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This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Better! Cities & Towns. It was reprinted on TransitMiami.com with expressed written consent from the Author and the Editor of Better! Cities & Towns. 

Miami Beach takes Infrastructure Beyond Gray

Claudia Kousoulas, Better! Cities & Towns

When cities invest in infrastructure, it’s often the gray stuff like roads and bridges. Or it’s hidden away like water and sewer pipes. Not to say that infrastructure isn’t interesting and vital to a city’s success, but it’s hard to get excited about.

But in Miami Beach, where everything seems to be more colorful and dramatic than most American cities, the latest round of infrastructure investments combine flamboyance and function. The city’s parking garages are featured in the Wall Street Journal, Lebron James is a fan of its bikeshare system, and the expanding network of streetscape and trail improvements weave the city together, from beach to bay.

“It is a coordinated effort,” says Richard Lorber, acting planning director. “Decobike has become a part of the city and we’ve incorporated it into our transportation thinking.” Likewise with streetscape improvements; despite initial concern about losing on-street parking spaces, residents recognize that the curb bump-outs, streetscaping, and landscaping add value to their properties.

High-style parking garages

Miami Beach has gotten the most press coverage for its public and private parking garages and in fact has set a new standard for not only garage design, but their integration with streets and city life. Architects whose names are usually attached to symphony halls and art museums are undertaking what used to be a pretty dull commission.

Zaha Hadid’s proposed parking garage with swooping overhang atop a pedestrian space typifies Miami Beach’s stylish and fun approach to infrastructure

Herzog and deMeuron’s 1111 Lincoln Road garage functions equally as a party space, a retail anchor, and parking garage. Enrique Norten’s refined Park @420 pulls Lincoln Road’s retail activity around the corner, while Arquitectonica’s Purdy Avenue garage is also a retail anchor for Sunset Harbor, an emerging mixed-use neighborhood. Frank Gehry’s public garage, sheathed in steel mesh recalling his signature chain link, is lit to drift through a color palette that mirrors Miami sunsets. Zaha Hadid is proposing a structure that will swoop over a street and create a pedestrian plaza.

The trend toward high style garages began in 1995 with Arquitectonica’s Ballet Valet garage. The client, developer Tony Goldman who would go on to develop the Wynwood Arts District, spotted an opportunity on this neglected stretch of Collins Avenue. One block in from the beach and surrounded by clubs and hotels, the garage’s retail base kick-started redevelopment. Popularly known as the Chia Pet garage, Arquitectonica’s screen of plants became a local landmark.

Ballet Valet garage, designed by Arquitectonica

Unlike the usual approach to garage design, which seeks to hide parking behind a liner building or false front, newer garages celebrate their position in our lives and communities. Most use texture, color, and pattern to create visual elegance. Herzog and De Meuron’s garage uses the drama of space and movement. Views shift and drop; every floor creates a different experience. From the outside, the blade-edged concrete slabs hover over dramatic skies and palm trees. Hadid’s proposed design is a modernist approach to the experience of moving through space.

Roger Howie of Hadid’s office says, “A simple premise of how to bring the street into the building guided our initial studies which then progressed into an expressed, continuous vehicular circulation path which provides a unique, even fun, experience for the user.”

But the designs also mediate between the car and the pedestrian. From an urban point of view, their relationship to the street is most important. Some, like Park@420, rely on a simple retail base, others like 1111 draw pedestrians in to experience the space. As well as retail, Hadid’s design includes an urban plaza and features stairs to create a gateway along the Collins Park axis. This sounds more like urban design than transportation engineering.

As well as experiments with screen and structure, the function of these garages is part of their design and economics. They are not places you would park and leave. You could spend the whole evening at 1111—from a sunset drink at the rooftop restaurant, on to dinner, then shopping and people watching in the plaza. Likewise, Arquitectonica’s Purdy Avenue seeks to combine design and function to transcend typical parking garage. “The idea was to create a hub of activity for residents and locals, a place to eat, exercise, and shop—with parking,” says Wendy Chernin of the Scott Robins Companies who worked with the city in a public-private partnership to build the project.

The varying floor heights, almost invisible steel cable fencing, and concrete slabs of 1111 Lincoln Road upend the notion of the parking garage as something to be hidden.

Decobike Cruises In

Miami Beach has added 2,741 new spaces with these garages, but the city’s approach is also multi-modal. Decobike has been operating in the city since 2011. In 2012 it expanded north to the Town of Surfside and is poised to cross the Biscayne Bay causeways into the City of Miami. On the beach, Decobike has achieved the best bike-to-resident ratio in North America, with the highest station distribution per square mile nationally. Each of the 1,000 bikes is used four to five times a day, one of the highest use rates in the country.

Decobike founders Colby Reese and Bonifacio Diaz first experienced bikeshare in Paris and Barcelona.
“We were amazed by the amount of usage on the systems. From there, it became a “green business concept that we fell in love with,” said Reese.

When the City of Miami Beach issued a request for proposals, Decobike responded with proposed locations based on their business model and use estimates. Lorber says that the city worked with them to approve the proposed locations or find appropriate alternatives.  He points out that the system was initially approved without advertising on the bikes or docks, but Decobike has since requested to place ads.

“We’re not thrilled with the ads, but worked with them again to find appropriate locations,” says Lorber. “Decobike is so well loved and so important, we want them to have a healthy financial viability.”

There were initial reservations about use. Why would anyone use this service if they already owned a bicycle? But as Reese points out, with bikeshare there are no worries about theft or maintenance. And a well-distributed and stocked bike dock network makes Decobike convenient. Reese notes that once the docks were installed, they also adjusted rental and membership options to meet the demands of residents and visitors.

There was also some concern about turning over on-street parking spaces to bike docks, but the popularity of the system and a slew of new parking garages calmed those concerns. As Reese notes, using a parking space for 20 bikes that turn over four to five times a day is a more efficient use of public space.

