Politics: Not Feeling The Love

It’s Hard to Get With These Pedestrian “Improvements” That Make the Cars Go Faster

By Jeffrey Bradley

You might think after the many angst-filled meetings with residents and elected officials over the pedestrian conditions of reconditioned streets like Brickell Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard that FDOT—the Florida Department of Transportation District Six—would finally get it right. Just by dint of repetition you’d think they’d stumble over the message that they should, when planning these projects to improve conditions, actually consider mobility by means other than the single-passenger car. You might think so, but one look at the upcoming resurfacing project of 41st Street in Miami Beach shows that once again FDOT’s dropped the ball in the endzone.

In an area known for congestion and a teetering economy, the car is king, and space to park them, rules.

There’s no doubt the arterial heart of the Beach is in need of a facelift. It’s a bumpy street, and rutted, that sags under the weight of too many buses and trucks. The recently re-sanded crosswalks already look worn at the edges; pavement markings are faded and cracked. So, sure, we welcome the $2 million dollar investment to improve main street with new pavement, stamped crosswalks and modular traffic signal mast arms at Indian Creek. (They look kinda top-heavy… can they just topple over?) But will it displace the hodgepodge of streetlights and lamps of differing types and clashing styles that line the street now? No answers at a recent public meeting—you could view a 20-foot aerial composite of what it will all look like—were forthcoming. We welcome, we say, the ten months of road construction that’ll surely trade this tired old road for a new one but, say, won’t ground be broken just as our economic season (you know, the Orange Bowl, Art Basel, Winter Music Conference, Basketball playoffs, you name it) is about to begin?

And why does the obvious need for mobility—no, not autocentric mobility, Gertrude—this corridor cries out for fall by the wayside when there are copious set-asides for bus bays the buses don’t use and for parking that is neither wanted nor needed by the merchants lining the street?

(Hardly surprising in a city that needs wider sidewalks and dedicated bicycle lanes to travel in safely but get short-shrifted for parking spaces, loading zones and share the road “sharrows” that put bikes way out in the traffic as human traffic-slowing devices.

There are two other major problems with these proposed plans: First, the bus bays that take up block after block of valuable travel or landscape or sidewalk space, will remain. Which would be worth it if the buses actually pulled out of traffic and used them. Unfortunately, MDT (Miami Dade Transit) refuses to use them, and buses stop in the middle of traffic to let off or board passengers. Consider that all the new bus shelters along the corridor have been built OUTSIDE these bus bays. Instead they’re used (the bus bays, we mean) for illegal parking or whatever else selfish drivers can devise. MDT blames enforcement, enforcement blames FDOT, and FDOT, well, cares not a fig.

Why not do this instead? Take back the right-of-way and extend the sidewalk into these areas formerly known as bus bays: Fill ‘em in, says we.

Secondly, this corridor serves as the heart of all the foot traffic from the middle-beach region. Now, have you ever tried crossing Indian Creek on the north side of 41st Street? Us neither. But going to the beach from the neighborhood, or coming to shop on the Street from the hotels and condominiums requires an Olympic-type sprint because the vehicular traffic southbound in the left hand lane of A1A (aka Indian Creek/Collins Avenue) can’t, won’t, or does not stop before screeching round that humpy little bridge onto 41st Street. There is a deathwish, er, crosswalk there and FDOT likes to think that drivers will follow state law requiring them to stop for pedestrians in a marked crosswalk. Har! Obviously, no F-dotting FDOTter has ever tried crossing there themselves. So we’ll tell you: there’s no light, and nothing stopping, the cars—except the good will of the drivers!

Luckily no FDOT representative at that meeting had occasion to pick up a dropped item by bending over. We have it on good authority that one of the 17th Street Irregulars (our striking teachers, incensed union officials and on-the-lam elected officials) attending that very meeting had their size 11 poised to piledrive it where the sun don’t shine. Nevermind.

Still, can we agree that pedestrian safety must be the overriding improvement of 41st Street? (Unless, of course, we’re ready just to rename it “the eastern extension of I-195”) It may cost a few bucks more for an extra signal, but if it slows down the cars that makes the price worth it—especially to the local merchants who count on commerce and the safety of all who shop there and use the only crossing over the intracoastal waterway for 25 blocks in either direction!

And now for the pièce de résistance: remove all the parking spaces on 41st Street forever! Businesses have ample free or municipally-cheap parking nearby. Parking on the street blocks views of the businesses themselves and causes even more mayhem; who wants drivers seething with resentments circling the block and causing congestion or playing chicken with the pedestrians? Plenty of spaces can be had around the corner and makes such behavior irrational. In fact, a merchant’s intervention might go something like this:

Sidewalks are better than parking, any day of the week!

We did ask them and that is what they said.

With the parking gone we could dedicate fully four feet to a striped bicycle lane to act as a buffer between the cars and pedestrians.

With that endgame in sight we might better endure the brutality of the road construction. But honestly, to experience the horror of open and dirty streets, lane closures and more congestion than ever just to get the same dysfunctional nightmare is more than we’re willing to take—silently.

So if FDOT insists on relying on the wit of drivers let’s at least better the odds with a safer crosswalk based on a system like that of http://www.lightguardsystems.com/. Light Guard Systems in California pioneered the field of In-Roadway Warning Light (IRWL) enhanced crosswalk systems designed to alert approaching motorists to the presence of pedestrians at a street crossing. A number of in-pavement signal lights are placed across a roadway in front of the crosswalk lines. Lights are activated by the pedestrian either by manual push button or by automatic sensor activation before entering the crosswalk. Once activated, flashing lights are directed towards approaching drivers to warn them the crosswalk is occupied and use caution. We’ve seen this system in action on Marco Island and it works.

But then, “it’s all about the parking”, ain’t it, Commissioner Wardheel?

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