MIAMI — While its walkability and bike-ability are questionable, Miami was once an epicenter for bicycle tourism. In 1886, Kirk Munroe, co-founder of the League of American Wheelmen (established in 1880 and now the League of American Bicyclists), moved to Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, making his new city a kind of unofficial headquarters for the movement. Today, Miami’s own cycling community is thriving, albeit with the constant knowledge that you’re putting your life at risk by cruising the streets with arguably some of the worst drivers in the country.
Artist Agustina Woodgate’s Radio Espacio Estacion (RadioEE), a multi-lingual radio station, focuses on mobility, transportation, and movement — the flow of water, the migration of bodies, the pedaling of a bicycle. RadioEE is nomadic itself, having no official headquarters. The CICLO program considers Miami’s upcoming Underline Park and bike path, which will be completed over the next decade. Two weekends ago, Woodgate took to the streets, broadcasting from a motor-powered, 10-person bicycle (the pedaling provided energy to the motor) traveling along the spaces the park is set to occupy and interviewing city officials, architects, and local artists — all pedaling and out of breath — about the nature of development in the city. (The radio was solar-powered.)
In a push to make Miami more bike-friendly — and to strengthen the efficiency of its public transportation system — Field Operations, the firm responsible for designing New York’s High Line park, has devised a master plan for Miami’s Underline: a park traveling along the 10-mile stretch of land, currently known as the MPath, that traverses eight stations of the city’s elevated, 23-station Metrorail line. According to the official website for the Underline, the park will “transform the land” into a “park, urban trail, and living art destination,” in an effort to “connect communities, improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, [and] create over a hundred acres of open space[.]” The Underline will also become part of the upcoming 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway, an urban trail connecting Maine to Florida. While there’s already a bike trail on the MPath, much of the Metorail runs adjacent to US1, making it both convenient and, for someone exiting the train and finding themselves faced with the street, strangely terrifying.
In commemoration of the upcoming park, a ceremony at Brickell Station featured works by four local artists, currently still on display. It’s a large effort, commissioned by Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs’ Art in Public Places; Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces; Friends of the Underline Art Advisory; and Miami-Dade County Transportation and Public Works Department. The installation functions as a precursor to the Underline’s rotating arts program; each work alludes to the project’s vision of health, movement, and greener space. Nicolas Lobo’s “Brutal Workout” offers a jungle gym resembling the handrails of the Metorail stations, while Naomi Fisher’s “#PUZZLED” consists of mirrored shapes with functional ballet barres, activated by ballerinas, and is open to the public. With “Metro Flower Power,” Bhakti Baxter creates a series of truly sublime floral planters for each station, and then there is CICLO, Woodgate’s bilingual broadcast, which will soon be available to listen online.
CICLO was equal parts radio station, performance, sound piece, and critical examination of the Underline’s complex circumstances. Sound artists, poets, community organizers, health coaches, and Metrorail conductors were all given space to share their stories; in one segment, Woodgate invited musicians to provide their own interpretations of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, which plays on a loop at the Brickell station. It was fun, but, explains Woodgate, “we wanted to bring up topics that are uncomfortable,” and the bulk of programming went to city planners and developers, to whom Woodgate directed her heaviest questions.
Vanessa Tinsley — part of the Miami Girls Foundation and co-founder of Bridge to Hope — frankly addressed Woodgate’s concern about potential displacement along the Underline’s path — there are homes standing on the future grounds of the park, especially in lower-income stretches. “People are going to get priced out of their homes,” she said. “It happened in Wynwood, it happened in Overtown, it happened in downtown, and it’ll continue to happen. Recently, an ordinance that forced developers to provide a certain percentage of affordable housing in their buildings came up at a county commissioners’ meeting. They voted it down … It’s a tough issue. Money talks … but the wages in Miami do not keep pace with the kind of city we are developing.”
Helping to pedal the bike over the weekend myself, the quieter regions of the MPath felt idyllic: children were tucked into strollers, dogs ran the grounds, and I spotted the infamous nearly-naked cyclist, a Conch Republic flag tethered to his bicycle. Our bike was a gargantuan sight, and occasionally curious passerby would ask questions. But it was immediately obvious that clearer space for cyclists and foot traffic is critical — huge intersections that allow for right turns on red lights made movement dangerous at best, and sometimes impossible. Victor Dover, a founding principal of town planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners, discussed the aforementioned cyclist, Munroe, adding, “Miami eventually became thought of as a car space in which transit was an afterthought. When the Metrorail started, it was called the Metro-Fail … But in one generation, the Metrorail is in many ways more important than the car space. We just have to build the correct environment to reflect that idea.” Architect and cycling advocate Mari Chael spoke of the importance of capitalizing on the resources available, including the Ludlam Trail, a former Florida East Coast railway right-of-way that will intersect with the Underline.
It’s unfortunate that the Underline will only cover the eight southernmost stations of the Metrorail line, excluding some of the lowest-income neighborhoods on the line. Meg Daly, founder of the Underline, told Woodgate that this is not a development issue — that the park is not intended only for the rich — but a zoning problem. The stations included in the Underline are owned by the county and the transportation department; the others are fractured, run by separate entities. “This is a right-of-way decision,” Daly said on air. “It’s all county-owned. As you go north of the river, it’s a huge tangle. There are segments being considered for phase two and three … but the Underline is a mammoth project.”
One wonders what the alternatives might be — zoning is tricky, as is ownership. Explained Tinsley, “The people who are serving the community don’t know the story or the community … Raising awareness, and inviting people to the table, is the most important we can do to be advocates — people who have money, who have skills, who have the attention of the community — is to speak for the people who cannot speak for themselves.” What further complicates the Underline is that much of the city is expected to end up underwater. In the meantime, to whom are the best resources allocated? And, as Woodgate asked Chael during the broadcast, “Why do I need to capitalize on my resources? Can resources become my collaborators? Can I work with them?”
The entirety of CICLO will be archived for listening later this week on radioee.net.