The first thing I noticed about getting around Miami Beach was the crosswalks. They are clearly marked pedestrian crosswalks at every intersection. Most intersections have crosswalk signals, clearly indicating when to cross. At the cross walks without signals, there are signs in the middle of the crossing stating that cars must stop when pedestrians are in the crosswalk – it’s state law.
My initial impression of Miami Beach (specifically South Beach) was that pedestrians were valued, encouraged and actively protected. Vehicles were generally respectful of pedestrians. Drivers expected pedestrians and gave them the right of way. It was so liberating to be able to walk long stretches, feeling safe, enjoying crossing, and being a viable part of getting from place to place.
I observed the bike riding culture in Miami Beach for a couple of days before we ventured out on our own bikes. For the first couple of days, we walked everywhere, or rode the South Beach local bus. One thing was for sure, the traffic on the island was horrendous. There was no way we were driving anywhere!! Cars seem like a horrible form of transportation for this area. There is very limited parking, lots of road construction, and traffic everywhere. I was shocked by how many people still drove cars. We were there 2 weeks and didn’t get into our car once.
The biking culture I observed was pretty helter skelter. I saw bikes on the sidewalks, in the street, sometimes in bike lanes, sometimes going against traffic, sometimes “taking the lane” as a vehicle. As chaotic as the cycling seems, there were bikes EVERYWHERE! It was awesome. I saw families on bikes, elderly ladies, buff young guys with all the “gear” and everybody in between.
After we found a couple of the back residential routes, we quickly realized that the fastest, most efficient way of getting around Miami Beach was by bike. It’s legal to ride on the sidewalks, and all of the sidewalks have awesome curbs to make getting on and off the sidewalks with a bike a breeze. We used sidewalks until we got to a bike lane that took us to a quiet residential street, then crossed the major intersections in the pedestrian crosswalks.
Basically, we could be “vehicular cyclists” when it felt safe then switch to a “pedestrian cyclist” when it felt unsafe in the road, and utilize the bike lanes when they were available. It was the best of all worlds!
One program Miami Beach has is a bike share system. There are bike stations all over the island, where you can hop on to a bike at one station an drop it off at a different station. You can use a bike anywhere from 30 minutes up to 24 hours, or pay a monthly or yearly fee and use one whenever you want. It puts a lot more bikes on the roads. I loved seeing all of the bike riders every where, from the clueless (and often lost) tourist to the hard core million mile cyclists.
Miami Beach doesn’t have particularly fabulous bike infrastructure. In fact, I only saw a few bike lanes, very strategically placed. What Miami Beach does have is large sidewalks, safe crossings, and a general transportation culture of pedestrians first, then cyclists, then cars, as far as right of way.