You see it everywhere you go in Miami: The demand for active transportation in the city is on the rise. Thousands of riders pedal the Rickenbacker Causeway each week; the Atlantic Trail along Miami Beach is an international destination and, with notice of less than 72 hours, is enough to draw upwards of 4,000 participants to Critical Mass rides — the very purpose of which are to celebrate and assert the rights of cyclists.
Famous actors such as Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis have been spotted riding around Miami, and let’s not forget about Miami Heat’s LeBron James, who is well known for biking to work and attending Critical Mass rides.
But, even as Miami continues to experience growth and its cultural resources abound, one still finds it a challenge to get around by bike or on foot. And in downtown Miami, well-known for its bustling cultural amenities and rising nightlife, traffic congestion is getting worse. Miami is ready for a change.
The city should seize the opportunity to create more open space that connects transportation centers to popular destinations such as the Arena, Bayfront Park, the Arts District and other special places.
One project in progress, the Biscayne-Everglades Greenway, will connect two national parks, and will connect to the existing trails like the South Dade Trail, where it shares right-of-way with a dedicated busway. This co-use facility also connects to the M-Path Trail and serves to extend the reach of the Metrorail system.
New high-speed connections, such as the All Aboard Florida (AAF) initiative, will be a great enhancement to Miami, but it’s critical that we are strategic in how we develop surrounding infrastructure, ensuring connector routes for walking, biking and other self-propelled transport that will reduce the city’s reliance on cars and keep traffic congestion to a minimum.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is supporting the design and development of a rail-with-trail facility as part of the AAF project. Rails-with-trails, or trails located adjacent to active rail lines, are valuable assets in providing safe transportation networks for pedestrians and bicyclists. In fact, there are an estimated 188 successful examples throughout the nation.
The project would also connect with other regional trail systems throughout Florida and serve as a world-class attraction and facility, meeting many transportation and economic needs in Miami and the state. This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The benefits of this particular connector route exceed those found in traditional transportation. Trails stimulate economic growth by revitalizing local economies, spurring small business development and increasing property values. In a 2011 report regarding three trails in Orange County, the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council estimated that 1.7 million visitors use the trails each year, supporting 516 jobs and creating an estimated economic impact of $42.6 million, annually.
Trails contribute to our personal health by providing safe, pleasant places to enjoy active lifestyles. Lack of time or access to convenient outlets for healthy transportation and recreation are two reasons commonly cited as barriers to regular exercise. Trails can remove these barriers.
And, trail networks contribute to a city’s environmental health by preserving natural landscapes, and protecting plants that create oxygen and filter out air pollutants.
There is something for all of Miami-Dade County in having a countywide system of sidewalks, bikelanes and trails. Organizations like the Miami Foundation and the Health Foundation of South Florida understand this by supporting projects like the Miami River Greenway.
According to the 2010 Census, Miami-Dade County represents 13 percent of Florida’s population and has the largest state delegation in Tallahassee. Additionally, all of these referenced trail projects are identified in many approved state and local planning documents, with Floridians strongly supporting more open spaces.
It’s time for local and state elected officials to come together and follow suit by providing the resources, leadership and solutions to make more of these projects a reality. Together we can make a difference and realize a safer, healthier and better connected South Florida.
Ken Bryan is the Florida state director of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.