Is Miami a city of traffic corridors and highways or is it a city for people? At the latest FDOT public meeting, the message from the Florida Department of Transportation is clear: Miami is for cars. Everything and everyone else comes 2nd.
Last night, FDOT held a public meeting to review the details of a re-surfacing project for Coral Way, from SW 37th Avenue to SW 13th Avenue, scheduled to begin in March 2013. Unfortunately, not much is being done to improve pedestrian conditions on Coral Way in spite of the booming pedestrian life visible every day. While the road will get silky new pavement, some wider sidewalks, a few brighter colored signs and ‘sharrows’, overall Coral Way will remain the same traffic sewer that it is today. Apparently, the status quo of Coral Way is all roses to the FDOT.
Except it’s not.
One thing that has always struck me about Coral Way is how difficult it is to cross it as a pedestrian. The traffic lights are so spread out that they may as well be located in separate zip codes. The design of Coral Way is one that divides people and business, rather than connects them. The traffic zooms from signal to signal in a speed’n-stop fashion reminiscent of a video game. The restaurants, the shops, the homes and the residents - are all separated by an impenetrable barrier of vehicles and plantings. Go to any part of Coral Way between Douglas and 12 Ave and you will see plenty of pedestrians trying to cross wherever they can. The road is the antithesis of walkable - by design. It is a roadway that’s patently ill-suited for an urban environment - and FDOT wants to keep it that way.
The planted medians seldom have a mid-block crossing. Have you ever traversed a field of geraniums in a wheelchair? FDOT doesn’t really care.
The speed limit will remain a deadly 40 mph. Have you ever tried parallel parking with someone in an Escalade bearing down on you at 45mph? You’ll still have the chance the way FDOT is designing this road!
This project makes virtually no improvements to the comically tragic pedestrian experience of Coral Way, save for a few sections of wider crosswalks. The FDOT’s argument is that their own guidelines do not allow them to make additional safety accommodations, like signalized crosswalks, raised crosswalks, or anything else. Mind you, it’s those very same arcane guidelines that are the root cause of why Florida consistently holds the dubious distinction as the #1 deadliest state for pedestrians in the nation. Such improvements would also make notoriously dangerous Coral Way safer for motorists as well.
But things really hit home when I left the meeting at 2055 Coral Way and walked outside. I was with my bicycle and needed to cross the street. Look right: a traffic signaled crosswalk in the distance. (I measured it online - .25 miles. That would make it .5 miles total just to cross the street legally and safely) Look left: just a headlight-filled abyss. No crosswalk in sight. Someone from the FDOT had to explain this for me, so I went back inside.
I asked two of the project managers to come outside with me to experience first hand just how ridiculously divisive the configuration of this street is. I asked them, “where do I cross?” They pointed to the traffic light a quarter mile away. They simply don’t give a shit. Is that a realistic expectation? What ensued was classic traffic engineer speak. “A study didn’t show the number of pedestrians required to warrant more improvements,” I was told.
That’s because the pedestrian experience is so hostile and uninviting to begin with, rational people will avoid it if possible. “Studies” do not calculate human decision-making. It almost seemed as if I was actually speaking with a car, because the only responses were about accommodating the needs of motorists. In their eyes, I was the first person to ever walk out of that church and have to walk to the other side.
The FDOT representatives said that the speed limit can not be lowered, one reason being some of these drivers are going from Brickell to West Kendall and they need to be accommodated also. So there we have it folks. Creating the walkable conditions for businesses to succeed and all road users to be safe are not in the vocabularies of the FDOT. Coral Way is a road designed to whisk private automobiles as fast as possible through Miami. Everyone else be dammed. The ‘social world’ is of no importance. The ‘traffic world’ is the priority. Everything else is an obstacle to moving cars quickly. The ‘guidelines’ protect them. It’s perfectly acceptable to the FDOT to force a person, a mother with a stroller or a person in a wheelchair, to go .5 miles to legally cross a street.
It’s long-passed due that the FDOT revise their outdated guidelines with their own children and grandparents in mind. If their standards aren’t safe and effective for a 10 year old or a senior citizen, then they are failing. The proposed re-paving project of Coral Way is another missed opportunity for Miami to become an actual city instead of a collection of traffic corridors.
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