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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.

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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 piece originally appeared in the December issue of the Biscayne Times.

Unauthorized wayfinding sign courtesy of the Miami Improvement Alliance.

Think Big. It’s a mantra preached by entrepreneurs, politicians, business people, motivational speakers, and coaches. But is that motto really the key to releasing the potential of downtown Miami?

The “think big” catchphrase has played out quite extravagantly before our eyes in Miami over the past 15 years or so. Grandiose projects like the Adrienne Arsht Center, American Airlines Arena, Marlins Park, and mega-condos galore come to mind. The Miami Art Museum and Miami Science Museum are both under construction, and a downtown resort casino could be on the horizon. These projects represent tremendous investments geared toward turning downtown Miami into a cultural and entertainment hub on a par with those of other leading world cities.

When measured individually, the new cultural and entertainment destinations can boast varying degrees of success. But big, expensive projects are not a foolproof formula for urban revitalization. The vitality of a city isn’t measured by the annual revenue or number of visitors to a particular attraction. A city’s dynamism is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s often the smaller, finer grains of the urban experience that enhance the quality of a place and foster affection toward it.

There are a series of questions we should be asking about life in downtown Miami that are emphatically about the small and simple things: Are the sidewalks clean and inviting, or are they caked with old chewing gum and poorly lit? Are there public maps to guide people around? Is the transit system easily navigable? Are there attractive public spaces with places to congregate? Is bicycle parking readily available? Are there places for children? Pets? Adequate crosswalks and crossing times? Does walking feel safe and inviting?

If the answer to some of these questions is no, the solutions are usually simple, relatively inexpensive, and can offer a high return on investment. Their importance must not be dismissed, though it sometimes feels like these basic livability issues are hardly being addressed.

I spend a lot of time downtown and often imagine myself in the shoes of a first-time visitor. What is their experience like? One place new visitors frequently wind up is the Metromover, Miami’s elevated transit system. For a free service with a seemingly simple route network (three “loops,” as they are called), the Metromover can be fraught with potential misadventures. While the maps on the station platforms identify the three loops using distinct colors (blue, pink, and orange), the maps onboard the actual cars inexplicably abandon those colors, instead using three different shades of bluish-gray to demarcate the same exact routes. Confused yet?

As the train approaches, you need to make sure you’re boarding the right loop. A digital display on the platform is supposed to tell you this information, but when the screens are frequently unintelligible or not operational, this poses a real problem. A recurring sight is a confused rider sticking his or her head inside a momentarily stopped train to ask other riders which loop the train is on. The typical reaction is a lot of shoulder shrugging.

The many changing colors of the Metromover route map.

If you are fortunate enough to arrive at your destination without boarding the wrong train, many of the stations lack crosswalks at their exit points to the street. Roaring traffic is hardly an inviting welcome in an unfamiliar place.

Even as a self-identified transit buff, I find navigating the Metromover system maddeningly frustrating. Why must it be so difficult? The negative impression this experience has on visitors must not be underestimated.

Presently, popular destinations like the Arsht Center and American Airlines Arena sit on islands lacking any integration with their surroundings. Are people leaving the Arsht Center or the arena likely to visit the restaurants or shops downtown? Will they walk there? The answer is probably not, if the walking conditions are as uninviting as they currently are.

In 2009, Miami’s Downtown Development Authority drafted a master plan for downtown titled, “The Epicenter of the Americas.” It outlines a number of projects intended to “enhance our position as a business and cultural epicenter.” To the DDA’s credit, the plan addresses many of the smaller details that would elevate the downtown experience: improved pedestrian conditions, public art installations, more ways to get around (like trolleys and pedicabs), and enriched public spaces, among others. While the plan is well intentioned, progress has not exactly been transpiring at warp speed.

