Early last month, a seemingly pro-bicycle legislative item was introduced to the Board of County Commissioners. It goes up for vote this Thursday. The resolution appears well-intended. However, upon closer examination, one finds it saturated with contradictions that could actually harm the community.
On August 3, Rebeca Sosa, County Commissioner for District #6, introduced Miami-Dade Legislative Item #121569. Its extremely long title sums-up the ostensibly well-intended gist of the proposal:
“Resolution urging the Florida Department of Transportation [FDOT] to Work Cooperatively with Local Governments When Installing Bicycle Lanes on State Roads; Urging the Florida Legislature to Amend Applicable Statutes to Require Such Cooperation and Provide Greater Flexibility to the Florida Department of Transportation Related to Bicycle Lanes”
Sounds great, right? Indeed. Upon reading the resolution’s title appealing for a more cooperative, more flexible, trans-agency approach to planning for and implementing bike lanes on state roads, how could one not support this county resolution?
The body of the resolution goes on to highlight the myriad benefits of bicycle-based active transportation (including, among others, saving money and reducing ecological footprints). It emphasizes how long-standing, and on-going, planning efforts have been made to harness the power of bicycle ridership to improve the livability of our community. It even reminds the commissioners of the increasing price of gasoline (being driven even higher due to the closure of Gulf Coast refineries precipitated by Hurricane Issac), and how non-fossil-fuel-consuming modes of transportation are the ways toward a sustainable future. Importantly, it also reminds the county commissioners of FDOT’s legal obligations to improve bicycle facilities wherever possible on the roads they manage.
All of this language is extremely encouraging and is exactly how such a resolution should be written. The problem, though, starts with how this resolution reads after all that good stuff. Beyond those points, the proposed resolution is littered with nonsense that would — with no far stretch of the imagination — actually curtail the expansion of bicycle facilities throughout our community.
Four specific bike lanes, intended to exemplify inappropriately located bike lanes, come under attack in the current language of the resolution. This is where it implodes, demonstrating the detachment of many of our elected officials to the non-automobile reality on the streets. Let’s have a look at some of the underlying complaints against these facilities:
“[the bicycle lanes conflict with] many storefront businesses with parking that requires vehicles to back out onto [the road]”
“[the bicycle lanes conflict with] vehicles travel[ing] at a high rate of speed, with a speed limit between 45 and 55 mph”
“[the bicycle lanes conflict with] curbside parking, limited space and considerable traffic”
Unbelievable! There’s so much to say here — too much! I’ll keep it short:
- A huge part of bike facilities is about raising the profile of cyclists as legal street vehicles. In addition to the more functional purpose of giving cyclists a physical space on the road, bike lanes also serve the function of raising awareness that cyclists belong (practically, ethically, legally) on the road.
- Local storefront businesses should be catering to cyclists for all of the business they bring and revenue they create.
- By allocating just one or two automobile parking spaces for bicycle parking, you could fit far more bikes and bring-in far more business.
- It’s the responsibility of the motorists backing-out of the (oft-excessive) on-street parking to exercise caution to not hit cyclists. All road-users must watch-out for negligence, negligence by any type of road-user.
- The point of bike lanes is to give cyclists a safe, separate space apart from motorists on the road, especially at roads where motorists drive quickly (i.e., “45-55 mph”).
- If the roads weren’t so fast (35 mph or less), FDOT and the cities would try to get away with just painting some sharrows, giving themselves a pat on the back, and calling it a day. (As noted in a recent TransitMiami post, sharrows just aren’t cutting it for true bicycle network connectivity.)
- “Considerable traffic”?! Has the steady expansion of the monthly Miami Critical Mass movement taught you nothing? WE ARE TRAFFIC!
Now, there are some very valid concerns embodied in the language of this proposed resolution. They hit at the irrefutable reality of many of our community’s bike facilities, even the most well-intended ones — many bicycle facilities in South Florida are sub-par. A bike facility is useless if it’s not actually designed to be used.
We all understand why many riders completely avoid the bike lane on the 50mph MacArthur Causeway and opt for the Venetian Causeway instead. We all know why some riders still ride on sidewalks, even when freshly-painted sharrows or bike lane stripes are on the road. These facilities weren’t properly designed for bicycle safety and accessibility. We’ve allowed FDOT and the cities to rest on their laurels by increasing the quantity of facilities while paying little regard to the quality of the facilities. Quantity is not quality.
Many lanes in our community adhere to the bare minimum design standards. They often provide the absolute minimum width, and rarely offer any sort of buffering between the bike lane and non-bike lane.
Rather than simply create more bike lanes, we must create better bike lanes! We need buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks (segregated bike facilities), and shared-use paths. We need to make the process of planning and designing bike facilities more participatory. And, most importantly, we need to stop designing bike facilities as lower tier or secondary to automobile facilities. We must emancipate ourselves from our auto-centric notions of how our streets should function.
The proposed County Commission resolution is not the path (pun unavoidable) to improving bikeability in Miami. As it currently stands, the language in the item would reverse the little progress we’ve thus far made.
Commissioners: A change of language is needed in Miami-Dade Legislative Item #121569. Please do not support any resolution that would allow FDOT and the municipalities to get even more slack on bicycle network safety, connectivity, and accessibility.
Citizens: Please contact your district’s commissioner and let her/him know how you feel about this seemingly innocuous, yet potentially detrimental, resolution. They’ll be voting on it September 6. You can find your district and commissioner at this interactive County Commission District map.
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