Local rules of the road
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Since such a large segment of the population was neither born nor raised here, many residents drive without knowledge of local traffic rules. In addition to the usual big-city problems, you’ll encounter some uniquely local driving issues, such as drivers who change lanes without signaling, stop suddenly at the top of freeway on-ramps in merging lanes and/or ignore stop signs. Then there are the many elderly drivers who drive in a kind of panic but at a snail’s pace, always refusing to give way. Not to mention those with their mobile phones clamped to their ears. Don’t forget, too, that several major highways change names with mysterious frequency.
If you find yourself lost and in need of directions, stay calm. Always stop at well-lit commercial outlets for directions, and take into account who’s around. Another option is to call your hotel or your destination for directions. Don’t leave valuable items visible in your car, even while you’re in motion, as "smash-and-grab" robbers approach idling cars at traffic lights.
If you break down, use your judgement about whether to leave the car and phone for help. The AAA recommends you wait until a police car passes and flag it down. If you’re a member of the AAA or have affiliated membership through a similar foreign group, always call the organization rather than a towing service, as rates for the latter can be extortionate. Emergency phones are provided on freeways. If you have a mobile phone, dial *FHP for the highway patrol.
Two last points: during rush hours (7–9am, 4–6pm Mon–Fri), only vehicles carrying at least two people including the driver can travel in lanes marked "HOV" ("high-occupancy vehicles"); and Florida law allows you to turn right on a red light if the road is clear, unless a sign says otherwise.
There are many car rental companies to choose from as long as you have a major credit card and are over 25 years of age. (Some local car rental agencies will rent to people without credit cards if they are over 25, produce a licence and a round-trip air ticket, and pay a deposit of several hundred dollars, or to persons aged 21-25 with a major credit card.) Remember that the prices companies quote you do not include state sales tax or either collision damage or liability insurance. If your home policy or credit card doesn’t cover you, grit your teeth and hand over the cash, even though it may almost double the rental bill. Driving without coverage can prove to be financially ruinous should the unlikely happen.
Parking on South Beach is an ordeal, and an expensive one at that. Invariably, you will have to use meters, parking lots (many of which have meters), garages or valet parking. For meters, you’ll need tons of quarters (they cost $1.75 per hour but are free from 3am to 9am). For garages and valet services, you’ll need tons of money, full stop. Additionally, there are 64 municipal lots scattered throughout the Miami Beach area. Rates are generally about $1–$2 per hour.
Cycling is a great way to get around; so is in-line skating. For spectacular views and a bit of uphill biking, try the Rickenbacker Causeway, an elevated bridge that links Virginia Key and Key Biscayne to the mainland. Ensure you have a good lock, as bikes often disappear in Miami.
Stores and rental companies
Car rental companies
Global Rent a Car305-635-3060, globalrac.com
Bike, scooter & skate stores
Beach Scooter Sales & Rentals
1341 Washington Ave (305-532-0977); 213 6th St, Miami Beach (305-604-1718, beachscooter.com). Open 10am–8pm daily. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Fritz’s Skate, Bike & Surf Shop
1620 Washington Ave, between Lincoln Rd & 16th St, South Beach (305-532-1954). Bus C, L, M, S, South Beach Local. Open 10am–9pm Mon–Sat; 10am–8pm Sun. Credit AmEx, DC, Disc, MC, V.
Miami Beach Bicycle Center
601 5th St, at Washington Ave, South Beach (305-674-0150). Bus C, H, K, W, South Beach Local. Open 10am–7pm Mon–Sat; 10am–5pm Sun. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.