Reese and Diaz recount these sensible planner answers, but neglect to mention just how much fun Decobike can be. Miami Beach is a flat city, with great weather and ocean views. A grid street pattern provides plenty of routes for commuting or sightseeing.

And just as the parking garages are a system designed to provide access, so is Decobike. Its expansion north into Surfside was the next step in expanding farther north to Haulover Park and west into the Town of Bay Harbor Islands. Duncan Tavares, planner for the Town of Surfside, says residents and businesses supported bikeshare from the start, and after smoothing some concerns about liability and location, so did elected officials.

Expanding Streetscape and Trails

Even within its street grid, the city is upgrading its network of trails and street paths for efficiency, safety, and pleasure. The city’s 2007 Atlantic Greenway Network Plan strived to establish routes that make local and regional bicycle and walking connections. Now that the State of Florida no longer allows wooden structures on the beach, each redevelopment or capital improvement completes another link. The overall effort re-engineers walking and cycling into car-oriented streets and public spaces.

The Atlantic Greenway Network path runs north-south along the beach as a poured concrete path with a trademark wave pattern paving, providing recreation and transportation connections.

While the Atlantic Greenway Network Plan makes beach to bay connections and runs along the beachfront, the City also considers neighborhood function and aesthetics in its streetscape improvements. The South Pointe Master Plan identifies 13 neighborhoods for a planned progress program of streetscape improvements. The plan works from eight typologies that include curb bump-outs, tree grates, lighting, shade trees, and what everyone wants to see when they come to Miami—palm trees.

As the city works its way through each neighborhood, citizens help develop a “basis of design” report that identifies designs and applications unique to each neighborhood. The resulting improvements, says Lorber, encourage people to walk by creating safe and comfortable streets for pedestrians and by corralling cars, but also include stormwater and drainage improvements.

The blocks south of Fifth Street now include a mix of housing, from single-family to high-rise, fronting walkable streets made pedestrian-friendly with landscaping, paving, curb bumpouts, and crosswalks.

While many of these designs take on a particular tropical style, they are also lessons for other communities. Garages that become landmarks and destinations, a continuing commitment to transportation alternatives and trail connections, and streetscape that adds value on every corner don’t need palm trees to be successful.

Claudia Kousoulas is a freelance writer and an urban planner with the Montgomery County Maryland Planning Department, where she blogs on The Straight Line.

 

For those of you attending tomorrow’s Miami Heat Parade, MDT, SFRTA, BCT, and Transit Miami all strongly suggest that attendees take the train! MDT will be upping Metrorail service to a 5 minute frequency (we wish that were permanent)  south of the Earlington Heights station and will be running extra vehicles on the MetroMover between 8AM and 2PM.  Alternatively, you could be like our own hometown heroes and Bike to/from the parade route…

From MDT:

To accommodate the large crowds expected to attend the Miami Heat victory parade on Monday, June 24, 2013, Miami-Dade Transit will be enhancing its Metrorail and Metromover service, and making it easier for patrons to pay their Metrorail fare by providing ‘express pay’ lanes at Metrorail stations.

Due to road closures in the downtown Miami and Brickell areas, several Metrobus routes will be detoured, including routes 3, 6, 8, 11, 24, 48, 77, 207, 208, C and S.

From SFRTA

Tri-Rail will be operating 4-car trains in the morning and on the return from the parade to increase train capacity.  Tri-Rail will operate an additional southbound train in the morning, which will leave the Fort Lauderdale Station at approximately 10:15 a.m. Passengers are encouraged to take southbound trains P611 or P613 to ensure arrival prior to the start of the parade.

From BCT:

The 595 Express Miami/Brickell bus departs at 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. from the BB&T Center in Sunrise and travels to Brickell Plaza along the parade route. The first return trip on the 595 Express bus back to the BB&T Center departs from the Brickell Metrorail Station at 3:05 p.m. with service every 30 minutes up until 6:45 p.m.

 

The decisive role of the highways in determining the fate of Overtown a half century ago is not lost upon City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.

The southern part of Ms. Spence-Jones’ District #5 (marked in pink the map below) covers Overtown, and she’s clearly had a history lesson or two on the role of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in her historic, predominantly black, socio-economically disadvantaged, yet eager-to-reemerge district.

At last month’s May 23 Commission meeting, fellow City of Miami Commission Marc Sarnoff (District #2; marked in orange below) first brought Resolution #13-00581 to the floor.

2012CommissionDistricts_CityOfMiami

Map Source: City of Miami

As we’ve extensively noted over the past few days, Resolution #13-00581 (as originally written) would have transferred control of Brickell Avenue from FDOT to the City of Miami.

Referring to Brickell as the “Park Avenue of Miami”, Sarnoff made a compelling case for the resolution, further emphasizing the potential for better speed control and safety provisions on the financial business district’s most critical artery. He continued:

Now we have the opportunity to own Brickell. This is a very, very big piece for the City of Miami — to take ownership and control of its own Park Avenue. And I just don’t want this opportunity to slip.

On these points, TransitMiami couldn’t agree more with Sarnoff.

Critical to understand, though, is that (in its original form) Resolution #13-00581 would have required the City of Miami to give up control of a handful of important streets in the Historic Overtown / Downtown Miami District. In fact, FDOT was actually trying to take more roadway length than it was actually relinquishing.

Fortunately, FDOT’s desperate grab for Overtown’s historic streets met with a ferocious defense from Commissioner Spence-Jones, demonstrating her thorough understanding of the agency’s highway history in Overtown.

Read closely — this one’s a classic!

City of Miami Commissioner for District #5, Spence Jones.

City of Miami Commissioner for District #5, Spence Jones.

Unfortunately, FDOT gets an ‘F’ for our community in Overtown.

They have been responsible for not only destroying a very prevalent African-American community, but also displacing many of them, many of the people that live there. [...]

I am very uncomfortable with giving up any anything in Overtown — in any way — until they handle what they promised they’d handle. There’s things that FDOT has said that they’re going to do [...]. They say one thing, and then it’s a totally different thing.

