FDOT held public information meetings last week to present their Alton Road reconstruction project. The project is scheduled to kick off just 1 week, April 1st 2013, and lasts until “summer 2015″ and costs an estimated $32 Million. The presentation by FDOT touched on the main work items, in particular the 3 pump stations and drainage system that will be installed, as well as the reconstruction (repavement) of Alton Road. The project Fact Sheet gives an overview of the project.
Residents and business owners listened attentively as FDOT presented the project. Almost everyone agrees that the project is necessary as flooding has been a huge issue in this area of Miami Beach. However, the project includes re-routing Alton Road traffic onto West Avenue for the majority of it’s duration. For this purpose, West Ave is reconfigured into a 3-lane road (currently 2 lanes with a turning lane). For a period of at least 6 months, all Alton Road traffic will be North-bound-only, and all South-bound traffic will be re-routed to West Ave.
As a resident of West Ave, this certainly caught my attention. West Ave is a rather residential street that is home to large condominiums such as the Mirador, the Waverly, the Floridian and many smaller buildings. According to the 2010 Census, over 30,000 people live within 10 blocks of this 15 block section of Alton Road. As opposed to busy Ocean Drive or Washington Ave, West Ave does not host many tourist-geared businesses, and the few restaurants and shops are mostly frequented by locals. People enjoy walking their dogs and strollers on West Ave, stopping by Whole Foods or Epicure for some groceries, or linger over a coffee on Starbuck’s patio. There is a lot of Decobike usage on West Ave. So when the FDOT representative announced without a blink of his eye that this same West Ave would be “reconfigured to allow for alternate traffic flow” - my heart skipped a beat.
I began wondering what it will be like to have the street I live (and bike, and walk, and run, and take my daughter for walks) on turned into a one-way 3-lane highway from one day to another. As it is, cars are rather disrespectful on West Ave and, despite beautiful little reminders posted in the intersections that it’s the LAW to YIELD to pedestrians, I am usually forced to speed-walk across West Ave when there is a short pause in traffic. How will this be when delivery trucks, county buses, tourists, taxis, and simply everyone else that needs to get on or off the beach will be driving past my front yard? Examples of other one-way 3-lane highways such as “Calle Ocho” in Miami prove this setup is deathly to the neighbourhood (when is the last time YOU decided to stroll on Calle Ocho for fun?). Let alone the pollution and noise caused by such a major highway - now I am worried that I won’t even be able to exit my condo without actually risking my life. As one speaker at the public forum begged FDOT to understand - “we live here. And - we paid a lot of money for it…”.
But wait, there is more! If at least this massive project provided some safer options for pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate Alton Road in the end, it might all be worth it, right? After all, as was previously pointed out by Transit Miami, “Miami Beach bikes and walks to work“, and Miami Beach claims that “the City and residents of Miami Beach have identified bicycle improvements and programs as part of their strategic plan and as a priority goal“. So surely, some improvements must be planned for Alton Road to meet this “priority goal”! Perhaps Alton Road will boast broad tree-covered sidewalks, with a bike lane, and patios for restaurants? This would give us something to look forward to at the end of all the years of noise, traffic, congestion, and pollution…perhaps Alton Road will look something like this, as envisioned by the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association?
One can always dream…well, in short: this is not what Alton Road is going to look like. Alas, there is no grand plan by FDOT (suprise!) and there will be no bike lanes on Alton Road. However, FDOT is kind enough to include sharrows on Alton Road. Yes, you read that right. According to Daniel Iglesias, the engineer in charge, given studies and research from their side, sharrows are “the safest option“. Let that sink in for a moment. Now - there may be some lunatics crazy enough to bike just about anywhere - on mountain tops and in river beds - but I challenge anyone to actually bike on an inner-city highway heavily frequented by buses, trucks, and careless Miami drivers - on a sharrow. This thought would be funny - if it weren’t so terribly sad.
The Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association has expressed significant opposition to the FDOT plan for the reconstruction of Alton Road. In their view, “Alton Road reconstruction is a once in 50 year event to properly address the multiple needs of all user groups – multi-modal mobility options for pedestrians, bikers, autos, and transit users, contribute to a functional environment for business and with trees, landscaping and street furniture foster an attractive and safe neighborhood for our residents and visitors [...]. This ill-formed Alton Road project is going to create safety issues for all types of transportation (pedestrian, motorized and non-motorized vehicles) and create a detrimental impact on the businesses and property owners along this essential commercial corridor. [...] Join us in our outrage over a plan that emphasizes speed at the expense of safety, economic vitality, and quality of life.”.
The West Avenue Neighbourhood Association has also expressed concerns with the project, stating that “FDOT is placing an undue burden on a highly residential neighborhood“.
We will keep monitoring this project closely and provide status updates.
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