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 Calloway, Nat 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The ‘preferred’ alternative of an elevated I-395 superhighway is a farce and is akin to a sick person who requires triple bypass surgery settling for an appendectomy because that is what they can afford, but not what will fix the problem. It will not lead to any revitalization and only add to the blight of Overtown.
-Andrew Georgiadis, Master of urban planning metaphors
Anyone interested in commenting on the expansion of I-395 into a super highway that will further blight our downtown core should attend this meeting! We need to let FDOT know that people come before cars.
I-395 Public Hearing Scheduled
Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at the Lyric Theater, 819 N.W. 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida. The hearing will begin as an open house from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. with a formal presentation at 6:30 p.m.
Miami, Florida — The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District Six has scheduled a public hearing regarding the proposed enhancements to I-395 from the Midtown Interchange (I-95/SR 836/I-395) to the MacArthur Causeway in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The public hearing will be held on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at the Lyric Theater, 819 N.W. 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida. The hearing will begin as an open house from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. with a formal presentation at 6:30 p.m.
This hearing is being held to allow interested persons an opportunity to express their views concerning the location, conceptual design; and social, economic, and environmental effects of the proposed enhancements to this segment of Interstate 395. The need for enhancements is based on a combination of substandard traffic conditions, urban planning objectives and the interaction with other planned facility enhancements impacting the proposed project area. Project objectives include the study of the following issues: increase capacity to prevent existing and future traffic congestion, improve safety by alleviating existing deficiencies, explore access issues and establish proper continuity.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement along with other pertinent information developed by the Department will be available for public review on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Tuesday, August 4, 2009 to Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Community Outreach Office, 939 N.W. 3rd Avenue, Miami, Florida. These materials will also be available at the hearing site from 6 p.m. until the end of the hearing. Persons desiring to submit written statements and other exhibits, in place of or in addition to oral statements, may do so at the hearing or by sending them to: Vilma Croft, P.E, Project Manager, at FDOT District Six, 1000 N.W. 111th Avenue, Room 6111A, Miami, Florida 33172. All exhibits or statements postmarked on or before September 4, 2009 will become a part of the public hearing record.
For several years now, the FDOT has been proposing changes to I-395, ranging from an elevated super highway to burying the highway underground, in an effort to add highway capacity, while not exacerbating the blight of the surrounding neighborhoods. According to the project director for the FDOT, the maximum clearance under the new “light and airy” proposal is only 33 feet, hardly enough to chase the darkness that it will cast upon the neighborhood. Unfortunately, their preliminary ‘studies’ showed that the elevated super-highway was their preferred alternative, playing down the benefits of demolishing the highway, as many US cities have done over the past two decades. Demolishing the highway, and burying it underground will pay off much more than the super elevated version, both in reconnecting the city and in promoting economic development. Check out this great 2007 analysis from Boom or Bust examining all the alternatives.
The blight that surrounds I-395 (and countless other interstates across the country) is well know to have been the result of “progressive” urban renewal in the 1960′s that cut through vibrant communities of color, such as Overtown, and doomed them to decades of disinvestment. Now, under the guise of a second round of urban renewal, FDOT is pushing hard for the construction of the super highway that they argue would reconnect downtown, while still allowing for the free flow of cars from the beach to the City. Bull. This is simply another fake urban renewal program that will not help neighboring communities, and will only add to the blight that surrounds the highway. FDOT maintains that the area under the highway would become a green belt, with parks and active recreational uses. More bullshit. Have they looked under I-95 lately? Directly adjacent to the City of Miami offices on the river, I-95 towers hundreds of feet in the air, with nothing but parking and abandoned lots underneath. Why haven’t they used this area for park space yet? Or take the M-Path, our only answer to a greenbelt under urban infrastructure. Ask our friends at the Green Mobility Network how hard they fight to preserve and improve this important greenway.
Our best bet is to depress the highway and replace it with a true boulevard/greenway that would allow for local circulation above ground, and the highway underneath. Check out the image above of what this greenway could look like. This option has been consistently downplayed by the DOT as too expensive, yet they fail to take into account the developable land that will be free once the highway is removed. True economic redevlopment for the Omni/Park West/Overtown communities.