They haven’t done anything that they committed to do. So, you know, for me to give up something or allow them to take one thing over the other and not have them live up to their responsibility to the residents of Overtown — I have an issue and a concern with it.

So all I asked was for [City of Miami Assistant Manager Alice Bravo] and [City of Miami Manager Johnny Martinez] to set-up a meeting with FDOT and let’s go through all these items that the residents of Overtown have asked for that they have not complied with. [...]

It’s amazing that in the midst of getting [Resolution #13-00581] negotiated, my district [District #5] was considered in it without even having a discussion with me . . . because I would have told you then, that anything that FDOT is doing in Overtown — we got issues! [...]

And then, not only that; beyond that: They promised that they would not take anybody’s property. The next thing I know, they’re taking people’s property!

Then I’m hearing again — without us even having a conversation — you know, the properties that we’re building in Overtown, or trying to create in Overtown . . . now they want to take that side of 14th Street and 3rd Avenue from the businesses that we just put money into . . . so — I got issues with FDOT!

It don’t have anything to do with Brickell [...]. [...]

So all I’m asking is that I would like to have a meeting with FDOT to make sure that our issues get resolved. [...]

If you’re talking about giving them something in OT — Yes! The District 5 Commissioner has a big issue and big problem with it. I’m not saying you can’t get [the transfer of Brickell to the City of Miami done ...]

But Overtown — when it comes to I-95, roadways, highways, anything that sounds like that — it’s a problem for us in Overtown.

It destroyed a community. [...]

TransitMiami has one word for Comissioner Spence-Jones: Righteous!

Resolution #13-00581 was ultimately passed (3 commissioners in favor; 0 opposed) at the most recent Commission meeting on June 13. Fortunately, though, the Resolution was amended to exclude at least parts of the streets in the Overtown / Historic Downtown Miami District. TransitMiami will follow-up with more details soon.

As for now, though, just try to bask in a bit of the glory of Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones’ passionate words in defense of her district and the people of Overtown, and our community at-large. Kudos to you, Commissioner Spence-Jones!

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Our local public radio station, WLRN, published a fantastic, must-hear/must-see piece this morning on  “How I-95 Shattered the World of Miami’s Early Overtown Residents”.

In it, reporter Nadege Green of WLRN / The Miami Herald makes some excellent inquiries into the glorious past that was once thriving Colored Town.

As narrated in the radio piece:

Overtown was known as the Harlem of the South. [Jazz legends] Cab CallowayNat King Cole, and Billie Holiday performed in Miami Beach. But because of segregation, they weren’t allowed to stay there. They’d stay in Overtown . . . at hotels like the Sir John and the Mary Elizabeth. And they jammed late into the night with locals.

Source: The Miami Herald. "Demolition of the Mary Elizabeth Hotel in Overtown. COURTESY OF THE BLACK ARCHIVES" http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

Source: The Miami Herald. “Demolition of the Mary Elizabeth Hotel in Overtown. COURTESY OF THE BLACK ARCHIVES” http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

As decried by 70 year-old, long-time Overtown resident, General White:

Well there’s nothing but a big overpass now!

He’s referring to Interstates 95 and 395, which Nadege Green explains were built in the 1960s. After that:

Overtown was never the same. [Mr. General White] and thousands of other people here were forced out to make room for the highway.

MiamiHerald_I95_Overtown_Construction

Source: The Miami Herald. “Overview of I-395 looking east in Miami, August 23, 1967. The Miami Herald building can be seen in far background left and the Freedom Tower in far background right. JOHN PINEDA / MIAMI HERALD FILE” http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

3-D view of I-95 looking east, afforded by Google Earth, June 17, 2013.

3-D view of I-395 looking east, afforded by Google Earth, June 17, 2013.

Source: The Miami Herald. "Overview to I-95 looking south in Miami, August 23, 1967. Mt. Zion Church in foreground left, at NW 3rd Avenue and 9th Street. Old Courthouse is background left. JOHN PINEDA / MIAMI HERALD FILE" http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

Source: The Miami Herald. “Overview to I-95 looking south in Miami, August 23, 1967. Mt. Zion Church in foreground left, at NW 3rd Avenue and 9th Street. Old Courthouse is background left. JOHN PINEDA / MIAMI HERALD FILE” http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/01/30/880086/overtowns-heyday.html

3-D view of I-95 looking south, afforded by Google Earth, June 17, 2013.

3-D view of I-95 looking south, afforded by Google Earth, June 17, 2013.

Be sure to listen and read that eye-opening WLRN piece on the tragic history of the once glorious heart of Miami called Overtown, and the role of the highway in tearing it out.

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The City of Miami’s Office of Communications released yesterday a short video on the Citizen’s Independent Transportation Trust’s (CITT) 2013 Miami-Dade Transportation Summit.

The elevator music and 1980′s electric guitar riff can be a little hard to endure, but it’s nonetheless interesting to have a glimpse at the City’s perspective on the Summit.

Featured in the video are the City’s Assistant Manager, Alice Bravo, who describes the role and responsibility of the CITT. Also featured is the City’s Special Project Assistant, Thomas Rodrigues, who talks about the City’s Trolley(-bus) routes.

Take a gander!

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May is National Bike Month. Biking is seeing a nationwide resurgence due to aggressive policies aimed to promote cycling, and as cities and towns in South Florida join the fold by increasing bike infrastructure, now is a particularly good time to bike in the Miami area. If you have a bike that needs a tune up or have been thinking about buying a two-wheeler for a while May is the perfect month to do so!

The bike is up there with man’s greatest inventions. It extends the range one can travel considerably, all while burning no fuel and providing excellent cardiovascular and exercise benefits. In urban traffic conditions, the bike is comparable with cars and public transportation on short/medium trips. One can usually bike around 5 miles in half an hour, which compares quite well with driving that distance under normal traffic conditions, and certainly with taking public transportation (particularly when having to walk to and wait for the bus).

