Currently viewing the tag: "Walkability"

Are Miami’s proliferating pedestrian overpasses transforming the city into a hamster’s paradise?

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The more we bow our heads in submission to the automobile, the more we lose our city … the more we lose our humanity.
[TransitMiami is hugely grateful to the incredibly talented Mr. Juan Navarro for contributing his artwork to this piece. Thank you, Juan!]

Cities should be built for people, not cars. It’s an irrefutable, almost cliché maxim that still, despite the seeming consensus around the notion, somehow gets lost in the city design and development process.

Greater Miami is a city whose incipient design and development occurred during the apex of the automobile era, an era which is slowly, but surely, dissipating. Our city’s auto-centric legacy thus predisposes planners and engineers to maintain that eroding model of spatial form and function.

The underlying fallacy comes from their failure to recognize the dynamism moving through the city, the revolutionary societal forces changing the way Miamians and metro-dwellers across the planet wish to live in, and interact with, their urban habitats.

Rather, these designers of dystopia look to the increasingly obsolete conditions of the past and — instead of embracing the change around them with innovative design solutions — seek to merely perpetuate the already expired status quo.

To our collective detriment, this status quo expresses itself with bipedal human beings relegated to the bottom of the mobility food chain. In Miami, and with a bit of irony, this demotion often manifests itself upward, where people wishing to get around on their own two feet are forced to ascend up to and move through so-called pedestrian overpasses.

In essence, though, these overpasses are really nothing short of hamster tunnels designed to accommodate and un-impede the movement of cars at the expense of people.

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You may pass, you pedestrian peon, but only after ascending to the tunnel above, traversing through the cage, and descending yet again. Then, and only then, may you cross the street.

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This wasteful, massive piece of infrastructure makes sense only after you’ve been indoctrinated by the dogma that cars take precedent over people. Pedestrian overpass at US-1 and Douglas Road (SW 37th Avenue), between the City of Miami and City of Coral Gables.

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Is this the sense of “security” we wish to give to our children? In order to simply cross a street, young child, you must seek refuge in the cage above the unbridled auto traffic below!

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Inside the pedestrian/hamster cage at US-1 and Douglas Road (SW 37th Avenue), between the City of Miami and City of Coral Gables, on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

These overpasses reify the misguided mid-20th century notion that the automobile reigns supreme. All other modes of transport must make way for, and bow their heads to, the tyrannical king of the road.

Through these pedestrian overpasses, the built environment is effectively screaming at people who choose to use their own energy to get around the city: Step aside, petty pedestrians! Out of the way, bumbling bicyclists! The automobile is coming through!

A relatively complex pedestrian overpass (Coral Way / SW 24th Street & the Palmetto / 826 Highway). In addition to human-sized hamsters, maximum security prisoners would feel right at home.

Apart from the monstrosities in the City of Hialeah, this is one of the more complex hamster tunnels in unincorporated Miami-Dade County (Coral Way & the SR 826 Highway). It evokes scenes from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.

Up, up, up, little hamster! Up  and around, around and up, across and over, down and around, down and around! You made it!

Up, up, up, little hamster! Up and around, around and up, across and over, down and around, down and around! You made it!

These are not the messages we should be physically inscribing into the nature of our city. This is not the infrastructure needed to support a socially, economically, and ecologically thriving urban geography.

The overpass at Vizcaya is one of the few warranted ones. A collective sigh of sympathy is nonetheless breathed for that poor cleaning woman tasked with cleaning this hamster path.

The overpass at Vizcaya is one of the few warranted ones. A collective sigh of sympathy is nonetheless breathed for that poor cleaning woman tasked with cleaning this hamster path.

Through the tunnel you go, little hamsters. While this particular tunnel actually makes sense (because it crosses the point where US-1 turns into I-95, at Vizcaya Metrorail Station), these ped overpasses should be very few and far between.

