Chokehold on downtown’s traffic is no mobility solution
Written by Michael Lewis on May 21, 2014
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.