All buses in Miami Dade and Broward County are outfitted with bike extensions. This opens up the possibility of using the bicycle as part of a multimodal trip. If you take multiple rides on your commute, consider biking to replace part of the trip, saving time, money, and enjoying the many exercise benefits of riding.

Of course, going from theory to practice can take some work, so here are some things to consider before hitting the road.

Things you’ll need to bike on the road:

A helmet: it’s not required for those older than 16, it’s usually not comfortable, but it is worth it. Most serious injuries and bike fatalities can be prevented by the simple use of a helmet.

Lights: White for the front, red for the back. Try to get removable ones so they don’t get stolen.

Bell: A loud bell will come in handy, particularly if you are biking on a mixture of roads and sidewalks.

In most places, these common sense accessories are legally required.

If you have never biked in traffic there are easy ways to ease into it. Always stay on the right side of the road. While riding your bike you are legally considered a car and need to obey all traffic laws, stop signs, and lights. Take advantage of the grid and bike down calmer less trafficked streets where possible. Familiarize yourself with the areas in which you want to bike and test out different routes.

One of the frustrating things about biking in the area is that most good bike lanes come to an end at major thoroughfares or ends of towns. But, with a few exceptions, most municipalities in South Florida allow for biking on the sidewalk. Google maps now has an option for bike directions, and smartphone users can use maps to figure out where they are and see which minor trafficked and low speed-limit streets they can take to reach their destinations.

If you don’t have a bike, you can take advantage of low-cost subscriptions to cycle hires like DecoBike in Miami Beach, and B-cycles in Broward County. I would still suggest taking a helmet with you if you plan to use one on the road. These bike systems also make use of smartphone GSP apps, with the deco bike app allowing you to see where you can rent/return bikes. The beauty of this is the short utility trip to the grocery store or other quick stop that would be too short for a car trip but a bit too far to walk. The bike serves as a great equalizer between walking and transit. So if you have been thinking of exercising, cutting down on car/transportation costs, and see the bike as an option I highly suggest giving it a try during this National Bike Month.

Ride safe!

 

 

6th crash in three years at the same exact location. Brickell Avenue and 15th Road

6th crash in three years at the same exact location. Brickell Avenue and 15th Road

Here we go again… A few weeks ago there was another crash on Brickell Avenue and SW 15th Road.  This is the sixth incident in about 3 years that I have seen debris from crashes at the exact same location.  I’m not sure what FDOT and the city of Miami are waiting for, but apparently nothing will be done here until someone is killed. Sadly this will likely happen within the next three years.

Looks like the bench was launched about 50 feet.

Looks like the bench was launched about 50 feet.

The Echo Brickell project has just been announced and construction will begin soon at the very exact location where all these crashes have occurred.  This project will have 175 units with retail on the ground floor.  If the design of the road remains the same, we should expect a nasty accident with a lot of injuries once the project is completed. FDOT and the city of Miami have been put on notice. If nothing is done immediately both will have blood on their hands.

You can also send an email to FDOT District 6 Secretary Gus Pego and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff to see if they plan to do anything to address the design speed on Brickell Avenue.  I think it is evident that we have a problem here.

 

Our friends at All Aboard Florida (AAF) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announce a series of Public Scoping Meetings/Open Houses concerning the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which will evaluate the potential environmental impacts of constructing and operating an intercity passenger rail service linking Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando. The same content will presented at each meeting.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013
3:30 to 7 p.m.
Renaissance Orlando Airport Hotel – Milan Ballroom
5445 Forbes Place
Orlando, FL 32812

Monday, May 6, 2013
3:30 to 7 p.m.
Culmer Center – Multipurpose Room
1600 NW 3rd Ave.
Miami, FL 33136

Tuesday, May 7, 2013
3:30 to 7 p.m.
Gaines Park Community Center – Addie Greene Hall East
1505 N. Australian Ave.
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Thursday, May 9, 2013
3:30 to 7 p.m.
Havert L. Fenn Center – Room 5
2000 Virginia Ave.
Fort Pierce, FL 34982

AAF - Public Scoping Meeting notification

 

A pedestrian bridge above US-1 at the University MetroRail station was recently approved by Miami-Dade County and is currently moving closer to an agreement. Though a state and federally funded project of $6 million, the University Centre mall owner has raised some concerns and is refusing to allow the county to build the bridge on its property. The bridge to channel university students, middle school students, metrorail riders, and others to the popular strip mall has been in the works for several years, joining the other existing US-1 overpasses. The Pedestrian Safety Access Committee formed with the long-term goal to build the pedestrian bridge in direct response to 3 student fatalities at the intersection since 1990, along with several accidents.

Proposed Pedestrian Bridge - Rendering courtesy Miami-Dade County

Proposed Pedestrian Bridge at US-1 and University MetroRail Station: Note the bicyclist hugging the curb… (Rendering courtesy Miami-Dade County)

Looking at this situation at face value, this project makes perfect sense: people are dying on the intersection, so take the people off the intersection. But I challenge you to stand back and examine the bigger picture of crossing US-1 at this intersection and every other one in Coral Gables, South Miami, and beyond. Is the problem uniquely at this intersection, or along the entire stretch of the fast-moving, 6-lane highway? Due to very high speeds, awkward street-level pedestrian crossings, unbuffered and narrow sidewalks, and poor street lighting, I think we can agree that this stretch is hostile to non-motorists. Michelle Simmon, public involvement coordinator for Miami-Dade Transit stated back in 2007 that ‘the main purpose of the long-term bridge project is to encourage pedestrian safety while making the Coral Gables community more “walkable.” Yes, ‘channeling’ pedestrians into a bridge does have the potential of keeping pedestrians safe, but does it encourage walkability?