Through the tunnel you go, little hamsters. While this particular tunnel actually makes sense — because it crosses the point where US-1 turns into I-95 at Vizcaya, where a street level crossing would be particularly difficult to engineer — these ped overpasses should be very few and far between.

The caged view from the overpass at Vizcaya. While this is one of the warranted pedestrian overpasses in Miami, the entire notion of such a bridge should be used extremely sparingly.

The caged view from the overpass at Vizcaya. While this is one of the warranted pedestrian overpasses in Miami, the entire notion of such a bridge should be used extremely sparingly.

As our children and grandchildren inherit from us this little bit of Earth called Miami, they’ll be far more grateful to gain a livable place where they can enjoy the pleasures of the city on their own two feet at the ground level, rather than surrendering to the oppression of the automobile by scurrying through elevated mazes and tunnels.

You want to keep the streets safe for pedestrians? There’s only one real solution: Make the streets safe for pedestrians!

Be on the look-out for a follow-up article where TransitMiami looks at some of the broader social implications of building the proposed pedestrian overpass at US-1 and Mariposa in Coral Gables. Also, be sure to read TransitMiami’s previous piece on that particular proposal, written by TM writer and professional architect Jennifer Garcia.

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Last night about 70 Belle Meade residents showed up at Legion Park to hear the details about a proposal to fence off all access to Belle Meade on NE 6th Court.  Currently, pedestrians and bicyclists can enter and exit Belle Meade through NE 72nd Terrace and NE 72nd -77th Streets. Motor vehicles can only access Belle Meade via NE 76th Street.

The majority of the residents voted for the complete fencing off of all entrances on NE 6th Court.  There were about 6-7 residents, including myself, that were willing to find some common ground and voted for an amendment that included fencing, however the fencing would have unlocked gates to allow for public access. The total cost of this project was about $15,000 and the initial burden of this cost, as well as maintenance of the 6 ft fence, would fall on the homeowners. Public access on these streets would effectively cease to exist, but the City of Miami would continue to provide all public services to the community (Fire, Police, Public Works, etc.).  Belle Meade would not become a private community.

Although most of those present at the meeting support fencing, a majority of Belle Meade homeowners is still required to sign a petition in support of fencing for it to become a reality.  Once the petition is signed by 60%-70% of the homeowners in favor of fencing it will be presented to the city of Miami Commissioners for a vote and final approval.

Commissioner Sarnoff was present at the meeting as well.  After listening to the homeowners he told the audience that if he lived in the community he too would want to fence off NE 6th Court. He then proceeded to show support by offering to pay for the new fencing with our tax dollars. Additional police patrols, an effective deterrent against crime, was not really discussed.

The Miami Police Department Commander for the Upper East Side was also present at the meeting. He told the residents that he believed fencing would help to deter crime in the area, but acknowledged it would not eliminate crime all together.  He also pointed out that the area had seen a reduction of crime year-over-year.

Although I do respect the Commander’s comments, everything I have researched has shown that gated communities are not safer than non-gated communities.  In other words, defensive planning does not work. Communities that have transitioned from non-gated to gated initially show a drop in crime, however after about a year, crime levels return to pre-gating levels. Below is an excerpt from research that was conducted in Miami:

The city of Miami reports that “some forms of crime such as car theft are reduced, at least immediately after the streets are closed. However, data indicates that the long-term crime rate is at best only marginally altered” (Blakely, 1995, p. 1).

You can read more about the research that Blakely conducted here.

You can also read this article from the well respected Next American City that discusses the social implications of gated communities on the surrounding neighborhoods. This article goes on to say:

In truth, there is no evidence that homes in gated communities maintain their value better than those in non-gated ones. Nor is there evidence that gated communities are safer.”

One of the best forms of policing is self-policing by residents. Erecting a fence will destroy the walkability of our community, thus decreasing self-policing by residents. Walking an extra half mile to get to Jimmy’s or another nearby establishment is easier said than done. The elderly, persons with disabilities, our housekeepers, and parents with strollers will all suffer if a fence is erected.  So will the businesses on Biscayne Boulevard.

