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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.

 

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!

 

 

Last night, the City of Miami Beach hosted the first of two “Bicycle Summits” to discuss efforts on updating the Atlantic Greenway Network Master Plan (AGN), which includes most bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure throughout Miami Beach.

Mike Lydon and Tony Garcia from the Street Plans Collaborative, led an informative presentation on the value of bicycle and pedestrian activity and what other cities around the country are doing to encourage active transportation. Street Plans will be taking the lead in assisting Miami Beach in updating their bicycle master plan. All week, Lydon and Garcia will be undertaking “handlebar surveys” around town to document current conditions and outline the possibilities for infrastructure improvements, including buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks, enhanced sharrows, bicycle parking and more. The recommendations will be made available on a web application, where residents can also add feedback and pose questions.

Coming soon to Miami Beach? Streetplans Collaborative are on the case.

The city of Miami Beach anticipates hosting a second round of public workshops in the fall, so residents can discuss neighborhood specific projects. The AGN Master Plan, like most master plans, was intended to be a visionary and dynamic plan that was expected to evolve as the city changes. As such, the City’s Transportation Division is in the process of updating the current AGN Plan.

On October 17, 2007, the Miami Beach City Commission adopted the Atlantic Greenway Network Master Plan. The goal of the AGN master plan was two-fold: to create a safe and continuous multimodal network along the city’s streets, beachwalks, and greenways allowing for alternative transportation and community enhancement in the city; and to provide connectivity with the county’s and state’s regional bicycle network.

Summit #2 will be held on Thursday, June 7th from 5 pm - 8pm at 1755 Meridian Avenue, 3rd floor conference room.

One of the most telling images from the presentation was an infographic (below) showing the percentage of trips taken by bicycle and walking in countries around the world - with their corresponding obesity rates. By re-engineering walking and cycling back into American communities by making them safe, attractive options, we can begin to improve public health and strengthen our communities. Transforming Miami Beach to become more people-friendly will take some sacrifice at the altar of the automobile, but the benefits are clear and proven.

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The City of Miami Beach will be hosting two public meetings next week (June  5 and June 7) to kickoff the process of updating the bicycle network plan (officially titled the Atlantic Greenways Network Master Plan).  The meeting will include a discussion of the update process and a presentation the Street Plans Collaborative on the latest best practices in bicycle and pedestrian street design  from all around the country. (NOTE: The time for the June 5 meeting was moved to 6 pm!)

 

You’re Invited to MIAMIBEACH’s Bicycle Summits

Atlantic Greenway Network Master Plan Update

The City of Miami Beach will be hosting two (2) public summits to discuss efforts to update the adopted Atlantic Greenway Network (AGN) Master Plan. The summits will focus on obtaining input from Miami Beach residents on the bicycle component of the adopted AGN Master Plan in order to assist the City in updating the plan.

Summit 1
Date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Time: 6:00 p.m. — 9:00 p.m.
Place: North Shore Park and Youth Center,
501 72 Street
Miami Beach, Florida 33141

Summit 2
Date: Thursday, June 7, 2012
Time: 5:00 p.m. — 8:00 p.m.
Place: 1755 Meridian Avenue Building, third floor conference room
Miami Beach, Florida 33139
Contact: Jose R. Gonzalez, P.E., transportation manager, 305.673.7080

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Visitors flock to Miami Beach from around the globe for many reasons – the sun and sand, Art Deco architecture, world-class nightlife, restaurants and a vibrant arts scene.

But the subject of national headlines these days about Miami Beach is enough to make anyone cringe - the proliferation of ‘designer’ parking garages.

A new piece in the Wall Street Journal highlights the unhealthy obsession with parking that consumes Miami Beach. This article comes on the heels of a New York Times story from last year illustrating more of the same.

While reading the latest WSJ story, a quotation from Victor Dover, chair of the Congress for New Urbanism, rang through my head.

“Parking is a narcotic and ought to be a controlled substance. It is addictive, and one can never have enough.”

The mutated Chia Pet garage at 630 Collins features 'greenwashing' at it's finest. The designer Arquitectonica claims the vegetation will 'absorb carbon dioxide''. I suppose this is so the Hummer drivers can feel better about themselves. Photo courtesy of Architizer.