Pedestrian Convenience. A walkable community is possible when the built environment is convenient to the pedestrian, bicyclist, student, parent with baby stroller, etc. Making decisions that inhibit pedestrian convenience such as narrowing sidewalks, reducing crosswalks, ‘forcing’ people to go up and over a street - then these decisions make the built environment inconvenient and therefore, less walkable. But if we redesign the street to discourage speeding, add wider sidewalks buffered from vehicular traffic, pedestrian street lighting, and common-sense street-level crossings (and using a lot less than the $6 million) we could achieve both safety and walkability for all road users.

Neighborhood Unity. Instead of creating a street that welcomes its neighbors, we are making decisions (like numerous pedestrian bridges) that add up toward creating an automobile sewer. This is the root of the problem, and the reason for these vehicular deaths in the first place - we are literally trying to put a highway into the middle of a community. Why are we surprised that pedestrians, students, children are trying to cross the street in their own neighborhood? Instead of encouraging to further dissect this area, we need to consider the potential to transform this massive right-of-way into the safe neighborhood center the university, middle school, and residents deserve.

Traffic Priorities. The problem in this dangerous intersection is not the pedestrians, but the unobservant drivers. But who are we punishing? the pedestrians. And who are we prioritizing for dominion over the street even more? the drivers, observant or not. A walkable neighborhood is not void of cars, drivers, and traffic, but rather re-prioritizes its road space to accommodate a full range of transportation choices. Slowing traffic down does not guarantee more congestion either. In fact, some of the most efficient roads in the world are in slow-speed, walkable environments. By humanizing the thoroughfare with better street-level crossings, lighting, wider sidewalks, street trees, narrower traffic lanes, and even on-street parking, we can effectively slow traffic, and persuade drivers to be more alert, attentive, and vigilant, fostering a safer atmosphere for all.

If building this University Station pedestrian bridge could save just one life, then yes, its construction is more than worth it. But what’s next in encouraging safety and walkability? Are we going to continue constructing pedestrian bridges at every intersection over Dixie Highway - and with whose funds? And does that leave the people who will still cross at street level with a more dangerous thoroughfare? I challenge this community, the Pedestrian Safety Access Committee, Miami-Dade County, FDOT, and others involved to improve the pedestrian experience on the street level. In many ways the easiest solution is to build the pedestrian bridge. However, six million dollars can provide a lot of funding for this community if our residents and leaders are brave enough to tackle the root of the problem. We should not take these deaths lightly, but we do need to consider the full range of options to improve the safety, convenience, and value of the US-1 corridor. Just as Michelle Simmon from Miami-Dade Transit stated, “A livable community has to be a safe community.” By humanizing this dangerous, dissecting thoroughfare, we can not only save lives, but also our community.

NE 79th Street.  Miami's worst urban street has a design speed of 40+mph. 3 lanes going west to east and 1 lane going east to west.

NE 79th Street. Miami’s worst urban street has a design speed of 40+mph. 3 lanes going west to east and 1 lane going east to west.

NE 79th is unequivocally Miami’s worst urban street. The street is awkwardly configured with 3 lanes going west to east and 1 lane going east to west. Sometime in 2013 FDOT will begin a resurfacing project from I95 to the Biscayne Bay.

NE 79th Street project will be resurfaced from I95 to Biscayne Bay.

NE 79th Street will be resurfaced from I95 to Biscayne Bay.

I’m plugged-in with what’s happening in my neighborhood and I happen to live 4 blocks away from 79th Street.  About two months ago I found out that FDOT would be resurfacing NE 79th Street and apparently the FDOT has been conducting a series of meetings with “neighborhood stakeholders” in the last year. I am on the board of the MiMo Biscayne Association.  Over the past two years we have met with FDOT officials on several occasions to discuss making safety improvements along Biscayne Boulevard. Not once during any of our meetings did FDOT mention that NE79th Street was due to be resurfaced. Where’s the community outreach? Why didn’t FDOT reach out to the MiMo Biscayne Association or Transit Miami?

With respect to Biscayne Boulevard, the MiMo Biscayne Association has been rebuffed by FDOT and they make every excuse not to make any safety improvement although I have documented over 15 crashes in less than a three-year period in which cars usually end up on the sidewalk.  Basically, FDOT officials have said to us is “ Biscayne Boulevard was just recently resurfaced, so speak with us again in 20 years when we resurface again”. FDOT officials have also said “ safety is matter of perception”.

So let’s put outside FDOT’s lack of community outreach for now. I’ve heard that the current resurfacing project is only a “temporary solution”.  WTF does “temporary solution” mean? Sounds exactly like the I395 “Bait and Switch” which FDOT just pulled with the “signature bridge” construction project. I’m very happy to see that Mayor Regalado and Commissioner Sarnoff have filed a lawsuit again FDOT.

My fear is that FDOT will pull the same “Bait and Switch”. They’ll do this resurfacing project with a promise to come back soon and we won’t hear from them again for another 20 years.  Meanwhile, 79th Street will likely see a new train station along the FEC corridor in the next 7 years.  There is a lot of new development happening in this area and pedestrian activity is increasing everyday, yet FDOT continues to design their roads as if it were 1960. They are clearly not planning for the future

My sources from within the city have informed me that FDOT has not conducted a traffic study or traffic count for 79th Street in 10 years. So I’m going assume that they haven’t conducted any pedestrians on cyclists counts either.  Not that it matters since FDOT plays by their own set of rules and standards; they have little regard for anyone not in a vehicle.

FDOT’s current proposal is the equivalent of putting “lipstick on a pig”.  Thanks to pressure from the North Palm Grove and Shorecrest neighborhood associations FDOT has agreed to add some lighting and 5 additional crosswalks in the scope of this project.  But this is not good enough. FDOT can and should do a lot more.

