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Front Page » Opinion » Chokehold on downtown’s traffic is no mobility solution

Chokehold on downtown’s traffic is no mobility solution

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Written by on May 21, 2014

Chokehold on downtown’s traffic is no mobility solution

As buildings, workers, residents and visitors continue to multiply in the heart of Miami, one thing has not kept pace: the roadways that are the primary means of entering and leaving the center city.

No roadway has been added in the living memory of most residents, nor has virtually any lane capacity. Further, none is likely to be built.

As frustration grows over slowed traffic navigating the city’s core, city hall is gearing up to change the three iconic local arteries in the heart of Miami. Those changes, however, are not focused on moving cars through those areas faster. Just the opposite.

Targeted are Brickell Avenue, Flagler Street and Biscayne Boulevard. Each planned change is unique.

The aim for Brickell is control. As we detailed last week, the city is about to swap the titles to two out-of-the-way roadways to the state in order to get its hands on Brickell.

Ownership of Brickell Avenue south of Eighth Street will give the city more flexibility, but that’s unlikely to make an increasingly congested roadway flow better. If you’re a city commissioner it becomes your toy rather than the state’s, but how do you alter it, beyond further slowing traffic to appease residents along the avenue’s south end?

The city and the businesses that will contribute $1 million in a one-time tax aim to make Flagler Street less a thoroughfare than a walking street – think Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road with a trickle of traffic down the center instead of being solely a pedestrian mall.

Lincoln Road came back from decades of decay and disuse after it became a pedestrian mall – but that was long after the usage change. For many years a cannon fired from one end of the Lincoln Road Mall to the other would have caused no human injury.

Oddly, the drive for pedestrian emphasis along Flagler comes with a railroad theme. While that might make a suitable lead-in to an All Aboard Florida depot that’s planned to stretch almost to Flagler, the theme is actually an homage to Henry Flagler, the new railroad’s spiritual founder – All Aboard Florida is being developed by the railway company he began.

The Flagler makeover, as we’ve reported, has lined up $6 million in city funds and the $1 million from the one-time tax on property owners but awaits $6 million from Miami-Dade County, for a $13 million total.

If the city can with just that sum turn around the fortunes of raggedy Flagler, once Miami’s grand street for shopping but now one that few of our readers visit, the city is more magician than government.

Finally, there’s Biscayne Boulevard, which like Brickell is also US 1, a federal highway as well as local artery. Biscayne downtown has become home to not only a basketball arena and two massive performing arts halls but also a sparkling art museum, a soon-to-sparkle science museum and – if we’re not careful – perhaps a soccer stadium and the entrances to a pair of massive casinos.

Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, realizing that the grand boulevard must therefore carry more and more people through the heart of the city, aims to cut in half the number of Biscayne Boulevard traffic lanes through downtown in order to make the street more walkable.

That’s a beautiful thought – if the authority also has in its back pocket a solution that it has yet to unveil to the ensuing gridlock.

We’re spending $1 billion plus to run twin tunnels from Port Miami to Watson Island just to get some trucks off Biscayne Boulevard. That’s likely to be a $1 billion boondoggle if we then purposely choke boulevard traffic.

So city hall is moving to change our three main downtown arteries, geared to slowed traffic on all three as the priority shifts to pedestrians.

We agree with that worthy pedestrian emphasis, assuming that the city somehow provides mobility of residents, visitors and goods around the heart of the city in less time than it takes today – certainly not more.

It’s that last minor point that troubles us.

We can envision rail systems, tunnels, two-level roadways and as-yet-un-invented means like moving sidewalks efficiently serving Miami’s core while the three main internal thoroughfares become pedestrian oriented.

But in reality, none of those modes of transportation is even being hinted at. Nor is anyone that we know of planning alternate roadways as driving slows even more on Brickell, Flagler and Biscayne.

Unless the city plans to force everyone to work, live and shop in a three- or four-block radius, we have to seriously question the sanity of anything that impedes traffic flows on downtown’s iconic arteries.

5 Responses to Chokehold on downtown’s traffic is no mobility solution

  1. Derek Harmison

    May 21, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Wow, this must be the worst column you’ve written in 20 years. I hate to interupt you when you’re on a roll, and I’m not trying to make choices for you, but hold your breath:

    Walking IS a mode of transportation.

