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Written by Francisco Alvarado, BT Contributor   
July 2019

Crosswalk signal repairs seem stuck on red

FBoulevard_1or more than six months, Felipe Azenha has kept a running catalogue of photographs showing mangled crosswalk signals run over by careless motorists traveling along Biscayne Boulevard. The Upper Eastside homeowner and software developer has come across the crumpled metal remains of half a dozen traffic calming devices at various intersections from downtown Miami to Miami Shores.

Yet despite Azenha’s relentless efforts to force Miami-Dade County transportation officials to recognize the danger posed to pedestrians, the signals won’t be replaced any time soon.

In late May, Azenha sent two e-mails six days apart to Miami-Dade Transportation and Public Works Director Alice Bravo to convey the gravity of the situation, noting that her department had informed him and other residents back in February that the signals would be replaced within three months. Bravo did not respond to either inquiry, according to a string of e-mails Azenha shared with Biscayne Times.

So June 5, Azenha moved up the county pecking order and e-mailed Bravo’s boss, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“This morning my son and I were nearly hit again by a car while crossing in a mid-block crosswalk that has not functioned properly in nearly six months,” Azenha wrote. “How many more times do my son and I need to get hit before MDT takes action to repair all the mid-block crosswalk signals that have been hit due to speeding on Biscayne Boulevard?”

Boulevard_2Bravo responded to Azenha the following day, revealing in an e-mail that the time required to repair the crosswalk signals is longer than originally planned owing to a backlog of repairs to pedestrian signals and flashing yellow beacons that have been knocked down countywide. Bravo also noted that some new crosswalk signals the county installed at Biscayne Boulevard intersections in February had been recently knocked down as well.

“We made an initial order of 100 bases at the end of last year and when received in March, we ran through that order in under two months,” Bravo wrote. “We are waiting on the delivery of the second order of 200 bases that was made in February.”

One work order, replacing damaged crosswalk signals at 23rd and 24th streets in Edgewater, is anticipated to take six weeks to complete, she added.

The county’s inability to replace the number of crosswalk signals being obliterated on Biscayne Boulevard in a reasonable amount of time is a symptom of the larger problems facing the historic, heavily traveled corridor, Azenha tells the BT in a recent interview. Until the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) accepts that Biscayne Boulevard needs a major redesign that takes into account the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, Azenha adds, the road will remain one of the most dangerous for non-motorists.

While Miami-Dade is responsible for installing and maintaining traffic equipment, Biscayne Boulevard is operated by FDOT.

“Logic tells me these signals keep getting hit because the road is designed in a way that encourages speeding and isn’t focused on safety,” Azenha says. “Whatever little pedestrian infrastructure we have is worthless because we can’t even maintain it.”

Boulevard_3According to a recent FDOT study, there were 2553 car crashes along a 33-block stretch of Biscayne Boulevard between 54th and 87th streets from January 2010 to August 2018. An estimated 49 of those accidents involved pedestrians.

“We’re going through a hundred crosswalk signals in mere months, and FDOT doesn’t think there’s a problem,” Azenha complains. “Even though we’re the state with most pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the country, there’s no real plan to reduce fatalities and injuries.”

On February 23, FDOT officials joined Azenha and dozens of Upper Eastside activists and business owners for a walking tour of Biscayne Boulevard and a real-time assessment of how dangerous it is for pedestrians and cyclists. “We had 50 people come out on a Saturday so FDOT could see firsthand what we’re dealing with,” Azenha recounts. “That was five months ago, and still nothing has moved forward since then.”

Shane Graber, a principal at Graber Realty Group in the MiMo Historic District, was among the Upper Eastsiders on the walking tour. Graber says it’s been 20 years since FDOT last did an updated redesign of Biscayne Boulevard.

“The state continues to treat Biscayne Boulevard like a federal highway and applies the same standards as interstate highways,” he says. “They’re more concerned with moving cars than community-building or creating multimodal uses.”

Among FDOT’s poor planning decisions, Graber asserts, was eliminating on-street parking along the Boulevard. The lack of parking and pedestrians makes it difficult for MiMo District landlords to fill empty storefronts, he adds.

“In order for businesses to thrive, there needs to be foot traffic,” he says. “There needs to be a pedestrian presence. Everyone throws their hands up as if nothing can be done.”

Karla Damian, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Transportation and Public Works, says Bravo shares Azenha’s frustration about the backlog in replacing the crosswalk signals. “There is a shortage of steel products in the industry, which is increasing the delivery time for orders. The department is doing everything it can to repair the [crosswalk signals] in a timely fashion, given these conditions.”

Damian says the department is also discussing with FDOT the possible installation of more technologically advanced crosswalk signals, called Hawk signals, that activate a solid red light when a pedestrian approaches a crosswalk. She said the signal hangs over the roadway, making it more visible to motorists and reducing the probability that the signal will be hit by a car. (Current pedestrian signals are bolted to sidewalks.)

Trish Burgher, spokeswoman for FDOT’s Miami district office, says the department is currently conducting a new pedestrian study to reevaluate the existing crosswalks and determine if the traffic control devices require an upgrade to the Hawk signals.

Another safety project on Biscayne Boulevard from NE 22nd Street to Sans Souci Boulevard will provide additional lightning at signalized intersections, improving nighttime safety. Says Burgher: “The project will last six months and is expected to be completed in November. Safety and mobility for all users of the transportation system -- whether they’re motorists, bicyclists, or pedestrians -- are the highest priority to FDOT.”

Azenha is not convinced. “I’m extremely frustrated,” he says. “FDOT doesn’t see there is a problem, even though their own data shows there were over 2500 crashes on Biscayne in eight years.”

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