That is where ordinary citizens like Scott Douglass have stepped in. Douglass is a Miami resident and founder of the Miami Improvement Alliance, a group of Miamians eager to speed up the revitalization of downtown by executing low-cost but impactful projects on their own. Their mission statement is powerful: “We will be the manifestation of positive force downtown. Using both sanctioned and unsanctioned tactics, we will work to improve the safety, beauty, and prosperity of Miami’s core districts. The city must endure and thrive if it is to have a future; we are the agents of that success. Where bureaucracy fails, we will prevail.”

The group’s first project was the creation of “urban wayfinding signs” to encourage visitors to the recent Red Bull Flugtag event at Bayfront Park to venture across Biscayne Boulevard and explore what downtown Miami has to offer. While unsanctioned by any local authorities, the initiative had the blessing of many local business owners. The 11 wayfinding signs featured simple walking directions to things like public transportation stops, ATMs, cultural destinations, local businesses, and also featured a Twitter hashtag (#WalkMIA) so people could interact with the project.

Simple, Low cost and effective.

“People tend to overestimate the amount of time it takes to walk somewhere,” says Douglass. “These signs showed people just how close things actually are.”

These types of interventions — quick, cheap, often temporary projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable — have a new name: tactical urbanism. Guerrilla gardening, converting parking lots into temporary parks, pop-up retail shopping, weed bombing (painting brightly colored “weeds” on forlorn lots) are all examples of tactical urbanism projects that ordinary citizens have recently executed in Miami.

While it’s easy to be seduced by the flashy mega-projects, they are not a cure-all for absent urban vitality. To truly unlock the potential of downtown Miami, collectively we need to take a closer look at the human-scale experience — how we interact with downtown on a daily, street-level basis — and perhaps follow the lead of Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who declared, “We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and planted trees. All our efforts have one objective: happiness.”

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On Saturday, July 28, come down to Government Center in downtown Miami to celebrate the arrival of the new Orange Metrorail Line – a direct link from the Miami International Airport to Downtown Miami, and all of the other new ways to get around Miami’s urban core. The Downtown Development Association is sponsoring the party at 111 NW 1 St. from 1-4pm with live music, free food, pedi-cab races and the chance to get your picture taken with a lemur monkey from Jungle Island.

With the opening of the Orange Line, Miami will (at last!) join a relatively small list of American cities with rail connections to their downtown areas. Though in this recent USA Today report, many more American cities are planning rail connections as planners realize that simply building more parking lots and enlarging roadways aren’t sustainable practices.

This celebration is about more than just the new Metrorail link. In the past few months, Miami has seen a relative explosion in transportation options for people downtown, including Cars2Go, the Miami Trolley, MonkeyShuttle, Tropical Pedicabs and the Miami Water Taxi.

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Imagine walking out of the Metromover station at Biscayne and East Flagler Street and stepping out onto a linear park that runs under the elevated tracks, and continues north between the travel lanes of Biscayne Boulevard. Parking lots replaced with park space where people are sitting, having coffee, or even doing their morning yoga routine.

Welcome to Bayfront Parkway! – the latest Tactical Urbanist intervention brought to you by The Street Plans Collaborative, in partnership with C3TS.

Great cities have great parks. What is left of our great downtown waterfront park (after taking out the excessive number of buildings cluttering the landscape -read Museums, Bayside….etc) is underutilized by local residents; separated from area residents and businesses by FDOT’s 8 lane highway  design for Biscayne Boulevard. What should be an easy five minute walk for folks living across the street is distorted by excessively wide travel lanes, speeding motorists, and a few crosswalks to get to the park. What Biscayne Boulevard needs is a road diet that reallocates car space, both in the form of travel lanes converted to on-street parking  and parking lots converted to park space. This will not only provide a natural expansion of Bayfront Park – at a time of shrinking park budgets and ever growing needs for park space, it will also help traffic calm the street and bridge the distance between the park and the growing population of residents and businesses along Biscayne from I395 to SE 1 Street.

