Coral Gables

Can car culture give way to bike culture? Coral Gables is finding out

Rendering of the short-term plan for installing bike lanes on Salzedo Street, which includes installing plant boxes. The city is launching a pilot program called “Gables Greenways,” where plants and green space will serve as a buffer between the bike lanes and car lanes.
Rendering of the short-term plan for installing bike lanes on Salzedo Street, which includes installing plant boxes. The city is launching a pilot program called “Gables Greenways,” where plants and green space will serve as a buffer between the bike lanes and car lanes. Toole Design Group

Experimental bike lanes in Coral Gables are receiving mixed reviews from residents and business owners as the city advances its Gables Greenways plan.

Portions of four street corridors have been set up with barriers and painted pavement so the city can evaluate logistics and design. If the pilot program proves feasible, permanent buffers such as medians and trees would replace flower planters.

Proponents of a connected network, such as Robert Ruano, founding chairman of Bike Walk Coral Gables, said the city needs to move forward with its investment in the plan and must anticipate intensifying traffic and parking problems.

“People say Miami has a car culture and nobody will give up their cars, but the reality is that a car culture can be changed as it has in Portland, Chicago, Long Beach, even New York,” he said. “A lot of European cities like Amsterdam almost put in big highways instead of bike lanes. It’s education, enforcement, building changing facilities, adding connectivity.”

Venny Torre, president of the Business Improvement District and the Torre Construction and Development company, was impressed by the number of commuter cyclists he observed in Europe.

“I recently visited three major cities in Europe and I am dumbfounded at how backward we are,” he said at Tuesday’s city commission meeting. “We’ve got to think about what’s going to be happening here in 10 years.”

But merchants, already wearied by disruptive downtown construction projects that dragged on past deadline, said they can’t afford the potential loss of parking spaces to bike lanes.

bike lane 2
An overhead rendering of the “Gables Greenways” plan on Salzedo Street. The city is launching a pilot program where plants and green space will serve as a buffer between bike lanes and car lanes. Toole Design Group

“We’ve created a business district where one did not exist before,” said Michael Belaustegui, owner of Vicky Bakery at 245 University Dr. “This has a negative impact on small businesses. The only customers I’ve seen on bicycles are riding on Sundays.”

Lord Touissant is the owner of property on University that is dedicated to medical offices.

“How is an 82-year-old going to bike over for treatment or how is someone going to buy tile on Palermo or do business on Salzedo on a bike?” Toussaint said. “Parking is our biggest problem, and we can’t lose those spaces in the same way that the city has decimated Miracle Mile.

“This bicycling utopia society which I’d love to see — we’re not prepared for it because we live in the most dangerous area in the country for cyclists. We’re surrounded by drivers who are idiots. It’s a demolition derby out there.”

But Jessica Keller, the city’s assistant director for public works who has been working closely with the Toole Design Group, said protected bike lanes have proven to be successful in other cities.

“Businesses thrive when bike infrastructure is implemented,” she said. “We are committed to working with these businesses.”

Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli said putting the city’s 2014 bike and pedestrian master plan into practice will require “a balancing of interests” because “our downtown is a very vibrant and important downtown that gives us 45 percent of our tax revenue.”

Residents along Riviera Drive — another section of the pilot program — have objected to the loss of swale space to bike lanes and also fear an overall increase of congestion when travel lanes for cars are narrowed.

“This definitely has people’s attention,” said Richard Bookman, an avid cyclist who lives on Riviera south of U.S. 1. “There are concerns about decreasing green space and increasing traffic. And how are they going to deal with the horrific intersections at U.S. 1 and Le Jeune Road? It may be better to leave Riviera alone. We’re going to discuss alternatives with the city.

“We are in for a transformation in transportation that we’ve not seen since the turn of the 20th century.”

Sue Kawalerski, president of the Everglades Bicycle Club and a Gables resident, said urban planners have found that bike lanes “are actually a traffic calming device — which could reduce the highway effect on Riviera, where people drive 50 mph. In residential areas, I suggest bike lanes buffered by audible rumble strips and speed tables on major streets.”

Bike lanes painted green — such as those on the Rickenbacker Causeway and Venetian Causeway — provide visual buffering and help make drivers more cautious, Kawalerski said.

“Accommodating cyclists and pedestrians in our community is inevitable,” she said. “Cities across the country are adopting plans that make streets friendly for all users, not just fast car traffic. We don’t have public transportation here. We’ve got to find alternate forms of transportation. If you build bike lanes and facilities correctly, you can change behavior in favor of cycling, as they did in Europe. It didn’t and it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.”

  Comments