To make things even more sleazy, there are reports that the FDOT has been trying to convince Overtown that the elevated option will somehow solve problems of blight and isolation in the marooned sections of the community, playing on decades of fear of disenfranchisment and racial politics. If they actually cared, they would be pushing for the boulevard as that will actually revitalize the area.
The FDOT is planning a public meeting August 25 from 5 -7 pm at the Lyric Theatre in Overtown to discuss the proposed superhighway. Please come out and give your opinion. More on this to come…
- Changing tides: Mayoral aspirant Regalado’s developer contributions increase (according to the Herald because of Miami 21.)
- Slots are almost in South Florida…I wonder what the redevelopment of the Flagler dogtrack will do to the neighborhood. Maybe they can use their increased profit to develop something nice on their huge, empty parking lot.
- Transit advocates and local officials in Tampa are miffed that proposed high speed rail plans bypass the recently renovated Union Station, an early 20th century Italian Renaissance revival-style station. Check out the photo, it’s pretty nice.
- Sunrail: Can link to high-speed rail help sell Legislature on commuter rail?
- Miami-Dade budget: the Kendall Community Council is not happy over the Mayor’s proposed budget cuts to planning and zoning staff. (This staff organizes neighbhorhood charrettes and guides community planning – value creating activities that are economic generators for the county.)
- Transit gets shafted (yet again): the proposed budget leaves out an expected 3.5% increase in the general fund contribution.
- Commissioner Moss is pushing for high speed rail to Miami. The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce also endorses the idea. Cool.
- Awesome article about demolishing urban freeways and redevelopment opportunities. Can anyone say I-395?
If you are like me and a history buff or just love Miami, you should check out the Historical Museum of South Florida. Apart from hosting great exhibits and an annual Map Fair, as a member you get a subscription to Tequesta, the annual journal of the Historical Association of South Florida, edited by local history guru Dr. Paul George.
This year Teuqesta has a great article related to the history of I-95 and its blighting effect on Miami’s urban neighborhoods. I thought it was well timed considering the big moves the FDOT is trying to make with I-395. Seems like Overtown never gets a break from the blight that urban highways produce (at 30′ or at 150′!) This from Interstating Miami:
The mantra of progress provided a rationale for public actions such as expressway building and urban renewal, but the social consequences of such programs were dismissed by state and local officials as an unfortunate by-product of rebuilding and reform. (P. 23)
Two big infrastructure projects are back in the picture as the FDOT has resurrected the Port Tunnel deal while quietly trying to build support for the reconstruction of I-395 as a super elevated highway. The tunnel project, touted as the remedy for removing truck traffic from downtown streets, was all but dead until FDOT Director Stephanie Kopelousos approved new cash backers. Friends of Transit Miami have also alerted us that FDOT District 6 is quietly reaching out to Overtown residents to build support for their prefered alternative of a $580 million super elevated highway, saying it will reconnect the neighborhood that was devastated by the construction of the existing I-395 nearly 60 years ago.
Too bad FDOT. A billion here, half a billion there. Seems like they love to play with monopoly money, all the while playing down the benefits of the most logical answer: to depress the highway opening up acres of expensive downtown land. The $800 million price tag for removing the highway will be offset by the newly vacant (and taxable) downtown blocks, while nixing the tunnel in favor of using existing rail will save the state (and us taxpayers) over a billion dollars. Check out this great article detailing the I-395 options. I’ll post more on this in the coming days. No public meetings have been set yet, but we’ll let you know as soon as we know.
Is it unfair to compare Miami to other cities in terms of green park space when across the causeway is the enormous public space, Miami Beach. I assure you I am a strong supporter for park space in Miami proper, but I feel there is an entirely different analysis required based on the unique quality of the beach. Being the single most obvious draw for all of South Florida residents, the beach almost creates a requirement of other city parks to include an attraction, if they are to be fully utilized. While some would propose a stadium or a waterpark, it seems that the museums are the perfect, compatible solution, in keeping with the desired qualities of a public green space.
March 29 Some state legislators want to start charging tolls to use the car-pool (HOV) lanes on I-95 from I-595 in Broward County to State Road 112 in Miami-Dade County. What’s your opinion?
Bad idea. These lanes should be available for free to anyone with 2 or more people in a vehicle. (5917 responses)
Good idea. It would raise more funds for transportation and ensure the car-pool lanes don’t get too crowded. (1012 responses)
6929 total responses
April 4 State officials say I-595 could be widened much more quickly and less expensively by making it a privately operated road with tolls on its express lanes. Your opinion?
