What’s next for Miami walkability and biking

For decades Miami has been dominated by car travel, but as congestion clogs roads and more pedestrians and cyclists are killed, the city is embracing a broad push for new transit options. While ideas for new rail and bus service often get the most attention, smaller projects aimed at improving travel for cyclists and pedestrians are quietly taking hold. We look at four Miami walkability and biking plans, in various stages of development, that could change how we get around.

A rendering for The underline.
Underline rendering (Friends of the Underline)

The Underline is underway

Cyclists and pedestrians may be familiar with the M Path, a linear separated trail running about 10 miles alongside US-1 from South Miami to Brickell. A fixture for commuters and recreation alike, the M Path has endured decades of regular use with little in the way of renovation and updates beyond the occasional resurfacing and touch-ups.

While the major roads that intersect it have had their share of revitalization, the M Path has been largely ignored. Those who navigate it contend with challenging roadway crossings, sidewalk curbs bisecting what should be a straight path, and an unsettling lack of lighting at night. That is all about to change.

The Friends of the Underline are reforming Miami’s walkability through both municipal support and crowd sourcing, making the development of a world-class park space a product of the people’s vision. Drawing funding from The Miami Foundation’s Public Space Challenge, private and public donations, and opening the design process to public ideas and input, the Underline promises to be 10 miles of urban paradise. Boasting designs for market spaces, art installations, greenery, and fitness equipment, the Underline is an ambitious vision at an opportune moment in Miami.

While waiting for the Underline to break ground, check out their installation at Vizcaya Metrorail Station from February 14 to 21. There, the Friends will set up multicolored lighting under the Metrorail, adding some technicolor life to the railway’s uniformly gray concrete architecture. A sweet bonus: The Friends will be promoting their project and giving away chocolate at Vizcaya station on Valentine’s Day, starting at 10 a.m.

Drafting a plan in Little Havana

The drafting of a Master Plan is promising news, if only because it means someone is paying attention. The Miami City Commission has launched an official study into connectivity, safety, and ergonomic coexistence between motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians in Little Havana. Bringing in grant money from the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Organization to fund its development, this study coincides with bike/ped initiatives lining historic Calle Ocho, such as open streets events and bike share stations.The study, listed among a number of ongoing MPO projects awaiting a public report, is an enticing promise for a reformed major throughway.

Little Havana has shown commuter savvy in the past year, providing milestones like adding CitiBike share stations at the end of 2014, and working with the Florida Department of Transportation to close the 8th Street to automotive traffic in Calle Ocho’s first Ciclovia — a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly street fair the likes of which riders might remember during downtown’s Bike Miami Days of yore. The Master Plan echoes other local initiatives in contemplating lane closures for bicycle lanes and sharrows, and studying possible routing for facilities such as racks, storage, and bike share stations.

Even if Little Havana is not on your daily commute, the key word is “connectivity”: all travelers can benefit from a smoother, conscientious infrastructure. This is a good time to contact your commissioner, Mayor Regalado, and friendly neighborhood city planners to offer your opinion on how the Little Havana Bike/Ped Master Plan can make your city work better for you.

Rethinking Ocean Drive

Reformatting South Beach’s most chaotic roadways in an inevitable step toward making sense of a street grid unaltered in a century. Ocean Drive, the postcard-perfect Art Deco row everyone’s out-of-state friends assume is the template for all of Miami, is on the docket for a much-needed overhaul. Contention in a tight space between pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists makes visiting the beach on Miami’s most recognizable street an undertaking certain to suck some of the fun out of a day in the sun.

The City of Miami Beach seeks to foster a coexistence between everyone who hits Ocean Drive, and some remarkable imaginations are alight. One particular design by architect Allan Shulman, will pragmatically raise the street and nix the curb so everyone moves on a equal plane, and widen pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. But, Shulman has channelled the essence of Wynwood street painting, 80’s Miami love of pink pastel, and a little bit of Galaga to provide roadway patterns certain to make tourists on their way home from the clubs wonder if they had a few too many. Whether you love or hate the designs, there’s still time to contact the City of Miami Beach to let them know your ideas.

Drawing the Biscayne Line

Not a year goes by without hullabaloo about innovative plans to turn a swath of Miami’s developed waterfront into a coastline contiguous pedestrian path. This idea has been floated continually for years, with visionaries suggesting joining existing promenades along the Miami Riverwalk, the Bayfront greenway, the Rickenbacker Causeway, Edgewater, and public portions of developed seaside real estate into a meandering bayside path.

Proposed projects are underway, bringing in architecture, design, and planning heavy hitters from across South Florida. The Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Office has collaborated with the University of Miami School of Architecture and the Duany Plater-Zyberk new urbanism design firm to envision On the Waterfront, a comprehensive study on the bay’s brimming potential. Across town, The Related Group and Arquitectonica – whose building designs in development pepper Coconut Grove and Downtown – have provided a study on The Biscayne Line. All parties imagine a lengthy path, bordering Biscayne Bay, offering spacious accommodations for walkers, cyclists, art installations, and sweet vistas.

So what are we waiting for?

To make The Biscayne Line a reality, communities need to show some serious commitment in contacting their representatives. The imposing figures cut by many a private development dropped along the bay may make the prospects of people’s baywalk seem unrealistic; however, a largely under-recognized amendment to the City of Miami’s charter may allow public claim to waterfront space. The 1979 Dan Paul Amendment, as part of the City of Miami’s Code, establishes that waterfront property must allocate 50 feet of space for public walkways and usage. Condo or hotel, mall or museum, Miami’s waterfront is reserved for public space.

While developers may solicit waivers and rezonings from the city commission to lay concrete right up to the waterside, there is an epic seaside park awaiting interested residents’ support.

Adam Schachner is a teacher, journalist, photographer, community organizer, and civics nerd.