25 people showed up to the public meeting Tuesday night at the Miami Beach Regional Library.  It was an open format, with the project laid out on two long tables and key personnel available to answer questions and take comments.

One table featured a visual summary of the crash data, and one table showed the proposal from a bird’s eye view.

Mayor Matti Bower thanked everyone for coming, even if, “they [FDOT] never do anything I ask.”

There were several members of Miami Beach City Staff there:  two engineers from Public Works, Rick Saltrick and Diane Fernandez.  Fred Beckman, the Public Works Director was there, as well as Assistant City Manager Duncan Ballantyne and Community Outreach maven Lynn Birnstein.

Beckman, Bernstein and Ballantyne were there mainly to facilitate the participation of Marlo Courtney of Goldman Properties and Michael Comras, of the Comras Company, two prominent developers, who along with Realtor Lyle Stern and other property owners in the area have formed the Collins Avenue Improvement Association, (CIA).

CIA in turn, has hired engineering consultant Ramon Castella of C3TS in Coral Gables. It is heartwarming to see civic leaders like these gentlemen take such an active role in making our streets better.  I, for one, am grateful for their efforts.

The CIA is working with the City Managers’ office, who has pledged to use quality of life funds to enhance the project. This extra cash will amp up a once vanilla RRR (Road Resurfacing and Reconstruction) project into a “mini mod” with new sidewalks, new curbs, landscaped bump outs and an additional amount of drainage.

Oh yes, and the addition of the 10 foot left turn lane.  But I digress.

As merchants, the CIA are really focused on sidewalks.  The sidewalks along this corridor are not only old and broken, but are really small. Between 5 and 6.5′.  Add to that the massive amount of regulatory and way-finding signs, street furniture and café seating plus the large numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists, and it doesn’t take the other CIA to figure out Collins Avenue needs more sidewalks.

FDOT, happily, is committed to making the sidewalks as wide as possible, without moving the curbs.  This means they will have to aggressively pursue encroachments.  We wish them well.  On Miami Beach, we sometimes loose 5-6 feet of public right of way on any given corridor to private landscaping or even hard construction due to these types of encroachments.  The CMB policy, for the most part, has been one of  “Don’t ask, don’t take.” This works well to quell the fear of construction for adjacent property owners, but does little to enhance transportation.

Unfortunately, CIA is so focused on picking out streetlamps and placing parking stations, trashcans and benches, that they have lost sight of the big picture. Addressing the congestion on Collins Avenue that makes the entire experience of being there unpleasant and unsafe for everyone.

FDOT is addressing the unsafe conditions –   at least for cars. In the July 2011 Safety Study done by CH Perez and Associates, they document how unsafe Collins Avenue is for cars.  They looked at reported crash data for a three-year period, (2007-2009).  1,152 crashes in three years gets you on FDOT’s High Crash List.  84% were property-damage only crashes. 29% of crashes were rear end, 23% sideswipe and 18% involved a park car. 6% of all crashes involved a pedestrian (2/3) or bicycle, (1/3) and of those 67 crashes, 85% resulted in injuries.

Good news is there were no fatalities during the study period. Bad news is we know how under reported bicycle-car accidents are.

The report names aggressive driving as the number one probable cause for the crashes, and believes the lack of a left turn lane is to blame.

And so, the hardworking and dedicated engineers, project managers and safety specialists who are working on this project use the extra ten-feet (gained by narrowing the parking lane and travel lanes) to add an extra lane of traffic.

In reality, the added travel lane will only make the problem worse by adding to the congestion of Collins Avenue, which will ramp up the aggression, which will cause more accidents.

Anyone who has ever been on Collins Avenue knows the score, especially at unsignalized intersections.  Cars wait in the travel lane to make that left-hand turn.  And wait and wait because of the congestion.  Cars two and three behind them whiz around on the right when then can, often grazing the parked cars, shouting expletives and showing the finger.  The driver waiting to make the turn finally sees an opening and makes a dash, only to be stopped short by the pedestrian or bicyclist he did not see because he was so focused on the cars coming at him in speeds that range from the posted 30 to 35 MPH.  When the waiting driver makes his move, either a pedestrian or bicyclist gets hit or a chain reaction of rear-end collisions happen behind him. (As an aside, this craziness of the modulating posted speed limit should be addressed immediately, bringing the posted speed limit to 30 throughout the corridor.  I would like to see 25, but that’s just me.)

The left turn lane allows traffic to continually move through the corridor while allowing three cars to stack up waiting to make that elusive left turn.

This will induce latent demand and add capacity – and traffic – to the roadway. More cars on Collins Avenue are not the answer. More pedestrians are key to restoring the economic preeminence of this retail district.  You do that by making the sidewalks safer by moving the bicycles into a dedicated lane.

Additionally, the bike lane will help encourage users of Collins Avenue who are not in cars.  More people biking and walking equals more choices for people to get around.

The best part is that in 20 years when we get a wholesale reconstruction of the corridor, we will have shifted the travel mode from 90% percent cars to 20% cars.  Justifying removing the turn lane and extending the sidewalks and adding landscaping.

Adding bike lanes now is the seed required to achieve that future. Unfortunately none of the project managers ride a bicycle.  I have invited them all to try it: on Collins now.  Or ride the sharrows on Washington Avenue and see how that feels.  They need to see there is more than one way to solve the problem they have defined, and there is a better solution is to deal with the root cause, not just add too it.

Please send an email to the man in charge, Harold Desdunes at harold.desdunes@dot.state.fl.us.  He assured me he would have the engineers take another look at the study, but they need to put their bike helmets on to do it.  Send an email asking for their support. My City Manager, Jorge Gonzalez said he direct staff to ask for the bike lane.  It’s a start, but the Department is rushing to complete the plans.  Time is of the essence!

All is not lost, but your help is needed to prod FDOT in the right direction.

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2 Responses to Collins Avenue Meeting Recap

  1. Daniel says:

    I think its funny how south beach is considered such an international destination. When you’re there it just plain seems like not much. Certainly not what you’d expect if you’d only heard about it for a long time and then went there to see what its all about. Same thing with Miami. There’s like a couple nightclubs and that’s it.

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