The MiMo Business Improvement District should not support the fencing of Belle Meade.  Businesses within the MiMo district will be harmed by the lack of pedestrian accessibility from Belle Meade. Walking an extra ½ mile for some residents will become a deterrent to engage with businesses on Biscayne Boulevard. Once potential MiMo customers from Belle Meade are in their cars, they can easily choose to shop or eat at a non-MiMo establishment which is more accessible by car and has parking easily available.

I am a new resident and want to make Belle Meade as safe as possible. I respect the opinions and views of my neighbors and share the same safety concerns as all of them. Even with the guard gate on 76th street, defensive planning has already proved to be ineffective. More defensive planning will most likely show the same results. A majority will decide how Belle Meade proceeds and my hope is that together we can find a solution that may actually deter crime.

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My wife and I moved to Belle Meade about two months ago.  We fell in love with this neighborhood on the Upper East Side because of the walkability to the Mimo district and because the area has some beautiful historic homes (we purchased a 1940’s bungalow).

Belle Meade today is a semi-gated community. It lies east of Biscayne Blvd and is wedged between Biscayne Bay, NE 6th Court, NE 72nd Terrace and NE 77th Street. It is only accessible by car through a guard gate on NE 76th Street. Bicycles and pedestrians can enter and leave the community through any one of the streets that connect to NE 6th Court.

There has been a bit of a crime wave going through the area. A few weeks ago the police busted a house in Belle Meade that was dealing drugs. Yesterday there was an armed robbery/home invasion one block from my house. Residents are upset, and rightfully so. But now there is talk about closing off all the bicycle and pedestrian access points on NE 6th Court, thereby creating a totally gated community.

I am not a fan of gated communities.  I believe that erecting concrete walls sends the wrong message to the greater Miami community. For a community to be truly integrated barriers should not be erected to separate the haves from the have-nots. In addition, research suggests that gated does not equal safer. One thing is certain; they give a very false sense of security to the individuals living within these communities. Creating a proper neighborhood watch program is the answer and will show far greater results then erecting walls.

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), author Jane Jacobs suggested that crime could be reduced by having “eyes on the street.” We can increase eyes on the street by forming a neighborhood watch program. We can also keep the existing eyes on the street by encouraging people to walk or bike, rather than forcing Belle Meade residents to get in their cars every time they need to run an errand on Biscayne Blvd. Erecting walls will only reduce the eyes on the streets of Belle Meade.

We must keep our neighborhood walkable. There is considerable evidence and research which proves that homes in walkable neighborhoods command a premium over non-walkable neighborhoods.

My hope is that one day the guard gate on NE 76th Street can come down too. We should work with the surrounding neighborhoods to make them better, thereby reducing crime and making the entire Upper East Side a more vibrant community.

You can check out how walkable your neighborhood is on Walkscore.

Come celebrate the completion of the Burle Marx New World Design project on Biscayne Boulevard.  The sidewalks look great; they are wide, walkable and give Downtown Miami a little character and identity. So let’s rejoice in good urbanism with some bossa nova. Bossacucanova will be flying in from Brazil  to play at this free event. I promise you will not be disappointed with music.

burlemarxeflyer

Friday, October 2, 2009 @ 5:30 pm
AmericanAirlines Arena - East Plaza
601 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33132

For more information call 305-579-6675 or go to www.dwntwn.com or facebook

Please be careful crossing Biscayne Blvd.  Unfortunately, the vision of a walkable Miami that created these wonderful sidewalks was not extended to the actual street design of Biscayne Blvd. Shame on FDOT for not considering pedestrians.

