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There was one exception. The Seventies oil crisis spurred a renewed nationwide interest in biking, and Miami caught it. The county designated its first significant bike path, dubbed Bike Route 1. In some places a path, in others simply a sidewalk marked by signs, the route ran all the way from Greynolds Park in North Miami practically to Homestead — something like 50 miles right along the bay, an unthinkable length by current Miami standards. Then, over the course of 30 years, it fell into ruin.
There isn't much left of Bike Route 1; portions along the waterfront were eaten up by development, and the signage was quietly removed. But one stretch remains more or less intact, and Eric Tullberg has made it his business to know every inch of it.
Tullberg is a pleasant, nerdy man in his sixties. He rides fully clothed, in jeans and a starched blue short-sleeve button-down whose front pockets are stuffed with pens, notebooks, a tape measure, and a camera. A retired mechanical engineer, Tullberg was in the Army Special Forces in Vietnam, "designing booby traps and teaching how to avoid booby traps." He retired nine years ago in Palmetto Bay, where he discovered bicycling.
Tullberg realized no one was maintaining the area's once-glorious — and still popular — bike route along Old Cutler Road. The path has gone without repair for so long that portions of it are nearly unridable. Roots from banyan trees that line the road have burst through the pavement and created gaping ridges. The path narrows so much at one point that one day, even at his ponderous speed, Tullberg barely avoided plowing down a little girl riding ahead of her father.
Fixing the path has proven more difficult than Tullberg ever imagined. He obsessively records data from the trail. Every time he sees something new — the width of a particular gate opening, the angle of the entrance between a sidewalk and the street, a patch of vegetation that has grown into the path — he stops pedaling and takes out his notebook, tape measure, and camera to document the information.
But recording the state of the path hasn't done much to fix it.
Tullberg got himself appointed to the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), a board of community members whose job is to consider bikes and pedestrians in every county project and advise the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) on how best to accommodate them.
The members, mostly middle-age professionals, are a quirky bunch of civic do-gooders, and they are genuine — sometimes even passionate — in their desire to bring better biking to Miami. But after some 200 meetings over the course of 22 years, BPAC has little to show for all of its efforts. Its handful of victories — getting bicycles on Metrorail, better accommodations on the Rickenbacker Causeway, a few lanes here and there — is like a sprinkle of powdered sugar on a pile of manure.
A county map produced in 2001 grades every major Miami-Dade roadway based on traffic speeds and shoulder widths. Streets that receive an A for bikeability are drawn in black; those that get a D or worse are in red. The map is blanketed in red. From the largest six-lane monstrosities running like swollen rivers through the county, to the crowded, narrow streets of downtown, virtually every roadway is deemed unsuitable for biking. Of the 1.3 percent labeled A streets, the closest one to downtown is more than six miles west, a small forgotten residential byway that dead-ends at the Palmetto Expressway.
In Miami-Dade's 2001 Bicycle Facilities Plan, 12 projects are deemed "Priority I" — read: "remotely possible." In the seven years since the plan was drafted, only two of those 12 have been implemented: the first half of the Venetian Causeway and the second half of the Venetian Causeway.
"It's a question of commitment," concedes BPAC Chairman Theodore Silver, who presides over meetings with the dry, mechanical patience of a man crossing a vast desert. "And it's difficult to get governments to commit to a minority that's not very popular." BPAC's monthly minutes read like the drafting of surrender papers. During a presentation on an upcoming resurfacing of Flagler Street, the group asked a Florida Department of Transportation engineer if a three-foot-wide bike lane might be installed along the massive three-lane one-way road. The answer, which lasted more than an hour, was: probably not.
"It's just pushing the rock uphill," admits Silver.
While most of the county's bike planning exists in a cryogenic freeze, Miami Beach's has begun to thaw. The city went from having a single four-block bike lane in 2004 to boasting five bike lanes, four of them within the past year — by Miami-Dade standards, a revolution. The lanes are largely the result of the efforts of local busybody, neighborhood activist, and BPAC member Gabrielle Redfern, who is running for Miami Beach City Commission in the fall of 2009.
A true Miami Beach patriot, she rides the requisite beach cruiser, a bright olive green Trek painted with little flowers and equipped with a pretty reed basket. "I'm a middle-age Jewish lady who's running for commissioner," she explains, pedaling in the slow, comfortable way that people on the Beach do. "I have to ride a respectable bike."