A 10 mile-long rail trail in Boston, called the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, provides a scenic commuter route to 1,200 cyclists and pedestrians each day–that’s at least 8,400 trips per week. In Boulder, Colorado, a city where 10% of commuters ride a bike to work, the 7.5 mile-long Boulder Creek Path transports even more people to work, to school, and to fun places every day. A repurposed railway in Atlanta, called the Belt Line, connects dozens of neighborhoods and businesses that would have otherwise remained disconnected. The Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, a 5.5 mile-long “bike highway” carries an astounding 4,000-5,000 people to their daily destinations. Other examples include the Los Gatos Creek Trail in San Jose, California, the Lake Monona Bike Path in Madison, Wisconsin, the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia, the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway in New York City as well as several others in Chicago, Portland and Austin too.
Here’s the great news: Miami is this close to having a bike greenway that would rival any of the examples listed above. The Ludlam Trail is a 6.2 mile-long abandoned rail corridor that travels from the Miami airport to Dadeland in Kendall, in a straight and uninterrupted line. While it has been envisioned to become a transit route in the past, it is currently vacant. More recently, the county Parks Master Plan outlines a vision that involves a continuous bicycle and pedestrian trail that would connect people to all of the places they need to go, without having to get into their cars. In a city that has been starved for alternate transportation networks, the Ludlam Trail is a hidden gem.
Here’s the disappointing news: on November 19, the Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), the current landowner of the 100-foot wide Ludlam Trail, is scheduled for a hearing with the county commission. The FECI seeks an amendment to the comprehensive plan that will include a density increase and a new designation for the property. The increased density is not the problem. The fact that there is no plan illustrating how or where the increased density is intended to be located is the problem. There is no plan showing the location of the trail, leading most to wonder if it will even exist amongst all of the new development. If the comprehensive plan amendment is approved, FECI will have been granted permission to build 80% more apartments, townhouses and houses, but without being asked to commit to any clear plan for what would be located where—and without even proving there will still be enough space for a real bike trail. Further, public input has been largely ignored, like it often is when it comes to new projects in our city.
In Miami, we’re growing and change is inevitable. To be clear: this post is not an anti-development rant, but is instead a plea to develop in a smart and sustainable way. A plea to recognize an asset as valuable as the Ludlam Trail corridor, and create a plan for the property that includes a state-of-the-art bike greenway, just like every other major city in the United States has done (even the ones with really cold winter weather).
If there is going to be a legal change in the comprehensive plan (an ordinance that regulates our built environment), members of the community that have to live with these changes deserve an opportunity to contribute input. More than 1,000 people move to Florida every day and Miami Dade County is the most populous county in the state. Our roads are beyond congested and advocates have demanded other options for travel. For example, during the public process for the Seven50 regional plan for southeast Florida, more than 1,750 people actively participated in a poll concerning future development in the region. With four potential scenarios to choose from, the participants overwhelmingly chose the option where transit, bike networks, and pedestrian facilities are the primary method for moving around the region.
If these numbers don’t seem impressive enough, perhaps the effects of a recent study on bike commuting will. Research conducted during the last decade by the University of North Carolina and published by the Obesity Society, studied the development and impact of commuter habits that resulted from the creation of the Minneapolis Greenway. The conclusions are telling: commuters in Minneapolis have switched from the car to the bicycle in order to get to work. In fact, the number of people commuting by bike increased by 89% for those folks that live within 3 miles of the Greenway. According to on-going research at the Obesity Society, the effects of “active commuting” on personal health and well-being are abundant. In a nation where obesity is an epidemic, it is enlightening to see the effect of an activity as simple and as fun as bike commuting. It’s also exciting to think about how the Ludlam Trail might help to make us healthier while also alleviating traffic congestion.
Here’s what you can do: The fate of the Ludlam Trail is paramount. We need to be sure that it remains a bike trail and does not become a massive and disconnected development, starving our city of much needed connectivity.
On November 12 at South Miami High School, the local non-profit, Friends of the Ludlam Trail, will be conducting a Town Hall meeting. The intent of the meeting is to build consensus, gather input about the future use of the trail, and to together become one, loud voice that aims to protect the vision for the corridor–so that we get the world-class greenway that we deserve. You can also visit ludlamtrail.org to support the effort.
It’s almost impossible to keep track of the changes that are occurring in Miami, but one thing is clear: the results of each development will dramatically re-shape our city—and we should all have a say in how each project unravels.