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WALKSAFE is an innovative program based here in South Florida. As a result of the WALKSAFE program there has been a reduction in traumatic brain injuries in children by 60% over the last 8 years.  At present, the program is being emulated around the country, and bicycle advocates are partnering with them to start the BIKESAFE program in Liberty City. Please click here to vote for WALKSAFE in Nike’s ” Back Your Block” competition.

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Retired police office Glenn Rice attempts to cross the street in downtown Miami Springs. Despite the pedestrian island, flashing lights, and signage and oh, the state law, Mr. Rice gets no love.

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Recently a reader sent the authors of Transit Miami a note of frustration, an excerpt of which is below.
I recently moved to NE 25th St. and Biscayne Boulevard.  I am happy with the neighborhood as I think it is exciting what is going on throughout the whole area.
I am happy that the city is trying to bring people into the city, but would it not be common sense to at least add crosswalks to your main boulevard? You would think this would be an automatic thing.
Yet I find it utterly embarrassing and disappointing that Biscayne Boulevard (arguably the main artery of Miami’s inner core) hardly has crosswalks or even signals to cross the street.  I risk my life every day just to cross the street with cars whizzing by from both sides and nowhere safe to walk.  Even for Miami this to me is surprising and Miami as far as urbanity goes is a pretty backwards place as we all know.
- Transit Miami reader, Jorge de Cardenas
We couldn’t agree more. The reconstruction of Biscayne Boulevard was a total lost opportunity on so many fronts. Despite all the urbanization along its lower stretches, it remains dominated by the automobile. This is the expected outcome when transportation decisions are made independent from land use decisions.  Not until these two silos are knitted back together with some holistic thinking will Miami arrive on the scene as a truly urban, and urbane place.

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According to this article in USA Today, Men’s Fitness has named Miami the fattest city in America.

Awesome.

Now, one must always take magazine and news media rankings with a grain of salt. The metrics used can vary wildly and often allow one to paint a city any number of desired shades. As an example, the Brookings Institute issued a report last year that ranked Miami as the eighth most walkable city in America-two spots ahead of New York City. That is clearly ridiculous. Moreover, “Miami” typically doesn’t mean Miami proper, but the larger metropolitan area.

Yet, while the tanned and toned tend to roam South Beach, Men’s Fitness is on to something here with the greater Miami area. The USA Today article says the “Magic City” garners this most dubious distinction for several known factors.

Miami received poor marks because of a large number of overweight people, a high rate of TV viewing among residents, long commutes and poor air quality**. The city has almost three times as many fast-food restaurants as the average city. And participation is low in outdoor activities such as biking, running and fitness walking.

The newspaper interviewed Claudia Gonzalez, a registered dietitian in Miami, who said Miamians don’t walk because of all the highways.

“If you walk in some areas, people look at you like you are strange — like, ‘Why are you walking when everyone else is driving?’ ” Exceptions include Miami Beach, Coconut Grove and South Beach, she says.

Hey, maybe we need more transit, walkable and bicycle-friendly infrastructure?

Just a wacky Wednesday morning thought…

**Didn’t Forbes rank us as having the best air quality last year, i.e. the cleanest city?!

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(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

You may have heard that last Friday morning thousands of used sneakers were dumped along the Palmetto Expressway, delaying  traffic for hours while crews were forced to clean up the kicks.

With no one stepping forth to claim the shoes and no signs of an accident,  rumors are afloat that they were dispensed in protest of Miami’s car culture.

Officials are now looking for a charity that might accept thousands of sneakers. If you have a suggestion, let the Miami State Police know.

Fact or fiction?

We can’t be sure, but let us all work towards a more walkable 2009.

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The following article below is a reprint from NPR.org on April 1, 2008:

Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint

Atlanta resident Malaika Taylor used to live the typical suburban life — the kind that helps make America the world’s top contributor to climate change. But four years ago, fed up with commuting, Taylor and her 11-year old daughter, Maya, moved from the suburbs to the city.

And their “carbon footprint” shrank.

“There are some weekends when I don’t even use my car,” says Taylor.

