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Front Page » Opinion » How can 2+2 add up to rapid travel in fewer US 1 lanes?

How can 2+2 add up to rapid travel in fewer US 1 lanes?

Written by on August 6, 2019
How can 2+2 add up to rapid travel in fewer US 1 lanes?

Can you believe it? As this county struggles to unclog roads, downtown Miami is working to actually cut the capacity of its major thoroughfare, US 1.

The idea is to narrow much of the federal highway that is also Biscayne Boulevard in the very heart of the city – where our major destinations like museums and performance venues and our cruise port entry sit – to create a giant pedestrian plaza called Biscayne Green.

As we report today, the state has just allowed the City of Miami to study lane closures there. Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, which been pushing the idea for 13 years, says the study will take nine months.

We don’t have to wait for the study to tell you the results: you’ll be told that shutting two or even four of the eight lanes on Biscayne Boulevard downtown won’t slow traffic even a whit or a jot.

You can’t believe it? How, you ask, could cutting 25% to 50% of the capacity of a federal highway that’s usually bumper to bumper and is the only good way to reach rows of high-rise condos, the Arsht Center, AmericanAirlines Arena, the center of downtown, Bayside Marketplace and so forth result in no slowdowns?

We can’t imagine how that could be, but the Downtown Development Authority has been claiming that will be the finding, the authority is paying the firm that will do the study, and we fully expect consultant Y T Lin to produce the predicted result.

“They’ll create a great model and help us present our case to FDOT,” the state transportation department, said Patrice Gillespie Smith, the development authority’s senior manager for planning, design and transportation. No doubt.

You know the old story about how to hire a consultant? You ask all the candidates “How much is two plus two?” You reject all the firms that answer “Four.” The one you hire is the one that answers “How much do you want it to be?”

That’s why Miami’s City Commission, spurred by Commissioner Manolo Reyes, on June 27 OK’d preliminarily a rule that traffic studies, as well as studies of environmental impact, be done by a firm that the city picks and pays, with the study user reimbursing the city for its cost. The aim would be to keep an applicant from influencing results by picking and paying the consultant.

If that’s the best path for private developers seeking city OKs, it ought to be the procedure for a city affiliate like the Downtown Development Authority rather than having the firm doing the study be on the authority’s team. As it is, it feels too much like study results of “How much do you want the traffic to be?”

We wouldn’t accuse either the development authority or the study firm of fudging results. But it just doesn’t feel right to know before a study has even begun that the expert is going to help the authority present its case. A little more arm’s-length work is far more credible.

But then, it would take very, very long arms to convince most of us that the width of a 2,377-mile federal highway, stretching from Maine to Key West, should be scrunched at the very point where demand is bulging because of dozens of major new developments in the heart of a county of more than 2.7 million people where the only alternative, I-95, doesn’t serve the core of downtown.

We’d love to tread that beautiful plaza just where the development authority wants it, but tell us first how everyone is going to get to the museums or the performance venues or the condos or the office buildings – or through the heart of downtown?

Yes, PortMiami now has an entrance via a tunnel, but we’ve added absolutely no new roadways or transit downtown since the plaza was broached. Meanwhile, all these new buildings rose and downtown became a 24/7 happening place rather than just an office hub.

And please don’t say to just take Metromover. First, it doesn’t go most places. Second, it doesn’t run late. Third, it often doesn’t run at all – a shutdown planned for all of last weekend was rescinded only at the last minute. If you can’t rely on transit 24/7 it can’t be a true choice.

Don’t talk about riding buses or Uber or whatever as alternatives, either. They also run on the roads.

And now the city has brought the Ultra music festival right back to where the authority aims to further reduce mobility. How do those two add up? The wrong answer is “Whatever you want it to be.” This is the real world, and no matter what we want, more people and more events equate to more, not less, mobility need.

We’d welcome a more restful, pedestrian-oriented downtown as envisioned in the dream of this Biscayne Green project. But until a truly independent expert study – not produced by the proponents – proves it to us, we can’t believe that we could have both the promenade and the vital urban mobility that Miami needs.

All involved should demand first that arm’s-length, impartial vetting of the concept to provide credibility. Do it right.

Until the promenade plan is accompanied by a viable way to add mobility rather than shrink it, the dream of Biscayne Green should remain just that – a dream.

9 Responses to How can 2+2 add up to rapid travel in fewer US 1 lanes?

  1. Michael

    August 7, 2019 at 11:04 am

    This editorial is way off the mark. First of all, what this means is that Biscayne Boulevard will become more like a boulevard and not an expressway. Lewis mentions nothing about pedestrian safety in having to cross the road, often perilous with drivers who treat traffic lights as discretionary.

    People will be able to drive there, they’ll just have to drive more slowly and observe the posted speed limit.

    In addition, his comment about Metromover is also incorrect. Just because it doesn’t operate all the time now, doesn’t mean that it won’t operate late in the future if demand increases. And furthermore, when it isn’t in operation, it will be much later at night when there will be fewer cars on the road.

