If Chicago Can Make Bikes Work, Why Can't Miami?

Windy, yes -- and bikable

A couple of weeks ago, the Bike Blog was chatting with Miami Beach City Commissioner Saul Gross about the city's Master Plan for bicycles, a fairly ambitious scheme that would include miles of bike lanes and a much-needed bike path along the beach.

Sounds great, right? So how soon can we expect the first white stripes to appear?

"Probably mid-2008," Gross answered, without batting an eye. Gross went on to explain all the whys and hows — right of way, zoning, this and that. It got boring, fast.

But it got the Bike Blog to thinking — what is it with this county and bikes? Once, at a meeting of the Bicycle Pedestrian Action Committee, I listened to an FDOT contractor pontificate for more than an hour on why it was virtually impossible to put three-foot bike lanes into two four-lane, one-way streets -- roadways of almost incomparable spaciousness.

Maybe, the Bike Blog thought, Miami just needs a little guidance from a city that knows where to find a little elbow grease, a city that knows how to get off its duff and make things happen, a city where a mayor cried, "Let there be bike lanes and bike paths and great bike accommodations, and thousands and thousands of bikers everywhere," and lo, it was done. Maybe Miami needs a little help -- so we called Chicago, Illinois, and asked for it.

"We recently wrote the secrets of our success," Chicago's Bicycle Program Coordinator, Ben Gomberg, told me over the phone. "It's fifty pages long, and I think it's a masterpiece — because I wrote it." What luck!

Chicago has already installed a network of 100 miles of bike lanes and more than 10,000 bike racks; most importantly, the program has changed Chicago into a city where people choose to bike to work — you can see them, everywhere, every day, biking.

It's not that Chicago doesn't also face problems putting in bike accommodations, Gomberg pointed out — it just figures out a way to do it anyway. "That's the magic," he said. "Political leadership from the mayor, commitment by the city agencies to acknowledge that bicycling is part of their mandate."

Vision and leadership aside, Gomberg also pointed the Bike Blog to a document prepared by his office to address exactly how to put in bike lanes on all kinds of streets. As a public service, the Bike Blog offers it up here. Pass it on to a commissioner -- no more excuses, Miami. -- Isaiah Thompson

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Frank Houston