The MiMo Biscayne Association’s has adopted a resolution regarding NE 79th Street. Transit Miami fully supports this resolution:

 79th Street: Miami’s Worst Urban Street:

WHEREAS, the Florida Department of Transportation will begin
resurfacing 79TH Street beginning in August, 2014, and
 
WHEREAS, the FDOT Plan will do very little to improve safety for
pedestrians along this poorly design street, and
 
WHEREAS, 79TH Street from Biscayne Bay to I-95 has 3 lanes going west
to east and 1 lane going east to west, and
 
WHEREAS, little parking is available for the 79th Street small shop
owners aside from on-street spaces, and
 
WHEREAS, the eastbound lanes have a design speed of 45 MPH through
the heart of the city, and
 
WHEREAS, 79TH street is the focal point of the Upper Eastside
community, and
 
WHEREAS, the 79th Street merchants have joined with MiMo Boulevard
Association for support of their Urban Streets, and
 
WHEREAS, Both 79th Street and MiMo Boulevard merchants are
promoting the revitalization efforts taking place on those streets, and
 
WHEREAS, 79th Street and MiMo Boulevard are the two vital
commercial roadways that affect the economic redevelopment of the
Upper East Side, 
 
THEREFORE, THE MIMO BISCAYNE ASSOCIATION AND THE 79TH STREET
BUSINESS ASSOCIATION CALL FOR THE FOLLOWING CHANGES AND
ADDITIONS TO THE PROPOSED FDOT ROADWAY PLAN:
 
1. CHANGE THE 3/1 EAST/WEST LANES ON 79TH TO 2/2 LANES
GOING EAST AND WEST.
2. CREATE AN 8’ PARKING LANES ON BOTH SIDEs OF 79TH STREET (Off-SET PARKING)
3. PROVIDE MINIMUM SAFETY STANDARDS BY PLACING
CROSSWALKS AT EACH INTERSECTIONS OF 79TH STREET AS WELL
AS MID-WAY BETWEEN THE INTERSECTIONS AT 7TH AND 10TH
AVENUES
4. REDUCE THE DESIGN SPEED OF 79TH Street to 30 mph.

 

The FDOT will be presenting their plans to North Palm Grove Neighborhood Association on Wednesday March 27 at 7:00 PM at Legion Park.  This meeting is open to the public.  Whether you live in the area or not, please consider attending this meeting.  It’s important that Miamians take a stand against FDOT.  Miami’s worst street can very easily become one of Miami’s best signature streets.  FDOT will make every excuse in the book why they cannot make the improvements that are being recommended.  It all boils down to BS excuses.  If we can put a man on the moon, we can figure out a way to make our streets business and pedestrian friendly. Lack of will and vision from FDOT prevents any of this from happening.

Feel free to send an email to District 6 Secretary Gus Pego and let him know that FDOT’s current plan for 79th Street is not acceptable to anyone but FDOT.

 

(Community Commentary) It’s time for the Lipton Sony Ericsson Open Nasdaq Key Biscayne Grand Prix Miami Masters Tennis Tournament! If you live, work, ride, beach, etc anywhere near the entrance to Rickenbacker Causeway… we recommend bicycling or mass transit. Or, at least, podcasts. With Miami-Dade County Bear Cut Bridge renovations already underway, event organizers are urging drivers to be extra careful. They reached out to TM directly and asked us to share the following with you: In short, organizers suggest you GET THERE EARLY. They don’t want anyone missing their Tennis. Also,

  • Expect new traffic patterns to and from the Crandon Park Tennis Center.
  • Bear Cut Bridge will continue to have two lanes traveling in each direction, just as in past years, however the outermost westbound lane of the bridge will be open to pedestrian and cyclist traffic only. As a result, westbound drivers headed toward Miami may be required to change lanes before crossing the bridge. The eastbound traffic pattern toward Key Biscayne will remain unchanged.
  • Eastbound pedestrians and cyclists will be guided across Crandon Boulevard by a uniformed police officer. Drivers are urged to share the road with additional care.
  • Consider taking the bus! Route B/ 102 will make regular stops at the Tournament’s main entrance, as well as the Brickell Metrorail Station, Brickell Financial District, Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami Seaquarium, the City of Key Biscayne, and Cape Florida State Park.
  • Patrons who park in the Tournament’s General Parking lot, located on Arthur Lamb Road across the street from the Miami Seaquarium, will board free shuttles to the main entrance. Shuttles will run continuously throughout the day and up to an hour after the last evening match has been completed.

Florida traffic information is available by calling 511 or visiting www.fl511.com.

You can read more about these traffic modifications in our earlier blog post here. However, wherever you go, be safe. If you witness something that you think should be here, please try and get a photo plus any related information and contact us here.

 

We received this  letter last week which was addressed to City Commissioner Sarnoff, County Commissioner Barreiro and FDOT District 6 Secretary Gus Pego. You can also send an email to them by clicking here.

Dear Commissioners Sarnoff and Barreiro and Mr. Pego,

I am writing to you this morning regarding a matter that is very troubling to me and one that I hope you will consider as part of your agenda: PEDESTRIANS IN THE URBAN CORE. As you are well aware, Miami is trying to become an urban city where people live, work and play- like Chicago or New York. In so doing, it needs to be an urban center that is thoughtfully planned so people can walk safely any time of the day or night. We should be able to walk our dogs, go to the market, or take a stroll to dinner. When you live in an urban core, like Brickell, where my family lives, you cannot be expected to take your car out for every little errand or just to go a few blocks. However, being that walking in the Brickell area is so difficult and dangerous to navigate, I feel like I must do so-compounding the traffic problem and the pedestrian problem. I am sure you agree that we need to make our urban center a place where all can feel safe to walk the streets. However, this is not the case at this point in time. Since I moved to Brickell I have been dismayed at the lack of attention and care given to pedestrians by drivers, construction workers, and city planners. 

