The Biscayne Times

Aug 15th
It’s a City Street, Not a Superhighway PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky - BT Senior Writer   
February 2014

When it comes to Biscayne Boulevard, FDOT might beg to differ

NCommNews_Boulevard_1early four years ago, Miami Upper Eastside activists championed a set of proposals that would add medians, landscaping, and on-street parking to the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District.

Known as the MiMo Streetscape Visioning Plan, it was drawn up by two University of Miami architecture professors. Its purpose: Find ways to slow down traffic along Biscayne Boulevard, between 61st and 77th streets, in order make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street, and to increase business for local merchants operating in that area.

At first it seemed the street improvements were a done deal. Engineers from the Florida Department of Transportation, the official custodian of Biscayne Boulevard, appeared to be receptive. (See “Boulevard Vision: Slow Down, Park, Shop,” August 2010.)

But FDOT ultimately rejected the plans. Their main objection was the installation of medians, which engineers argued would obstruct local residents trying to drive out of their neighborhoods.

“The department conducted a study to evaluate the placement of medians on the corridor,” FDOT spokesman Brian Rick says in an e-mail to the BT. “The study concluded there would be impacts that would result in additional travel distances for residents who live east and west of Biscayne Boulevard.” Rick says the medians would have other detrimental consequences as well, but by deadline did not address FDOT’s objection to additional parallel parking.

CommNews_Boulevard_2A coalition of business owners, residents, and historic-preservation advocates are pushing for a revival of the MiMo Streetscape Visioning Plan.

On January 13, the MiMo Biscayne Association met with representatives from not only FDOT, but also with an aide to state Sen. Gwen Margolis, the city’s public works department, Miami-Dade Transit, and the Miami Parking Authority to brainstorm ideas for making Biscayne Boulevard a calmer street, without hindering traffic. Their proposals, which at deadline were still being drafted, will be shared with the City of Miami’s planning department on February 6.

MiMo Biscayne Association members also tell the BT that if FDOT continues to reject their plans, they’re ready to lobby for a city takeover of that stretch of the Boulevard which runs through the MiMo District -- just as city officials are proposing to do with state-owned Brickell Avenue.

“FDOT should respect what the community wants,” says Nancy Liebman, president of the MiMo Biscayne Association. “This is not an elevated highway. This is our neighborhood.”

Slowing traffic isn’t just about aesthetics and commerce, Belle Meade resident Felipe Azenha stresses, it’s also a matter of life and death. Azenha, a real estate agent and writer for, has recorded 12 wrecks in 2013 along Biscayne Boulevard, between 36th and 79th streets. In these accidents, vehicles have smashed into bus shelters, street lights, and at least one pedestrian. “We’re averaging about a crash per month, and these are the crashes that I’ve documented,” he says. “There must be countless others I’m not aware of.”

CommNews_Boulevard_3The cause of the crashes, Azenha insists, is a street design that encourages cars to travel up to 50 miles per hour. If vehicles were restricted to traveling at 35 miles per hour, he says, accidents would plummet. “My argument with FDOT is that the design speed is way too high for the road,” he says. “It encourages cars to speed.”

It wasn’t always like that. Upper Eastside residents blame FDOT engineers for turning Biscayne Boulevard into a highway during a series of renovations in the 1990s and 2000s. FDOT eliminated 75 on-street parking spaces between 54th and 77th streets, widened the double lanes north and south, and added spacious turning lanes that are often used by commuters (illegally) for traveling instead of turning. “We call them suicide lanes,” notes Bayside resident José Planas.

Urban planners and architects residing in the Upper Eastside say they’ve found ways to make medians and parallel parking spaces work. “Basically what we’re trying to do is to get FDOT to fix the mistakes of their previous design for Biscayne Boulevard,” says Planas, who has worked as an urban planner for 20 years.

During the January 13 MiMo meeting, held in the 7100 Biscayne office building, Planas and other local planners suggested shifting some of the proposed medians to other blocks, shifting parking spaces from one side of the street to the other, and preserving some of the turn lanes where appropriate. To illustrate their suggestions, they traced over drawings in the MiMo Visioning report and the FDOT’s own report.

MiMo activists aren’t even advocating for changes throughout the entire MiMo Biscayne Historic District, which stretches from 50th to 77th streets. Instead they’re concentrating on the area between 61st and 77th streets, which Bayside resident Shane Graber describes as the “downtown” of the MiMo District. This is where there are no medians, and where virtually all the parallel parking spaces on the Boulevard were removed. Graber also sees the 16-block area as a first step for future improvements along Biscayne Boulevard.

“We’re really pushing to have the broader conversation: Let’s create a truly comprehensive program for the Upper Eastside,” Graber says. “At the end of the day, the UES is a community, a collection of neighborhoods, and not an interstate highway.”

Nancy Liebman can’t help but see parallels between the MiMo District and Brickell Avenue. For several years, Brickell residents complained that the 40 mph speed limit was too high and demanded a 30 mph zone. FDOT officials only agreed to lower the speed limit to 35 mph.

That’s when Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who represents the Brickell area, pushed for the city to take control of Brickell Avenue. After sporadic negotiations, the city and FDOT reportedly are close to reaching an agreement.

Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, whose District 5 includes much of the Upper Eastside, says he’s open to fight for a city takeover of the MiMo District -- if it’s necessary and if the city can afford to maintain it. “It’s an idea,” Hardemon says, “and we can research that.”


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