BIKES (BUT IT ISN’T EASY)
By Dina Weinstein 22 Bicyclist 22 American Bicyclist
t’s 7:45 am on a balmy winter school day morning and my two boys and I are dressed in shorts and t-shirts pedaling along palm-treelined sidewalks. Skinny lizards skitter by. Tropical flowers overhang the path, brightening the view. Then we come to the eight-lane road we need to cross. The drivers impatiently rev their car engines while blocking the curb. Their shaded windows are rolled up. Cool air conditioning blows through their vents. Salsa music blasts out of speakers. The drivers yap distractedly into their cell phones. I try to catch one driver’s eye as I shout, “Go!” to Benjamin, eight and Yehuda, six. The light is about 38 seconds long; and if we don’t make it, we’ll have to wait another five minutes. We don’t want to be late for school but we also don’t want to get mowed down by a South Florida driver. Hit and runs are common here. Red lights sometimes appear to be optional. Once we cross the county highway, we teeter on the skinny sidewalk we often share with university students on their way to classes at the
University of Miami. We stick to the back roads through a commercial area, dodging more traffic, as well as cars parked on sidewalks. We contend with distracted drivers, overgrown bushes blocking the sidewalk and mysterious dead animals. We pass school after private school on our way; and eerily, I can count the families I’ve seen walking or biking to school on one hand. The parent-generated traffic is significant. We see one or two kids sitting in the back of their mom and dad’s SUVs. Traffic is backed up for miles. It takes just about five minutes more to bike my two sons to school than it does to drive. Despite the dangers, the benefits outweigh the risks. Chauffeured children are in line with the national trend of overweight, over-scheduled kids. However, it’s going to take a huge effort to get Miami parents to see bicycling as viable. Even the parents that support bicycle commuting aren’t willing to be the thorn in the side of a government that falls far short of creating our dream of a livable community.
More than 2 million people reside in Miami-Dade county, which is made up of 36 municipalities, the largest being the city of Miami, population 404,000. Our image to the world is a sexy, fun vacation spot, a Latinflavored paradise. But this ain’t no “Margaritaville” for those who want or need to commute by bike. South Florida enjoys balmy weather most of the year, which should make it great for biking. However, the League of American Bicyclists ranked the state 32 out of 50, (a D grade, explains my scientist husband). The Sunshine State, the League describes, has an excellent complete streets policy but the state has no cell-phoneuse restrictions and high crash and fatality rates. We face many challenges, including rude drivers, a strong car culture, drivers who aren’t used to sharing the road with cyclists and pedestrians, a lack of bike racks, torrential downpours, few bike lanes and occasional sweltering temperatures. It’s a lonely row to hoe. We’re the only family at the school to travel by bike. Only one
The Weinstein family and their neighbors at a recent Bike Miami event. American Bicyclist 23
“I corral my sons to pedal to school because they have so much energy. We save money on gas. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for our health.”
Benjamin Weinstein, age 8, braves sweltering temperatures, rude drivers and perilous roads on his ride to school every day.
other family there walks. Miami-Dade County is a new, sprawling city built for the car. Facing such a challenging bicycling landscape and seeing Miami’s potential energy, has made me a bicycling activist. I recently learned that the Florida Department of Transportation has instated a policy addressing bicyclists’ needs on new road projects where no widening is planned. Consideration
will be given to reducing lane widths to provide bicycle lanes, wide curb lanes or paved shoulders. I also joined the grassroots Green Mobility Network, which encouraged me to organize my sons’ school to participate in International Bike and Walk to School day this October 7, 2009. For that, the school’s municipality thanked me — It turns out they are frustrated with the gridlock as well. Miami could be on the up and up. At the city’s first bicycle summit this summer, nearly 100 people turned out to meet Miami’s bicycle planners and make suggestions for the city’s emerging Bicycle Master Plan. The Spokes ‘n’ Folks blog described the crowd at Jose Marti Park community center as a rough cross-section of middle-class urban South Florida — “a mix of professionals in business suits, avid riders in jeans or colorful riding clothes, and some of the young bike-culture crowd
you’ll see at the unsanctioned alley cat races around town.” Riders spread out large city maps on tables and marked them up with colorful lines to show where they’d like to ride but find the streets inadequate. Red dots were pasted down at the points riders find especially dangerous, including my kids’ perilous state highway crossing. More public meetings are planned. The Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation Department has a master plan to make bikable and walkable shaded boulevards that connect neighborhoods, parks and schools. Supporters hope the end of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz’s term doesn’t mean an end to the momentum. I corral my sons to pedal to school because they have so much energy. We save money on gas. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for our health. We enjoy the flat terrain and yearround balmy weather. It did take some effort to get the routine down. I had to seek out a less busy route, shade from the blazing sun and sidewalks. But now Benjamin and Yehuda have some independence in their movement — they do not depend on me for everything, and that is a good thing. Dina Weinstein is a journalist living in Coral Gables, Fla. with her husband and two sons.
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