Can a box of flowers keep bicyclists safe?
Coral Gables leaders hope they can. The city is installing protected bike lanes that will be separated from automotive traffic by planter boxes filled with pentas and purple queens. Temporary two-way bike lanes will replace existing curbside parking on Salzedo Street and one lane of traffic on University Drive.
The new pilot program comes as the city plans to explore a station-less, bike-sharing service in the Gables. Riders would reserve the bikes through an app and then drop them off anywhere in the city. The technology has already been rolled out in other cities including Austin and San Francisco. The City Commission approved a call for ideas at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The idea is that bicycling infrastructure is an amenity that people want to live near,” said Jessica Keller, assistant public works director.
The buffered bike-lane program is set to be in place by late September. The city’s goal is to eventually rebrand the bicycle routes in the city’s master plan as the “Gables Greenways,” Keller said.
“The demonstration project will be temporary but if it ends up being permanent, that’s great,” Keller said. “This is for families, this is not for the weekend road warrior.”
The study for the bicycle master plan and the pilot program was done by the Toole Design Group in collaboration with planners Dover, Kohl and Partners and AECOM. The city budgeted about $1 million this year for the study and installing the temporary bike lanes.
The city is considering the new bike paths along multiple roads and corridors including: Alhambra Circle, Andalusia and Aragon Avenues, Riviera Drive and Salzedo Street heading south to University Drive and Granada Boulevard. If the program is successful, more permanent buffers such as medians and trees could replace planter boxes.
While the pilot program is new, the call for bike lanes has been discussed and debated for several years. Many communities have designated bike lanes but in Miami-Dade County, only Miami and Miami Beach have installed protected bike lanes.
The Coral Gables City Commission approved a bicycle and pedestrian master plan in June 2014 and, after some pressure from critics who said they weren’t moving fast enough, work on the plan has recently gained momentum.
Bike safety advocates like Sue Kawalerski, president of the Everglades Bicycle Club, have been critical of the city’s progress. She said the proposed plan still doesn’t include enough protection — it doesn’t extend to roads with heavy bike traffic like Riviera Drive.
“When you’re talking about these major roads with very confused and very distracted drivers, you must have protected bike lanes,” Kawalerski said.
Groups like Bike Walk Coral Gables, an organization that includes some city employees along with residents and cycling advocates, have supported the plan and think the buffered bike lanes are a good first step.
“The obvious benefit of any kind of bike lanes is that it will encourage anyone who’s afraid of riding bikes to get on their bike and consider it as an alternative form of transportation,” said John Swain, treasurer of the Bike Walk Coral Gables group.
His group has supported the city’s master plan but Swain recognizes that the buffered bike lanes will only be effective on roads that are big enough to accommodate the new designs.
Keller said the pilot program was meant to give a real-life example of what could come and said that community input will shape the final bicycle master plan.
“Ideally it will be protected bike infrastructure,” Keller said. “We wanted people to see what it looks like.”
Kawalerski said she hopes the city will look beyond the current bicycle master plan and consider other national programs like the Green Lane Project, organized by the group People for Bikes. Over five years the group has worked to get 404 protected bike lanes installed in 107 cities.
“I’m for protected bike lanes and wherever possible that should be the first thing considered,” Kawalerski said. “But whatever will get more bikes in as safe a venue as possible is what I am for in Coral Gables.”
The city is hosting two meetings to get feedback on the bicycle master plan.
The first is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave., and will focus on the downtown bike paths. The second meeting is 6 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Gables library branch, 3443 Segovia St., and will focus on the residential paths.