    • Manuel

      August 13, 2019 at 10:39 am

      i think you missed the point of the article, the point is that, regardless of what they want it to become, it will not be able to work until the surrounding areas get the adequate transportation needs they lack, in present day no less

      • Michael

        August 14, 2019 at 12:09 pm

        Those are incremental changes. As density increases, they can provide more transit service, including the very easy and quick extension of Metromover hours. Furthermore, having high-speed traffic doesn’t make the area “work.”

  2. Holly Blount

    August 7, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    Last year I attended the Lady Gaga concert at American Airlines Arena.
    I took Uber and the traffic was so bad that I asked the Uber drive to let
    me off in front of Bayside so that I could walk the rest of the way to avoid being late.

    After the concert, I waited 45 minutes for my Uber driver to reach me.
    By the time I was picked up, the side street off Biscayne where I was waiting was deserted.
    I was alone and I did not feel safe.

    The idea of reducing capacity in this area is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

  3. Chris

    August 8, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    I think you, Michael Lewis, should retire already. Your views are very outdated, and always end up in “more lanes! more cars!” Go around the world and you’ll see that more and more cities are adopting pedestrian/bike friendly streets at their city centers, with some even banning or charging cars to transit through it.

    The idea that Biscayne Blvd should continue to be an 8 lane highway is clearly coming from someone that doesn’t walk this street everyday. Every time I go out to lunch I see people running for their lives trying to cross the 4+4 lanes of high speed traffic. Traffic lights are not accommodating at all, making people wait in the hot sun for over 4-5 minutes until they turn red, so people just jaywalk and put their lives at risk.

    Go some blocks north and US 1 becomes a 2+2 street, and lights turn red as soon as one presses the cross button, so why try to scare people into thinking this will become a parking lot? Traffic will adjust, as it always does when you add another lane on 836, or remove more and more lanes to add Lexus express lanes.

    Biscayne Blvd has changed, it’s more and more residential, with lots and lots of tourists riding e-scooters (which I’m sure you are against also). Bayfront Park is not utilized as much because it’s so detached.

    I hope fresh minds and fresh ideas prevail. You can continue to drive your Ford F-150, but maybe move a bit northwest, you’ll be more at home there.

  4. Bo

    August 8, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    People often say it’s “the dumbest thing I have ever heard”; even our county mayor played a variation on that theme when talking about the Kendall Parkway. But what’s really dumb is having a dangerous expressway cutting off a vital, growing downtown from a vital, growing waterfront.

    We build more and more lanes of roadway and the traffic doesn’t disappear, it increases. There’s something called induced demand. It is real and well documented. It is how we got in this mess in the first place having a 6+ lane arterial where it doesn’t belong.

    The opposite of induced demand is what’s being discussed: making a Biscayne Boulevard that’s finally worthy of Miami Today and tomorrow.

    This type of redesign works in other places. Many other cities have successfully “taken back the street” and seen improvements doing so. The Times Square redesign in New York is a famous example and critics were saying it sounded stupid then, too.

    Wikipedia Link

  5. Bo

    August 8, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    As far as Metromover is concerned, it spans the entire length of the area in focus and was abused in this editorial. “[D]oesn’t go most places,” yet as a system it encircles a population of almost 100,000. Name any major downtown destination and it will be within 1/2 mile of a Metromover station.

    Riding Metromover anytime is free and trains arrive every 3-9min or less. Stations are every two or three blocks and are built fully accessible. There’s practically nowhere in the US with this kind of downtown transit asset, let alone being 100% free to use.

    Yes, its operating hours are “limited”, being closed from midnight to 5am. We should, and can, fix that. But for now, 19hrs of the day it provides some of the most reliable, consistent, and useful service of any transit mode in Miami-Dade or the US. Cities across the US are spending billions to tear up their streets building streetcars or light rail with half the trackage and 15-30 minute headways.

    Metromover (with Metrorail as a feeder) is underutilized as a “last mile connector” for the urban core. Drive to Metrorail outside of the city and park for $4.50 all day, or rideshare, or take a Metrobus, to the station. Hardly anywhere in downtown will let you park for $4.50 all day. Even adding in round-trip Metrorail fare ($2.25×2) means $9 total, which is still hard to beat in the CBD.

    Metromover is one of our county’s greatest assets and does not deserve the mistreatment you gave it in so few words and with such little consideration.

  6. Ao

    August 14, 2019 at 8:32 am

    The real issue is not that DDA got to choose their traffic engineer—the county approves the methodology for the study of any street change—the real issue is that traffic engineers at the county are focused almost exclusively on moving cars quickly through a space, meaning less safety or comfort for the people trying to live and work there. The focus on moving vehicles quickly (LOS, Level Of Service) means we have given away the dignity of the person who walks. In exchange we demand slip lanes, feeder ramps, and in-building parking lots costing $20k-$30k per space, encouraging more people to drive.

  7. Amarilys

    August 15, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Metromovers are the most utilized public mode of transportation. However on any given day, the mover will malfunction and come to a dead stop so you are stuck in the heat for up to 2 hour. Delays are expected. The city should make public transportation a great priority.