The Taylors live in Atlantic Station, a new community in mid-town Atlanta designed to put jobs, homes and shopping all in one place, close to public transportation. Developments like Atlantic Station are springing up around the country, and proponents say they help cut car pollution, including the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change.

Atlantic Station: A Climate Change Model

On a typical morning, Taylor walks her daughter to the bus stop and then keeps going 10 minutes to her job as a property manager at an apartment complex.

“I have to admit, if it’s raining or really cold, I drive,” she says.

Her mile-long commute is unusual in Atlanta, where the federal government estimates the average resident drives 32 miles each day. Early surveys show the people who live and work in Atlantic Station drive about a third that much, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We don’t often think of a development as a way to solve environmental problems. But this is really a unique example of kind of growing your way into better environmental quality,” says Geoff Anderson, who helped steer the Atlantic Station project through the regulatory process for the EPA. Anderson now heads Smart Growth America, an environmentally friendly development advocate.

At first, the EPA supported Atlantic Station as a way to help Atlanta fight its unhealthy smog problem. Anderson says now the agency sees the community as a model of how America can fight climate change.

“The two biggest things we do from a carbon perspective are, we heat our houses or cool them, or we drive. And when you combine that, that’s going to add up to a big chunk of your personal carbon footprint,” Anderson says.

A Smaller Impact

Reducing her carbon footprint was not Taylor’s intent when she moved. She just wanted her life back.

But living in the city has cut the small family’s impact on global warming to about half the national average for a family of two.

When they lived in the suburbs, Taylor filled up her gas tank three or four times every two weeks. Now she fills up once in two weeks.

Her other energy bills shrank, too.

In the winter, her gas bill to heat her suburban house was almost $200. Now she uses electricity to heat and cool their compact, two-bedroom loft. That bill tops out around $80, about 20 percent less than the average bill for an Atlanta household.

Apartments often have lower energy costs because of shared walls and smaller spaces. Americans send more than 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, or about a fifth of the nation’s total emissions. If lots of Americans lived like the Taylors, then the nation’s greenhouse-gas pollution could drop by hundreds of millions of tons.

Of course, the move didn’t come without tradeoffs.

“I can’t afford to buy a house in the city. It took me four garage sales to get rid of enough stuff to fit into my apartment. I thought I purged, and it still wasn’t enough, and I had to purge again,” says Taylor.

Gaining a Life

On one recent rainy afternoon, Taylor drives to pick up Maya at the bus stop. It takes them almost no time and hardly any gas or greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s more, when it’s time to take a trip to the grocery store, it takes only two minutes to get there, and she’s is back home within 15 minutes.

“That’s hands down one of the biggest perks about living here. The convenience, convenience, convenience,” Taylor says.

It’s only 4:20 p.m. Maya has already made a big dent in her homework. And Malaika has a few hours to kill.

“Maybe I’ll work out. Maybe we’ll play a game. It makes a huge difference just in the quality of our life,” Taylor says. “We get to spend a lot more time together. I think she’s happier. I’m happier. It makes life a lot better.”

Image: Flickr

Imagine a drive-thru church? It’s not far from reality. Last Christmas, I heard of a church that was having a drive-thru nativity scene. The ostensible reason was that people didn’t have to get out of their cars in cold weather. Some churches, however, like this one in Orlando, do it when they don’t have cold weather. One of the main purposes of a church is fellowship, and it’s easy with a crowd of people in a building. It’s rather difficult, on the other hand, to carry on a conversation with someone in another car.

While I came close to riding my bike to my church’s sunrise service today at the beach, churches in Ohio and Virginia offered drive-thru Easter pageants. It should come as no surprise, since they only reflect our greater car-centric culture—but it’s still frustrating. Why can’t churches be more pedestrian friendly?

One church in Texas has walk-thru scenes of Stations of the Cross on permanent display. Has anyone seen similar walkable displays or pageants, or have you seen any local churches touting drive-thru dramas? Please voice your thoughts. We want to see examples, whether good, bad, or ugly.

