US 1 as a walking village?
Written by John Charles Robbins on December 10, 2014
Miami’s mayor and city commission are backing efforts by upper eastside residents to slow the traffic on Biscayne Boulevard to make the area safer for pedestrians.
Back in the day, Biscayne Boulevard or US 1 was the way you entered Miami.
Before the construction of Interstate 95, Biscayne Boulevard was the main drag of Miami and the region, with motels and surf shops and other small businesses dotting the highway in a growing resort area.
The place lost its luster over the years, but with an influx of development money and the revival of properties like the Vagabond Motel, the neighborhoods of Bay Point, Morningside and others are looking to new life as a walking village.
A major part of that effort is the calming of Biscayne Boulevard.
With the encouragement of Mayor Tomás Regalado, the Miami City Commission has approved a resolution acknowledging the MiMo Biscayne Plan for improvements to the boulevard from Northeast 61st to 78th streets and endorsing its recommendations.
The commission vote is also a promise to make the matter a state legislative priority in 2015, and directs the city manager to send copies of the resolution to state lawmakers and officials.
The MiMo Biscayne Association seeks a change to the design of the streetscape, noting that the current design and use of this stretch of Biscayne Boulevard has encouraged high-speed traffic and disconnects the residential district from the commercial district by reducing walkability and tree canopy.
The plan has been developed to create a “Main Street” sense of place in the historic district, as it considers a combination of best-in-class street design elements, utilizing a block-by-block approach.
Recommendations include the addition of medians, both raised landscaped and pavered, which might involve eliminating the center turn lane in some sections; the inclusion of on-street parking on blocks with wider right-of-ways; and the addition of pedestrian crosswalks at each intersection, while including streetscape furnishings.
The plan uses new urban design principals consistent with the Miami 21 code, according to the association.
In the resolution, the city commission requests that the Florida Department of Transportation support the plan. Biscayne Boulevard in this area is the responsibility of the state.
Mayor Regalado introduced MiMo association members to the commission and spoke of the group’s tireless work to get improvements to Biscayne Boulevard.
They crafted the plan at their own expense, he said.
“They need some leverage to work with the DOT,” Mayor Regalado said.
Nancy Liebman, a longtime leader in the MiMo area, said the group has worked more than seven years on this “monumental” effort to “turn Biscayne Boulevard into a walking Main Street rather than a major thoroughfare.”
Ms. Liebman thanked Commissioners Keon Hardemon and Francis Suarez for meeting with group members on the matter.
“Our goal is a walking village,” she said.
Mr. Suarez said it’s frustrating that this effort has gone on for seven years when the decision should have taken seven days, calling it such an obvious improvement for that area.
“When we see the government put roadblocks in the way… it’s very frustrating. I commend you for not giving up,” said Mr. Suarez.
The discussion of traffic on Biscayne Boulevard led Mr. Suarez into a speech about the unrelenting traffic congestion in the city and county that only gets worse.
“You can’t go anywhere,” he said.
There needs to be a serious focus on improving mass transit in the area, he said. “We need major [advancements] in public transportation to get us out of this gridlock.”
Commissioner Hardemon also commended the group for its determination.
“This makes that community more vital,” he said of the plan to make Biscayne Boulevard more walkable.
Among documents city commissioners reviewed was a study of Biscayne Boulevard prepared for the MiMo Biscayne Association by Urban Environments Design Group, which included drawings of recommended improvements to the roadway and sidewalks.
The drawings are intended to guide conversations with city and community leaders, local businesses, residents, and the Florida Department of Transportation, it states in a cover letter written by Jorge M. Planas.
“It is strongly believed that the current streetscape of Biscayne Boulevard within the historic district is in extremely poor conditions regarding its design, character and maintenance,” wrote Mr. Planas. “It fails to promote a pedestrian-friendly environment and the options of mobility are leaning heavily in favor of private automobile use and ignoring the facilitation of walking, cycling, and public transit.”
The MiMo Village serves as the “Main Street” to the residents of the upper eastside, he continued.
“It is a hidden jewel within the City of Miami and is quickly becoming a tourist destination. The MiMo Village’s potential is just being realized as an abundant number of new projects and restorations are under way,” Mr. Planas wrote. “This portion of Biscayne Boulevard is worthy of a highly dignified and aesthetically pleasing streetscape that showcases its rich architectural legacy.”