Which way will Calle Ocho run?
Residents and business people in East Little Havana, a historic neighborhood at the western edge of booming Brickell, are concerned about changes that are coming for two major streets that slice through the area.
The Florida Department of Transportation in June completed a study of Southwest Seventh and Eighth streets from Southwest 27th to Brickell avenues. The department’s goals for the two streets are to improve traffic operations, safety and access to the Brickell area, to develop a pedestrian-friendly corridor and to promote a multi-modal transportation approach, said spokesperson Ivette Ruiz.
“This dense urban corridor has seen significant growth in the past decade with high-density, high-rise developments and its operation is expected to be impacted with increased traffic volumes by several new major development projects currently proposed within the Brickell area,” Ms. Ruiz said via email.
The next phase is the project development and environmental study, set to begin in the winter of 2016 and to take two to three years, she continued. “Then design, right-of-way acquisition and construction will follow.” Construction is expected to begin in spring 2017.
Some neighbors are worried that the current one-way street design – which they say encourages drivers to speed and is not pedestrian-friendly – will remain. They are hopeful that a smaller, more human-scale design can take its place but fear the transportation department’s top priority is moving cars as efficiently as possible.
“This is our one chance,” said Juan Mullerat, director of PlusUrbia, a design firm that recently completed a redevelopment plan for Wynwood that has gained wide acceptance. Mr. Mullerat and several of the firm’s principals live in East Little Havana. “When you live in an area, it becomes more than a way to get to downtown and Brickell. We know the car needs to stay, but we believe transportation means more than cars.”
East Little Havana was once a thriving neighborhood with Southwest Eighth Street, or Calle Ocho, as its main street, he said. PlusUrbia, working pro bono, has designed a plan that Mr. Mullerat says will be safer and will restore that neighborhood feeling.
Currently, there are three one-way driving lanes that are 11 feet wide, two 7.5-foot parking lanes, and two 9-foot sidewalks. PlusUrbia’s plan would replace them with two 10-foot driving lanes, heading east and west, an 11-foot transit lane, a 4-foot bike lane, and two 8.5-foot parking lanes. The sidewalks would stay the same width, at 9 feet.
The firm has decided not to bid on the $2 million project, though two out-of-state potential bidders have asked PlusUrbia to join their teams. “Our function is to raise awareness,” Mr. Mullerat said, adding that staying independent from the project gives the firm more credibility in presenting its ideas.
At a series of meetings the transportation department held to get public input, Mr. Mullerat said, the company’s plans fell on deaf ears.
“The department only recently became aware of PlusUrbia’s plan,” Ms. Ruiz responded. “Specifically, their plan did not come up at the meetings.”
Redesigning traffic so that the area recaptures its neighborhood ambiance “is one of the alternatives recommended for further study, but any change to the existing traffic pattern will require public and community acceptance,” Ms. Ruiz said. The department will continue to get input from the community and all interested parties throughout the project development and environmental study phase, she added.
Adopting the principles set forth in his company’s plan, Mr. Mullerat said, might help alleviate a serious jaywalking problem that has historically plagued the two streets.
Ms. Ruiz said the department will make a series of pedestrian improvements over the next two to three years. “This includes the addition of 10 new pedestrian crosswalks along Southwest Eighth Street between Southwest 27th and Brickell avenues.”
But, Mr. Mullerat said, “I want to ask that guy with a cane jaywalking across Calle Ocho where he wants his crosswalks.”
He is organizing a coalition of architects, planners, neighbors and business people to present ideas to the transportation department cohesively.
“We have some of the best planners in the world in Miami,” said Mr. Mullerat, who co-chairs the Urban Design Committee of the American Institute of Architects’ Miami chapter. “We have real specialists who can tell us how this should flow, how this should function.”