Currently viewing the tag: "Commissioner Marc Sarnoff"

Discussion reveals frustration with FDOT as a common thread, and a maturing Complete Streets advocacy movement.

O Cinema in Wynwood was packed to the rafters last night for the SafeStreetsMiami Forum - a public meeting organized by the Green Mobility Network to engage elected officials, government employees and the general public on how to make Miami-Dade County roads safer for all road users.

The meeting comes on the heels of the Bicycle Safety Summit on February 29th, organized by Commissioner Xavier Suarez after the death of cyclist Aaron Cohen on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

Wednesday night’s forum allowed attendees to submit written questions directed to the panelists, including Miami-Dade Bicycle Coordinator David Henderson, and Jeff Cohen from the Traffic Engineering Division of Miami-Dade County Public Works, City of Miami Bicycle Coordinator Collin Worth, City of Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, Miami-Dade District 7 Xavier Suarez, and representatives from Miami-Dade Transit.

Collin Worth makes the case for complete streets.

Plenty of the information presented in the forum was not new news - the great progress being made in implementing the City of Miami Bicycle Master Plan, pedestrian and cyclist crash data and statistics that illustrate a rapid growth of bicycling throughout the county.

The written questions created a more directed, poignant conversation, in contrast to the free-flowing public input at the District 7 Bicycle Safety Summit. The Q/A format allowed public officials to answer directly to the folks who use the streets. The Safe Streets Forum was about showing our elected officials that there is a strong and growing bicycle constituency, and that real changes need to be made in the way that we design our streets.

Over the course of the evening, one common thread emerged - that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is one of the largest roadblocks to implementing more complete streets throughout the county. Roads including Biscayne Boulevard, Brickell Avenue, Coral Way and the MacArthur Causeway, among many others, are ‘state roads’ and fall under the jurisdiction of the FDOT, who adhere to arcane, auto-centric standards ill-suited for safe streets in an urban setting.

Commissioner Sarnoff explained his frustration with the FDOT, particularly on the issue of Brickell Avenue. Together with Transitmiami, Commissioner Sarnoff  has lobbied FDOT District 6 Secretary Gus Pego hard for a safer 30 mph speed limit for Brickell Ave, while Pego and the FDOT are opposed. As Sarnoff explained, the FDOT prioritizes moving cars as fast as possible, rather than accommodating - in FDOT speak - “non-motorized units”.

“I will treat Brickell as a neighborhood, while FDOT will only treat it as a pass through,” said Sarnoff.

Gus PEGO

FDOT District 6 Sec. Gus Pego views people as "non-motorized units"

Sarnoff and others stressed the importance of continued advocacy and maintaining pressure on officials and agencies like the FDOT. He also suggested that local advocates form a Political Action Committee (PAC) to support candidates that align with their goals.

We are happy that Sarnoff suggested increased public pressure on the FDOT for more pedestrian and bicycle friendly streets. We support this call, as we at Transit Miami have been some of the loudest, most consistent voices in demanding change at the FDOT (only to receive information that TransitMiami.com is blocked from FDOT computers).

The first step in knowing you have a problem is denial.

Additionally, no one from the FDOT attended the forum. (surprise, surprise)

One question asked was what could be done to improve the pedestrian experience of NW 36th street, which divides Miami’s pedestrian-friendly Midtown and Design District neighborhoods with an intimidating wall of roaring traffic and scant crosswalks.

“It’s a state road,” said Collin Worth, who also expressed frustration at the FDOT’s reluctance to fully embrace “non-motorized units” as a priority in roadway design.

“Sitting outside a restaurant there is harrowing,” said Worth.

A map of pedestrian fatalities in Miami-Dade county shows the problem is widespread though out the city and county. “It’s a problem, that affects everyone, all neighborhoods, all ethnic groups,” said David Henderson of Miami-Dade MPO.

Pedestrian Fatalities in Central Miami 2001-2009

But a closer examination reveals a chilling fact - the most dangerous streets for pedestrians are clearly FDOT roads, with dense clusters of pedestrian fatalities along Flagler Street, Calle Ocho and along US-1.

The meeting did include information on some exciting plans that are in the works. The most interesting of which included:

  • Progress on a bike-sharing system like DecoBike for the City of Miami. The current plans call for 50 stations and 500 bikes from Coconut Grove to Midtown, focused mostly on the eastern side of Miami. The plans are currently making their way through the various government approval processes.
  • Preliminary plans for a “Miami Bike Station” - a centrally located downtown facility where bike commuters could securely park their bicycles, use a locker and shower after a ride to work. No timeline was given on this project.
  • A plan for a protected bike lane/cycle track design on North Miami Avenue is being worked on by city and county officials.

