How to make Miami as bikeable as Copenhagen

Miami is a bicyclist’s nightmare. Bike lanes are few and far between and drivers treat cyclists like they’re an affront. Getting around by bike during rush hour is a courageous act.

Copenhagen, meanwhile, is a bicyclist’s dream. Bicyclists have their own lanes separated from vehicle traffic and the traffic lights are timed to keep them moving at peak travel times, rather than riding their brakes or doing that really annoying thing where you wobble and peddle slowly to try and avoid having to come to a complete stop.

Urban designer Mikael Colville-Andersen is on a mission to make more cities like Copenhagen.

Although he was born and raised in Calgary, Canada (“If you think Miami’s bad [for bicyclists], Calgary sucks,” he says), he’s called Copenhagen home for a long time now, zipping to and from work on his bicycle. And he travels the world with other members of his company, Copenhagenize Design Co., teaching cities like Strasbourg, France, and Detroit how to get there themselves.

Bernard Zyscovich, the man behind the Rickenbacker overhaul dubbed “Plan Z,”  brought him to Miami last week in hopes of inspiring us to do some of that here.

But what does it mean to Copenhagenize a city? And what does that look like for a car-centric city? It’s possible, Colville-Anderson says – Copenhagen was as car-choked as Miami a couple decades ago.

“I just think it means that you are taking the bicycle seriously as transport. It’s not just a way to get to the beach, it’s an integral part of the transportation system in a city… Copenhagenizing a city is just merely implementing best practice bicycle infrastructure, making it safe and accessible and attractive to ride a bike,” Colville-Andersen said.

“There’s a zeitgeist at the moment. This is not some wacky little idea. There are cities all over the world doing this. Paris, Strasbourg, Detroit, and Long Beach, California. They are ready for a game-changer, they are ready to shift the paradigm. When you have Detroit and Long Beach, you know America is on the verge of an urban transport revolution.”

Here’s him elaborating on it at TedxZurich:

Can Miami get there? We talked to Colville-Anderson just after he arrived at his hotel on Miami Beach, straight from the airport. He had pretty much only seen the expressway, the Macarthur Causeway, and South Beach when we asked for his first impression.

“I threw up in my mouth almost the entire way here because of the typical American traffic engineering… but as soon as you hit South Beach, there’s girls in bikinis riding bikes… It’s chaotic traffic but there are regular people on bicycles using bikes to get around,” he said.

So Miami Beach is doing alright (although South Beach residents who get around on a bike might beg to differ). The rest of the county, not so much.

That’s because Miami-Dade is not designed with bicycles in mind, leaving much to desire for those on two wheels. That brings us to Colville-Anderson first suggestion for Copenhagenizing Miami: desire lines.

Desire lines

Planners in Copenhagen paid attention to the shortcuts bicyclists were taking through parks and intersections, and then built infrastructure to make them official paths.

Colville-Anderson says  “desire lines” – the routes that bikers want, versus the routes in place — are what Miami planners should be paying attention to.

You’ll often find cyclists bending the rules or creating their own paths in order to get around efficiently. Those routes that Miami bikers are unofficially using are the desire lines which Colville-Anderson says are the solution. Infrastructure created with bicyclists in mind can “seduce” people into choosing the bike over the car to get around, he says.

The “green wave”

Most cities have an urban core that a majority of working residents have to drive toward in the morning for work, and leave from in the evening when they head home. Lots of cities alter their traffic light patterns or even swap lanes over to keep traffic moving in the in-demand direction.

But there’s nothing like that for cyclists, and anyone who has tried to share the road with cars during a traffic jam can agree that it’s pretty much the worst experience ever.

Not so in Copenhagen, where the separate lane for bicyclists is set up to give them a pretty much constant green light for several miles headed toward the urban core or away from it, depending on the time of day. Some cities have started doing this during periods of bad weather as well, to minimize the time bike commuters have to spend in the rain.

The first step? Plan Z.

Essentially, Copenhagen used human-centered design – with bicyclists’ needs given as much weight as pedestrians, transit users, and drivers – for their city.

So too does Plan Z, Zyscovich’s fantastical reimagination of the Rickenbacker Causeway, which would turn the popular but dangerous roadway into a linear park with a separate, parallel roadway for bicyclists and pedestrians as they enter the causeway (see images below and video at the top).

“In our city, in Miami, people are afraid to be on a bike. They tend to [bike] on the outskirts or for athletic and exercise reasons…. But what we all want is to be able to use the bicycle for commuting and transportation, better systems to connect the existing streets and make them safe for bicycles,” Zyscovich said.

  • Stephan Linn

    Plan-Z duplicates the existing infrastructure, while not solving the major safety issues of the causeway. First, there exists a US1 crossover at the Viscaya MetroRail station, which is adjacent to the M-path/UnderLine. Also, both causeway bridges offer safe underpaths to traverse the causeway. As a daily biker on the causeway, I suggest that the remaining safety issues could be addressed by traffic engineers a far less cost, and the money saved could be spent making the less picturesque streets of Miami more pedestrian and bike friendly.

  • George Reader

    I had been wondering where Peter was, I thought his dog died.
    When he eventually showed up at the dog park he explained, two cracked vertebrae and a broken leg going down Collins on a Sunday morning, ‘guy was texting’.
    As I say to all who risk our roads, next time you feel like donning your Pirelli (choose advertiser) emblazoned skin tight top (and unfortunately bottoms), ask yourself one question, ‘what would your Mother say’?
    HEY, I want to get from North Miami to Downtown or some other useful A to B, not frigging Key Biscayne, who works there?