Also, any thoughts for improvements? I would like to see a bus shelter and a bike rack in front of my church. What about your neighborhood churches?

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Speaking of curb cuts, I was passing along NE 2nd Avenue and was completely disgusted to experience firsthand the atrocities permitted to occur on the backside of the buildings facing Biscayne Bay. The term Biscayne wall is quite fitting as the backsides of these towers were clearly designed to resemble the blank slate of a concrete wall, keeping pedestrians well away. The worst part of all, as we’ve discussed before, is the lack of adequate transit integration and pedestrian facilities along this route. The blank backsides will almost ensure that any use of metromover by building residents is inhibited by vehicular needs. The parking entrances of these buildings should have been relegated to the minor cross streets (NE 11, 10, 9, etc.) instead of the major thoroughfare with DIRECT rail transit access. Even worse is the street activity. Aside from an existing pawn shop, the only street activity these buildings will be seeing is parking garage access… From now own, we’re calling this the Biscayne Blunder

I figured Chopin’s Funeral March would fit this slide well because this street is good as dead Dead…

I live next to a busy intersection in South Beach - Meridian Avenue and 13th Street. It’s the main entryway to Flamingo Park as well as the beach’s central avenue. It’s the only tree-shaded roadway around. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of traffic: cars, bikes and pedestrians.

Within the past few months, four-way stop signs went up at the intersection, making it significantly safer, or so I thought. One of the stop signs is all but hidden behind a tree. Cars blow past it all the time. This is doubly dangerous considering pedestrians now assume cars will stop at the intersection. There are people pushing baby strollers to the park, little kids going to shoot hoops, people walking their dogs.

I emailed the city to point out the problem. There had been small temporary stop signs in the middle of the road until recently, and I suggested they do something similar on a permanent basis or at least make the hidden stop sign more visible. Never heard back.

Walking home one night, I came across two Miami Beach motorcycle cops. They were there to run down cars that rolled through the stop sign. I told them people couldn’t see the sign, but they argued there is a warning sign farther back (small red octagon with arrow) and nothing that could be done. When I emphasized the inherent danger, one of the cops said pedestrians should be “alert” anyway.

So, I’ve contacted the county’s public works department. They tell me they’ll check it out. In the meantime, I have a strong feeling someone is going to get hurt or killed. I hope I’m wrong.

From the Miami Today:

EYES ON THE STREET: Small black kiosks are popping up around Coconut Grove as part of a City of Miami pilot initiative to have more “eyes on the street,” Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said. He proposed the idea in May, calling for increased enforcement officer presence. The booths are to serve as bases for police officers “most of the time,” he said, and sometimes for code-enforcement officers. During special events, they could also serve as information booths for visitors, he said. The city hopes to complete the booths before the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, which begins Feb. 16. “If this (pilot) works, we’re going to bring it up Biscayne Boulevard around the performing arts center,” as well as to the Upper East side and possibly Little Havana, Mr. Sarnoff said.

The CGG has a different view:

They look like prison guard stations or even worse, Gulag booths. Do they need to be black and do tourists really need an info booth? The Grove is three streets long. The best thing is to let the tourists wander around and go into stores and ask around for things. It will bring more business to stores this way and it makes it a friendlier place than to have a cold black info booth.

We here at Transit Miami like this new approach to keeping our streets safer. The booths will create a place for tourists to seek advice while keeping a vigilant eye on our higher pedestrian areas. They promote safety and tourism while encouraging people to walk about our most urban neighborhoods. I think we could use a few of these along Flagler, Brickell, and Little Havana. Your thoughts?

Leave a comment and let us know what you think on our poll in the left sidebar…

“The paradox of transportation in the late 20th Century is that while it became possible to travel to the moon, it also became impossible, in many cases, to walk across the street.”
- Joell Vanderwagen

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