For five days Miamians will be able to get to experience what this space would be like if it were permanently converted into a park. From Tuesday February 29 to Sunday March 4, we will take over the parking lot between Flagler and NE 1 Street, and convert it into a grass covered park with moveable seating, food trucks, exercise equipment and more. There will be street  performances throughout the five days, from spoken word to jazz shows, sponsored by Miami-Dade College. Our goal is simple – to activate this space as much as possible with the everyday activities of a typical park.

Please join us for your lunch hour, or stop by after work. We want to show you how great it will be  – Bayfront Parkway!

Visit the project website at: http://bayfrontparkway.com/index.php for more information.

 

 

You are invited:

The Miami Downtown Development Authority and the City Miami Planning Department invite you to a public workshop regarding the Miami Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan. Pursuant to State law, the City of Miami is conducting an “evaluation and appraisal” of its comprehensive plan, which serves as a long-range land use policy guide. Planning Department staff will provide information about this process and hear your ideas about Downtown Miami’s most significant planning needs. This is an important opportunity to help shape our City’s future!

When: Monday, December 6, 2010 at 6:00 PM

Where: Miami DDA, 200 S. Biscayne Boulevard, Suite 2929

RSVP: Sarah Ingle, Miami DDA

Additional information:

What is the Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR)?

The Florida Growth Management Act requires Comprehensive Neighborhood Plans throughout the state to be assessed periodically to determine how the plans are working and what areas need updating. The EAR process is not a revision of the zoning ordinance. Revision of the zoning ordinance was recently completed by the adoption of the Miami 21 Code in October of 2009. This assessment process is known as the Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) and must be completed every 7 years to assess the City’s progress on areas including, but not limited to, Public Works, Capital Improvements, Transportation and Housing. The EAR process allows us to collect valuable information to revise the City’s Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan to better address the City’s needs.

What is the Purpose of this Public Meeting?

Public input is an important component of the evaluation process and is where city planners learn about major issues facing your neighborhoods. Your participation in this process will lead to a thorough evaluation and serve as a base towards updating the Comprehensive Plan to meet the needs of our residents.

Why Should I Participate?

The EAR is your opportunity to share your knowledge and concerns about the City’s needs. This is also an opportunity to learn more about the issues that shape the City’s future and to better understand the planning process.

City of Miami EAR website – http://www.miamigov.com/Planning/pages/community_planning/EAR2012.asp

Please help kick-off the 2010-2011 DWNTWN Concert Series hosted by the Miami DDA. Bring a blanket and a bottle of wine and enjoy the free music at Bayfront Park today at 5:30pm.  Hope to see you there!

DWNTWN Miami Concert Series’ first concert is featuring City of God and Lanzallamas Monofónica, October 8, 2010 at 5:30pm at the Tina Hills Pavilion in Bayfront Park.

 

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Many of our readers have suggested that Flagler Street in Downtown Miami should be converted into a pedestrian mall. There are many arguments for and against such a move. During the 70’s and 80’s many cities in the United States tried to convert a portion of their central business district to a pedestrian only mall. Unfortunately, most of these projects failed for different reasons. One of the biggest reasons, I believe, is that Americans were leaving the city in droves to seek the suburban American dream. Although many cities had good intentions and vision, their timing could not have possibly been any worse. A perfect storm for pedestrian mall failure had already been set in motion by the suburbanization of America.

Today we find the suburbanization trend reversing itself.  People are now choosing to live a more urban lifestyle, tired of long commutes and expensive gas, urbanization is now creating conditions to potentially develop successful pedestrian malls.

Last year I created a Flagler Street Transit Mall presentation for an Urban Revitalization Strategies class. My proposal was to develop a transit mall similar to the 16th Street Mall in Denver.  The proposed Flagler Street Transit Mall would only allow buses to drive up and down Flagler Street with 5 minute intervals between buses. All other motor vehicles would be prohibited from using Flagler Street with the exception of delivery and emergency vehicles. All current on street parking would be removed and the sidewalks would be widened.

A good first step would be to temporary close Flagler Street to motor vehicles during a one week period before Christmas. This short experiment would give the Miami DDA, local businesses, and residents a feel for what could become of historic Downtown Miami.

