Miami recently jumped ten spots on Bicycling magazine’s list of the country’s top, bike-friendly cities. It’s the fastest rising city on the list.
But just four years ago, Miami was put on a list of the worst cities to bike in according to Bicycling magazine senior editor Emily Furia.
“In 2008 we reported that the city of Miami had no finished bike lanes,” Furia said. “And the only one under construction at the time was less than a mile long.”
But one year after Miami was put on the “worst list” Furia came here for an event.
“I couldn’t believe how much it had changed,” she said. “When we got there, we learned that the cycling scene and infrastructure had improved greatly largely due to the work of former Mayor Manny Diaz who had hired the city’s first bicycle coordinator.”
That bicylce coordinator is Collin Worth. He’s basically a cycling advocate embedded in City Hall. Worth is the guy who reviews county and state infrastructure projects to make they include bicycles.
Hiring Worth helped Miami get off the list of worst cities in 2010 and break into the top 50.
“The city has an ego,” Worth explained. “we don’t want to be the worst at anything. We want to be the best. So, I think it really pushed them to do a little more.”
And Miami has done more.
The city now has a little over 13 miles of bike lanes. An additional 16 are in the design stages. The city is also building an off-road bike path along the river.
Culture Is Critical
But bike lanes and other infrastructure projects are only part of the equation.
On a recent evening, bicycling advocate Craig Chester parked his bike at a bar in downtown Miami and treated himself to a beer after a 12 mile ride through the city.
“You can put down as many lanes and as many signs as humanly possible,” Chester said. “But as long as most motorists are not bicycling they won’t really know what it’s really like.”
The ride Chester took part in is called Critical Mass. The goal is, for just a few minutes once a month, to get more bikes on the road than cars.
Miami’s Critical Mass ride parallels its rise on Bicycling magazine’s list. In 2008 the ride started with only a few dozen people.
“But then, within the last six months it’s really grown exponentially. If you look back to October it was about 600 people” Chester said. “Last month we got to 1,300.”
That’s the kind of biking community that influences Bicycling magazine’s rankings.
Just last month there was also bike to school day, bike to work day, bike prom, and The Ride of Silence to remember cyclists injured or killed while on their bikes.
Respect Is A Two-Way Street
But in other aspects, Miami’s bike culture still lags. Bicycle Coordinator Collin Worth points to aggressive drivers, “there’s not a culture of respect yet.”
The Alliance for Biking and Walking recently reported Miami has one of the highest rates of pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Miami was 44th out of the 51 largest US cities.
With studies like that, Worth is not sure Miami will ever make the number one spot on the list of best bicycling cities.
“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “And I want to be higher on that list.”
Worth isn’t aiming to be number one. He said he just wants Miami to be a place where people feel they can ride their bikes safely.