Picture someday riding your bicycle from Key West to the Canadian border through some of the most scenic spots in the eastern U.S.A., all the way safely away from motorized traffic.
Or, closer to home, imagine zipping on it to the nearest Metrorail station and from there to work, to meet a friend for coffee, to go to the movies, or even to head up to West Palm Beach by Tri-Rail for a slow roll down lively Clematis, one of South Florida’s best streets, without the usual aggravating search for parking.
Actually, you can do a lot of it now. Want to learn how, or, better yet, try it out? A big multi-day bike fest this week in Miami brings it all home to you, one-stop-shopping style.
Starting Monday, national, state and local bike advocates and enthusiasts will converge on South Miami, Coral Gables and beyond for Wheels, a free and public conclave designed to get regular people thinking about a different way to go places — namely by bike — by demonstrating that it’s already simpler, more convenient, safer and a lot more fun than many might think.
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Take, for instance, the East Coast Greenway, an ambitious project that aims to be cycling’s answer to the Appalachian Trail by seamlessly connecting the Southernmost Point to Calais, Maine, on 2,900 miles of linked off-road paths. It’s quietly already 30 percent complete, though in discrete segments built by local authorities that don’t yet connect up.
Here’s a surprise, according to the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the nonprofit group coordinating its creation, whose leaders will meet in South Miami on Saturday for a members-only summit as part of Wheels: The state that’s farthest along is car-dominated Florida, and one of its longest designated segments is composed of the M-Path that runs beneath the Metrorail from the Miami River to Dadeland, and the linked South Miami-Dade busway trail that extends from there to Florida City.
It’s far from perfect, with some dicey intersections that require caution. But there is a plan to turn the M-Path into the Underline, a lush bike and pedestrian greenway dotted with gardens and connected by improved intersections. And that’s another goal of Wheels — to highlight and build support for the Underline plan and a parallel effort to transform an old rail line connecting Dadeland to Blue Lagoon into another park-like bikeway called the Ludlam Trail.
They might discover it’s not hard to take their bike on the train.
Coral Gables-based planner Victor Dover
The conclave’s unofficial kickoff comes Monday with the formal public unveiling of the Underline master plan at the University of Miami. Then, on Saturday, runners and fat-tire cyclists will get an early chance to traverse a chunk of the Ludlam Trail corridor.
From Wednesday to Sunday, there will be bike and gear giveaways, free rides for cyclists on Tri-Rail, the commuter line that runs from Miami to Palm Beach County, with registration for a Tri-Rail passport, and a Wheels conference, also free with registration, with expert speakers from around the country.
There’s a lot more in store for all ages, inclinations and ability levels: runs, escorted bike commutes, a Thursday twilight bike ride from the University Metrorail station, a Friday morning “mosey” from the Coral Gables Youth Center, a special Critical Mass edition and a “Kidical Mass” ride through South Miami.
The idea behind Wheels, said Coral Gables-based planner Victor Dover, whose firm, Dover, Kohl & Partners, led the organizing, is to “get people to try it.” Research has shown, he said, that people are likelier to try commuting by bike and rail if someone takes them through the paces first. Many Miamians, for instance, don’t even know Metrorail runs from the airport, or that you can take a bike on Metrorail and Tri-Rail trains, or that it’s fairly easy to do, Dover said.
Because most trips people make in their cars are close to home and less than two miles long, Dover said, at least some people will opt for a bike or transit or a combination if they’re sure it’s safe and easy, thus taking some autos off the road.
“They might discover it’s not hard to take their bike on the train,” Dover said. “What if that trip to Starbucks or to meet your friend you could shift to a bike? It would probably occur to you that it’s more fun. And it can save time and money.”
The formal conference launch on Wednesday features talks on early Miami cycling heroes Kirk Munroe, a Grove pioneer and famed children’s author who founded the League of American Wheeelmen, the first national cycling advocacy group (now the League of American bicyclists) in 1880; and on Wilson Larkins, the cycling mailman who founded the settlement that became South Miami. The featured speaker is Miami historian Arva Moore Parks.
It all culminates with a full day of activities Saturday centered around a “bike-in” family fest in downtown South Miami and two stages of live music in the evening. The event is sponsored by UM’s Bike Safe program, and three community-minded South Miami businesses: Footworks, Mack Cycle and First National Bank. Kids will get free bike helmets while supplies last. On site will be a new eco-friendly Metrobus with a three-bike rack in front — and someone to show people how to get their bikes on it.
On Sunday comes a coda: A Gables bike tour departing from the city’s museum, and a Magical Mystery History Tour by bike of Coconut Grove, the Gables and South Miami led by King Mango Strut co-founder Glenn Terry, complete with costumes and historic relics, both living and not.
Though the Greenway Alliance meeting of around 40 people is not open to the public, Dover said it will serve as a showcase for Miami and its potential for bike tourism, a flourishing business elsewhere across the country from Napa Valley to Sebring and Mount Dora in Central Florida, though not yet in warm, utterly flat and thus utterly bike-suitable South Florida.
Alliance meeting participants will take Metrorail from MIA directly to hotels along the line, then get loaner bikes to get around during Wheels. “They won’t touch a rental car,” Dover said.
“The question is, can this really move the needle? Even if we get thousands of people out, will it make a difference? Part of the idea is to see what does grab people’s attention. It depends on how we tell the story,” Dover said. “If one person tries it, and tells a neighbor, and then they try to ride to work once a quarter, and it saves 2.2 pounds of carbon from going into the atmosphere for every mile they ride, we think it can.”