Miami-Dade County

Miami’s bike-share program kicks off Saturday

Vilier Nogueira checks the panel at this bike station being installed on the grounds at Vizcaya on Thursday, December 11, 2014. On Saturday, the city of Miami's bike-share program, sponsored by Citibank, will inaugurate a new era for cycling as transportation in Miami.
Vilier Nogueira checks the panel at this bike station being installed on the grounds at Vizcaya on Thursday, December 11, 2014. On Saturday, the city of Miami's bike-share program, sponsored by Citibank, will inaugurate a new era for cycling as transportation in Miami. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

It will be a banner weekend in Miami for people who like to ride bicycles for fun and people who would like to ride to get around, two growing groups that historically haven’t gotten much love in a car-choked town.

On Saturday, the city’s long-awaited bike-share program will make its debut with a public event in Bayfront Park, inaugurating what its backers hope will be a new era for cycling as transportation in Miami.

About a dozen of the planned 50 docking stations for the new Citi Bike Miami will be ready to go, with a gradual rollout of additional stations over the next few weeks that will extend the bike-share network from the city’s Upper East Side all the way south to Coconut Grove.

Then, on Sunday, prospective users can take a Citi Bike out for a spin over to Calle Ocho for the first Little Havana Ciclovía (cycleway): Some 15 blocks of Southwest Eighth Street will be blocked off to allow people to bike, stroll and skate in a relaxed, festive and car-free environment, organizers say. Citi Bike promises a stocked, operating station at Fifteenth Avenue and Calle Ocho.

City and state officials say the weekend’s cycling-friendly events signal that Miami is making strides toward embracing bikes as an integral part of the urban landscape, just as cities from Bogota and Paris to New York and Washington, D.C. — not to mention Miami Beach — have done to resounding success.

If bike-share is as popular in Miami as it has been in Miami Beach and New York, city planners say, the blue Citi Bikes should become an increasingly common sight as people use them to run errands, visit attractions, get to work or go out for the evening in increasingly urbanized neighborhoods like Brickell, Wynwood and downtown Miami. Most stations will be east of Interstate 95.

The program would also help mainstream cycling in the city, since users would be regular people in regular clothes going about their ordinary business, not the Lycra-clad roadies who have heretofore been the most visible cyclists on city streets.

“It won’t be racing cyclists,” said Collin Worth, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the city of Miami. “It will be people who are commuting or people who are on a pleasure ride.

“I think in a few months we’ll see people wanting more of them,” Worth said of the Citi Bike stations. “I think it will take a few months before everything’s ironed out, but I think it will be successful in Miami.”

While they say that safety is a concern given notoriously heedless Miami drivers, backers say bike-share users can take advantage of an expanding network of marked on-street bike routes, including bike lanes and shared traffic lanes marked by “sharrows“ — chevrons and the outline of a bike painted on the asphalt. They also assume some riders will use sidewalks, though that’s prohibited in some areas, including Eighth Street.

They do note that serious mishaps have been rare in bike-share programs everywhere from the Beach to Manhattan because motorists and cyclists quickly learn to share the road. Stats show that bike accident rates have dropped in places where bike-share has been introduced, including Miami Beach.

“More bikes on the road means greater awareness,’’ said Colby Reese, chief marketing officer for DecoBike, the Citi Bike Miami operator, which also runs the Beach program. “Safety in numbers and bike share do seem to go together.”

Worth acknowledges that some merchants have raised concerns over the potential for cyclists to collide with pedestrians on the sidewalk, for inexperienced riders to get struck by cars, and also over the loss of some parking spots to accommodate docking stations — all issues typically raised before the launch of bike-share programs elsewhere, including the Beach.

But those have quickly dissipated when serious incidents fail to materialize. Studies have also shown that bike parking on the street can benefit shops by increasing foot traffic.

Sunday’s Little Havana Ciclovía is meant to be a prelude to the planned conversion of auto-dominated Calle Ocho and the parallel Southwest Seventh Street into a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly corridor by the Florida Department of Transportation. The model for the one-day event: the famed Ciclovía in Bogota, where miles of principal city streets are shut to cars every Sunday and holiday, drawing hundreds of thousands of people.

The Little Havana Ciclovía is sponsored by FDOT, which has come under heavy fire for putting cars ahead of people on foot and on bikes — a tendency that critics say has consistently placed Miami among the top five metro areas in the nation for pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.

But new directives from Tallahassee — including a mandate that all FDOT districts hold at least one Ciclovía event — mean the agency is increasingly looking to incorporate meaningful accommodations and safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists on urban roadways under its jurisdiction.

At the Little Havana Ciclovía, FDOT planners will distribute information about several possible alternatives for changing traffic patterns to establish bike lanes and calm automobile traffic along Southwest Eighth and Seventh streets, said Nancy Ortega, a spokeswoman for the agency.

“I think they want to reach into the community and demonstrate that FDOT is prepared to think out of the box, that it cares about people who walk and bike,” said Kathryn Moore, a bike advocate who is helping coordinate the Ciclovía event.

Moore, who as an aide to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz helped establish the city’s first bike-route plan and organized several BikeMiami Day events, says she’s also excited about the Citi Bike debut.

“I fully intend to ride Citi Bike to work on Calle Ocho on Sunday,” she said. “I think it’s about time. I think Miami is ready.”

The Citi Bike Miami program will be run by DecoBike, the private operator of the pioneering Miami Beach bike-share program, which has also taken on the Citibank name under a five-year sponsorship deal. It’s only the second bike-share program to be underwritten by the giant bank corporation after the nation’s biggest program in New York City.

DecoBike, which boasts that the Beach program has seen 4.5 million rides since its 2011 launch, has an agreement with the city of Miami to install 50 stations, and has already asked for authorization to put in 25 more, with a total of 750 bikes.

That would allow the kind of density that planners say is ideal for the program to work as designed, which is primarily for short, station-to-station trips.

The recently announced Citibank sponsorship means new, improved technology for the Miami program, including better docking stations and bikes than those used in the current DecoBike program, Reese said. The bikes, stations and software to be used in Miami are also different from the glitch-plagued equipment used by New York’s Citi Bikes program.

DecoBike has already installed 30 Citi Bike Miami stations, including at cultural attractions such as the Perez Art Museum Miami, Bayfront Park and Vizcaya, Reese said.

By early February, Reese also hopes to have the Miami and Miami Beach systems linked up, so that a bike rented in one city can be returned in the other.

Cycling in Miami

Citi Bike Miami will launch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Bayfront Park Promenade, 301 Biscayne Blvd. There will be giveaways, food, test rides and entertainment.

The costs range from $4 for a 30-minute pass to $24 for a whole day. Monthly memberships will also be available that will let riders have unlimited 30- or 60-minute rides. A map of the planned stations is at http://citibikemiami.com/station-map#

The Little Havana Ciclovía will take place from 9 to 1 p.m. Sunday along Southwest Eighth Street, which will be closed to motorized traffic between Southwest 22nd Avenue and Southwest Ninth Court.

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