Walking from Brickell to Downtown. The other day I was walking to downtown from Brickell where we live. A group of us crossed the bridge, then were challenged to cross the street using two cross walks where cars dart at you around the curve where Brickell becomes Biscayne. We need better signals for pedestrians there. A cross walk is not enough; we need bright lights that signal when a pedestrian needs to cross (like is found in front of the FRESH MARKET in Coconut Grove on S Bayshore Drive). Even though we have the walk signal, cars still feel they can turn right on red without stopping. I have observed people run across that cross walk because cars were coming at them so quickly. Then as you continue to walk on 2nd ave and (a) there is no side walk because of construction of the Whole Foods-we actually had to walk on the street between downtown distributor and SE 2nd Street, and (b) there is no cross walk at the intersection of 2nd ave and SE 2nd Street!!! You literally run for it so you don’t get hit by a car. Enough is enough! This is one example of many. I invite you to walk along Brickell Ave and see how challenging it is to walk in a straight line (like you do in NY or Chicago) and feel safe, without having to navigate barricades and other obstacles in what is really an obstacle course.Transitmiami.com has done a wonderful job of highlighting what they called the Brickell “deathwalk” : http://www.transitmiami.com/category/places/miami/brickel    

With the taxes we pay to live in the Brickell area, we must have the pedestrian walkways we deserve and have paid for-ones that you would want your grandmother or children to walk down. We need representatives like you to stand up for us and think creatively about ways we can emulate cities like Chicago, where I previously lived and always felt safe as a pedestrian. As the Brickell area becomes more populated with CitiCenter and other developments, this will become more and more of a   moral imperative.  People are getting hurt and people’s lives are at stake here. As citizens and taxpayers, we should be able to walk the streets-elderly, children, groups, etc- without fear of tripping on obstacles or being hit by a car. This is a very serious matter or moral proportions that deserves your immediate attention.I will be forwarding this email to Felipe Azenha of Transit Miami.com and will also bring up the issue at the board meeting of Icon Brickell.I appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to hearing about the ways you can alleviate this dangerous problem.

Sincerely,

Carlos Abril

 

A busy holiday weekend reminds me that Miami is trying to be a “real” city - but is it yet? I’m sure we all wish it could be as easy as a Pinocchio fairytale of making a wooden puppet into a “real” boy with just the touch of a wand. But in reality, our city needs a whole lot more than just some magic stick. We host all these weekend events - Coconut Grove Arts Festival, Miami Boat Show, and other President’s Day weekend activities - to showcase our Magic City to our visitors. And yet what we end up with are packed busses with long headways; clogged highways; and other congestions making our city, well, far from magical to our visitors.

Its not the events, its the experience. Despite a little rain on Friday and Saturday, this weekend’s events were a success - attracting people from all over the state and country. But how was their time actually in our city? Special events are a reason to come to the city, but the experience is what attracts people back. We need to offer reliable transportation options so they can really experience all of Miami.

Its not the funding amount, its the investment. We all know times are rough, and money is tight. But yet its obvious that we are still focusing our funds into tired highway transportation that literally gets us no where. Of course we don’t have the funds to plop NYC subway system on Miami - but we can start our smart investments incrementally.

Its not the mode, its the freedom of choice. Transportation, transit, transport, or whatever you want to call it is a broad category - as are the choices it should provide. The priority shouldn’t be on one particular mode of transportation, rather a priority to provide a wide variety of options. Its about the freedom of choosing bus, rail, bike, car, walk, skate, etc to get around.

Go By Streetcar

Not that we need to put up a false front for our brave visitors on special weekends, nor care more for our tourism than our own livability - because we already know these are facts that we have been discussing for years. Its about revisiting our city from another viewpoint. Just think how many visitors we could transport between Miami Beach and downtown if Baylink existed; or the improved bus experience if we had shorter headways at least on event weekends; or the number of DecoBike rentals if the M-Path was cohesive; or the successful storefronts and valuable real estate if the streets were more pedestrian-friendly.

Is Miami ready to be a “real” city and cradle a wide-mix of diverse groups. If so, lets see the real investment in multiple transportation options - or where is that fairy with the magic wand when you need her?

Value Engineering. What does the term mean to you?

Think about it. Let’s decompose the term before seeking out a formal definition. To us, the concept of value engineering when applied to transportation projects, includes the pursuit of cost-effective methods to achieve a desired end result. It includes a suite of tools that would enable project managers to work with engineers and architects to lower the overall cost of the project without sacrificing a particular end goal. In more obscure words, the FDOT defines value engineering as:

“…the systematic application of function-oriented techniques by a multi-disciplined team to analyze and improve the value of a product, facility, system, or service.”

So, if we were to tell you that FDOT was actively seeking to value engineer the structure that will soon replace I-395, how would you feel? Let’s take a look back at the designs presented last year before we dive into our argument on why we shouldn’t cut corners on such a critical piece of infrastructure.

I-395_Miami_Bridge4

I-395_Miami_Bridge3

I-395_Miami_Bridge2

I-395_Miami_Bridge

For the unacquainted, over the past several years FDOT initiated the process to replace the 1.5 mile structure that links SR 836 east of I-95 to the MacArthur Causeway. As the main artery between MIA, the Port of Miami, and South Beach, millions of visitors traverse this scenic stretch annually on the way to a cruise or the beaches. The byproduct of 1960’s urban renewal, I-395 ripped apart neighborhoods and displaced thousands from historic Overtown, today the structure continues to thwart efforts to unite our major public institutions including: The Arsht Center, Art and Science Museums (both currently under construction), and the AA Arena. As such, FDOT’s plans for I-395 will play a critical role in Miami’s ability to reshape the urban core and reunite Downtown, Parkwest, Omni, and Overtown districts.

Side note: Imagine what could become of the corner of N. Miami Avenue and 14th Street if the neighborhood were united with Downtown to the South or the Arsht Center to the east? The Citizens Bank Building (above), built during Miami’s boom years in 1925 could serve as a catalyst for growth in a neighborhood that has largely remained abandoned since urban renewal gutted Overtown. 

In this context, the concept of value engineering contradicts the livable, “sense of place” we’re working to achieve in Downtown. As it currently stands, I-395 and all the other roadways that access our barrier islands are utilitarian structures, serving little purpose other than to move vehicles from one land mass to another.