Sure, it’s long past due that builders are finally adding some additional utility to parking garages beyond their primary purpose of storing motor vehicles. But let’s not allow ourselves be distracted by the fancy adornments. A new parking garage is a still parking garage. Dressing it up with a restaurant on top is akin to putting a silk hat on a pig.

It’s still a pig.

More parking encourages more driving, which increases congestion and diminishes the livability and civility of the city. The addiction to parking that is deeply ingrained in Miami Beach knows no bounds. I can only describe it as a ‘fetish-ization’ of vehicular storage. With the newly-constructed ‘designer’ garages and three more parking-centric projects on the way throughout South Beach, I am beginning to wonder just how many more cars can cram on that narrow sliver of sand before it sinks into Biscayne Bay. Perhaps those airy parking garages will someday make a nice artificial reef.

The new Frank Gehry bunker on Pennsylvania Avenue. It lights up at night. This is supposed to make us feel better. Photo courtesy of Architizer.

There is a compelling argument that Miami Beach has reached ‘peak car’, meaning the street grid can no longer accommodate additional vehicles in a comfortable manner at the current capacity. Anyone that participates in the sadistic practice of motoring in South Beach can attest to that (or walking for that matter). The relentless pursuit to make Miami Beach more friendly to cars is a serious distraction from taking the steps that could make Miami Beach more friendly to people. That includes enhanced pedestrian mobility, improved bicycling infrastructure, dedicated bus lanes or bus rapid transit, improved public spaces and – glaringly obvious – a viable rail connection to the mainland.

The 'City Hall Annex' 7-story parking emporium. Miami Beach now holds the dubious distinction of having a better engineered parking facility for city hall than the actual city hall building itself. Shows where the priorities lie.

Superficially addressing these issues won’t cut it. A bike path here and a better crosswalk there is progress but quickly negated by new parking monstrosities and the increased vehicular traffic they attract. There needs to be a step-change in thinking, a paradigm shift in what Miami Beach stands for. The first step is to remove our heads from our collective exhaust pipes. Then, hire a qualified pedestrian and bicycle coordinator in city government like all modern cities employ. The truly modern cities actually listen to that person as well.

Safer, improved mobility options will lessen the crazed addiction to parking. It will allow our civic leaders and officials to have meaningful dialogue about the future of the city free from the incessant, distracting conversation over the storage of cars. Perhaps then the ‘starchitects’ will stop building garages and instead help build public schools that look more like important places worthy of our affection and less like insecticide factories.

The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is actually the right to destroy the city. - Lewis Mumford, 1964.

Right now, it's a temporary home for cars at $4 an hour. In the future, it could be a permanent home for coral and lionfish. Photo courtesy of Architizer.

You have to admit, the garage-building boom is all the more appalling when you consider the geography of Miami Beach, only a few feet above sea level and surrounded by water on all sides. With the threat of rising sea levels attributed to carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, I would think that Miami Beach would have quite a vested interest, even if symbolic, in preventing their island from becoming the next City of Atlantis. More garages just encourage more driving, and therefore more emissions. It’s like watching a slow-motion film of the city’s own demise.

Miami Beach must decide - is it a city for cars or a city for people? Based on the national headlines lately, the answer is pretty clear.

(In other news, an innocent pedestrian was struck and killed yesterday morning on Collins Avenue by a drunk, underage reckless driver in a speeding SUV. Another tragic by-product of an overpoweringly auto-centric culture.)

 

A new bicycle and pedestrian path is cleared for takeoff on Miami Beach. After yesterdays meeting of the Miami Beach Historical Preservation Board, a planned shared bicycle and pedestrian project overcame a final hurdle, with the board voting unanimously to approve the latest plans presented by Miami Beach Public Works. At stake was nearly $4 million dollars in Federal grant money for the multi-use path that would be returned to the government if the project did not begin by July 2012.

The shared bicycle and pedestrian path will run adjacent to the Collins Canal along Dade Boulevard from the Venetian Causeway to the Beachwalk at 21st St. and Collins Avenue.

