Biking to work, Miami-style: It’s getting better, but more work to do before it’s easy and safe

 

aviglucci@MiamiHerald.com

It’s national Bike to Work Day. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and other local mayors are riding to promote bike commuting, and they have legendary Olympic track-cycling medalist Nelson Vails along. Sounds like fun, so I join in.

Some two hours later, I straggle in to work. On foot.

The mishaps and misgivings start almost as soon as we pedal away from the University Metrorail Station in Coral Gables. I brought an old steel road bike with skinny Michelin tires I thought sufficiently sturdy for the hazards of the unevenly maintained M-Path, the trail that runs under the elevated Metrorail. My mistake. I immediately roll over broken glass in the path.

Flat tire Number One.

As Vails and the official commuter-bike train ride away, I stop, extract a small shard of glass from the tire, replace the inner tube, pump it up with a CO2 cartridge. And decide to ride the two blocks home for another spare tube and a patch kit (plus toast and coffee), figuring I’ll need it.

Then it’s back to the bumpy, rutted M-Path, where I encounter only a couple other cyclists. At every ill-designed intersection, finding the curb cuts to cross or the path on the other side is a challenge. Sometimes the cuts, designed for pedestrians crossing U.S. 1, require cyclists to make an awkward, sharp left turn onto the crosswalk to avoid running into oncoming traffic.

Getting across is nerve-wracking. Motorists barely slow for marked crossings or turns, block the crosswalks, and seem taken aback to find a person on a bike on the bike path, making extreme caution essential.

I run across Vails, who’s on his way back south by now with two cycling companions. He waves as we pass each other.

A work truck is parked in the M-Path, blocking it entirely, as two workers dig a hole. I go cross-country a few yards over rocky ground.

By the time I hit Brickell, I’ve got a slow tire leak.

Flat tire Number Two.

After pumping in a bit more CO2, I bail from the MPath to take the newish, clearly marked South Miami Avenue bike lane. At a red light, a man driving an Enterprise rent-a-truck yells at me to get on the sidewalk. While I’m in the bike lane.

A fellow cyclist is riding on the sidewalk right next to the bike lane, a common sight in Miami as the city expands its network of marked on-street bike routes, but people still don’t feel safe using them. He shouldn’t be on the sidewalk — sidewalks are for pedestrians, and there’s a lane just for him inches away — but who can blame him?

Two more blocks and this time it’s a Miami-Dade County water and sewer truck parked in the bike lane. The driver is writing something. I tell him he’s blocking the bike lane. He curses at me. Two blocks more, and there’s yet another work truck taking up the bike lane, pumping water out of an open manhole.

Fed up, I decide to hop on the Brickell PeopleMover with the bike. The escalator is broken, so I have to hunt for the hidden elevator. Then the PeopleMover gets stuck at the station for an interminable 10 minutes or so.

I get engaged in conversation by a friendly homeless man who admires the vintage bike. He advises me not to drink beer in the street during Ultrafest because the cops will be all over me (not that I was planning on it).

At the Omni stop, the front tire’s soft again. Because I’m going to need the bike to get home after work, I ride — on the sidewalk, I’m not risking Biscayne Boulevard with a squishy front tire — to the Skate, Scoot and Bike shop, where I leave it for a professional tire inspection and repair. I walk to The Miami Herald.

The escorted ride had the opposite experience, reported the city of Miami’s bike planner, Collin Worth, who said about 20 riders enjoyed “great compliance with motorists yielding, nice pace, good conversation, no illegal parking or cursing at us. Sounds like a tale of two commutes.’’

But there’s still a lesson here: Commuting by bike in Miami is certainly doable, but it’s not simple, and it sure doesn’t feel safe, though it’s gotten a lot better as cyclists proliferate. (Mind you, I’ve been riding a bicycle on the mean streets of Miami for almost 30 years, and I’ve been hit by cars several times, the worst collision sending me to Jackson Memorial Hospital for three months, but that was 25 years ago.)

If Mayor Gimenez and his colleagues are really serious about encouraging lots more people to cycle for transportation as casually as they now drive to the office, they have some work to do. It will happen only when people feel it’s easy, safe and convenient. Only the truly determined will do it now.

For starters, the MPath must be substantially repaved, better maintained and those crossings substantially improved — along the lines of a blueprint that’s gathering dust somewhere at the county transit department (I know because I wrote about it when it was designed).

It also requires a substantial public education campaign, focused primarily on motorists, too many of whom remain dangerously misinformed about cyclists’ rights and ignorant about how to share the road properly — but also for those who want to cycle in the city but break every rule in the book and endanger themselves because no one has taught them how to do so safely.

And, for Heaven’s sake, tell your work crews to keep their trucks out of the bikeways.

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