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Miami Finds New Land For Parks and Paths - Under the Line

Luis Hernandez
TriRail Station Brickell Rail Station Northbound

The prospect of riding a bike in Miami is somewhere between maddening and dangerous. It's the hot weather. It's the rainy summer afternoons. It's the dangerous roads. Yet, many Miamians do it. Some have no choice. Others do it out of a desire to leave a smaller carbon footprint.

The most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports have Florida at the top of the list f for cyclist deaths in traffic accidents. It's at 5.7 cyclists per million residents. That far exceeds the next most dangerous state, Louisiana. Biking in this county can be a risk, let alone giving up the advantage of a couple of tons of steel to protect you in order to ride on two wheels. 

Anyone who does ride their bike anywhere in the county is likely thinking, 'you ain't kidding.'

In many parts of the city there just aren't any lanes for cyclists and pedestrians; not without a major reconstruction of the existing roadways. What if there were miles of open trails just along the road, at a safe distance, not only for cyclists and pedestrians, but for parks and gathering places? 

That was the question Meg Daly, a born and raised Miamian, asked herself when she was forced to walk to a doctor's appointment. She couldn't drive because she had broken both  arms in an accident. That's when she came up with the idea that became the Underline. Sometimes what seems like a disaster may actually become an opportunity.

What inspires you to want to see this happen?

I think there’s been a lot of great precedent to linear parks that have been successful in transforming the areas around them, like the High Line in New York, now one of the sexiest destinations in New York. The Atlanta BeltLine, there are people walking to the grocery store, biking to the grocery store for the first time ever. I also think we have a lot of need here. And so this hits a lot of buttons of need, like underutilized land. How do we turn it into an asset? We’re one of the most dangerous places to walk in the country, and I think people want to be part of the solutions catalyzing other trail initiatives throughout the community.

Briefly describe some of the ideas for this Underline Park.

Our footprint begins at the Miami River all the way down to Dadeland South. That’s a corridor that goes through eight transit stations and multiple communities. One of the things I also want to point out it isn’t just a linear park, but it’s an urban trail. So it’s a pedestrian corridor. We have a path just for pedestrians a minimum eight feet wide as well as a 10-foot-wide corridor for bicyclists. This would be a first of its kind.

This project will take a lot of cooperation and funding.

Through this process we’ve been really collaborative with the county, with the municipalities, getting their feedback and input, as well as the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization. We have our first dollars in our door in addition to master planning,  which is coming from county impact fees, road impacts fees, park impact fees and a Florida Department of Transportation alternative transportation grant. And those are really earmarked for this northern end. As we go we have to build the funding model for each parcel because we have three municipalities, we have multiple needs in those neighborhoods, so there is no formula, which is one of the joys and one of the challenges.

Do we have to convince people that biking and walking are great alternatives and can it  be safe?

Well, I think that if you don’t have the infrastructure in place then it’s a non-starter. Then there are three things - there’s enforcement, education and engineering. We’re taking care of the engineering. I think we’ll get there because we are an ideal place to bike, because we’re flat. Yes we have rain, yes we have hot days, but those are not reasons why people don’t bike. Eighty-seven percent of people don’t bike in Miami because it’s unsafe. There’s a saying, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.

How fast can this happen?

I’m going to say optimistically, I would really like to see this done in six years. Right now we’re on a fast track to be the fastest implementation for a project of this scale to go into the ground. And I’d like to keep that traction because we can be the high-water mark for everybody else to deliver to. And it’s not because of this project, I believe that we’re at a tipping point that the demand is so strong that it’s pushing us through the process much more quickly than things have been implemented in the past. So realistically, I have no idea.

What's your message to your fellow Miamians?

I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve driven on U.S.  1 and I’ve been stuck in traffic and I’ve been heading south to my house in Coral Gables and I never had that moment. I think it’s that notion of getting out of your car and experiencing the city in a different way. I think that everyone has that set of alternative sunglasses we can put on to see things differently, and fortunately I had that moment.

There is a public meeting to discuss the next steps of the Underline November 9th at the University of Miami's School of Architecture Glasgow Hall at 6PM. People can sign up on Eventbrite.

Credit https://www.theunderline.org/ / Friends of the Underline
Friends of the Underline
Underline in Brickell
Credit https://www.theunderline.org/ / Friends of the Underline
Friends of the Underline
What it could look like after renovations.

Credit https://www.theunderline.org/ / Friends of the Underline
Friends of the Underline
Typical existing trail under the line now.

Credit https://www.theunderline.org/ / Friends of the Underline
Friends of the Underline
What that same location could become for cyclists and pedestrians.

Luis Hernandez is an award-winning journalist and host whose career spans three decades in cities across the U.S. He’s the host of WLRN’s newest daily talk show, Sundial (Mon-Thu), and the news anchor every afternoon during All Things Considered.