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.