Thursday, November 15, 2012

Miami Beach 10th city in the nation for biking to work

The annual flooding in October and November that Miami Beach experiences due to high tides was by many accounts some of the worst ever this year. Alton Road, 6th Street, Indian Creek, and other low-lying areas experienced flooded streets and sidewalks twice a day for several weeks. It was so noticeable that local activists decided to hold a press conference on a flooded sidewalk along Alton Road to call for the presidential candidates to address climate change in their last debate.

This struck me as ironic. Miami Beach, due to it's historic urban design of compact development and walkable streets, is one of the most pedestrian and bike friendly cities in the southeast. In fact it is the 10th city in the nation for biking to work, according to the latest U.S. Census data. Approximately 6.3% of workers regularly use a bicycle for the longest part of their commute. Half the cities in the top 10 list are in California, with Davis topping the list with 16.6% bike share of commuters. You can see the full list and some other stats at Governing By The Numbers here.

Being able to bike to stores, hang-out spots, and friends' homes is one of the main reasons I live on Miami Beach. I get exercise, save money, and reduce my carbon footprint. And the City has new sustainability initiatives like the mandatory recycling for rental and condominium buildings, and the popular Decobike program.

So while Miami Beach is arguably in some ways a model for how our cities can work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the fact that climate change is a global problem means that our city's progress does little to reduce our risk if others don't act as well. Other low-lying coastal areas are in the same boat. The Maldives, for example, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean with a land area not quite twice the size of Washington D.C., and a maximum elevation of 2.4 meters. The Maldives have contributed little to climate change--the country ranks 167th in the world for greenhouse gas emissions, about an 8th of U.S. emissions per capita -- yet the islands are risk of disappearing under the ocean due to rising sea level. The Maldives have called on international forums to take action on climate change, even holding a cabinet meeting under water in scuba gear, but to little avail.

Whether rising seas, heat waves, storms, or changes to our food supply, climate change will impact different areas of the world differently, but in some sense we are also all in the same boat. Tackling these problems will mean recognizing our responsibility not just to the environment but to each other. 

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