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Bike-share program could come to Miami

Miami commissioners on Thursday laid the groundwork for a bicycle-sharing program in the city.

The panel voted 3-0 to give preliminary approval to an ordinance that would allow for advertising on the side of bicycle rental stations. The current city code bans ads on most city-owned fixtures or in the public right-of-way.

Without advertising, the city would likely have to pony up for the bike-share program, said Albert Sosa, director of capital improvements.

“Our program is intended to be revenue generating for the city and to be self-sustaining,” he said.

The next step is to finalize the details of the program.

Miami recently solicited proposals from bike-sharing companies, City Manager Johnny Martinez said. The city is now negotiating a contract with the top-ranked bidder. Officials are prohibited from identifying the bidder during the process.

The contract will require a separate vote, which could come as early as this summer.

Sosa said he envisions about four dozen bicycle rental racks being built throughout Miami. They would most likely be placed in densely populated neighborhoods, such as downtown, Midtown and Coconut Grove, he said.

“Once you get out into the suburban areas, you don’t have the density required to support this kind of program,” Sosa said.

Sosa added that bicycle-sharing program would come at no cost to the city — and could provide a modest revenue stream.

City Attorney Julie Bru said making money was not the goal.

“The motivation is to get cars off the road and have a healthier population,” she said.

The vote for approval was not without controversy.

In April, a related, but more broadly written proposal to allow advertising on city-owned fixtures resulted in a barrage of criticism. The legislation, which critics said would have allowed ads on shade trees, was shot down by city commissioners.

Commissioner Frank Carollo said he wanted the new advertising ordinance to be far more limited in scope.

“I want to make sure that it is specifically stated in here somehow that this type of advertisement will only be for this bike-sharing program,” Carollo said.

Vice Chairman Marc Sarnoff called for the ads to be discreet. He said he would not approve the ordinance on second reading if it permitted large panels to be placed on or beside the bike kiosks.

“It seems to be whenever we do advertising in the city of Miami, we don’t have that regulation switch,” he said.

Chairman Francis Suarez and Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones did not vote. Suarez is out of the country and Spence-Jones had stepped away from the dais.

Bicycle-sharing programs have been successful in other South Florida municipalities, including Miami Beach. Several cities in Broward and Palm Beach counties are also part of the trend.

Miami Beach and Surfside have partnered with DecoBike, one of the companies Miami is considering.

The city of Miami Beach has approved similar ads for its DecoBike kiosks.

Community activist Harry Gottlieb said the Miami proposal has potential.

“Any efforts that will help increase the use of bikes, improve cycling safety, attract more folks to commerce, and reduce driving, the consumption of fossil fuels and pollution is a good thing for our community,” he said.

In other business, the commission gave tentative approval to a citywide ban on the sale of bath salts. Florida law already prohibits possession and sales of the substance.

“This ordinance will serve as a preemptive strike on our part to deter any notion that the dealers can just move over to our city and set up shop,” said Commissioner Wilfredo “Willy” Gort, who proffered the item.

Bath salts, known informally as K2, are considered extremely dangerous. The synthetic drugs can cause violent hallucinations, paranoia, muscle damage and kidney failure.

Miami’s ban comes weeks after a South Florida man gnawed the flesh from the face of a homeless man. Some law enforcement officers believe bath salts fueled the attack, though toxicology reports are not yet available to show whether the attacker, who was shot and killed by a police officer, had taken bath salts or any drugs.

Several other South Florida municipalities have already enacted a ban.

“It was imperative for us to do something about it as well,” Spence-Jones said before casting her vote.