A pedestrian bridge above US-1 at the University MetroRail station was recently approved by Miami-Dade County and is currently moving closer to an agreement. Though a state and federally funded project of $6 million, the University Centre mall owner has raised some concerns and is refusing to allow the county to build the bridge on its property. The bridge to channel university students, middle school students, metrorail riders, and others to the popular strip mall has been in the works for several years, joining the other existing US-1 overpasses. The Pedestrian Safety Access Committee formed with the long-term goal to build the pedestrian bridge in direct response to 3 student fatalities at the intersection since 1990, along with several accidents.

Proposed Pedestrian Bridge - Rendering courtesy Miami-Dade County

Proposed Pedestrian Bridge at US-1 and University MetroRail Station: Note the bicyclist hugging the curb… (Rendering courtesy Miami-Dade County)

Looking at this situation at face value, this project makes perfect sense: people are dying on the intersection, so take the people off the intersection. But I challenge you to stand back and examine the bigger picture of crossing US-1 at this intersection and every other one in Coral Gables, South Miami, and beyond. Is the problem uniquely at this intersection, or along the entire stretch of the fast-moving, 6-lane highway? Due to very high speeds, awkward street-level pedestrian crossings, unbuffered and narrow sidewalks, and poor street lighting, I think we can agree that this stretch is hostile to non-motorists. Michelle Simmon, public involvement coordinator for Miami-Dade Transit stated back in 2007 that ‘the main purpose of the long-term bridge project is to encourage pedestrian safety while making the Coral Gables community more “walkable.” Yes, ‘channeling’ pedestrians into a bridge does have the potential of keeping pedestrians safe, but does it encourage walkability?

Pedestrian Convenience. A walkable community is possible when the built environment is convenient to the pedestrian, bicyclist, student, parent with baby stroller, etc. Making decisions that inhibit pedestrian convenience such as narrowing sidewalks, reducing crosswalks, ‘forcing’ people to go up and over a street - then these decisions make the built environment inconvenient and therefore, less walkable. But if we redesign the street to discourage speeding, add wider sidewalks buffered from vehicular traffic, pedestrian street lighting, and common-sense street-level crossings (and using a lot less than the $6 million) we could achieve both safety and walkability for all road users.

Neighborhood Unity. Instead of creating a street that welcomes its neighbors, we are making decisions (like numerous pedestrian bridges) that add up toward creating an automobile sewer. This is the root of the problem, and the reason for these vehicular deaths in the first place - we are literally trying to put a highway into the middle of a community. Why are we surprised that pedestrians, students, children are trying to cross the street in their own neighborhood? Instead of encouraging to further dissect this area, we need to consider the potential to transform this massive right-of-way into the safe neighborhood center the university, middle school, and residents deserve.

Traffic Priorities. The problem in this dangerous intersection is not the pedestrians, but the unobservant drivers. But who are we punishing? the pedestrians. And who are we prioritizing for dominion over the street even more? the drivers, observant or not. A walkable neighborhood is not void of cars, drivers, and traffic, but rather re-prioritizes its road space to accommodate a full range of transportation choices. Slowing traffic down does not guarantee more congestion either. In fact, some of the most efficient roads in the world are in slow-speed, walkable environments. By humanizing the thoroughfare with better street-level crossings, lighting, wider sidewalks, street trees, narrower traffic lanes, and even on-street parking, we can effectively slow traffic, and persuade drivers to be more alert, attentive, and vigilant, fostering a safer atmosphere for all.

If building this University Station pedestrian bridge could save just one life, then yes, its construction is more than worth it. But what’s next in encouraging safety and walkability? Are we going to continue constructing pedestrian bridges at every intersection over Dixie Highway - and with whose funds? And does that leave the people who will still cross at street level with a more dangerous thoroughfare? I challenge this community, the Pedestrian Safety Access Committee, Miami-Dade County, FDOT, and others involved to improve the pedestrian experience on the street level. In many ways the easiest solution is to build the pedestrian bridge. However, six million dollars can provide a lot of funding for this community if our residents and leaders are brave enough to tackle the root of the problem. We should not take these deaths lightly, but we do need to consider the full range of options to improve the safety, convenience, and value of the US-1 corridor. Just as Michelle Simmon from Miami-Dade Transit stated, “A livable community has to be a safe community.” By humanizing this dangerous, dissecting thoroughfare, we can not only save lives, but also our community.

