Bicycle advocates hope a bike-themed block party in Coral Gables this weekend will highlight the growing public support for cycling as a way to get around Miami-Dade County.
“Politicians have to see that the community is behind something and then they will make changes,” said Robert Ruano, the chairman of Bike Walk Coral Gables, a non-profit organization that promotes cycling and pedestrian safety in the canopied community. “This is an opportunity to say cycling is important to us.”
That opportunity is Gables Bike Day, a cycling block party on Miracle Mile tucked between Southwest 37th Avenue and Le Jeune Road that will take place Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
This year marks the event’s third year. Since the event started in 2011, it has attracted more than 3,000 people with its bike tours, kid zones, live music and restaurant sponsorships.
“It’s kind of natural because people wonder what it’s about, so they show up,” said Ruano, former sustainability director for the city of Miami, about the event’s consistently large turnout since its first year.
Ruano and other Bike Walk Coral Gables members initially came together in 2011 as a committee to get feedback on cycling interests and concerns in the Gables community.
The committee created Gables Bike Day to mimic Bike Miami Days and other large cycling gatherings around the world. But after a successful first turnout the group decided they wanted to do more. They formed Bike Walk Coral Gables and immediately began an array of programming and advocating for bike initiatives.
In three years, the organization has helped the Gables develop a bike master plan including protected bikes lanes on Ponce De Leon Boulevard, implementing cycle tracks on Miracle Mile and its newest initiative to connect the University of Miami to Downtown Coral Gables.
“We think it’s very important to have bike lanes connect downtown to the university through major streets,” Ruano said, adding there are only two bike lanes in Coral Gables: one on Alhambra Circle that runs east and west and another on Segovia Street running north and south. “We really need to connect them to other things. The Gables is such a great place for that.”
Bike Walk Coral Gables also works in conjunction with the Coral Gables Museum to lead monthly themed bike tours that take residents and out-of-towners on trips throughout South Florida’s oldest city.
Adhys Obeso, 46, a resident of Coral Gables and a mom of two, discovered Gables Bike Day last year after participating in a museum tour.
“A lot of times, people are going quickly from place to place, this forces you to slow down and really appreciate your surroundings,” said Obeso, who rides bike leisurely with her sons, 12 and 14. “It helps the community by promoting a healthy lifestyle number one, and it creates community.”
Obeso, along with about125 others, will volunteer on Sunday.
“It takes people to pitch in and make it happen,” she said. “I enjoy it and believe in it so much, so I’m going to give my time to it.”
Gables Bike Day is also sponsored by various companies and about 10 restaurants on the mile including Tarpon Bend, Seasons 52, 100 Montaditos, Benihana, and the Books & Books Cafe. The Coral Gables Business Improvement District is the title sponsor.
“What makes us different is we support the businesses, too,” said Ruano, adding that Gables Bike Day only works with restaurants to provide food for the event, not food vendors, which makes it an economic engine for the city as well. “The reason it happens is because sponsors pay for it to happen. They see a value in cycling, and we really appreciate their support.”
Volunteers from the University of Miami and Emerge Miami, an organization that unites individuals to organizations, will also help by guiding guests who will attend via Metrorail from the University station to Miracle Mile.
The day will include live music from the Spanish fusion band Oriente and Cuban-American singer Nil Lara. There will also be a DJ, an antique bike show, animals from Jungle Island, a rock-climbing wall, a Biltmore ghosts’ story bike tour led by former Mayor Don Slesnick and a children zone among an variety of other activities.
Obeso said it’s the one time of year she doesn’t worry about her kids riding bike in the street.
“It’s just the ability to ride on the mile wherever they like with the freedom of not having to hit any traffic and being safe.”
Ruano said that proves there’s a need of more protected places for children to cycle.
“I remember from being a kid how the traffic has grown, and the traffic just gets worse and worse,” said Ruano. “A lot of places have seen the importance of getting out of cars, and we need to embrace it, too.”