South Florida

Frustrated cyclists still seeking bike lanes that were promised in Coral Gables

Hundreds of people turned out for the third-annual Gables Bike Day festival in downtown Coral Gables, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. Seven years after Coral Gables budgeted $400,000 to create bike lanes, they still don't exist, frustrating many cyclists and residents.
Hundreds of people turned out for the third-annual Gables Bike Day festival in downtown Coral Gables, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. Seven years after Coral Gables budgeted $400,000 to create bike lanes, they still don't exist, frustrating many cyclists and residents. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

In 2010, the city of Coral Gables promised to build bike lanes on its scenic streets. Seven years later, cyclists are still waiting.

And they will log many more miles — and dodge many more cars — before the project is complete.

A stalled plan to create accessible, safe bike lanes for commuters and recreational cyclists is back on the drawing board. Residents are frustrated by the lack of progress in a city that is ideally suited for a bike transportation network.

“They squandered time and money and now they’re squandering time and money all over again,” said Sue Kawalerski, president of the Everglades Bicycle Club and a Coral Gables resident. “Nothing has been done. We have to wonder when, if ever, we’ll see bike lanes in Coral Gables.”

The city recently hired Toole Design Group, a nationally esteemed firm that has worked with Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Boston, Dallas and Chicago to develop “cost-effective, practical solutions that move people efficiently while improving the health and quality of life of the community.” Toole will team with local firms Dover, Kohl and Partners and AECOM to design a plan, said Jessica Keller, assistant director of public works. The city has budgeted $1.04 million this year with a spending estimate of $3 million through 2021 for the project.

“We want separated bike lanes – separated by landscaping in the residential areas and separated by parked cars in the downtown area,” Keller said. “We want an amazing infrastructure that sets the bar, not just some paint on the ground.”

Keller hopes to hold demonstrations of what the lanes would look like this summer and community meetings with conceptual plans in the fall. It’s uncertain when the lanes would be ready for use but Keller estimated that it would take at least two years.

While the city’s commitment is a good sign, residents like Kawalerski want to know why the city has been spinning its wheels in the interim.

Kawalerski was a member of volunteer citizens’ group tapped by ex-mayor Jim Cason to design phase one of a master plan that could be constructed with $400,000 originally budgeted for the lanes in 2010. The group, supported by Mack Cycle and Fitness owner Mary Jane Mark, studied the streets, talked to residents, interviewed cyclists and within three months presented a plan to the city commission that centered on Riviera Drive as the spine, connecting the youth center, library, Coral Gables High School, U.S. 1, Cocoplum Circle, Main Highway and Old Cutler Road.

But the Mack plan was tabled when the city decided to hire a consultant, who developed an alternative plan centering on University Drive. The main problem with that plan was the costly redesign of a complicated, dangerous five-way intersection at Granada Boulevard and Bird Road.

“It’s a non-navigable, spaghetti bowl intersection that could never be fixed for the amount of money in the budget and that was obvious from the outset,” said Kawalerski, who serves as cycling advocate for Mack. “Our plan gave the city the most bang for the buck. It was sensible. It was a no-brainer. It would have been easy to get it underway.”

Instead, the city shelved the consultant’s plan after paying $55,000 for it. Impractical and expensive.

“Unfortunately that plan underestimated the cost to implement so we had to switch tactics,” Keller said.

That was four years ago.

“Our group did it for free, out of passion,” Kawalerski said. “Since then they’ve been dithering and frittering away our tax dollars on consultants rather than listening to what real users wanted in the first place.”

Said Mark, a Coral Gables resident who also donated considerable time and resources to construct the Virginia Key mountain bike trails: “You can talk to consultants forever or debate any subject forever. Our point is, do something viable now.”

Commissioner Frank Quesada said the city eventually decided to seek more funding for an expanded plan. He is a former triathlete who still cycles and wants separated, protected bike lanes that would encourage commuting to work. His dream vision is for Coral Gables to be as bike-friendly as Portland, Oregon.

“If you’re on a bike in Miami, you hate drivers. If you’re a driver, you hate bikes. It’s tough here,” he said. “I wish we could push this forward and roll it out faster.”

As time passed, Mark kept asking the city what happened to the $400,000 earmarked for the bike lanes but never got a clear answer.

“It stinks that we’ve had to wait so long,” she said. “We need these lanes. I’d like to see it happen in my lifetime.”

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