for all. It was agreed to leave them on the third Wednesday of the month at 2:00 PM and it was requested of the City Staff to please arrive on time. They in turn asked if perhaps other options could be found that did not necessitate them being present; perhaps a written report could be sent. The problem with reports, as was countered, is that you can’t ask questions of them, and without City Staff present, there’s basically no meeting. Both Keith and Falconi flat out stated that they were stretched thin by the cuts at City Hall (Falconi actually said, “You’re lucky if you get one of us in here,” referring to himself and Bettin) and that their time was short as it was, that they could not really commit beyond doing their best at the given dates.
The December meeting date was shuffled about a bit before being completely scrapped. This is good in that it gives two months to see if some actual updates can be discussed come January, but it sucks because it is two months without anything going on.
I asked about the Bike Share Program but was told this was left for December’s meeting, which now means January. I did get the email of the person in the Parking Dept (?!) that is in charge, so I will be inquiring on my own.
As I said above, I felt this meeting was not productive at all; I don’t necessarily think each meeting will yield great results, but this just felt so flat. The one actual item of progress was merely a motion to request that the Bike Master Plan be updated, which to me seems like such an extra step but I understand that this is just government bureaucracy procedure. The updates to current road/bikeways projects were insubstantial unless you were intimate with the previous details (and in the Committee’s defense, I was the only guest, so I assume they were all knowledgeable of what was being talked about), and the issue of bike racks felt like what it normally feels, like the token project where progress is easy to gauge and the City can point at and say they are doing something.
The City Staff’s quick desire to find ways to excuse themselves from these meetings, above all, tinged the whole affair for me, and left me seriously wondering exactly how committed is Miami Beach towards improvement of bicycling in the city. I applaud that at a time when budgets have been cut and workloads raised, these City employees continue to attend, but then again, unless I am sorely mistaken, isn’t this part of their job as well? The Bikeways Committee was created at the behest of Mayor Herrera-Bower, so I assume it is something she is interested in (assume being the key word here, as beyond the creation of the Committee, the Mayor’s interest and involvement are not clear at all) and by consequence City Hall as well, but I remain skeptical of it. Why, for example, is there no Bicycle Coordinator in Miami Beach? Budget cuts, I’m sure is the answer, but where are the savings and the efficiency if the staff members assigned to attend to the business which a Bike Coordinator would be taking care of (like attending Bikeways Committee meetings and being their liaison with City Hall) are looking for ways out?
I admit this may not be entirely fair to the City Staff involved in these meetings, but it is the impression given.
I hope that the winter break will give time for progress to happen and that when we reconvene in January there are some actual updates to report. In the meantime, I have sent Christine Bettin a solution that will hopefully mean the Atlantic Greenway Network (aka Miami Beach Bike Master Plan) will soon be available for download from the City website for public perusal. Maybe we can even hope for a page on the City website for the Bikeways Committee to also share each meeting’s minutes and thus be more public? I can wish.