The Biscayne Times

Feb 22nd
Downtown Revitalization Talk Continues -- Ground Zero: NE 2nd Avenue PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
February 2018

Village Council does agree to a bike-sharing program

GPix_JohnIse_2-18_1oing to a Miami Shores Village Council meeting is a bit like going to the dentist. You don’t want to go, you know it’s not going to be fun, but you know you should -- particularly if you want to get the lowdown on downtown and LimeBike’s entry into the local market.

And on January 9, I was pleasantly surprised. I was greeted at the doorway of Village Hall by a group of courteous high-schoolers participating in the Village Police Department’s Explorer program. Exploring, a program of the Boy Scouts, pairs teens with mentors and offers them character-building experiences with local institutions.

These young people, solid citizens in the making, receive biweekly orientations on the workings of the Village Police Department, in addition to performing community service. For Cristina Torres, the experience has sparked an interest in a law enforcement career.

I was tempted to learn more from these earnest teens, but Biscayne Times duty, and duty above all else, pulled me into the council chambers.

Confronting a moribund downtown, the council took up the thorny issue of amending code to favor restaurants and retail over health-care operators, professional offices, and “personal-care operations” in the storefronts along NE 2nd Avenue.

The amended code would allow building owners to continue lease agreements with existing businesses that are designated as “non-conforming,” but wouldn’t allow those enterprises to expand. Should a lease expire and the space be vacated for a period of 18 months, the storefront space would then need to come into compliance.

The intent of all this is to interject some vitality into a downtown that is occupied but empty. Downtown Miami Shores has a minuscule vacancy rate, just five percent, but if you take a stroll there, don’t be surprised to see a tumbleweed blow by.

While the first reading of amending downtown’s code squeaked through 3-2, there remains considerable concern about whether using the Village code to promote vitality will be effective and, most alarming, create a crescendo of lawsuits by property owners for diminishing the value of their properties. Larger municipalities, more flush than tiny Miami Shores, actually anticipate these kinds of lawsuits in their budgets.

Sensing well-dressed sharks circulating in Village waters, Mayor Mac Glinn is pondering an alternative measure that would create incentives for existing building owners to voluntarily comply with the recommended first-floor uses over 12 months and, in return, be allowed to convert their upper floors into new residential units, currently prohibited downtown (with the exception of the Chamber building).

It remains to be seen whether Glinn’s proposal can thread the needle of promoting a lively downtown and keeping the Village out of the courthouse. But perhaps downtown’s real issue, the proverbial elephant in the room, is that there are many nonresident building owners who are enigmas -- unknown, disengaged, and apparently indifferent to the Village’s aspirations.

Councilman Jonathan Meltz, who served as chairman of the Shores Chamber of Commerce, put it bluntly in a November council meeting, when he noted that of the approximately 14 downtown building owners, he knows the names of only five.

Mayor Glinn echoed the sentiment saying, “Welcome to my world. It’s a constant problem.”

And with the distance and disengagement comes neglect. Councilman Sean Brady explained that when he was office shopping, he was taken aback at the poor conditions of many upper-level interiors of downtown properties.

Another seemingly intractable challenge is Miami-Dade County’s byzantine permitting process. Six months after the completion of village sewers, the county’s water and sewer department has yet to provide final approval. Hence, only a small percentage of buildings have moved off their septic systems and hooked into the alleyway sewers.

Yet perhaps things are finally looking up. “I really think the dam is about to break [for downtown redevelopment],” says the mayor. With sky-high rents in Wynwood, Midtown, and now Little Haiti (or is it called Magic City these days?), developers and restaurateurs are looking at affordable downtown Shores. An Argentinian-inspired bakery is poised to open at 98th Street and NE 2nd Avenue, and the Catholic Charities building is receiving renewed attention.

The council members concluded their meeting with consensus to enter into a one-year agreement with LimeBike, which wants to provide bike-sharing services within the Village, albeit to be reduced from 266 bikes to 100, through 2018.

LimeBike, a Silicon Valley startup, entered the South Florida market last June in tony Key Biscayne and has aggressively expanded its footprint ever since, bringing those signature neon green bikes to Miami Shores and North Bay Village in October, all without charging the villages a dime.

The bikes are unlocked by a rider’s smartphone app, and riders’ credit cards are charged a measly $1 for 30 minutes of ride time. The bikes are equipped with an internal GPS, so they can always be located and returned to central distribution points by LimeBike staff.

What makes LimeBike unique is its dockless model. Bikes can be picked up and a dropped off wherever the rider chooses, both a strength and a challenge. Convenient for riders, but lending itself to the occasional social media burbling outrage about a misplaced LimeBike (bikes are not supposed to be left on residential sidewalks or on private property). Aside from Facebook histrionics, “Dock-less is as important to transportation as cellular was to telephony,” says analyst Horace Dediu in a article headlined “Docks Off! U.S. Cities are being invaded by dock-less bike share. It’s going to be messy -- and worth it.”

The experience for the Shores has been numerically positive, with LimeBike stats for the three-month trial period claiming 1121 local registered users, equating to 1001 riders and 2139 trips. Yet even with the stats, I wonder how robust the Miami Shores “market” is for LimeBike. Most Village residents, certainly its bicyclists, own and would therefore likely prefer their own bikes.

LimeBike says all it needs to make its business model work is one rider per day per bike. Yet I recently counted approximately 60 stationary LimeBikes (and 12 lonely pedestrians) on NE 2nd Avenue, so I question whether there are 60 daily downtown riders.

LimeBike, which facies itself as the Uber of bike shares, maintains that it’s in the market for the long haul and has yet to withdraw from any community it has entered. The company has recently expanded its northeast Dade footprint to include North Miami, Barry University, St. Thomas University, and Johnson & Wales University. Getting Biscayne Park and El Portal to join the LimeBike bandwagon, thereby creating a contiguous bike-share corridor -- and perhaps the critical mass LimeBike seeks -- will leave the competitors green…let’s make that lime green -- with envy.


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