Ocean Drive reopens to cars, sparking concerns about bicycle and pedestrian safety

·3 min read

Tourists looked both ways as they snapped selfies. Police ordered pedestrians to stick to the sidewalks. And drivers in sports cars showed off their loud engines.

After being closed to cars for nearly two years, world-famous Ocean Drive in South Beach reopened to traffic on Monday, as the city ended a COVID-era pilot program that closed the road to give more space to pedestrians, bicyclists and expanded outdoor restaurant seating.

Drivers can now travel along one southbound lane from 13th to Fifth streets, with valet parking set up on the west side of Ocean Drive. A new two-way bicycle lane — painted green — is on the east side. Pedestrians, who have officially been relegated to the sidewalk, can still walk freely on Ocean Drive between 13th Street and 14th Place.

The rollout — which followed lawsuits by some hotel owners who argued that the ban on cars created check-in problems for hotel guests — was not without hiccups.

Miami Beach Police on Monday morning said officers arrested a driver who hit a parked car and left the scene of the accident. Another motorist was seen driving on the bicycle lane while going the wrong way on Ocean Drive before turning around.

“There’s the potential for accidents and people not paying attention, people under the influence driving through,” said Nicole Pierce, a 49-year-old tourist from Minnesota.

Miami Beach, Florida, January 24, 2022 - One lane of southbound traffic returned to South Beach’s Ocean Drive on Monday, Jan. 24, nearly two years after the city of Miami Beach closed the street to cars in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand outdoor dining and public recreation space.
Miami Beach, Florida, January 24, 2022 - One lane of southbound traffic returned to South Beach’s Ocean Drive on Monday, Jan. 24, nearly two years after the city of Miami Beach closed the street to cars in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand outdoor dining and public recreation space.

With its Art Deco hotels, clubs, cafes and colorful skyline, Ocean Drive is in some ways the international face of Miami Beach, appearing on postcards around the world and hosting large tourist crowds during long weekends.

Pierce, who has visited South Beach several times over the years, said making Ocean Drive fully pedestrian made it a more energetic and social street where everyone — parents pushing strollers, rollerbladers, bicyclists and joggers — could share the road. Bringing back cars will force the public back onto the “tiny” sidewalk and chip away at the vibrancy of the oceanfront promenade, she said.

“Having this completely open, it just gives us space,” she said. “We can embrace all of the culture that’s here a lot more. It doesn’t feel so crowded.”

Not everyone agrees.

Londoner Justin Garrard, who was in Miami Beach on business, said he remembers what Ocean Drive was like before the pandemic, when there were two lanes of traffic.

“I was a bit shocked when you couldn’t drive down here because when you check into a hotel your cab can’t drive up,” he said.

Miami Beach, Florida, January 24, 2022 - One lane of southbound traffic returned to South Beach’s Ocean Drive on Monday, Jan. 24, nearly two years after the city of Miami Beach closed the street to cars in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand outdoor dining and public recreation space.
Miami Beach, Florida, January 24, 2022 - One lane of southbound traffic returned to South Beach’s Ocean Drive on Monday, Jan. 24, nearly two years after the city of Miami Beach closed the street to cars in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand outdoor dining and public recreation space.

He said cars — with their party music and flashiness — are part of Ocean Drive’s allure. As for safety, Garrard said the cars seemed to be going slow Monday and that he almost got hit by a bicyclist who wasn’t in the bike lane. He said he’s supportive of the single lane of traffic, or at the very least a lane reserved for taxis and ride-sharing services.

“I do think having all the silly cars is part of the experience,” he said.

Matthew Gultanoff, a Miami Beach resident and bicycle safety activist, said he is concerned about potential accidents but has been told the city plans to install black and white “armadillo” dividers to separate the car and bicycle lanes.

“There are some great concerns that the street was opened to vehicular traffic without any sort of protective devices between the cyclists and drivers, so we’ll be monitoring that closely,” he said.

Gultanoff said if the reintroduction of cars does not work out, city leaders may elect to adopt an alternative plan that would assign a fleet of Freebee shuttles to ferry passengers from street ends to their hotels.

“I think we all want this to be a success in a sense that we don’t want negative events to happen on this street,” he said. “But if something does happen, I’m confident and other folks are confident that this city does have a Plan B.”

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