Do you think Flagler Street could use some sort of pedestrianized mall or do you think it’s just fine as is?  Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments section.

Come check out this free concert which is sponsored by the Miami Downtown Development Authority. Bring a blanket, a  bottle of wine and that special someone.

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Our little cold snap will last through the weekend, so keep those sweaters handy and head out to Bayfront Park with a bottle of red after work this Friday.

The DWNTWN Miami Concert Series Season 2 kicks off 2010 with a little Latin funk. PALO! takes the stage with their Latin sound and funk beats this Friday.  The group formed in 2003 as an improvised experiment to see how some classic Cuban music could mash up with the deep funk, beats and keyboard sounds found in the club scene. The result is a sort of magical, totally danceable, ‘Made in Miami’ sound that group leader Steve Rothstein calls Afro-Cuban-Funk.

January 8, 2010 @ 5:30pm
This is a fantastic free monthly event that is sponsored by the Miami DDA

Or for more information check out the facebook page

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Come celebrate this excellent combination with the Miami DDA. As part of their monthly DWNTWN Miami Concert Series Laura Izibor will be performing. She’ll rock the stage at this free concert at Bayfront Park’s Tina Hills Pavilion.

As always the show is at sunset happy hour and food and drinks are available.

For information on this show and the rest of the season become a fan of the DWNTWN Miami Concert Series on Facebook…or … text DWNTWNR to 878787 for up to the minute updates.

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The historic and economic epicenter of our region is the Downtown core.  Encompassing an area that includes Brickell, from Coral Way to the Miami River, the Central Business District, Park West and the Art & Entertainment District, Downtown represents the greatest intensity of housing, transit infrastructure, and economic investment in South Florida. The Downtown Development Authority is one of the main agencies responsible for guiding growth and public investment in Downtown.

    “The Miami Downtown Development Authority is a quasi-independent public agency of the City of Miami charged with making Downtown Miami the most livable urban center in the nation and strengthening its position as the Epicenter of the Americas…an international center for commerce, culture and tourism. “

The DDA is one of the most progressive agencies in Miami-Dade County, understanding the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and businesses alike. The DDA recently approved its 2025 Masterplan, a visionary yet practical document that brings together a wealth of planning and urban design studies that relate to downtown, and synthesizes them into “specific action-oriented implementation” projects. Transit Miami sat down with DDA Urban Planning and Transportation Manager Javier Betancourt to discuss the DDA, transit in downtown, and the future of our region.

Transit Miami: The 2025 Masterplan sets targets for specific projects, especially in the area of transit. Promoting Bay link, premium transit along Flagler, the Streetcar, metromover expansions, the SFEC Corridor, and trolley service are all included as goals.  What role will if any will the DDA have in advancing these projects?

Javier:  The Masterplan sets the vision and goals for the way we want Downtown to develop, and where we think investments should be made. It is a blueprint for what we want and how to get there. We can implement the changes sought by the plan in part by championing projects that match our goals and vision in addition to seeking partners to help accomplish these goals.  Obviously, the cost of this type of infrastructure goes beyond what we are able to fund, but as a regional stakeholder our voice represents the interests of several hundred thousand people.

Transit Miami: One proposal made by the Masterplan is revising the DDA’s subdistrict designations by dividing Park West, combining half with the area to the north of I395 making an Arts and Entertainment district, and the other half united with the CBD.  How does this take into account the plans for I395 and what do you think about the ‘preffered alternative’ for I395?

Javier: Part of what we hope to accomplish with the redistricting is the removal of I-395 as a barrier when considering these two neighborhoods. The World Center Development will naturally extend the borders of the CBD. The area around the PAC and the current Arts and Entertainment District share common cultural connections, making them a natural fit in defining districts. I395 is a physical barrier. We would have preferred the cut and fill boulevard option for the removal of I395.  We have expressed some concerns with the preferred option (for example, it’s potential impact to the Arsht Center), but haven’t taken an official stand as an agency beyond that at this point.