We also applaud the public officials involved for finally engaging the bicycle community. Hearing Commissioner Xavier Suarez at the Bicycle Safety Summit say “We have a paradigm shift going on, and if we don’t recognize it, we’re not serving our constituents,” is a fundamental shift in the political dialogue. Together, with groups like Green Mobility Network taking the lead, we can bring complete streets advocacy to the next level in Miami-Dade County.

 A press conference was held this afternoon at 1450 Brickell Avenue to announce changes to the upcoming FDOT resurfacing project.  Mayor Regalado and Commissioner Sarnoff were present to make the official announcement that FDOT has agreed to reduce the speed limit to 35 mph from Southeast 15th Road and the entrance to the Rickenbacker Causeway. In addition, a new marked crosswalk in the 1400 block of Brickell will be added and all existing incomplete crosswalks will be completed so that pedestrians will have marked crossings on all four corners. Bike sharrows will also be added, but at a cost; FDOT plans to widen the roadway to accommodate sharrows. We love bike sharrows, but the roadway should not be widened to accommodate sharrows.  We are advocating for the opposite; travel lanes should be narrowed to calm traffic.

The press conference was very encouraging.    All of the elected officials present acknowledged that more needs to be done for all users on Brickell Avenue and noted that the improvements are only a first step. (We agree.) FDOT went further and said they would be willing to add more crosswalks if the Miami DDA agreed to pay for them, which the DDA agreed to pay for on the spot.  There were even whispers of raised crosswalks being thrown around and the strong possibility that the speed limit would be cut even further to 30 mph.  A 30 mph speed limit is more appropriate and would connect seamlessly to Biscayne Boulevard’s current 30 mph speed limit. 

PS. We put the Transit Miami Eye to work yesterday looking for an instance of 30 mph limit on US1 in a Central Business District, and we didn’t have to look far.

A speed limit sign on Biscayne Boulevard and Flagler Street shows very clearly an instance of a 30 mph limit on U.S. 1 in the Central Business District… looks like a precedent to me.  It also means that this line in yesterday’s Herald article is incorrect:  : “That will make the entirety of Brickell 35 mph — the same speed as the connected Biscayne Boulevard to its north.”  More to come…

Much has been said lately about the changes proposed by Commissioner Sarnoff regarding height restrictions in the MIMO historic district. I have had several exchanges with area residents who oppose further development along this (and other corridors). Recently Commissioner Sarnoff issued a letter to Commission Chair Sanchez over the false fear of Burt Harris property rights litigation, and makes some good points. I can’t argue that taking property rights will open the city to litigation (it might, but as the Commissioner points out, the city has a strong case). The question is not whether the city is within its rights to do so, but whether it is good policy. It isn’t. With all due respect to local residents, I think that capping development in this area at 35′ is bad planning. The Commissioner cites traffic and lack of mass transit as part of his reasoning:

This is an important City of Miami historic district that exists on an FDOT [rated] ‘F’ roadway. The added density or often intensity of T5 or T6 planned for sections of this historic road will only casue a collapse in a system that has already seen its mass transit funding diverted by the County.

Mr. Commissioner, we should be so lucky to have ‘F’ rated roadways. You should know that as you increase the Level of Service for a road, you decrease the Level of Service for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased Levels of Service lead to greater flow, greater speed, and less safety. I hope you don’t advocate increasing Levels of Service along our roadways as a way of addressing the lack of mass transit. Alleviating traffic by preventing development is a red herring - it will not have any effect on the LOS of the roadway. Rather than being concerned with the false perception that limiting development will reducing traffic, you and area residents should be more concerned about designing the street with pedestrians in mind, slowing traffic down (by keeping a low LOS), and facilitating further mass transit opportunities.

And speaking of the lack of mass transit on Biscayne, you and others should read about the project to bring rail down the FEC corridor that runs right next to Biscayne. Part of the planning work they are doing for this project is to make sure that the local CDMP and zoning code increases density and pedestrianism around stations. Contrary to your claims that this is not an appropriate area for density, its proximity to a major rail corridor make it the most logical place for more density, and will help offer your constituents more transit alternatives. The timeline for the project is about 6 years (which started in January), so this is not some far off project but one that will be implemented in the short term. Funding will come from the Federal and State government.

Also, check out the editorial from the Herald today echoing the economic benefits of the plan, which I described yesterday.

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City of Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff sent out a newsletter to his constituents today responding to public outcry over the recent 2-2 vote on Miami 21. He hints that another vote could be held before the election.  Check out what the Commissioner had to say about the future of Miami 21 and his thoughts on potential property rights litigation:

There is a strong possibility Commissioners may get a second chance to make a decision at an upcoming meeting, where hopefully all five Commissioners will be present to vote.  The plan, while not perfect, offers a unique opportunity to redesign Miami into the pedestrian friendly community with wide walkways, and large green spaces that so many of our residents desire….