The challenge with I-395 is that it must satisfy numerous conflicting needs. I-395 isn’t just a bridge (or tunnel, or boulevard). It should serve as an icon; a figurative representation of Miami’s status as the Gateway to the Americas. A new I-395 will, should once and for all, eliminate the physical barrier that has long divided Downtown Miami from the Omni and Performing Arts Districts, encouraging more active uses below while maintaining the flow of traffic above. Not an easy feat. While the DDA and City of Miami recognize the economic value in designing an iconic structure at this site, our experience tells us that FDOT is more likely to think in the terms of dollars and LOS rather than the contextual and neighborhood needs. Simply put, this isn’t an ordinary site where a no-frills structure will suffice.

Cities all across the nation are eliminating derelict highways that for the past 40-50 years have scarred, divided, and polluted neighborhoods. Boston’s big dig for example submerged a 2-mile stretch of I-93 that had cut off the North End and Waterfront neighborhoods from downtown and the rest of the city. The Rose Kennedy Greenway, a 1.5 mile public park now stretches its length. Where the highway tunnel ends, an iconic structure, the Leonard P. Zakim Memorial Bridge takes over, leading traffic over the Charles River to points north. Adjacent to the TD Garden (home of the Celtics & Bruins) the Zakim Bridge is now synonymous with the Boston Skyline. Other notable examples include:

  • San Francisco’s Embarcardero Freeway
  • Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct
  • Hartford’s I-84 Viaduct

While no decision has been made on what final shape I-395’s replacement structure will take, our sources inform us that FDOT is beginning to explore more “cost effective” alternatives. We’ll keep eye on this project as it unfolds and will reach out to the City of Miami, DDA, and FDOT to ensure that Miami receives a replacement structure at this site worthy of its location in the heart of our burgeoning urban core. Moreover, we’ll remind FDOT that their third proposed objective for this project (3. Creating a visually appealing bridge) includes considering the aesthetics of the structure from all perspectives, especially the pedestrians and cyclists we’re trying to lure back into downtown streets.

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This article was written by Peter Smith

Tuesday marked the culmination of the Carnival season, celebrated as Mardi Gras in the French-speaking world and Carnival in the rest of Continental Europe and throughout Latin America. Our Brazilian neighbors throw the world’s largest Carnival celebrations and other festivals dotting the Caribbean are an impressive show, to be sure. It would make sense then for Miami, home to so many Brazilians, Jamaicans, Trinis, Colombians, etc., to have a noteworthy Carnival celebration of our own. But we don’t. Instead, we take our cues from the rest of the United States and the Anglo world in being among the only places in the West, save for New Orleans and a few Midwest locales, not joining in on the party.

Admittedly, there are enviably grandiose Carnival celebrations in London and Toronto, but these were re-imported by Trinidadian and Jamaican immigrants. I say “re-imported,” of course, because the English-speaking world used to celebrate a variation of Carnival along with the rest of the Christian world. So what happened to our party?

Dating back to the 12th century, towns in the British Isles celebrated Shrove Tuesday on the final day of Shrovetide just before the start of the Lenten season. The word “shrove” is the past-tense of “shrive,” meaning to confess. Christians prepared for Lent by engaging in one final round of indulgence and succumbing to temptation before confessing their sins on the eve of Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday is actually still celebrated today in much of the English-speaking world, but in a form much different than its original tradition. Today, Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Tuesday and is celebrated with a pancake dinner, often in church basements or around dining room tables.

There used to be more to Shrove Tuesday than just pancakes, however. There used to be street festivals, music, dancing, and drinking, all centered around a mob football match held in the village streets and town squares. These festivities date back as far as the 1100s and, although they evolved independently from the Carnival traditions of Continental Europe, they closely resembled those celebrations. After all, if you’re preparing for forty days of fasting, abstinence, sacrifice, and penance, how else would you spend your final days of freedom if not by engaging in lecherous debauchery?

All the fun came to a halt in 1835 when the British Parliament passed the Highway Act. The Highway Act prohibited, among other things, playing football on public highways. In today’s context, this seems like a fair request: don’t play soccer on the highway, but it carried a slightly different meaning in those days. Highways referred to any public roads, of which there may have only been one or two in smaller towns. Highways almost always went straight through a town’s center and sometimes even included the village square. Playing football on public highways was quite common, as common as playing in a public park is today. Public highways were also likely the only space available to accommodate the large mob football matches and their accompanying festivities that characterized the Shrovetide season.

So when the Highway Act of 1835 banned football on public highways, it effectively also killed Shrove Tuesday.

The Highway Act became the law of the land in England, Scotland, Wales and all of Ireland. It also took effect in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. A decade after its passage, the Great Famine struck in Ireland, prompting nearly four million Irish to immigrate to the United States. They did not bring with them their Shrovetide traditions, which had been destroyed years earlier by the Highway Act, and so, as Irish culture shaped American life in the second half of the nineteenth century, there was no tradition of Shrovetide or Carnival or Mardi Gras left to build on. It never took hold in the United States.

There is still a smattering of nostalgia-laden Shrovetide celebrations throughout England, and they’re mostly in small villages so remote that public highways did not reach them in 1835. They’re a world away from Miami, but they offer an insight into what Carnival in Miami may have looked like if the Highway Act had not killed Shrovetide in the English-speaking world. To be fair, they probably by now would have been remolded in the image of Latin American Carnival. But instead, when immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean transformed Miami beginning in the 1950s, the new arrivals found no Shrove Tuesday here to mold.

Miami is billed as the Gateway to Latin America and the Capital of Latin America. It is a bilingual city: Spanish and English, often in that order. Yet, we do not participate in the single most important date on the social calendar of Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world.

Perhaps the new settlers of Miami will one day establish a Carnival tradition here or maybe those of us already here will finally say that enough is enough and we want in on the fun too. Until then, when your friends and families are sharing Carnival photos from around the world on Twitter and Instagram, remember to quietly curse the British Parliament and their Highway Act for our absence from what clearly looks to be a very fun time.

 
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