Discussion reveals frustration with FDOT as a common thread, and a maturing Complete Streets advocacy movement.

O Cinema in Wynwood was packed to the rafters last night for the SafeStreetsMiami Forum – a public meeting organized by the Green Mobility Network to engage elected officials, government employees and the general public on how to make Miami-Dade County roads safer for all road users.

The meeting comes on the heels of the Bicycle Safety Summit on February 29th, organized by Commissioner Xavier Suarez after the death of cyclist Aaron Cohen on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

Wednesday night’s forum allowed attendees to submit written questions directed to the panelists, including Miami-Dade Bicycle Coordinator David Henderson, and Jeff Cohen from the Traffic Engineering Division of Miami-Dade County Public Works, City of Miami Bicycle Coordinator Collin Worth, City of Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, Miami-Dade District 7 Xavier Suarez, and representatives from Miami-Dade Transit.

Collin Worth makes the case for complete streets.

Plenty of the information presented in the forum was not new news – the great progress being made in implementing the City of Miami Bicycle Master Plan, pedestrian and cyclist crash data and statistics that illustrate a rapid growth of bicycling throughout the county.

The written questions created a more directed, poignant conversation, in contrast to the free-flowing public input at the District 7 Bicycle Safety Summit. The Q/A format allowed public officials to answer directly to the folks who use the streets. The Safe Streets Forum was about showing our elected officials that there is a strong and growing bicycle constituency, and that real changes need to be made in the way that we design our streets.

Over the course of the evening, one common thread emerged – that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is one of the largest roadblocks to implementing more complete streets throughout the county. Roads including Biscayne Boulevard, Brickell Avenue, Coral Way and the MacArthur Causeway, among many others, are ‘state roads’ and fall under the jurisdiction of the FDOT, who adhere to arcane, auto-centric standards ill-suited for safe streets in an urban setting.

Commissioner Sarnoff explained his frustration with the FDOT, particularly on the issue of Brickell Avenue. Together with Transitmiami, Commissioner Sarnoff  has lobbied FDOT District 6 Secretary Gus Pego hard for a safer 30 mph speed limit for Brickell Ave, while Pego and the FDOT are opposed. As Sarnoff explained, the FDOT prioritizes moving cars as fast as possible, rather than accommodating – in FDOT speak – “non-motorized units”.

“I will treat Brickell as a neighborhood, while FDOT will only treat it as a pass through,” said Sarnoff.

Gus PEGO

FDOT District 6 Sec. Gus Pego views people as "non-motorized units"

Sarnoff and others stressed the importance of continued advocacy and maintaining pressure on officials and agencies like the FDOT. He also suggested that local advocates form a Political Action Committee (PAC) to support candidates that align with their goals.

We are happy that Sarnoff suggested increased public pressure on the FDOT for more pedestrian and bicycle friendly streets. We support this call, as we at Transit Miami have been some of the loudest, most consistent voices in demanding change at the FDOT (only to receive information that TransitMiami.com is blocked from FDOT computers).

The first step in knowing you have a problem is denial.

Additionally, no one from the FDOT attended the forum. (surprise, surprise)

One question asked was what could be done to improve the pedestrian experience of NW 36th street, which divides Miami’s pedestrian-friendly Midtown and Design District neighborhoods with an intimidating wall of roaring traffic and scant crosswalks.

“It’s a state road,” said Collin Worth, who also expressed frustration at the FDOT’s reluctance to fully embrace “non-motorized units” as a priority in roadway design.

“Sitting outside a restaurant there is harrowing,” said Worth.

A map of pedestrian fatalities in Miami-Dade county shows the problem is widespread though out the city and county. “It’s a problem, that affects everyone, all neighborhoods, all ethnic groups,” said David Henderson of Miami-Dade MPO.

Pedestrian Fatalities in Central Miami 2001-2009

But a closer examination reveals a chilling fact – the most dangerous streets for pedestrians are clearly FDOT roads, with dense clusters of pedestrian fatalities along Flagler Street, Calle Ocho and along US-1.

The meeting did include information on some exciting plans that are in the works. The most interesting of which included:

  • Progress on a bike-sharing system like DecoBike for the City of Miami. The current plans call for 50 stations and 500 bikes from Coconut Grove to Midtown, focused mostly on the eastern side of Miami. The plans are currently making their way through the various government approval processes.
  • Preliminary plans for a “Miami Bike Station” – a centrally located downtown facility where bike commuters could securely park their bicycles, use a locker and shower after a ride to work. No timeline was given on this project.
  • A plan for a protected bike lane/cycle track design on North Miami Avenue is being worked on by city and county officials.

We also applaud the public officials involved for finally engaging the bicycle community. Hearing Commissioner Xavier Suarez at the Bicycle Safety Summit say “We have a paradigm shift going on, and if we don’t recognize it, we’re not serving our constituents,” is a fundamental shift in the political dialogue. Together, with groups like Green Mobility Network taking the lead, we can bring complete streets advocacy to the next level in Miami-Dade County.

7 Responses to Officials, Advocates Vent at SafeStreetsMiami Forum

  1. Hank Sanchez-Resnik says:

    As one of the organizers, I have to confess we did not invite FDOT. Clearly, FDOT and the legislature have to be a major target of our efforts.

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  2. Dave says:

    South Miami took control of Sunset Drive in its City limits from the County and State (and assumed all costs associated with that responsibility). As a result they were able to perform any traffic calming measure they desired (lowering the speed limit to as low as 25 mph in some sections). I doubt the City of Miami has the funds unfortunately.

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  3. Roger Van Klaas says:

    The events from the meeting sound promising, and it’s a nice change to see a shift in support to smart urbanism in the city.

    On the note of the bike sharing program, the City of Miami should use the same system as DecoBike. It wouldn’t make sense to have two separate bike sharing programs in the same city, let’s create a larger, central network. Capital Bike Share in DC does this. Capital Bike Share has stations in many different municipalities and jurisdictions; we should do the same.

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  4. Frank Rollason says:

    I think DAVE is on the right track. The Gables took over Miracle Mile some years ago and look at it now – restaurants full and window shoppers at all hours. Don’t be too quick to say the City does not have the money; it has only to re-prioritize its objectives and use of 1/2 cent gas tax. Maybe trollies to and from the stadium is not the best use of the funds? It is too long accepted that local officials pass the buck to those outside their control. It is time for our local officials to step up the plate and in the paraphrased words of President Kennedy, “Ask not what others can do for our City, but ask what can I do as an elected official to make our local roads safer and more pedestrian/bike friendly.” You know, that thinking outside the box that they so like to talk about.

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  5. Tony Garcia says:

    Well said Frank.

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  6. B says:

    I agree with Dave and Frank. The improvements almost have to come from organization at the local level not the State level, since FDOT is clearly not going to do it. Perhaps there is a way to pool resources between the City, the Downtown Development Authority, and Brickell Homeowners Association?

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  7. Felipe Azenha says:

    You bring up a great point Frank; perhaps the city should start taking ownership of some state roads.

    It is obvious that the FDOT is clueless-they don’t know how to design roads within an urban environment. Unfortunately, I don’t think the city is interested in maintaining more roads and they will continue to use the excuse that there isn’t money to take back some state roads. It’s a matter of priorities; safer streets simply aren’t a priority for the city or the FDOT.

    That being said, there is still no excuse for the FDOT to continue designing roads the way they do. If they own a road they also own the poor design of that road and they must be held accountable. The FDOT must do a much better job of making the streets safer for everyone.

    btw, the CPWD is at best doing a marginally better job than FDOT. They still have a long way to go.

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