Miami-Dade County

How to foster cycling in Miami? Copenhagenize it, Danish expert says.

A rendering from Plan Z of a possible elevated cycling and running track along the Rickenbacker Causeway.
A rendering from Plan Z of a possible elevated cycling and running track along the Rickenbacker Causeway.

It’s not just Copenhagen and Amsterdam anymore. Cycling as everyday transportation has taken off, bigly, in cities all over the world, from London to Seville and Paris, and in the U.S. in towns as disparate as San Francisco, Chicago and even Philadelphia and Minneapolis, all places where a bike is often the quickest, most efficient way to get around congested car traffic.

And in Miami, where flat terrain, a subtropical climate and a burgeoning urban renaissance would seem to make for an ideal city-cycling environment?

Practically bupkis.

As Miami’s local bike month launches Friday with the annual, but largely symbolic, ride-to-work day, an expert from Copenhagen, the world’s most bike-friendly city, has landed in town to try to show us how it’s done. And it’s not rocket science, said bike planner and proselytizer Mikael Colville-Andersen.

“There’s no magic to it,” said Colville-Andersen, who was brought to Miami by architect and cycling advocate Bernard Zyscovich and the Knight Foundation, as he sipped a caipirinha at a South Beach hotel on Wednesday evening shortly after arriving on his first visit to the city. “We know what works.”

The key in most cities where the bike has been embraced as transportation, Colville-Andersen said: On-street bike lanes separated from motorized traffic, by a curb, a slight pavement elevation or other barriers, and connected in a network that takes people places they need to go, safely and conveniently.

If you build it, he said, cyclists will come out of the woodwork because of pent-up demand, as they have in city after city that’s taken the plunge.

And you’ll know you’re successful when even women in skirts and spike heels (and no helmets) feel comfortable cycling around town, as they do by the thousands in Copenhagen, where 56 percent of all residents get on a bike every day. Colville-Andersen should know, having established his early fame with Copenhagen Cycle Chic, a spectacularly successful blog that compiles candid photos of stylishly attired women pedaling sturdy Danish bikes.

The point, besides enticing street fashionistas who have made a favorite of the blog, is to show that riding a bike is not just for determined recreational cyclists in special clothes, but for everyone, every day, he said.

“It’s not that we’re purer in Denmark than you are,” Colville-Andersen said. “It’s just the simplest and fastest way to get around.”

Colville-Andersen, whose Copenhagenize Design Co. has taken him to cities such as Sao Paulo, Bangkok and Winnipeg for bike-related projects, is being underwritten by the Miami-based Knight Foundation to develop bike-network plans for Detroit and Long Beach, California. The foundation sponsored his five-day Miami visit to advance “a conversation” on bike infrastructure here, Zyscovich said.

During his visit, Colville-Andersen was scheduled to speak at the University of Miami architecture school, at a Knight forum at Miami Dade College’s downtown Miami campus, and, on Friday evening, at the opening of an exhibit at the Coral Gables Museum on an ambitious plan for the Rickenbacker Causeway that Zyscovich has developed and refined, pro bono, over two years.

Plan Z, which envisions a separated, partly elevated cycle-track that would connect the mainland to the causeway and a new 20-acre park on Virginia Key created by shifting the roadway north, was a response to the death of four cyclists hit by cars on the Rickenbacker and Crandon Boulevard, Miami-Dade’s most popular bike route, in the past several years.

Though Zyscovich stresses that his plan is a recreational trail and not the kind of everyday cycling infrastructure that Colville-Andersen endorses, he said it would encourage more casual cyclists to use what could be one of Miami-Dade’s prime recreational spaces, fostering public health.

So would establishing an on-street bike network that goes beyond the stripes painted on asphalt that have characterized local efforts, Zyscovich said. Though Miami, Miami Beach and other municipalities have approved bike plans, those have been implemented slowly and lack the necessary separation to get large numbers of people out on bikes because of safety concerns, he said.

Zyscovich noted that Miami remains one of the most dangerous cities in the country in which to cycle, discouraging all but the hardiest from getting on a bicycle.

“We’re not seriously at this point really talking about making Miami a bike-transportation city,” he said. “We should just accept these ideas. We should just do it.”

The main obstacle in the U.S., Colville-Andersen said, are streets and roads designed to move as many cars as quickly as possible, endangering pedestrians and cyclists alike. Instead, he said, cities should reconceive streets for all users, noting that a mile of cycle track can move 5,900 cyclists an hour, as compared to 1,300 people in cars.

Counterintuitively, he said, well-designed shared streets improve safety and flow for all users, including motorists, he said.

Colville-Andersen also wants to correct a common misconception — that it can’t happen in Miami because it’s not Copenhagen. By the 1960s, Copenhagen had become as auto-dominated as any U.S. city, with only a small percentage of cyclists. But that changed after public pressure during the energy crisis and after a series of cyclist fatalities got government officials to begin experimenting with ways for bike riders to share city streets safely.

That can happen anywhere, but it takes politicians willing to take a risk that Colville-Andersen guarantees will pay off.

“Now we’re seeing the conversation change in North America. In every city that’s moving on the cycling front, it’s because of strong political will,” he said. “It’s the cities that are going all in where it’s working.”

If you go

Mikael Colville-Andersen will speak at the members’ opening of the Plan Z exhibit from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave. For information, visit coralgablesmuseum.org. As part of Miami Bike Month, architect and Plan Z designer Bernard Zyscovich will lead a bike tour from the museum to the foot of the Rickenbacker Causeway from 10 a.m. to noon March 19. For more bike month activities, visit themiamibikescene.com or miamidade.gov/bike305/.

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