News: Construction Ahead for the Beach

By Anne Newport Royall

While road construction seems a regular part of life for the residents of Miami Beach, Middle Beach between 63rd Street and Lincoln Road will see almost every street touched by massive change over the next two years.

PINE TREE DRIVE AND LA GORCE DRIVE BETWEEN 61ST AND 52ND STREETS:

Several years ago, the homeowners living along Pine Tree and La Gorce Drives petitioned the County through it’s Public Works Department to restore bi-directional (two-way) flow to each of these two, one-way paired streets. The La Gorce Pine Tree Homeowners Association (HOA) believed that this would reduce the speeding and accidents that occur in front of their homes on these two busy streets.

In a letter to the City endorsing the latest plan for speed cushions, more signage and new striping, Donna Bloom, current president of the HOA speaks of the “several deaths (of pedestrians hit by cars and drivers hit by other drivers), almost daily traffic accidents, and the 260 recent traffic citations” as a rationale for changing the streets again.

While the neighbors have fought to have the beautifully landscaped marquise-shaped “chicanes” removed since the day they were installed, the traffic study done by the County proves they work in reducing speeds. A look at the 23,000 cars that traveled this corridor during a 24-hour period between May 19-20, 2010 show that while the posted speed is 30 miles per hour, average speeds are between 26-30 mph with more than 85 percent of cars traveling 33 mph or slower.

As far as accidents go, the study looked at the most recent five year period, and revealed that between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2010  there was a total of 95 crashes reported with no fatalities. By far, the highest number of crashes, almost 60 percent was due to U-turns, which should be non-existent on one-way streets. It’s not hard to see it’s the neighbors themselves, bemoaning the dangers of the street, causing the most crashes by cutting corners and making illegal U-turns to hurry to-and-from home.

The cost for making both streets two-way again was over $1.5 million, a price too rich for the cash-strapped County to bear.  Miami-Dade Public Works traffic-planning minds came back with a cheaper safety-based proposal that would make one through lane, and one lane for turning either on or off the street from the numbered side streets (which would stop the U-turns) but the City felt this would, in effect, reduce the through lanes by 50 percent and impede traffic-flow everywhere. These two residential roads comprise half the north-south passage through the heart of the City.

With much of the commission and the mayor up for re-election, it’s no wonder the Neighborhoods and Community Affairs Committee at their record setting 14-minute meeting September 1 fast-tracked and advanced the money for more traffic-calming measures for these two streets—even before the agreement and final plan that must be blessed by the county commission is complete. “Let’s get things done and figure it out later,” demanded Commissioner Jerry Libbin at the meeting.

Although there were no neighbors at this meeting, all the shoe pounding and name-taking by commissioners eager to get any project moving was done to impress the Grand Dame of the neighborhood, Rosemary Hansford. Commissioners hoping to win re-election this year or those with an eye on posts for 2013 will need a sign in her yard to win. Neighbors have come to rely on her not-to-subtle-backing for laying bets on the winning candidates. She always supports the winner or no one at all.

County Commissioner Sally Heyman who also knows the value of election signage (location, location, location), has pledged $500,000.00 to this project, whatever it becomes. The cost to the City may be 15-20 percent of the budget, although the final costs have not been tabulated yet.

MESS AT MUSS PARK

Nearer to 41st Street  will see changes where Chase and Prairie Avenue join, just north of 44th Street. While the neighborhood has long awaited a fix to “the triangle of death” as dubbed by Orchard Park Neighborhood Association president Henry Lowenstein, it seems a simple street closing was too easy for the City, which took that idea and combined it with a plan renovating the pavilion of Muss Park to include new ADA-compliant bathrooms, and added a basketball court on land reclaimed by closing more of Chase than originally discussed, then building a new road to combine Chase and Prairie Avenues

The administration thought it was such a good idea that they forgot to tell it to the residents until four days before work actually started.

You’d think the neighbors would like a bigger park in their midst, but just as their neighbors to the south in Bayshore (more about them later) lost an opportunity to add an acre of land to the Par-3 Golf Course by removing some roadway, Orchard Parkers feel it is better to keep the streets as they are rather than making a new road, that brings really bad Feng Shui to at least one directly affected home. OPNA’s suggestion is to just close off Chase after the  44th Street extension existing there now and forego the basketball court. They are happy with their passive park.

While the City acknowledges its mistake in not informing the residents (apparently the contractor only distributed flyers to homes within 375 feet of the park as required, but that’s a total of 4 houses), and has been found “out of compliance” with the Basis of Design Report ( The BODR is a commission-blessed document that serves as the guide to all neighborhood work), they stand behind their proposal. The City has, for now, called off the work, and the contractor who was busy setting up on Monday was gone by Wednesday. While more community meetings will be held concerning the matter, the neighborhood will wait a little longer for a safer north-south street. And the longer the wait to start, the longer the wait until Muss Park returns to normal.

BITTER BAYSHORE

Every home and apartment building between Sheridan and Chase Avenues, between 42nd Street and Dade Boulevard will be getting a new water service hook-up that will run underground through new pipes in a project beginning this week. In stages over the next two years every street in the Bayshore neighborhood will be dug up so new pipes and drains, pumps and wells can be added. When it is all over, a shiny new layer of black asphalt will be freshly rolled above all the new work below.

If you lived through the relocation of the water service from the back of homes to the street in Nautilus Neighborhood over the past two years then you have an idea of what a massively messy undertaking this is.

Bayshore however is getting more than new access to more water. They are also getting sophisticated methods of keeping the water away. Things changed in the neighborhood after Miami-Dade County Schools built a new high school taking away the natural bowl in the ground that once held thousand of gallons of water whenever it rained. To counter nature’s loss, the City is installing 5 new pumps and wells to capture the rainwater that runs off the streets and force it deep underground while keeping the oil/water mix from Biscayne Bay.

With former and current city commissions and the current city manager living in the neighborhood, you can be assured that this neighborhood will flood no more.

But other changes have been made since the BODR for Bayshore first passed the commission.  At a series of Neighborhood Affairs Committee  meetings over the past few years  Bayshore HOA co-president John Corey lobbied for changes in the plans. He did not like the mid-block paving treatment meant to serve as traffic-calming devices. He did not like widening Fairgreen Drive to bring it up to code. He did not like the trees selected and wanted Live Oaks not palms. He did not like the bicycle lanes. He did not want added sidewalks. He had a list of a dozen specific points and locales in the plan that he wanted addressed to achieve different results than what the BODR called for.

He got most of them.

“You listen to one guy only and he isn’t even here!”, intoned Mihaly Lenart at the Community Meeting held by the Capitol Improvement Office of the City last week at the Miami Beach Golf Club.

“We listen to everyone,” replied new Director, former City Engineer Fernando Vasquez, who has been given the unenviable job of restarting a floundering construction department that has delivered very little to residents in the form of promised neighborhood improvement.

“The City has a Bicycle Master Plan; where is it?” asked Sonia Lyn after thanking the City for finally starting a “project we have waited a long time for.”

“We are keeping the bike lane on Prairie Avenue,” offered Vazquez, noting all others planned were removed but “may be added back in later.”

There will be no chance of completing sidewalks throughout the neighborhood, however.

For more information about these, or other neighborhood improvement projects in the City of Miami Beach go here and click on neighborhoods to find yours.


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