Miami Beach sees pedestrian future for Ocean Drive
Miami Beach has applied for a county permit to keep Ocean Drive pedestrianized, but the short-term future of the iconic road is still up for debate.
In May 2020 the county approved temporary closure of Ocean Drive to vehicular traffic, Miami Today reported, and a final configuration will be explored as part of the Art Deco Cultural District preliminary concept plan by Zyscovich Architects that is to be complete by December.
The big question officials face now is how the road will look in the meantime.
Before covid it consisted of two travel lanes, two parking/valet lanes, one 10.5-foot-wide sidewalk and one 14.5-foot-wide sidewalk shared by pedestrians and sidewalk cafes. The current configuration allows a 19-foot sidewalk cafe expansion and another 19-foot shared pedestrian and bike space where lanes of travel once were.
Staff put together five possible scenarios based on a pedestrian-first philosophy, City Manager Alina Hudak told commissioners last month; none of the options included a return to two-way travel lanes for cars.
The recommended option, Transportation Director Jose Gonzalez said, would move sidewalk cafés into the current roadway to allow for a 14.5-foot sidewalk on the west side of the road and maintain the 10.5-foot sidewalk on the east. Adjacent to the 14.5-foot sidewalk would be an 11-foot space for sidewalk cafés. The center of the road would be a 20-foot shared space for bikes, pedestrians and Freebee vehicles, which would be separated by planters from the sidewalks on the east and cafés on the west.
The Freebee service, Ms. Hudak said, would be at the expense of businesses on the road and allow visitors to be dropped off at restaurants and hotels without having to open the road to private vehicles.
The proposed option, Mr. Gonzalez said, would also include the installation of automatic gates or remote-controlled systems at Ocean Drive and Fifth Street, the 100 block of 10th Street, and at Ocean Drive and 14th Street to allow emergency vehicle access.
The project’s estimated cost of $1.1 million to $1.2 million, he said, includes planters, emergency vehicle access gates and potential road painting or striping.
Commissioners and members of the public had much to say about the plan, with no action being taken at the last meeting and staff instructed to keep working.
Business owners on Ocean Drive commented on possible pitfalls of the plan, noting that Freebees in particular would require parking somewhere, take long periods to charge and could be inaccessible for some disable guests. While one goal of the plan is to break up spaces where congregation and bad behavior occurs, noted Jonathan Plutzik, owner of the Betsy Hotel, sandwiching a 14-foot pedestrian space between buildings and sidewalk cafes may simply bring the party closer to businesses.
Multiple commissioners questioned separating the sidewalk cafés from their restaurants via this sidewalk, which waitstaff will have to cross with food and drinks in hand.
The 20-foot shared space for bikes, pedestrians and Freebees was another sticking point for commissioners including Micky Steinberg, who pointed out that collisions or near-collisions between bicyclists and pedestrians on the nearby Beachwalk were already common. According to Mr. Gonzalez, 20 feet of clear space are needed to maintain emergency vehicle access, but non-barrier options for splitting up the space could be considered.
Whether the road should remain pedestrianized at all was another discussion, with Commissioner Steven Meiner asking whether the road could keep some version of the proposed configuration during the day and be opened to vehicles at night to break up the party atmosphere on the street. This option, Mr. Gonzalez said, would require easily movable barriers on the streets abutting Ocean Drive.
Anything is possible with enough funding, Ms. Hudak said, but the project will only be temporary. Multiple commissioners and members of the public mentioned that, if materials such as planters are bought, they should be high enough quality that the city can reuse them later for other purposes.
Following discussion, staffers were asked to consider the feedback and keep working on options, which can now include the possibility of bringing traffic back to the street. Mayor Dan Gelber also suggested a special meeting dedicated to the issue, though this has yet to be scheduled.