Bad as downtown traffic is, planners try to make it worse
Written by Michael Lewis on February 18, 2015
Nobody should be surprised by our lead story last week that that Miami’s downtown developers are urging the powers that be to slice auto traffic lanes out of Biscayne Boulevard downtown to create a pedestrian promenade.
We’ve reported often since 2006 about Downtown Development Authority aims to convert Biscayne Boulevard, which happens to be US Highway 1, to a promenade with far fewer lanes for cars.
This is planned, mind you, in the heart of a mushrooming – “booming” understates the case – metropolitan downtown on a federal highway that stretches 2,369 miles from Key West to Maine.
As we reported, a three-dimensional model of the slimmed-down roadway and new promenade in the heart of downtown is nearly ready to woo state transportation officials to adopt a plan whose timing is perfect – perfectly terrible.
Just imaging cutting the boulevard’s eight lanes to four or six, as the development authority has already voted. The authority says a city study found that traffic impact in removing half the traffic lanes would be minimal.
We doubt it. The only way impact can be minimal if you take half the lanes out of US 1 in busy downtown Miami is when – now frequently – traffic stops dead during a bout with urban gridlock. You can’t, it’s perfectly true, go any slower than zero miles per hour, so there’s minimal impact.
We question that study’s methodology. There is no way to cut lanes out of US 1 downtown and not exacerbate the growing gridlock that we all resent. Have planners actually driven the route?
Before anybody takes this downtown switch from cars to foot power an inch farther, officials need to make a new study driving their own cars under conditions including when the planner:
•Leaves a Miami Heat game.
•Tries to drive from anywhere at all down Biscayne Boulevard before or immediately after a Heat game.
•Leaves either Arsht Center building after a concert.
•Leaves either Arsht building when the other is also emptying out.
•Tries to leave the Arsht after an event just when a Heat game ends.
•Wants to get to an Arsht event on time.
•Leaves a Pérez Art Museum Miami event when there’s a concert at the Arsht or anything at all at American Airlines Arena.
•Enters or leaves the garage of a Biscayne Boulevard condo downtown.
•Leaves work downtown.
•Drives the boulevard going anywhere at all during rush hour – a period that in Miami now extends to almost all daylight hours, most evenings and even some weekends.
•Drives the boulevard after an event at the now-rising Frost Museum of Science.
•Drives the boulevard in a few years when Brickell City Centre, Miami Worldcenter and Miami Central – commercial and residential mega-projects of eight or more square blocks – are operating and spill traffic into and out of downtown at all hours.
Let that planner then say with a straight face that reducing traffic lanes downtown on the only real north-south artery other than an interstate highway would make no difference.
Not that a promenade is outlandish. It’s a wonderful concept to strengthen downtown Miami if we only had some real alternatives to using US 1 for all of the above trips.
The Metromover, unfortunately, is out of service seemingly two or three days every second week for what is called necessary maintenance. And the system isn’t getting any newer.
It’s also not expanding. The impediment to using mass transit downtown is that too often you can’t get here from there conveniently. And for six months of the year you can’t reach transit on foot without getting soaked or broiling in the sun because downtown has been altered for the motorist, not the pedestrian. Our sidewalk porticos are long since removed.
Consider this: New Yorkers who ride transit daily and love it discover that in Miami they need cars. They won’t ride transit here because it won’t get them where they’re going easily.
Building our city around mass transit makes sense and we’d applaud it – but we didn’t do it.
We can and should start now. All we need is the money to build it, the corridors in which to run it, adequate connections to what transit we now have and the time to get all that done.
Give us that transit downtown and a promenade down US 1 makes more sense – though it’s still a federal highway, and it’s Highway 1 for a reason.
We are adding condos and offices and shopping downtown like crazy. Unfortunately, we have not added a single downtown road or mass transit connection in decades, and nothing new is in sight.
All of that adds up to terrible timing for a promenade that would cut north-south auto flow on downtown’s main route in half.
The shift from the auto to mass transit is a grand idea. But it needs money galore to become reality.
It’s a chicken-egg situation, with the egg being the auto and the hatching chick being reliable mass transit that gets from here to there.
We’d love to see that transit chicken hatch and grow. It hasn’t yet, and it won’t until we nourish it. So until we do, don’t scramble downtown’s automotive golden egg.