Tuesday, October 4, 2011

South Miami Beach

This month Kerri takes us on a leisurely cycle ride up and down South Miami Beach.

I had fully intended this month’s Urban Excursions to focus on South Miami Beach, its art deco architecture, its festivals, its people, its lifestyle. But the more I thought back on my South Miami Beach experience, the more this article seemed to morph into a focus on pedal power. And with the release this month of the State Government’s Queensland Cycle Strategy 2011 – 2021, it seems somewhat appropriate to focus on cities and their cycle phenomena.

Now just to put a little perspective here – I lived a deprived childhood. I never owned a bike and it never really mattered, because I walked to school just down the road and all the neighbourhood kids would congregate in our backyard for cricket. We never needed a bike to go anywhere! Now a mother of a 9 year old, I do have a bike but it is a hand-me-down men’s bike that is too big for me and has sent me headlong into powerpoles, gutters etc – its fault entirely not mine of course. However, I am inspired to up the ante and actually use said too big bike more than once a year. And maybe even, although the very thought almost paralyses me, cycle to work!

But I digress. The Cycle Strategy estimated that in 2006, 1.4% or 21,000 commute trips were by bicycle, with targets to increase this share to 2.8% by 2021 and 4.2% by 2031. Improving the “friendliness” of the commute for cyclists is a key component of this, utilising the proportion of commutes undertaken by female cyclists (only 19%) as an indicator of how friendly the commute trip is for cyclists.

South Miami Beach has, like many cities, recently introduced a city cycle hire scheme. Decobike, is rated as relatively successful, achieving 180,000 rides in its first four months of operation, which in comparison to the population of Miami Beach represents a daily share of 1.7% of the total resident population. Helmets not compulsory of course. With a culture of cruising on all matter of two and four wheeled modes, Miami Beach appears made for cycle commuting.

It’s a relatively flat and dense urban environment. There are large, expansive cycle paths that run right along the beach. Who wouldn’t want to cycle there? And as a tourist, there are several hire shops hiring bikes of all shapes and sizes, blades, scooters and my favourite –the Segway! Sashaying up and down the foreshore, enjoying the winter sunshine, people watching, taking in the art deco buildings, now this is Miami Beach at its best. Miami Beach, particularly South Miami Beach, is all about the weird, the wonderful and the beautiful people. I certainly don’t belong in any of those categories, but it was quintessentially the Miami experience to cruise up and down and feel part of the pulsing heart of Miami Beach; the Atlantic on one side, the famous art deco buildings on the other.

Having fluctuated from a prosperous playground for the rich and famous to a crime ravaged poverty belt, and now again resurrected as a popular destination for the rich and famous, Miami Beach has managed to retain its art deco buildings, thanks to a very active and passionate group of locals putting the Miami Beach Architectural District on the National Register of Historic Places. A popular Art Deco Festival, including walking tours of the district, is held in January and the area has established as a major entertainment venue both day and night, including cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, nightclubs and hotels. People watching and cruising are essential!

So my Miami Beach lessons for the cycle strategy in creating this female’s friendly cycle experience:

1. Dedicated, wide pathways

2. Cafes selling mouthwateringly fluffy pancakes with melting icecream and syrup to build up the energy levels

3. Alfresco dining and wine bars to increase the afternoon activity and social scene

4. Bustling streetscape views one side, sparkling water views the other

5. Plenty of eye candy doesn’t hurt either!

In our Urban Excursions “research” around the world, we have seen in China and Europe cycling being a major commuter transport mode and this contrasts with South Miami Beach’s leisurely seen-and-be-seen cycling. We think, with Queensland’s 21st economy and wonderful sunshine, we can take the best ideas from both.

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