Petty Pedicabbery

For over a year now, eager entrepreneurs have lobbied the Miami Beach city government to allow pedicabs – bicycle rickshaws for hire – to operate on the Beach. Similar outfits are already busy ferrying people around in other South Florida cities – Fort Lauderdale, most notably – but, so far, city commissioners have been reluctant to issue permits on the Beach. Last March, the City Commission, declining to decide the matter definitely, nonetheless noted a near-unanimous sentiment against the pedal-powered vehicles operating on busy Miami Beach streets.

Despite the cold reception, though, two pedicab vendors have been given occupational licenses from the city, Assistant City Manager Hilda Fernandez told the Bike Blog over the phone, and are currently operating in the city.

There are, she cautioned, some catches.

Catch the first: Each pedicab operator is restricted to two cabs, no more.

Catch the second: they have to avoid busy streets like Collins, Ocean Drive, and Washington– the very streets on which hopeful pedicab operators planned to base their business.

The second catch is based on an obscure administrative order issued in January of last year, in the wake of anti-pedicab sentiment, which states that:

“Given that non-motorized vehicles can constitute a threat to the public health, welfare or safety of the community when operated on heavily traveled roads within the community it shall be the policy of the City of Miami Beach to deny that portion of an Occupational License requested by operators of non-motorized vehicles to conduct business on public and heavily traveled roads.”

Let’s put pedicabs aside for a moment. Instead, note the bit about non-motorized vehicles constituting “a threat to the public health,” – because no one’s ever been injured by a car, right? Maybe the city could give a tit for a tat – no bikes where there’s traffic in exchange for no traffic where there are bikes.

Anyway, the order’s significance may extend beyond the relatively small-potato issue of pedicabs to a much larger one: road projects.

The unintended consequence of trying to make pedicabs unable to operate is that they’ve declared these streets generally unsafe for non-motorized vehicles – and when it comes to street projects, FDOT gets swayed by that,” points out Gabrielle Redfern, one of the Bike Blog’s favorite go-tos when it comes to biking issues on the Beach.

Indeed, the Florida Department Of Transportation recently lost a suit in Palm Beach county in which bicyclists sued the department for failing to install bike lanes when they easily could have. Redfern’s fear is that this order will give them a much-needed excuse to exclude lanes from upcoming projects, like the contentious Alton Road project. Currently, one FDOT scenario includes bike lanes in the street’s future, and another does not. The decision will be brought before the public on May 15, with public comment beginning the week before.

-- Isaiah Thompson

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