By Sophia Bonanno, a student at Gulliver Preparatory
Cycling and public transportation are common options for people who don’t have or use cars. Many people enjoy bike rides as exercise or just pure enjoyment and many people use public transportation, mostly because they can’t afford a personal vehicle.
But as a Miamian, I can say that cycling and using public transportation in Miami are difficult options. Cycling is often unsafe, inefficient, and impractical. In addition, the poor air quality that cyclists and pedestrians endure makes those options unappealing.
I participated in an air-quality fellowship with the CLEO Institute. I used a Plume Labs Flow air-quality sensor to gather data. While driving along streets in Miami, I typically found a moderate air-quality index (AQI) of about 20 to 30. Those readings were considerably worse than the average AQI I found when I was in my house and neighborhood (Palmetto Bay), which is in a suburban area with very little traffic.
The AQI in and near Palmetto Bay was 10 to 20. In addition, the AQI near my school, which is in Pinecrest, fluctuated but was mostly in the moderate to high range.
Also, I walk a minimum of four times a week along 88th Street. This is a four-lane street with lots of traffic. The AQI when I walked it was on average 40 to 50, which is moderate to high.
Increasing bike mobility in Miami can improve air quality to some extent. Miami could adopt a cycling model similar to the Netherlands, where cycling is commonplace. In the Netherlands, only 47% of residents own a car; in the U.S., 91.55% do.
Car-free streets are another strategy Miami could adopt. One of the most popular car-free streets is Strøget, which is in Copenhagen. This large city has the best air quality of any Danish city, and small businesses benefit from the robust pedestrian traffic.
Also, these streets are safer. The Dutch word for this model is autoluwe. It technically means nearly car free, as there is limited car access for emergency, handicap, and delivery vehicles.
In these neighborhoods air quality improves partly because former parking spaces are turned into green spaces. Almost every city and town in the Netherlands has applied autoluwe to some neighborhoods. The country plans to make large parts of Amsterdam car free.
For a country to establish car-free streets, its citizens must abandon their car-first mindset. For the strategy to be effective, towns must build housing and commercial areas close together. People must be able to walk to shopping from their homes.
In a study conducted by the European Cyclists’ Federation, researchers found that cycling can improve air quality. However, they made clear that cycling needs to be a part of a larger movement to significantly reduce air pollution, such as investing in renewable energy.
Also, traveling on bikes improves mobility and happiness among children and low-income people.
Besides making cycling safer and more appealing, Miami needs to improve its public transportation systems. On average, using public transportation produces 95% less carbon monoxide, 90% less volatile organic compounds, and 45% less carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide per passenger mile than individual vehicles, according to “Conserving Energy and Preserving the Environment: The Role of Public Transportation” by Robert J. Shapiro.
One in two bus riders were affected by the cut of service on 39 bus routes in 2018 in Miami. Metrorail use hit a high of only 12.9% in 2013. This shows how inefficient Miami’s public transportation is.
Sophia Bonanno is a youth climate activist from Miami. She is a high school junior at Gulliver Preparatory.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.