Doral bike paths get mixed reviews

A view of the off-road bike-path that runs along the western edge of Doral, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. The paths also are open to pedestrians.
A view of the off-road bike-path that runs along the western edge of Doral, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. The paths also are open to pedestrians. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

To make life easier for cyclists, Doral is implementing a plan to add more than 30 miles of bike paths across the city.

But cyclists are giving the plan mixed reviews. They’re excited about some of the paths — those that aren’t part of a regular street.

They’re not so happy about other paths — so called “sharrows,” which are regular traffic lanes shared with cars and painted with markings to indicate bikes are welcome. Unlike traditional on-street bike lanes or off-road paths, sharrows give cyclists no separate area in which to ride. Instead, cyclists must share the lanes with cars on an equal footing.

Sometimes the result is motorists getting impatient as they ride behind bicycles, and cyclists getting pressured by motorists to move out of the way.

Doral resident Susana Maya said she loves biking on the weekends but wouldn’t dare ride on the road and deal with cars swerving to pass her.

“I don’t like the bike lanes in the streets — I don’t feel safe, and I feel like the bikers that use it interrupt the traffic,” said Maya, 27.

The city agrees that sharrows are not ideal, but on some streets there isn’t enough room to build an off-road path without disrupting the sidewalk.

“The off-street trails are most desirable. They’re much safer,” said Doral’s public works director, Jose Olivo, adding that sharrows will be built only in areas with wide lanes and low speed limits.

The first sharrow the city added runs along 114th Avenue, a four-lane road surrounded by condos and single-family homes on either side. The street crosses through a school zone and past an entrance to Florida’s Turnpike.

Doral has plans to add only one traditional bike lane, in which bicycles ride on the same street as cars but in their own painted lane. It will be near the proposed park on Northwest 114th Avenue and 82nd Street.

Hank Sanchez-Resnik, founder of several cyclist and pedestrian advocacy groups in Miami-Dade County such as Green Mobility Network and Bike Coconut Grove, said that adding sharrows seems like a cop-out because it is easy and inexpensive to paint a sign on the road, but it doesn’t do enough to protect cyclists.

“Sharrows are better than nothing, but they’re not a lot better than nothing,” he said. “Cyclists are so vulnerable.”

Sanchez-Resnik said that the safest structure for cyclists are off-road paths, but those are hard to fund and find the space for, especially in an urban setting. The next best thing to an off-road path is a protected bike lane — with a physical barrier to separate cars from cyclists. After that, a painted bike lane is still a safer choice than sharing a lane with cars.

“There’s a lot of confusion about sharrows and what motorists are supposed to do,” Sanchez-Resnik said. “Are they not supposed to pass the cyclist? Do bicyclists have a legal right to do whatever they want?”

Doral’s bike pathways plan came up after the city did a transportation study and realized the streets were not very hospitable for cyclists or pedestrians.

The city’s bike network is supposed to help manage the population growth by giving residents different transportation options in the city. The overall plan would add about 33 miles of bike lanes in the city’s infrastructure, creating a transportation network for residents.

The paths are included in the city budget, and each fiscal year, the public works department presents what portion it plans to work on and how much it would cost.

To speed up the bike path construction and save money, the city has asked some developers to accommodate for the paths already in the plan and fund and build off-road paths along the sidewalk near their properties.

In the northern part of the city, for example, developers building east of 107th Avenue will add the off-road bike paths as part of an agreement with the city, Olivo said.

The bike network the city intends to build in the coming years will create alternative routes for residents to travel to the city’s parks and other public facilities.

Once the lanes are built, the Parks and Recreation Department will handle maintenance and improvement projects, such as lighting the paved pathways, so residents can safely use them after dark.

Barbara Hernandez, parks and recreation director, said the lights are solar-powered posts that will stand three feet tall so bikers, joggers and dog-walkers can use the trail and feel safe.

Improving the paths is a priority to the department because it helps further its “Get Fit” initiative and green initiative, Hernandez said, as well as alleviate traffic.

“Doral is a very active community,” she said. “As I drive into the city in the morning, I see people walking, jogging, biking.”

For Maya, the best part is that the off-road bike path connects her house to the dog park.

“I can’t ride my bike with my dog, but I follow the path walking with him,” she said. “If there were more trails like this, I could bike all over the city and not have to go to Key Biscayne for that.”