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Front Page » Opinion » Bad as downtown traffic is, planners try to make it worse

Bad as downtown traffic is, planners try to make it worse

Written by on February 18, 2015
Bad as downtown traffic is, planners try to make it worse

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.

14 Responses to Bad as downtown traffic is, planners try to make it worse

  1. Richard Rodriguez-Perez

    February 18, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    My partner and I recently headed to downtown to take a work-sponsored boat tour that left from Bayside. The boat was scheduled to leave at 9:30 on a Saturday morning. Despite leaving our house with what we thought was ample time, we missed the boat. Traffic on Biscayne Blvd. was at a standstill; lanes had been closed to allow a bicycling event to take place. Remember, this was 9:00 on a Saturday morning. Nowhere did we see any alert to motorists about the lane closures and the resulting congestion. We turned around and went home. I doubt we’ll make another trek anytime soon.

  2. No One

    February 18, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    It is especially instructive that the key challenge of your column can easily be seen as an argument IN FAVOR of the pedestrian promenade you oppose. 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…. The priority given to private cars on gridlocked streets is THE problem. There are too many people living and working in not enough space for everyone to rely on their own car to get from point A to point B. The solution includes buses and trains and bicycle and pedestrians, but no coherent future preserves the concept of a private automobile in congested downtown Miami. For people unable to cope with that concept (ahem, Michael Lewis??), the solutions will look like lunacy. And now for the real stinger that is an inevitable part of any solution: CONGESTION TOLLING!! gasp… horror!!!

  3. William Fairchild

    February 18, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    I smell the presence of developers lurking in the background quietly inserting greasy palms into my pocket. Maybe we should all wear pants with a hole on the backside so that when we get the shaft it will go in easier !

  4. Angel M.

    February 18, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    In principle this is not a bad idea because it is hard to cross Biscayne Blvd, and when the WorldCenter Mall opens it will be even harder with all those people. The problem however, is stated in the number of traffic issues you listed: Heat, Arscht, condo dwellers, Bayside, etc. The planners and politicians, instead of spreading the variety of high rise living, big venues and entertainment choices across the city, shoved it all in one small area, which creates traffic and doesn’t do anything for the rest of the city or the county. And now they want to control the mess by creating a promenade. Didn’t these people learned anything from the disaster of separate uses zoning? They propped up a bunch of high rises and big venues in one place, and left the rest of the city and county sprawling and depressed. You have to spread development of mixed uses across the city and create different forms of density within one area, so traffic spreads out to different destinations. Vertical sprawl is just as bad as Horizontal sprawl.

  5. Casey Piket

    February 18, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    I am not sure of the right solution, but there is a convergence of increasing traffic from both automobiles and pedestrians. I live downtown and tend to walk everywhere I go within reason. The biggest problem for pedestrians is the overuse of very narrow walkways.

    Pedestrians share the sidewalks with bike riders, segways, skateboards and in some cases, vespas. Most sidewalks in Miami are only wide enough for one person to walk in each direction.

    At some point, there will be a time where drivers will need to park and walk or shuttle to get to their destination. Bike, segway and vespa riders will need a dedicated lane to remove congestion from sidewalks.

    This congestion will continue to grow as the MetroMover prepares to begin charging for the already limited service. Like I said, I am not sure of the right solution, but our city commissioners will need to start being more proactive before downtown Miami becomes a place to avoid, rather than enjoyed.

  6. DC Copeland

    February 19, 2015 at 9:35 am

    I agree with the editorial. For the DDA to tell us that removing half of the traffic lanes would be minimal is crazy talk, i.e. “Miami Speak.” If anything, Biscayne Blvd needs two extra lanes, one running north and one running south. But that’s impossible because there isn’t any room for expansion.

    However, there is this idea: keeping the number of lanes and moving Bayfront Park westward, closer to downtown.