Transit Miami: You have spoken out vocally against moving the UDB. What role do you see the UDB playing in the development of our region and how does that affect Downtown?

Javier:  I like to think of the UDB as the ‘lid’ on a pressure cooker. It constrains growth, thereby pressuring that growth to occur where we want it to at a much faster pace than it would without that ‘lid’. The UDB is extraordinarily important, if not essential, to promoting smart growth and investment in our urban centers.

The DDA is not without its critics, however. Some around the Park West area feel neglected by the DDA, joking that their reach seems to stop at 5th street.  Others contend that the document approved by the Board of the DDA (headed by the Chair of the City of Miami Commission) lacks teeth and authority. Still, the spirit of the document and the goals that it aspires to are in keeping with best planning practices. Promoting walkability and smart growth are some of its basic principles, and for that they are to be commended. I for one look forward to seeing the implementation of the Masterplan in the coming years, and hope that County and regional leaders will look to the DDA as a model for how smart growth and walkability can become ingrained in our civic institutions.

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Today, Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 11:00 AM, is the groundbreaking ceremony for Paul Walker Park in downtown Miami (46 West Flagler Street.)

From the city of Miami:

The park in the heart of Miami is being resurrected in the same site where it stood 15 years ago. “Bringing the Paul S. Walker Park back to life was my first initiative as commissioner. I’m very proud to see the hard work of so many people lead to what will soon be an oasis for the public to enjoy,” says Commissioner Sarnoff.

The park will be approximately 4200 SQ.FT. and will serve the downtown office crowd and tourists during daytime hours. The $284,993 cost is coming from DDA funds and a Homeland Defense Neighborhood Improvement Bond issued to Commissioner Sarnoff through District 2.

Believe it or not, transit is a reality in the greater Miami area. The Fort Lauderdale city commission just voted to pay for 25% of the downtown streetcar project known as the Wave. That means they will provide $37.5 million of the estimated $150 million needed for the project. The next step for the Downtown Development Authority is to secure $75 million in federal and $37.5 million in state funding. It seems like a challenge, but the important thing is that this was a unanimous vote of support for the project to proceed.
A little more information on the project: The map shown above, from page 2 of this PDF flyer, is not necessarily the most current plan; but it provides a general layout of the proposed route. The streetcar, shown in yellow, will connect to future FEC corridor transit (purple on the map) and East-West transit on Broward Blvd. (green) at the location of the current Broward Central Bus Terminal. The terminal will turn into a multimodal transit hub for all these systems. Also on the PDF map is existing Tri-Rail in dashed red, the FEC corridor in purple, and the Sunport people mover (Airport to Seaport) in orange. The likely deviation from the route on the map is that the streetcar will probably detour down NW 1st Ave. before crossing Broward Blvd. so it can stop at the Central Terminal.

Contrary to what bloggers like Len Degroot or Alesh Houdek might be inclined to believe, Fort Lauderdale is neither dreaming nor out of touch with reality. With gas prices skyrocketing, people want alternatives to cars. Transit has never looked better.

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With all the talk about Miami’s streetcar here, one would never have guessed that Fort Lauderdale is also planning one. The Sun-Sentinel today featured a detailed write-up and even a demonstration video on the project. They used the term “light rail” and “streetcar” interchangeably in the article, but the proposed system, called “The Wave”, sounds more like a streetcar. The Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority’s website includes some basic information on this project that has eluded the radar screen for seven years. This PDF flyer offers more detailed info, including maps of the proposed route alternatives that run from NE 6th St. to SE 17th St. The cost is expected to be $150 million for a 2.7 mile project.

Tuesday at noon, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the city commission will meet in City Hall to discuss funding. The Sun-Sentinel seems to be the only source of information on this meeting. If I didn’t have to work I would be there.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that there is at least one representative from a car dealership on the DDA Board, Gale Butler from AutoNation. Since the DDA is responsible for this project, it looks like the auto dealerships are more inclined to see this project happen than Miami’s streetcar. Let’s do The Wave!

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