Funnest.Interview.Ever. Today, I joined Radio Green Earth host Jim Jackson for a bicycle/tri-rail ride around Downtown Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. The WXEL (NPR’s affiliate in Broward and the Palm Beaches) weekly radio show is looking into bicycling and mass transit as two simple ways Americans can break their petroleum addiction and live more sustainable. Was it easy? Yes and no. Fun? So much fun!
Our day started at the Palm Beach Tri-Rail Station. Rafael Clemente (SFBC Board Member and Assistant Director at the Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority) rode from his office to meet us in the parking lot. The Palm Beach Station is beautiful and conveniently located just blocks from Downtown. Jim and Rafael spoke about the urban design of the area, which makes it easier to live ‘car-free’. A densely built, largely mixed-use developed urban core allows Rafael to use his bike for about 90% of his trips – to work, shops, his daughter’s school, etc. After the first interview, Jim and I rode our bicycles downtown and found it to be great for riding. The streets are well-maintained. The signage is clear. There were no bike lanes, but bike racks all over Clematis Street were largely full. We felt very comfortable riding with traffic and exploring the area before stopping for breakfast at one of the area’s signature outdoor (re: you can just park your bike next to your table) spots. The Boat Show was setting up so we were particularly happy to be visiting the area by bicycle. Jim noted his complete lack of stress – (Did I put enough money in the meter?) our bikes were sitting right next to us as we savored brunch at Bradley’s, watching the boats and people pass by.
We did pay attention to the time. Trains leave on the hour, and we didn’t want to waste any quality riding time waiting at the station. View the tri-rail schedule here and learn more at tri-rail.com. Getting your bicycle on and off the train is incredibly easy. Every car has at least 2 dedicated spots for bicycles. The spots are clearly labeled and have straps so you can quickly tie down your wheels so your ride doesn’t tip over. That said, as long as you have a kickstand, you’re fine since the trains move so smoothly. I tied mine down just so I didn’t feel the need to keep such a compulsive eye on it at each stop.
At Ft. Lauderdale Station, there were a few – challenges. As soon as you get off the train, you can see that you are sandwiched to the west of I-95 by two daunting overpass exit/on-ramps. We decided to take the bus east. There is only one bus that stops at the station – the 22. Nothing at the station gives you a time or even a frequency with which to expect it. However, it came in under ten minutes and we easily managed to get our bikes on the rack – we were proud of ourselves. We boarded and for only 50 cents each (with our tri-rail tickets in hand) we were ready for downtown! Until…
Our exceptionally friendly and helpful Broward bus driver informed us that the bus we were on was going west, not east. He credited our 50 cents with new transfers and dropped us off at the first stop. We crossed the street (Broward Blvd) and waited for any bus that would take us east. Downtown Ft. Lauderdale was right there, but we didn’t want to ride in traffic getting directly on or off the interstate. The first bus to come was already 2/3 full (Broward buses have room for 3 bikes!) so we waited… until!
We noticed that Broward Blvd had sidewalks that go over the expressway. The bus was easy but again, we had no idea when the next bus might come, so we started walking our bikes and discovered – despite the location of the Ft. Lauderdale Tri-Rail Stop, it is easy to ride from the station to the waterfront. Cars and trucks whizzed by, but we felt safe walking our bikes on the sidewalk. We stopped at the crosswalks on the ramps and waited patient, law-abiding motorists to let us cross confidently and safely. Easy.
Along Broward Boulevard’s massive, multi-lane roadway are delineated shoulders or bike lanes (depending on where you are). The delineated shoulders give you almost as much space as a real bike lane and we rode them all the way downtown to Las Olas. We met up with Scott Seeburger of FDOT District 4, Jim’s next interviewee, at Colee Hammock Park, a beautiful, hidden gem of a downtown waterfront park that had the added bonus of free car parking (for him). From the shade of Colee’s Florida Oaks, we saw a Great Egret, a manatee and lots of different people enjoying the afternoon sun. Did I mention that this was the best interview ever?
Jim interviewed Scott and then Joe Quinty of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). It was insightful for me to be there and I appreciated the opportunity to fully take part in the conversation. Scott and Joe were candid and open to discuss challenges we felt contributed to the fact that more people don’t take public transportation in our counties. Scott pointed out that most money FDOT gets is for highways but residents can ask our FDOT leaders to flex that money over to transit. That’s up to us. (Contact FDOT!)
Joe talked about his own daily bike to tri-rail commute to work, the new bike lockers going into Tri-Rail stations and the need for Tri-Rail stations to be friendly to new users. If we had known how easy it was to cross I-95 as pedestrians/cyclists, we would not have wasted time on the bus. Both Scott and Joe are regular bicycle-riders and they had a lot to say. We had a great conversation, which you’ll get to hear on Saturday, April 3 March 27 when you tune into the special Radio Green Earth that features this ride, as well as SFBC Board President Jeffrey Lynne, Jeff Mapes (writer of the excellent book, Pedaling Revolution) and others.
To cap off the interview, Jim and rode down to the Ft. Lauderdale waterfront and enjoyed a delicious late lunch at the waterfront H20 Cafe. What a wonderful day! I’m looking forward to more mini-vacations, riding up to the beaches of Broward and Palm Beach with friends on the Tri-Rail. The day gave me the idea to work more closely with our local transit authorities to improve the marketing the use toward those of us on bicycle. I know that a lot of us are trying to live and travel more sustainably and I found out today that buses and trains in South Florida make that even easier.
Today was really just the beginning of the conversation. Your South Florida Bike Coalition is dedicated to making South Florida better for bicycling and you can check here regularly to see how our relationship with local agencies continues to grow for the benefit of all of us. Thanks again to Radio Green Earth! Remember to tune in on Saturday, April 3 at 5pm to listen to the hour-long program, also streaming live here. We’ll post it here and on Facebook as soon as we get the link.
Now… time for Miami Bike Prom!