    At least it could be in the city’s center if its streets hadn’t long ago been given over for exclusive use by automobiles. So while it is easy to see how you formed your opinion, your column is miserably deterministic and frankly bizarre in a city already facing the effects of rising sea levels.

  2. DC Copeland

    May 22, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Making Biscayne Blvd more “walkable” by eliminating lanes of traffic is madness and makes you wonder who these “experts” really are– especially when they provide no transportation alternative. A better solution for Biscayne Blvd keeps the same number of traffic lanes but eliminates the parking islands in the center of the Blvd by moving the north bound lanes west. This opens up more space not for traffic lanes but park space, i.e., Bayfront Park takes up the space where the traffic lanes use to be. PLUS, where those lanes once were now become the roof of an underground parking garage reaching all the way to the PortMiami entrance. This helps solve the need for parking spaces downtown and enlarges the park. In this rendering, royal poinciana trees are planted on the west edge of the new park space abutting Biscayne Blvd and provide a buffer between the busy street and the tranquility of the park (see rendering here: http://bit.ly/1j1ecBY ) In this plan, no traffic lanes are lost and a huge amount of park space– and parking spaces– are gained.

  3. Adam Old

    May 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    “No roadway has been added in the living memory of most residents, nor has virtually any lane capacity. Further, none is likely to be built.”

    Nothing could be farther from the truth. Since 1982 arterials in Miami-Dade County have 50+% more lane miles. That is a huge increase from what was already a large number in the 1980s. If you look through the minutes of our transportation committee meetings you will see that multi-million dollar roadway-widening projects are commonplace and happen fairly regularly throughout the county. Even a portion of our half-penny sales tax “for transit” goes to roads.

    So it is worth noting that, despite these huge increases in lane-miles and roadway width which are so deleterious to the character and safety of the neighborhoods they pass through—there has been an overall worsening of traffic congestion which is estimated to cost the region upwards of $3Billion per year, with no end in sight.

    The take-home lesson is that you can not widen your way out of a traffic jam except temporarily. This is why BRT, rail, and biking are going to become increasingly important means of transportation in the region, and why we need to provide pedestrian-friendly city design—because every trip on transit starts and ends as a pedestrian. Luckily walkable pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods are commercially more successful and generally much nicer to be in than auto-dominated neighborhoods, so I applaud the Miami DDA and the City Council for going ahead with this Flagler Project.

  4. Markus

    May 22, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    The author seems mired in a thinking that has brought Miami to where it is right now. It is based on a car-centric culture for which the author is a prime example. Flagler is not a thoroughfare, Brickell is the densest area south of Manhattan and Biscayne Boulevard in its current configuration does an excellent job of disconnecting those who live and work in downtown from what should be a natural and public gathering space. There are no doubt challenges to overcome, but first and foremost is the type of thinking on display here! Let’s move into the 21st century and let’s not be stuck in the 1950s.

  5. Erik

    May 23, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    Mr Lewis needs to read up on the lessons of the past several decades of transportation planning. The direction he would prefer for Miami’s roads were the modus operandi for just about the entire history of Florida and created the traffic problems (and livability problems) we suffer through today.

    The answer is most definitely not new roads or additional lanes, unless the goal is to create more generic, faceless, soul-deadening throughways lined with parking lots and shopping malls. Every real-world example has shown that those interventions do nothing but encourage more traffic while simultaneously deadening the walkability and desirability of the area.

    The way forward is in favoring the pedestrian; the human-scale; the walkable neighborhood. Removing lanes, putting in bike lanes, widening sidewalks… all of these things will greatly benefit Miami and will NOT lead to the traffic apocalypse threatened by Mr Lewis. Take a look at New York City, probably the country’s most dramatic example of traffic-choked streets. New York has systematically removed traffic lanes, created in-street plazas, and replaced travel lanes with bike lanes and … the world didn’t end. Traffic moves slower in places, but traffic SHOULD move slower when pedestrians gain the focus over cars. Most importantly, New York hasn’t seen gridlock. The cars still move, people can still drive when they need to, and the streets are more pleasant for everyone as a result.

    Views like the ones Mr Lewis espouses have no place in 2014. They are unsupported by research and real world experience. Miami has the potential to be a beautiful, world-class city if it succeeds in following the lead of every other desirable city in the world. Cars have taken too much of our lives; it’s time to focus on people.

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