I do not simply accept what Development lawyers claim the law to be, that any change in the code which lessens their client’s development rights, results in an effective taking of property by the City. This is commonly referred to as a Bert Harris property compensation. The recent 3rd District Court of Appeals decision in Monroe County versus Ambrose, holds: “the mere purchase of land did not create a right (by the owner or developer) to rely upon existing zoning”. Equally, our City Attorney has opined there is no Bert Harris issue for height limitations. I have performed my due diligence. The threat of litigation and being sued is an omni present threat in Miami.  Most importantly I understand that we are no longer in the building craze and land values are depressed. The Bert Harris argument is least effective during these times. We have more lawyers per square foot than anywhere in the United States. I will never govern nor cast my vote because of a threat. I stood my ground when personally sued by the Mercy Developer for my vote against its massive 36 story, 3 tower project in the Grove, despite 2 other Commissioners and the Chairman voting over the District Commissioner.

We hope that he is right and that Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez brings the code back for a vote. The Chairman has a big opportunity to redeem himself with potential voters. He needs to do this soon, or lose any chance of becoming Mayor. I’m sure by now he has realized how big a mistake he made, and what it might cost him. It’s not too late Joe, do the right thing.

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.

This next segment is the beginning of a new series here on Transit Miami where we will look at certain actions or policies that will invariably counteract true urban progress.

This might be the ultimate mistake in zoning history; constructing a ½ billion-dollar opera/ballet house and later allowing a Wal-Mart to settle in next door.  On the way to the ballet, you can pick up some cheap shit foreign made goods, contribute to the massive trade deficit, and support the public financial burden caused by an employer who perennially underpays employees.  A Wal-Mart in the urban core continues the suburbanization mentality of building we have seen here in Miami – that is, tall, dense structures only accessible by car.  In a sense: Urban from far, but far from urban.

Now, it is not just the zoning that is the issue; imagine spending another billion dollars to rid the downtown of the majority of port-bound truck traffic, only to allow a retailer that will generate hundreds of weekly truck trips to nestle in that very same downtown core.  Seems a bit counterproductive, if you ask me, but then again this is Miami, why should we be surprised?

From the beginning, we were not against a mixed-use retail center rising alongside the performing arts center.  We viewed the complex, coupled with the PAC, as a formidable component to a thriving media-arts district, filled with nightlife, restaurants, hotels, and well, worthy destinations, not big-box retail.  A Wal-Mart anywhere in the downtown region automatically negates that key phrase every Miami politician loves to toss around wildly.  You know the one, it goes a little something like: “This _____ will put Miami on the map, this going to a real “world-class” _____.”  I guess you can fill in the blanks with Wal-Mart if there is such thing as a “world-class” Wal-Mart, perhaps third world class…

Commissioner Marc Sarnoff recently said it best:

“I thought the idea for that neighborhood was to create a walking neighborhood and not a big box for the Beach,”

Frankly, we envisioned something similar to Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, nothing revolutionary, just a proper mixed-use development complete with theaters (imax too), restaurants, hotels, and corporate businesses (DB HQ, Price Waterhouse offices, Sony, etc.)  From wikipedia:

…The rebuilt Potsdamer Platz now attracts around 70,000 visitors a day, rising to 100,000 at weekends, and some critics have been surprised by the success of the new quarter. Fears that the streets would be dead after 6pm have proven false. At almost any time of the day, the place is alive with people. It is a particularly popular attraction for visitors: the “Arkaden” shopping mall contains around 150 shops and restaurants on three levels, the lowest (basement) level being a food floor; there are also four major hotels, and Europe’s largest casino (the “Spielbank Berlin”)…

Note: in this last image the two large buildings on the bottom right is the home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  The situational resemblance is uncanny.

Let us get something straight; the advertisements all over the city of Miami aren’t murals, they’re big ass ugly tarps. With their abundance and apparent ability to lobby to soften our elected officials, the big ass ugly tarp industry is apparently a lucrative one. Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has the right idea, attempting to restrict these banners to a smaller area, levy heavier fines on non-compliant ads, and reducing the number of legal advertisements. The other option, crafted by city administrators, would levy smaller fines and allow more banners in a larger area. The plans have been in the works since July and after 8 months of deliberation will finally soon come to a vote by the city commission.

“I’m disappointed after spending so much time with the administration,” Mr. Sarnoff said, calling today’s face-off the “first time the administration has really challenged me like this.”

Mr. Sarnoff blamed the influence of mural lobbyists for city staffers’ apparent change of heart, saying outdoor advertising proponents have their “hooks deeply in the administration.”

It is unfortunate that the city of Miami is bowing to special interests. This particular form of advertising contributes little substantial value to the city, degrades the view of much of the city, and undermines any efforts to create a legitimate outdoor advertising industry. Banners, such as the one pictured above (1 of 3 on this particular building), are placed without any regard for building use. This particular “hotel” is fully blanketed with a Budweiser tarp obstructing every window on the eastern façade, facing I-95 motorists…

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