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Your View: Prioritize cycling and connectivity with the Miami Loop

Like many families, we’ve been biking and walking around town and leaving the car at home more and more. Our kids in their 20s also get where they’re going using their bikes and public transit. It should be so easy to do, given Miami’s weather and flat terrain!

But it’s not quite paradise out there yet for those of us seeking to be less car-reliant. Bike facilities are few and disconnected, and the streets lack shade trees. It’s often tough to find crosswalks — or even intersections — at reasonable intervals; sidewalks are too narrow and oftentimes in disrepair, interrupted by signs and littered with garbage, nails, and broken glass.

Recent grassroots developments give me hope that the tide is turning. In particular, the Friends of the Underline , and the Friends of the Ludlam Trail have been gathering the public imagination around the future of biking in Miami. We can almost see the immediate future, a time when more of us will be on our bikes in this subtropical paradise. These projects show that trails can be more than just “transportation corridors;” they’ll be a powerful demonstration of just how good public space can be.

Over the course of two years or so, these initiatives have been gaining traction. The Friends of the Underline have recently hired James Corner Field Operations, designers of NYC’s Highline, to make proposals for the 10-mile linear park beneath the elevated tracks of Metrorail. Meanwhile, the Friends of the Ludlam Trail, seeking to acquire the 100’ right of way from SW 80th Street to Blue Lagoon and the vicinity of MIA, have gathered political champions in Miami-Dade County Commissioners Xavier Suarez, Rebecca Sosa, and Daniella Levine-Cava, Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez, and leadership in South Miami and Pinecrest.

Recently, though, South Miami Commissioner Bob Welsh has been vocal about having the Ludlam Trail implementation have a higher priority over the Underline. What’s lost in this tactic of “picking sides” — implementing one segment of trail instead of the other — is that we need BOTH. Implementing both projects could make this a watershed moment for Miami-Dade. Yes, we want them both, and given the microscopic pittance spent year after year in our state on bike and pedestrian projects compared to highways, it’s time we had them both.

A map of the proposed "Miami Loop" shows how The Ludlam Trail, the Underline, and the proposed Miami River Greenway could form a new network of connected trails and paths throughout the county for cyclists and pedestrians. (Courtesy of Mari Chael)
A map of the proposed “Miami Loop” shows how The Ludlam Trail, the Underline, and the proposed Miami River Greenway could connect trails and paths throughout the county for cyclists and pedestrians. (Courtesy of Mari Chael)

The Ludlam Trail and the Underline could form the organizing structure for an interconnected system of trails: the Underline would connect Pinecrest and South Dade, South Miami, Coconut Grove, Key Biscayne, and Brickell to Downtown; the Ludlam Trail would connect Downtown Kendall, South Miami, Coral Terrace, Westchester and Blue Lagoon to the vicinity of MIA.

But why stop there?  For many years, the Miami River Greenway Commission has advocated for a promenade by the Miami River and along the North and South NW River Drive, which could link Downtown to Miami International Airport.  The Miami River Greenway could connect to the north end of the Underline, and with a connector along the vicinity of MIA, link to the north end of the Ludlam Trail, forming a “Miami Loop.”

The Miami Loop would connect Miami International Airport to downtown via the scenic working waterfront of the Miami River, would connect to downtown Miami to downtown Kendall via the urbane Underline, would tie into the Ludlam Trail at downtown Kendall north to Miami International Airport via a reconstructed oak hammock and pine rockland. In the process, these projects will tie far more people to the public transit system, too. It will become more than this trail and that trail; it will be a network, one that would improve and better link our neighborhoods, that gives Miamians safer places to walk and ride, and that will make us happier and healthier.

Now THAT’s a Miami we can’t live without.

Architect Mari Chael leads Bike SoMi, is president of the South Miami Neighbors, and is vice-chair of Green Mobility Network.