The mixed-use path will bisect Miami Beach along Dade Blvd from the Venetian Causeway to Collins Avenue

In October, the Historical Preservation Board approved the actual bike path with the exception of the barrier wall that would protect the path from traffic on Dade Boulevard. The board requested enhanced landscaping or a more visually appealing solution to the concrete jersey-style barrier that was originally presented. In the final plan, the wall is to be covered in vines, which will soften and ‘green’ the appearance of the barrier.

If you can believe it, the project is actually scheduled to begin Thursday, January 12 - that’s right, tomorrow — with the re-construction of the Collins Canal seawall. The decaying seawall will be replaced, after which the construction of the bicycle path can begin. The scheduled completion of the entire project is July of this year!

Karen Gordon from DecoBike began an online petition to garner support ahead of yesterday’s meeting. Local resident Michael Jarobe collected over 1,000 signatures from Miami Beach residents as well. Excellent work!

“After 17 years of debate, its possible that all Miami Beach residents will have a safe, continuous mixed-use path that connects the beach to downtown, Venetian Isles, Belle Isle, Palm View, Bayshore Drive and our other communities to all of the hotels, shops, restaurants and beaches located in the Mid-Beach area,” said Gordon.

Thank you to everyone involved, especially to the Miami Beach Historical Preservation Board for approving the plan in its entirety yesterday, allowing the project to move forward without further delay.

 

At the City of Miami Beach’s Neighborhoods and Community Affairs Committee meeting today, City staff attorneys were directed to challenge the Florida State Statutes that require the inclusion of bicycle facilities on state roads, and protested the inclusion of bike lanes on the Alton Road reconstruction project on the same safety grounds that require the facility contained in the Statute.

You might remember that Transit Miami has been pushing the department to consider alternatives to a traditional bike lane since the first time FDOT ventured on the island back in June of 2008 . We later reported on the progress of the project here and here, all the while hoping that FDOT would try using more that one tool in their bicycle planning toolbox. Finally, after years of lobbying and advocacy, FDOT presented several alternative options for a bicycle facility on Alton Road at the quarterly progress report on the $40 million dollar project.

Too bad Miami Beach City Commissioner’s told FDOT to take their bike lanes and put them, well, somewhere else.

Not only that, Commissioner Gongora  convinced his fellow policymakers of the idea to attack the law requiring FDOT to consider other users for the roads they build and maintain.  The Commission added to the Legislative Agenda of their paid Tallahassee lobbyist  to get the provision of the Florida Statutes 335.065 removed or changed by giving the municipalities the ability to opt out of bicycle facilities required by the DOT. (Mind you we are talking about Miami Beach  - arguably some of the best urbanism in the entire State of Florida, and the one place most poised to take advantage of a well designed bicycle network.)

So today FDOT comes back.  The Mayor had said that the bike lanes should not be next to the flow of traffic but between the curb and the parked cars  - a parking protected cycle track.

FDOT showed that.

That required a three-foot buffer between the four-foot bike lane and the 8-foot parking lane, reducing the sidewalk to six feet.

Then Commissioner Ed Tobin, who used his power while he sat on the MPO, asked for a physically separate cycle track.

FDOT showed that.

That resulted in an Alton Road with 10-foot sidewalks and a four-foot bike lane separated with a four-foot jersey wall from the traffic, but no parking lane.

FDOT then showed an option with a 16-foot sidewalk and four-foot bike lanes, and again with no parking.

For it’s part the City’s Public Works Department showed their alternative which was to make West Avenue an alternative to having a bike lane on Alton Road. FDOT responded by requiring that all the numbered east-west streets between Fifth and Michigan Avenue be retrofitted with bike lanes, which would require millions of dollars the City would have to borrow and permanent removal of 56 parking spaces.

The kicker is that work would have to be done before FDOT gets started on Alton Road.

So we’re back to  Alton Road.

You have the heap on the credit to FDOT. We are used to giving them hell here on Transit Miami, but we have to give credit where credit is due. They have done a lot of work and shown they can see a different type of road in the future for many of our city’s streets. They should make certain that all of their projects get such attention to detail in nurturing the mix of users. FDOT is realizing it’s responsibility to make getting from one place to another as enjoyable and safe as possible for everyone.

Not just those in cars.

