If you're new to the area, getting around Miami may seem daunting if not downright scary. Between rush hours that seem to last days rather than hours, commuters who routinely break the rules of the road, and a poor public transit system, navigating the Magic City can be a challenge for locals, much less for tourists and transplants.
The first thing you'll want to know about getting around Miami is that having a car is essentially a requirement if you live in Miami. Like we said above, the public transportation in Miami leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, you can reach your desired destinations using some combination of buses, the Metro-Rail, and ride-sharing services, but it'll either be inefficient, expensive, or both. So unless you live in the few areas of Miami that are self-contained and don't plan on leaving them often (think South Beach and Brickell), you'll need a car.
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Getting Around Miami In A Car
Driving through Miami is an adventure. People change lanes without signaling, there are streets and highways perpetually under construction, and driving less than 10 miles above the speed limit is a cause for road rage. The good news is that while getting around Miami may seem confusing, the city's street system is actually set up quite logically and is easy to follow. In fact, it's actually the Southeast's largest grid system. Avenues (and the occasional terraces and courts) run north and south. Streets run east and west. The system is then split into four quadrants representing northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest.
It's all pretty intuitive once you know what to look for, but, of course, Miami won't make everything easy for you. For example, U.S. 1, which is one of South Florida's federal highways, has three names depending on where you are. In the North Miami area, it's known as Biscayne Boulevard, then it becomes Brickell Avenue once you in the Brickell area, and morphs into South Dixie Highway when you're in South Miami. U.S. 1 also doesn't follow the grid system as strictly as most of the city's other roads, which can definitely be confusing. But, remember, if you're on U.S. 1, you're either going north or south as it runs parallel to the coastline, so figuring out where you are if get lost on U.S. 1 shouldn't be too much of a challenge.
Navigating the Highway System
Miami's system of highways was constructed with its grid system in mind, so as long as you have an idea of where you need to go, you just need to know which highway takes you to that general area. I-95, for example, runs closer to Miami's Eastern Coast and beaches, so if you're heading to neighborhoods like Aventura, North Miami Beach, Brickell, and Downtown Miami, you'll want to hop on I-95. However, keep in mind that while I-95 is toll-free, it gets extremely congested during rush hour in the morning and evening. You may want to consider springing for a Sun Pass so you can use the Express Lanes. Also, the further south you go on I-95, the further west it shifts, which may be confusing to newcomers. Once I-95 ends in Miami, it becomes US-1, or South Dixie Highway, in the Coconut Grove/Coral Gables area; at this point, you're in South Miami.
The other major highway that runs north and south is the Turnpike, which takes you through most of West Miami and is generally a faster route to South Miami than taking I-95 all the way down, especially since it connects to the two smaller highways, connecting you to Southwest Miami in 826 and 836. The 826 connects you to Miami Lakes, Hialeah, Coral Gables, Doral, and portions of Miami Gardens, and serves as a route back to North Miami if you're heading east. The 836 also connects you to parts of Doral, and Coral Gables, and serves as a route back to the Brickell area if you're heading east.
Finding Parking in Miami
While Miami isn't quite New York City when it comes to parking, it does run pretty close. Finding parking when you're in the northern outskirts of Miami or the South Miami suburbs isn't particularly difficult. But if you're heading to Downtown Miami, Brickell, or South Beach, the reward for fighting through Miami traffic and construction is spending several minutes driving up and down streets looking for metered parking, unless you're willing to spring for flat-rate parking garages, which often run up to $4.00 per hour.
Cycling is a great way to get exercise and a cost-efficient as well as a environmentally-conscious way to get around Miami. But unless you're charting fairly short routes through South Beach, Brickell, Wynwood, or a suburb, Miami isn't among the most cycling-friendly cities. Bike lanes end abruptly, and drivers seem resistant, if not hostile to, sharing the road with cyclists.
Getting around Miami has to feel intimidating if you're a transplant or tourist. Miami is as sprawling and lush as many other Floridian cities, but it also has the hectic pace of northeastern metropolises, making it a beast all its own. Hopefully, this insider's guide to getting around Miami will grant you some perspective. And if you're looking for things to do in Miami during your stay, be sure to register for 305area, your free resource for all things Miami.
Cover photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons