It is no surprise that traffic in Sunny Isles Beach has become more congested over the last few years. However, that traffic is not all related to the growth here but all around here, particularly up and down the A-1-A corridor. Our sidewalks have also become more crowded as the city has grown. Just about everything we need on a daily basis is right here, but how do you get there? We as a community need to look at the city holistically — in its individuality and as a part of a larger system — and work together in finding a solution.
On March 15, 2010, the United States Department of Transportation announced a Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations1. Among other things, the Policy Statement encourages “states, local governments, professional associations, community organizations, public transportation agencies, and other government agencies, to adopt similar policy statements on bicycle and pedestrian accommodation as an indication of their commitment to accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians as an integral element of the transportation system. In support of this commitment, transportation agencies and local communities should go beyond minimum design standards and requirements to create safe, attractive, sustainable, accessible, and convenient bicycling and walking networks” which includes considering walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes, that there should be equal transportation modes for people of all ages and abilities, and that minimum design standards should be exceeded, among other things. The Policy Statement concludes that “increased commitment to and investment in bicycle facilities and walking networks can help meet goals for cleaner, healthier air; less congested roadways; and more livable, safe, cost-efficient communities. Walking and bicycling pro- vide low-cost mobility options that place fewer demands on local roads and highways.” (emphasis added).
As we all know, FDOT recently installed bicycle lanes on Lehman Causeway. Furthermore, the entire right lanes along Collins Avenue, and in other locations, are open in their entirety to cyclists. At a recent City Commission meeting, I sponsored a discussion that led to the City’s undertaking a feasibility study of having bicycle sharing stations available in Sunny Isles Beach. Bicycle sharing is generally for short trips and often is used in conjunction with other modes of transportation, such as riding to a location and then perhaps catching a bus. Those living in condominiums may wish to hop on a bicycle for short errands, but they do not have indoor storage for a bicycle and the salt and humidity will quickly deteriorate bicycles kept outdoors.
I have heard reasons why we should not or cannot do it or promote cycling, but what are the reasons why we should or can? If other cities are doing it, why can’t we, and why should we wait for other things to happen in the future before we do? Rates of commuting by foot or bicycle not only vary among cities and regions, they also vary by age, sex, race, and income2. Sunny Isles Beach might not contain the mix of variables that would result in the “it will only make it worse” outcome feared by some if bicycle riding is supported in any way. Additionally, instituting a bicycle sharing program may mean only a small number of bikes having little impact, but who is to say that having the same number of automobiles missing from our streets will not make it better? If done thoughtfully, bicycle sharing will enhance not only the community by providing another mode of transportation, but if we have stations from DECOBIKE and Broward BCycle, the bicycle-sharing providers in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, we could act as the link between counties, helping to fulfill the U.S. DOT’s Policy Statement encouraging integrated transportation systems. In fact, the City of Aventura is currently considering instituting a bicycle sharing program in their city.
The City Commission can do only so much about traffic on Collins Avenue within our boundaries as it is under the jurisdiction of FDOT, unless prior attempts at change can be overcome. Also, the City Commission cannot prohibit the use of the sidewalks by bicycles. However, we can affect the flow of movement around the City by asking our residents and visitors to think differently about getting around. Within our boundaries, we can choose to walk or bike around the City using routes other than along Collins Avenue wherever possible. In fact, years ago the City adopted a bicycle path along North Bay Road. Most people seem to utilize the sidewalk along the west side of Collins, but what if when we are traveling along the sidewalks on Collins Avenue, we use the sidewalks on both sides of the street, perhaps depending upon the direction we are traveling, to equalize movement on both sides of the street? Many of the strip malls on the west side of Collins Avenue are accessible from the rear, so Collins Avenue could be avoided altogether. Perhaps an express shuttle or tram service only along Collins Avenue with only four or five stops and minimal wait times would help to decrease traffic and sidewalk congestion. These and other ideas should be considered in solving an overall transportation issue, and to the extent it is not within the control of City Government, joint cooperation between City Government and the Community is needed. Condominium associations can be instrumental in the process. Further, a study of the City as a whole considering all modes of transportation may be in order and investigating the availability of livability grants should be undertaken.
PEDESTRIAN AND BICYCLE SAFETY AND EDUCATION
Of course, bicycle and pedestrian safety and safety education must be a part of any shift in thinking and of course are important now. In fact, at the first City Advisory Committee meeting last month, my appointee, Suzanne Spiliotis, proposed pedestrian and bicycle safety as an issue for the CAC to undertake. To the extent we may be lacking in these areas, they must be addressed. At our February 2015 Commission Meeting, the Bicycle Action Committee, a 501(c)(3) organization, will appear at my request. The Committee encourages businesses and city governments to demonstrate their support for bike safety and awareness through city-specific bike clothing by raising money to be given back to the cities to spend on local bike projects and initiatives. The Cities of Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, South Miami, Fort Lauderdale and the Village of Pinecrest are current participants in the program.
ON ANOTHER NOTE:
Residents of Golden Shores have formed the Sunny Isles Beach Golden Shores Association, Inc., a voluntary association. Last month, I sponsored an item at our Commission meeting as a forum for the Association to advise the Commission of capital improvements to Golden Shores being discussed among its residents. Both Association members and non-members appeared at the meeting to voice their opinions. While the initial Board of Directors was comprised of three residents instrumental in forming the Association, the Association is in the process of creating two new seats on its Board and holding an election to add members to the Board who have joined since formation. The City is currently addressing the Golden Shores’ residents’ concerns.
I continue to remain active with Justice Teaching and working with Rosa Carvajal, this year with her Legal Studies class, at the Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 School. Participating students recently traveled to Orlando to partake in the second round of the “We the People” competition. The “We the People” program enhances students’ understanding of American constitutional democracy and teaches them how to apply the Constitution and Bill of Rights to current events. Ms. Carvajal’s class group who focused on the topic, “Federalism”, won first place! I have been providing feedback to the students during practice for their various competitions. I also recently introduced the school to the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust and the Chapman Partnership. The school’s Student Government Association, overseen by Ms. Carvajal, and Builders’ Club, at the time of this writing, are conducting a joint drive to collect party attire for homeless children ages 4-17 to wear to the Annual Eisenberg Ball on Valentine’s Day hosted by the organization’s Neighborhood Advisory Committee.
Other items in the works or under consideration at my suggestion include holding an annual fishing tournament on the Pier; making the Sunny Isles Beach television channel available on ATT U-Verse and with other providers; holding Citysponsored limited item “garage sales” for residents, particularly condominium dwellers; creating a formatted email newsletter for use by individual Commission members and selected City Staff for up-dating the public on items of interest; and creating a fruit/vegetable garden in a City park to be utilized as an educational tool for our children.