And that’s what we need.  We need to stop building the same old roads that provide for only one type of mobility.  Alton Road needs more people walking, taking transit, and riding a bike- not driving in their cars.

Commissioners Jerry Libbin, Michael Gongora and Jonah Wolfson disagree and voted to challenge whatever design FDOT plans to build on Alton Road that includes a bike facility - on safety grounds.

It was one of the most twisted uses of the law I have ever seen. 40 years of research and data supporting the safety and efficacy of bike lanes by the Federal Highway Administration and the current work of Dr. Jennifer Dill dismissed by two lawyers and a politician.

The City is doing its best NOT to have FDOT build a complete street. I pray every night the City would use half the effort it puts into fighting bike facilities, into building them along with better sidewalks and crosswalks.

Where were these same politicians when FDOT used the Baylink infrastructure promised to us when they rebuilt the Macarthur for the port tunnel?

And with everything in South Beach going down the tubes,  except the water, faster than you can say Atlantic City, the only hope we have for a stable economic future and decent quality of life is to allow for more mobility on this tiny island through as many modalities we can offer, not just expecting everyone to get around Miami Beach in a car.

We need this Alton Road reconstruction project - but we also need better mobility on Miami Beach. I am dismayed at the lack of vision in this community.  Everyone on a bike or on foot, on a board or on skates or in a stroller or wheelchair or scooter is a person not in their car.

What a wonderful place this could be.

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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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Call  me crazy, but I am the type of girl who likes to go to public meetings about road construction. They speak to me about the promise for a better future.  I especially like the ones when I know at the end of the awful, dirty, dusty, jarring process, a new bike lane will be born.

So I was excited about the FDOT upcoming meeting to roll out the $2.5 million dollar project on A1A in Miami Beach,  from Fifth Street to Lincoln Road.  I have been waiting for this project for years, watching the funding shift to and fro from year to year in the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP, yes I get excited about them too!)  I was happy because last spring, the Department came up with a Bicycle Master Plan for all of A1A in District 6 that called for a bike lane on almost all of Collins Avenue!

Be still my heart!

I was thrilled to see in this project moving forward, with a projected start date of May 2013.   They plan to narrow the parking lanes, narrow the travel lanes, reconstruct a few blocks to gain ROW, all the right moves……  BUT

My heart stood still…..

THEY DID NOT INCLUDE THE BIKE  LANES.

So where oh where did the bike lanes go? And for whom will the ROW be?

Looks like that gained right of way is being added to allow for an exclusive left turn lane throughout the whole segment, i.e. MORE  CAR TRAFFIC!

You can make a difference in putting this project back on proper footing!

Send an email to any of these FDOT officials and ask them to include a bike lane in Project Numbers 250236-1-51-01 and 250236-3-52-01.  SRA1A/Collins Avenue from 5th Street to Lincoln Road. You may even want to remind them they already said they would!

Heidi.Solaun@dot.state.fl.us

Rita.Bulsara@dot.state.fl.us

Gus.Pego@dot.state.fl.us

Copy the local elected officials in Miami Beach:

MayorBower@miamibeachfl.gov

Michael@miamibeachfl.gov

Deede@miamibeachfl.gov

Jorge@miamibeachfl.gov

Ed@miamibeachfl.gov

Jonah@miamibeachfl.gov

Jerry@miamibeachfl.gov

COME TO THE PUBLIC MEETING

MONDAY, October 25, 2011

Miami Beach Regional Library

227 22nd Street, Collins Park, Miami Beach

6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

This is more than a RRR.  This is a chance to enhance mobility by improving modality for bicycles by designating a lane in which to build the share.

Hope to see you there.

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Transit Miami correspondent Daniel Perez has this to say:

“ Oh man, you don’t know the half of it. At this last Bikeways Committee meeting Mayor Bower showed up - first time in 5 years - and she all but said she hates bikes. If there were no bikes on South Beach she would be one happy lady. I swear, it took all I had to keep a straight face.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard similar comments from her.  For nearly a half decade I tried to get the City of Miami Beach to allow pedicabs to operate on South Beach. At one point Mayor Matti Bower personally said to me, “Enough with these pedicabs and bicycles…we already have too many, and the skateboards too…”

Another Transit Miami source from within the City of Miami Beach staff has overheard her making negative comments about bicycles as well.

