Closing half of boulevard’s lanes to cars is a hell of an idea
Written by Michael Lewis on January 10, 2017
For a 20-day trial, Biscayne Boulevard downtown has become either – you choose – an urban heaven or urban hell.
If you’re there to walk your dog or take yoga lessons or play on the streets you’ll probably say that downtown has become heavenly.
But if you’re trying to drive from north to south or south to north on downtown’s only true thoroughfare in those directions, we can sense the fire and brimstone.
In fact, if you plan to drive on Biscayne Boulevard through downtown at what used to be rush hour be prepared for a good look at the revamped area where there used to be eight lanes of traffic. For the trial period, four lanes are reserved for buses and bicycles. So you’re sure to get a nice slow-w-w-w look around at the changes as you try to drive past with only four lanes remaining.
If you want to stop for sidewalk dining or strolls – or out of frustration at crawling traffic – don’t bother trying to park in the six blocks of median that for decades have been city-run parking lots. They’ve been turned over to all those outdoor activities in leisure heaven. There was even talk of basketball there.
The heavenly or hellish conditions – you decide – are the work of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, which since 2006 has been envisioning a large expanse of green at Miami’s front door right smack in the middle of Biscayne Boulevard. The idea has finally come to fruition – it started Friday with the temporary transformation as a trial.
It will certainly be a trial to motorists. Biscayne Boulevard also happens to be US 1, the first federal highway, stretching 2,377 miles from Maine to Key West as a fast motoring route before there were expressways. Unfortunately, other than I-95 across downtown to the west, it’s the only north-south mainland highway anywhere near Biscayne Bay.
In recent years Biscayne Boulevard has become even more: it is downtown Miami’s lifeline, its link with booming Brickell and its Brickell City Centre, and with now also booming Midtown and Edgewater and Wynwood. The boulevard is also home to thousands of new condo units, two performing arts halls, AmericanAirlines Arena, the new Pérez Art Museum Miami and very soon the Frost Museum of Science.
And while there are new port tunnels, the boulevard is still one of only two ways into and out of PortMiami, the world’s busiest cruise port and a vital cargo port.
All of that is in one 15-block stretch, the center of which just became a temporary green leisure area with half the traffic capacity it had before Friday. If all of this works out, the Downtown Development Authority will try to make the changes permanent later on.
The folks from the authority say studies show that you can drive just as fast, or even faster, in the four lanes remaining for cars along the boulevard as you previously could in eight congested lanes that already seemed like hell when a Heat game coincided with a hot performance or two at the Arsht center.
Those folks from the authority are authorities, so that idea about equal driving speed in fewer lanes may not be as crazy as it sounds. But some of us are old enough to remember when four out of five New York doctors told us that smoking a certain brand of cigarette was sure to improve our health and rid us of that nasty cigarette cough. Those doctors were authorities too. So skepticism won’t hurt.
Speaking of New York experts, backers of the Biscayne Green plan to turn our federal highway over to bicyclists and pedestrians and leisure enthusiast equally with motorists tell us that New York has done something similar and it works there.
Well, New York has mass transit everywhere and just added a new subway line. You don’t need a car in Manhattan – in fact, a car is a hindrance. You can get from here to anywhere in fast, reliable transit.
Miami has transit, too. We have a Metromover downtown, but it doesn’t run through the night, it’s frequently shut evenings and weekends for maintenance, it’s not all that reliable daytime – and it only goes a few places. To get anywhere else, get in a car.
Oh, we do plan six new transit corridors. After we find the money for all six and when they’re all up and running and all link to downtown, the Biscayne Green relaxation heaven will make sense for people trying to get to or from work or to or from events or museums or even just across town.
Unfortunately, that heavenly transit scenario is decades away, at best.
In the meanwhile, we finally have the vibrant 24-hour downtown that we’d been dreaming about for 40 years. Some of those residents over the next two weeks will be up in the clouds over a dog park and basketball and yoga in the middle of what is still US 1.
But when those new downtown residents or the rest of us try to get somewhere else, Biscayne Boulevard’s conversion to Biscayne Green is going to be pure hell.