What A Difference A Year Makes

Mike Lydon's picture
In late 2007, it was with increasing frustration that I penned and op-ed entitled "Make Miami a Bicycle-Friendly City." Appearing in the December 13th edition of the Miami Herald, the article implored City officials to make the city more amenable to bicycling (It was no surprise in the spring of 2008 when Bicycling Magazine named Miami one of the three worst cities in America in which to bicycle).

The City's response exceeded all of my expectations.

Shortly after the op-ed was published, I found some kindred spirits in the newly formed Green Mobility Network and Emerge Miami -- a dedicated group of young professionals looking to make an impact in Miami. Together we took our case to Mayor Manny Diaz and staff in January of 2008. To our surprise, we were met with tremendous support. Indeed, we didn't get far into our well-prepared agenda before Diaz declared that under his leadership Miami would become more bicycle-friendly.

To prove the City's commitment Diaz issued a public proclamation that March would become Miami's official bicycle month and local activists and city officials were to be appointed to a Bicycle Action Committee tasked with creating an action plan that outlined short and long term goals.

Throughout the past summer the Committee crafted what became an ambitious Bicycle Action Plan (scroll down to October 16). Using a multi-faceted approach, the Plan calls for the expansion of Miami's on-street bicycle infrastructure (lanes, sharrows, and greenways), parking facilities, and signage. Improvements also include safety education for motorists and bicyclists, mechanisms to assure cooperation amongst city and county departments, and methods for measuring implementation progress. Although national rankings will not be the final determinant of success, the City would like to become a designated League of American Bicyclists "Bicycle Friendly" community by 2012.

In October the Action Plan went before Miami's City Commission for approval. As a large show of support, members of the Bicycle Action Committee were joined by the Mayor, citizen activists, city officials, Miami police officers and two City Commissioners in a ride to City Hall. Unsurprisingly, the Bicycle Action Plan was passed unanimously by the Miami City Commission.

All smiles: Mayor Diaz, center, and members of the Miami

City Commission and Office of Sustainable Initiatives.


With all of the recent activity, bicycling has received an increasing amount of favorable press in the local media, with much of the coverage documenting a growth in ridership and the need for heightened public and safety awareness. The New Times has provided extensive coverage on bicycle safety issues, local NPR affiliate WLRN ran a story this summer chronicling "Miami's bicycle surge," and the Miami Herald has called the City's efforts "Miami's Green Wave."

A signature component of the Bicycle Action Plan, one that I highlighted in my letter last December, is to follow the example of Bogota, Columbia's now legendary Ciclovia, which closes more than 70 km of city streets for bicycle and pedestrian use on Sundays. Well on Sunday,November 9th a plethora of planned events and the attraction of car-free streets attracted thousands of people to experience downtown Miami in an innovative, family-friendly, and safe way. The event clearly demonstrates the wonderful potential of downtown Miami and I think the event's organizers and participants now understand what livable streets can mean for the health and vibrancy of this city.

And because the event was so successful, Mayor Diaz committed to making it a monthly event called Bike Miami Days. The most recent was held this past Sunday, December 14th. And while it didn't attract quite as many participants as the first Bike Miami (holiday shopping, Dolphins home game, less than ideal weather partly to blame), the event allowed people of all ages and background to enjoy downtown's streets, shops, restaurants and parks.

Bicyclists and pedestrians take over Flagler Street in Downtown Miami.


Although the City has a long way to go in becoming a top-notch bicycling city, the amount of change that has occurred over this past year is impressive and the City must be commended for their response. In fact, I am now hopeful that Miami will shed its 2008 ranking by Bicycling Magazine and become one of their more positive "Cities to Watch." 

Mike Lydon is Principal of the Street Plans Collaborative and co-author of Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Actions for Long-term Change (Island Press, 2015).



Miami's bicycling future

Excellent summary of what's been going on. A small but important detail: Mike attributes a lot of the energy in Miami to young professionals. That's true, and Mike is an outstanding example. But a number of not so young activists have also been involved. I'm 68, bicycling 100 miles a week, and have no intention of backing away from my commitment to bicycle advocacy.

Hank Resnik
Berkeley, CA; Miami, FL; Paris, France


Mike is right--Mayor Diaz and staff are exceptionally responsive to initiatives which are on the "cutting edge" and relatively popular--such as making Miami a top-notch bicycling city(and Miami 21). Mike and his colleagues are to be applauded for approaching the city with the concept.

That said, Miami has a way of taking initiatives and making a big splash on the front-end, but follow through is another story altogether. The economic development department that is no more(thanks to a study that we at Economic Development Visions wrote) was infamous for the "big announcement" only to have the project eventually wither and die.

I know Mike works at DPZ and they have been instrumental in Miami 21 along with the University of Miami. It's a superb concept that was embraced by the City--but implementation---who knows when? The Social Compact was brought in with great fanfare to examine the market and identify the buying power(and the census under-counting) in Miami's underserved neighborhoods. Follow up--none....zilch.

Miami is over-planned and over "agenicied." Certainly not entirely the fault of the Mayor--but it seems some contraction is in order. Take a look at just the economic development agencies: The Beacon Council is in downtown Miami, the County Economic Development Department is in downtown Miami, the Downtown Development Authority (obviously) is in downtown Miami, there are two TIF-funded Community Redevelopment Agencies in the City, there are economic advisors at City Hall, countless neighborhood revitalization agencies--not to mention proposed BIDS etc---this all in one of the nation's poorest cities. There have been 24 market studies conducted in the last 5 years, 9 ad campaigns with 6 different agencies, 14 economic development plans, ---plus the one planning study that everyone should support--Miami 21(again congrats to DPZ and U Miami). The Mayor announced many of these studies with great fanfare--but with little follow-through. In part this owes to the fact the Miami has the highest turnover rate of city employees of any major US City. Follow through becomes difficult when the players change every other month.

The point is that the Mayor loves programs and agencies and loves "kick offs"--I am just a bit jaded about the follow through. Again, kudos to Mike et al for their efforts.
Color me skeptical about the long-term impact. I hope Miami is the bicycling capital of the US in short order--but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. I would engage the County since they have a "strong" Mayor as opposed to the City of Miami, I would also engage the South Florida Planning Council, and as many environmental groups as possible. BEST OF LUCK!!

Chuck D'Aprix [Charles D'Aprix]
Economic Development Visions
The Downtown Entrepreneurship Project

Another thought

Although my criticism of the City of Miami's anemic economic development programming is valid(in my humble opinion), I wanted to take a moment to thank once again Mike and his fellow bicyclists for their efforts---if only every community had such committed and visionary folks.

As a former South Florida resident of 10 years I know the hurdles that stand in the way of comprehensive transportation planning--so KUDOS TO MIKE, DPZ and the others who were instrumental in getting this program off the ground so to speak.

I like Mayor Diaz, but he is constrained by the Mayor-Manager form of government and there is such turnover at the city level that change is difficult. Moreover there are just too damned many economic development and planning entities!! I do believe that Miam-Dade County--warts and all-- is a much better agent of change given the strong Mayor form of government. However that should not diminish the great job that Mike did.


Chuck D'Aprix [Charles D'Aprix]
Economic Development Visions
The Downtown Entrepreneurship Project

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