These comments are shameful Mayor Bower.  Miami Beach desperately needs more people biking and walking not less.  Your blind leadership is unacceptable.  Think big picture please.  Now is the time for you to hire a pedestrian and bicycle coordinator to show that you are serious about making Miami Beach more walkable and bikeable.

Please send Mayor Bower an email letting her know that her negative comments about bicycles are unacceptable.

 

Believe it or not, but the most densely populated and arguably most walkable city in Florida does not have a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. Actually, please let me clarify- the City of Miami Beach had a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, but decided to eliminate this position two years ago when the position became vacant.  Yep, you read that correctly. Miami Beach, a city where people walk and bike everywhere does not consider cyclists and pedestrians seriously enough to merit a full-time position.  This is truly amazing to me. Well, I guess it just goes to show where the city’s priorities are.

Sources close to Transit Miami informed us that about two years ago the Budget Advisory Committee that is comprised of residents appointed by commissioners and the mayor (as well as a CPA and Financial Advisor) voted against keeping this position. I believe the funds for the position where shifted to create a position in the Public Works Department. Shameful.

South Beach in particular, desperately needs a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. Now that Deco Bike, the city’s new bike share program is in full swing, they city should prioritize the expansion of its almost non-existent bicycle infrastructure. So what do you say Miami Beach?  Are you gonna step-up and deliver?

There is a lot of work to be done on Miami Beach to ensure the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.  If and when the city does hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, the first step would be to commission a proper Miami Beach Bicycle Master Plan. I remember reviewing the city’s current bicycle master plan a couple of years ago and saying “Wow, this is really awful.”  You can find more information about the Miami Beach Bicycle Program here.

Please email City Manager Jorge Gonzalez and let him know that Miami Beach needs a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.

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Watch out motorists-you never know when a cyclist may have a video camera or two hooked up to a bicycle.

Earlier this week a motorist on Miami Beach was handcuffed and arrested for aggravated assault, a felony. Friend of Transit Miami, Ken, informed us that a driver of a SUV road-raged and threatened Ken with his car on South Beach. The driver and Ken exchanged a few words, but the driver decided to escalate the situation by nearly running Ken off the road. Lucky for Ken he spotted a Miami Beach cruiser and made him aware of the circumstances and the officer pulled over the SUV. Needless to say the driver of the SUV told a different story. His B.S. fairy-tale quickly came to an end after Ken revealed that he had two cameras attached to his bicycle. Unfortunately only one camera was working, but it was enough for the officer to clearly see the driver was the aggressor.

Well done Miami Beach Police! Keep up the good work and professionalism!

This contrasts starkly to an unfortunate situation earlier this week in which the Miami Beach Police department did not handle a car/bicycle collision properly. Transit Miami friend, Gabriela, was clipped by a car and the driver left the scene of the accident. Gabriela called the MBPD and requested an accident report. Even with the cars’ tag number, a witness, and a damaged bicycle the police officer said there was nothing he could do.

We’ll continue to report the good, the bad, and the ugly….We like reporting the good too.

 

Transit Miami friend Gabriela was rear ended by a car while stopped at a red light on South Beach this past weekend. The driver did pause to make sure she was ok, but then took off. Gabriela then called the police to file a report and was told by the officer that the MBPD could do nothing for her.  This is what she had to say:

“ On Sunday afternoon I was riding my bicycle along West Avenue on south beach when a woman leaving Whole Foods failed to come to a complete stop and rolled into my back tire shoving me into the road. Luckily I was unscathed but my bike tire is completely bent leaving my bike (main form of beach transportation) un-ridable.
The woman paused to ask if I was ok- when I told her that I was fine but my bike was damaged she said ‘sorry’ and continued to turn north on West Avenue and drove away. I was shocked that she left the scene of the accident for which she was at fault. I called the police and filled out a report (including eye-witness information) with an obstinate police officer (to put it kindly) who basically told me that I could fill out a report but nothing could be done about it.”

She goes on to say:

“I gave the tag, car description and driver description to the cop along with witness contact info… The cop made it clear that nothing would be done about it…”

All I can say is “Wow”.

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