    Say what? By removing the parking islands and realigning the northbound lanes you do two things: 1) keep the number of traffic lanes and, 2) increase park acreage. In this rendering, royal poinciana trees are planted on the new western edge of the expanded park. They serve as a natural buffer between the tranquility of the park and the noise and congestion of Biscayne Blvd

  7. Luiz

    February 19, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    I use Biscayne Blvd on a daily basis. There are 2 important points that need to be addressed: better syncing of traffic lights and better law enforcement.
    There is a traffic light almost every block and, during rush hours, the green wave starts in the direction of traffic. In other words, if you are stopped in a red light, you get the green before the next one gets the green signal. So, nobody moves…
    Unfortunately, drivers only learn a lesson when it hurts in their pockets: blocking intersections; turning right when it is posted “no turning on red”; texting while driving…

  8. Juan Carlos Contreras

    February 19, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    I’m actually quite surprised you’re against Biscayne being redesigned for pedestrians, correction: for PEOPLE, not cars. Biscayne is our iconic boulevard and currently, it’s a highway. Our downtown deserves a beautiful and safe street where people can safely cross.

    For the exact reasons you mention, all the development, museums, jobs, and amenities along Biscayne, more and more people are walking up and down Biscayne. And more will come. This is precisely why we need to make it safer for pedestrians to get around our city.

    I’m completely in favor of redesigning Biscayne Blvd for people.

  9. Wallace Bray

    February 20, 2015 at 12:54 am

    The only venue I use often is the Arsht Performing Arts Center and to avoid traffic I park at the OMNI garage. I don’t mind the walk. I think if the county ever gets around to building a parking garage on the west side of the performing arts center I will still park at OMNI. Getting in and out of the OMNI garage is a cinch. If I were a basketball fan I would park at OMNI and take the Metromover to AAA. I live in northwest Miami Dade so for me it’s convenient but for people coming from the southwest maybe not so.

  10. Adam Old

    February 20, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Running a highway through downtown is a bad idea. Having one between downtown and the waterfront is a really bad idea. Miami is one of the few great cities where people expect to be able to drive door to door without traffic. It’s like a spoiled child eating candy for dinner.

  11. Marta Viciedo

    February 20, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Sounds familiar — oh yeah, the tone of this article is quite similar to the huge opposition during the initial phase of Times Square’s transformation. And yet….

    Here’s what I don’t get:
    1) Why won’t Miami Dade use pilot projects/installations? This proposal is testable so why don’t we create the opportunity to test it real-time using temporary changes instead of coming to conclusions based on this city’s ever present fear of carmageddon? Maybe we will find what other cities have found: that these changes generate more benefits than pain points. Then again, maybe not — but learning is far more important and effective than inaction. Debating the chicken and egg business is inaction disguised as clever discussion.

    2) Why don’t we learn from other cities? In regards to this article, why isn’t there more of an effort to seek out case studies rather than stoking the very concerns that continually lead to inaction. How much longer are we going to use the same ineffective tools to address growing and changing problems?

    Articles like this, with the tone it takes, aren’t helpful, unless the status quo is the goal.

    • marc

      February 24, 2015 at 10:57 am

      Inaction and studies are the name of the game for out politicos down here. We need new progressive blood down here.

  12. B

    February 20, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    The fact that Biscayne Blvd. is also designated as US Highway 1 is irrelevant considering that I-95 is available for through traffic. The fact is that now downtown is actually a destination, not something you drive through on your way somewhere else, and should be treated as such.

    If anything, the plans for the Boulevard don’t go far enough because they don’t designate any of the remaining traffic lanes as BUS ONLY lanes!!! Just try taking ANY of the busses or trolleys in ANY direction which pass that stretch of the Boulevard during an event at the AAA. The most useful parts of the bus system basically shut down at that time, and bus riders face delayed and overcrowded busses all the way north to the County Line (including ALL of Miami Beach) and west to Mall of the Americas. We have enough city bus, trolley, tour bus, and cab traffic on Biscayne that it is practically screaming out for dedicated lanes!!!!

  13. Stanley Sharenson

    February 25, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Let’s run a test. For two weeks during high season let’s close lanes to see how this proposal works. If the results are positive, the proposers win. If the results are disastrous, the naysayers win and the project should be abandoned.