No greenbacks if Biscayne Green deletes any traffic lanes
Written by Michael Lewis on April 3, 2018
Never before have we welcomed a veto of aid to Miami, but we hail Gov. Rick Scott’s roadblock of $1 million geared to narrow Biscayne Boulevard. That funding would be worse than mere waste – it would do harm.
The vetoed cash was to have helped choke the eight-lane boulevard at the heart of downtown down to six lanes or even four to create instead a vast pedestrian promenade called Biscayne Green and two bike lanes.
Don’t laugh – that reduction of the north-south artery near the bay to add a broad footpath has been in the works over at Miami’s Downtown Development Authority for 12 years and in December got more than $400,000 in US funds to study whether it can actually work.
Save the cash. Most of us could detail for a lot less than $400,000 what it would do to downtown rush hours – now stretching 16 hours – to cut lanes 25% or 50% on a vital artery whose only alternative is the iffy Metromover.
We get it: beautifying the boulevard for pedestrians and cyclists would truly enhance downtown and improve urban living. Removing most boulevard parking would help.
We’d welcome the idea if the state funding were geared to accomplish only those aims without also deleting lanes for cars that will remain vital until we add a real transit network someday.
But plans now are to get rid of those lanes based on the misguided claim that boulevard traffic wouldn’t slow a bit. That could only be true if drivers left cars to walk or bicycle, or if autonomous cars that can run within inches of one another and thus need fewer traffic lanes were our mobility.
For far less than $400,000 we can report that these other modes of travel downtown are, at best, years off – if they ever materialize.
Meanwhile, Biscayne Boulevard plays several roles other than as a beautiful urban promenade.
First, the boulevard is also our slice of US 1, the first federal highway, which runs from Key West to Maine. It’s no longer the primary East Coast route – interstates are – but it’s a major link for those 2,369 miles. No way should we carve out one mile as a pedestrian promenade, especially when a perfectly good but underused park across the street could do the job.
Second, since the development authority in all good faith planned this beautiful centerpiece a dozen years ago downtown has grown – and grown and grown and grown.
In that time along the boulevard downtown we’ve added all the traffic from the two-building Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, The Frost Museum of Science, the Pérez Art Museum Miami and Genting’s bayfront events space where the Miami Herald then stood.
The boulevard is also the gateway to American Airlines Arena and an upgrading Bayside Marketplace, an entrance to PortMiami, and the eastern entry to a fast-growing 24-hour downtown that back in 2006 was shutting down at 5 p.m. and was death valley on weekends. No longer.
Moreover, county commissioners are seriously weighing two more museums along the boulevard downtown, and it’s home to more residential high-rises than were contemplated 12 years ago. All of those add to traffic density.
Meanwhile, other traffic mushrooms. In 2006, just before the development authority offered its plan to cut downtown car flow, we noted tens of thousands of condo units rising and wrote “We say we’ve got gridlock now, but wait until we add 100,000 to 200,000 more cars… [to cause] coming traffic congestion Miamians cannot yet imagine.” Today, we don’t imagine it; we live it.
It wasn’t just newcomers adding cars: within the past four years 40,000 county residents daily have stopped using mass transit. Whether they’re in their cars or in Ubers, all are back on roads, an uncounted number downtown.
With all of that, the drive to slice driving lanes on Biscayne Boulevard has rolled on for 12 years – fortunately, going as slowly as the cars that the planners want to further slow.
The state considered $1 million for the boulevard plan in 2015 and actually ranked it 16th of 34 requests, but funded only the first 12 and left it out.
The development authority has never said how it would fund the rest of this work; a 2015 estimate was $24 million for medians alone. But last year it did get Miami’s parking authority, which actually handles developments, to agree to run the project, thereby protecting revenues from 387 parking spaces in that stretch of the boulevard. The authority is looking at underground parking there.
That parking shift could add beauty above ground without slowing traffic. But unless underground work included multiple north-south lanes, there should be no narrowing of the boulevard above ground. We need more traffic flow, not less.
Until the promenade plan focuses on more movement rather than less, it’s a waste of time and money and could do long-term harm. The governor is right – veto this whole outdated idea.