Good idea. (1773 responses)
Bad idea. (3278 responses)
5051 total responses
Or do they? Perhaps there are some valid reasons behind this shift in the frame of mind or perhaps the Miami Mentality is a little more convoluted than I originally perceived. I’ll choose the latter. Based on the data obtained through the unofficial polls taken by the Sun-Sentinel and in browsing through some of the comments left on the site, it appears that there is a new dimension to the Miami Mentality that I had not previously considered: Money.
“Forgive me for not being able to attend this oh-so important waste of time meeting, but here’s my vote by proxy- NO!!! What a $hitty idea- charge us for what we’ve already paid for? Screw these crooked politicians and their handouts to the contractors- enough is enough!”
-Count me Out,
, Fl Hialeah
“The article is at least truthful. The public is invited to discuss the issue. The decision has already been made based soley upon financial reasons. Luxury car lanes have been discussed for years, now they will be a reality. Only in
. Guess the Republicans will call it no Lexus left behind.” Florida
, Fl Boynton Beach
The views presented outline a general displeasure for paying for expanded highway service, it is expected that the government provide endless capacity and expansions to our already crowded highways. This belief stems from the precedent that the government set throughout the past decades, expanding and creating highway infrastructure “as needed.” The distrust in local policies and “leaders” further exacerbates the situation, casting shadows of doubt across any project where higher costs will be waged on motorists. Contrary to the logic behind congestion pricing, the opinions conveyed show that the new local mentality aims to provide highway and parking access to anyone (which falls in line with the reaction to rising gas prices.) (For more on Congestion Pricing, click here.)
I must also note that the subject matter does not pit public transit against highway capacity expansion. Surely, had that been the case, the results would have shown a desire for rail, provided that others use the system and now apparently that money allocated to the project did not come from highway funding sources (it’s ok folks, there are statutes against that anyway.)
Of course some classic Miami Mentality always finds its way into the picture:
“Maximum use of all lanes is the most efficient use of roads. Car pool lanes do not do that. The “Pay Pool” lanes are only a way for the politicians to get more money without representation. Another non-tax tax. On top of all this Interstate roads are supposed to be free. This is not a state road it is a federal road.”
-just say no,
, Fl Miami
“Forget the tolls. Eliminate the HOV lane by opening it up to all drivers. That will increse the available road space by 20 – 25 percent. As an added benefit …no more slow downs caused by drivers gawking at the flashing lights while FHP writes tickets (they have better things to do). It’s a win win deal for both tax payers and drivers, costs nothing and can be put into effect at any time.”
, Fl Pompano Beach
I’m so glad David took the time to do the math for us, he neglected to include how many minutes it would take for for traffic to fill up the additional lane and bring traffic back to a grinding halt (Induced Travel.) Miami Mentality obviously fails to take into account general highway planning principles, is shortsighted, does not recognize the limitations of an autocentric infrastructure, and never considers perhaps that the current method of personal travel and lifestyle are the true problems at hand.
Reassuringly, every so often, a voice of reason chimes in:
“the reason for the carpool lane is to encourage drivers to carpool and take cars off the roads. what they should be doing is expanding the number of car pool lanes to 2 or 3 each way and then maybe more people would carpool.”
, Ca Santa Maria
But, then again, let the few voices of reason come from a city clear across the country…
- MIA Cargo is still #1, despite a slip in market share…
- Bacardi is consolidating it North American operations into the 250,000 square foot building originally intended for the BK world headquarters…
- FDOT moves forward on plans to pour more money into the colossal black hole known as I-95…
- Forget the lost Arctic Seal in Ft. Lauderdale, we’ve got bigger fish to fry…
- BOB addresses the I-395 realignment plan…
- Rebbecca Tackles the Buses in the Shoulder initiative intended to allow buses to bypass highway congestion…
- Watch the Streetsblog Berkeley Bikestation video…Can anyone see this ever happening in Miami?
- These are some Ugly McMansions…
- The Priciest cities for Parking…Miami is Below average which is no surprise…This is a bad thing people…
- Top 10 Reasons why Green Business is here to stay…
- Carlos Miller Reacts to my US Marshall encounter…
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