Monday afternoon, a social media firestorm was a-brewin’ in the cycling community in response to an article in the South Miami news section of the Miami Herald.
To recap: Bike SoMi, a grassroots initiative whose goal is for South Miami to earn the League of American Bicyclists designation of “Bicycle Friendly”, had organized a bike ride open to all interested cyclists and citizens with the purpose of highlighting areas that could use improvement.
It was to occur Monday night. When the ad hoc leader of this group, architect Mari Chael, presented a list of 700 signatures on a petition and invited members of the City Commission to the ride at an official city meeting last week, City Manager Hector Mirabile declared that the ride would be a “special event” and would therefore require a permit, fees, and a $1,000,000 insurance policy.
Chael was taken aback and, after much shuffling and regrouping, Bike SoMi eventually cancelled the ride.
As a cyclist, a fan of my civil liberties, and a tax-paying citizen of the fair city of South Miami, I was outraged when I first got wind of this news last week. I’ve helped organize dozens of group rides with Emerge Miami for the past several years and never once have we encountered a problem with permits.
But, as I found out this week in meetings with Bike SoMi, the story as presented in the Herald lacks context. The job of the city manager is to watch out for any potential liabilities. If someone were to learn about the bike ride through an “official” city channel — say, meeting minutes or on the city’s cable TV channel, where all meetings are broadcast — and then get hurt on the ride, the city would be 100 percent liable.
Would it be productive for the cyclists and citizens of South Miami if the city had to spend money it does not have on a lawsuit? That’s not how I want my property taxes used.
With that in mind, a group of activists and concerned citizens (some on bikes, others not) met at Sunset Tavern last night to discuss how we should move forward. We were happy to have two city commissioners, Walter Harris and Brian Beasley, join us for the conversation. Both were unwavering in their support of bicycling. Ultimately, we all agreed that the city, local businesses, and residents want to work together to earn official “bicycle friendly” status for South Miami, which, in the past few years, has embraced bicycle initiatives as warmly as any other South Florida city.
Commissioner Beasley shared his draft of a resolution, which he plans on introducing to the city commission in August, that expresses support for making South Miami better for biking and walking and calls for the creation of an advisory committee to work on a bicycle master plan. This is the path that the City of Miami took several years ago, and now we see miles of new bike lanes, sharrows on the streets, “SHARE THE ROAD” street signs, and an environment that, while still a work in progress, has vastly improved bicycling in the City of Miami.
In other words: Cyclists, hold your fire. The City of South Miami is not the enemy. Bike SoMi and the city manager may have gotten off on the wrong foot, but both sides have also learned a great deal in the past two weeks. Better bicycling must involve the city, but the city need not officially endorse every independently organized bike-related event. Citizens and community groups (like Emerge Miami) are free to assemble and ride bikes as they please (in accordance with the laws, of course). Cities can contribute as well, through smart policies and incentives.
Cyclists, let’s be friends with the City of South Miami, not a liability.
Leah Weston is a member of the community activist group Emerge Miami.