13 Responses to Thinking Outside the Pedestrian-Box

  1. Gables says:

    I agree with all that you’ve said. However, I think we need to learn how to make these arguments convincing to people who either don’t know or don’t care about complete streets. For people who do not walk or ride and instead drive everywhere, your points are not going to persuade them. We need to change the way this dialogue is framed so that people who mainly drive can feel included also.

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  2. jason says:

    $6 million for a bridge to bagel emporium? i dont think so. NEXT

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  3. Jennifer Garcia says:

    Gables,
    you’re right that there’s room for making some arguments directed to drivers especially regarding safety. However, what we’re really trying to accomplish is to build a coalition of advocates that are willing to stand-up against the status quo - to give a voice to the growing numbers of people who choose not to be car-dependent. It may be that Miami isn’t ready for such a change in culture and all we can do at this point is build a pedestrian bridge. But we need to realize that this will not do anything to solve the root of the problem.

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  4. Carlos Ruiz says:

    A bridge that has stairs and elevator acts as a barrier rather than a connection. That is the reason the one on US1 and Douglas did not work.

    The bridge by the Transit Station and Mariposa does not solve the problem with pedestrians at risk. There are just as many students crossing US1 at Stanford Dr…so are we going to put another bridge in that location in the future?

    A more practical solution may be a pedestrian tunnel in both locations under US1. There are many ways it can be done and that will not require stairs or elevators…so pedestrians, handicap and bikers can go unempeded from one side of US1 to the other. The likely that pedestrians and bikers will use a tunnel is greater than a bridge with stairs and elevators on both sides.

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  5. Walter Ward says:

    You mention baby strollers and carriages and what about bikes. It looks like they are steps and not ramps.

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  6. Erik says:

    I would guess that those massive white structures at either end of the bridge hold elevators.

    Still, I couldn’t agree more with this post. The solution being proposed is simply going to worsen the underlying problem here. The real solution - and perhaps you’re right that South Florida isn’t ready for this - is to calm that street. I’d take out one travel lane in each direction, put in a bike lane, widen the sidewalks, bulb out the sidewalks at the intersections, raise the sidewalk crossings with decorative paving.

    It’s ridiculous that we have a 6-lane highway running essentially under the primary mass-transit line in the city. If there was any location where you could reasonably argue that the priority should be with pedestrians and mass transit, this is it.

    Florida transit officials are stuck in the past, where moving cars most efficiently is THE ONLY GOAL. Any statements about pedestrian safety and walkabity are simply lip service paid in the name of separating pedestrians from cars to allow the cars to travel more smoothly.

    Look at NYC and what’s been done there. Lanes removed from streets all over the city, even in the middle of Manhattan, and the world did not end. The city, however, is 100% more livable as a result. Miami should take a page from New Yorks playbook on this one.

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  7. Kesley De Miranda says:

    While not a perfect solution, I think it’s at least a baby step in the right direction.
    I agree with Carlos who says a tunnel would be a better choice.

    There is still the dangerous crossing at Sunset Place as well.

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  8. Ralph Petrucci says:

    A tunnel in Miami — LOL LOL — lets open it and count down to the first robbery / rape / murder.

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  9. Ralph - That’s an unfortunate and narrow-minded view. A tunnel wouldn’t facilitate rapists and murderers anymore than the current situation does. In fact, more pedestrians and cyclists on our streets would serve as a greater deterrent to crime.

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  10. Mike Moskos says:

    One of the biggest problems I see on this stretch of the road are the left turning lanes. They’re too short to accommodate all the turning cars, leading to backups. Moreover, they allow cars to turn at any time. Given the speeds through there, people take chances making left turns they never should (usually prompted by those behind them blaring their horns). My biggest fear in crossing any part of US-1 in this area on foot is a cascading car crash where I get hit as a byproduct of car making a left hand turn. Changing the pattern of signal lights so that only one direction goes at a time (left hand turns and thru traffic) I think could make a big difference.

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  11. Craig Chester says:

    So true Mike - those permissive lefts on US-1 are incredibly dangerous. I don’t have stats available but I’ve seen enough crashes and dangerous maneuvers to believe they are quite high. When I first moved to Miami I was stunned that left turns were allowed like that and was quite terrified to do so. No road should be “scary” to drive on, not to mention walk or bike along either.

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  12. George says:

    LOL at the cyclist in the image. Never seen one on that stretch of US1, and for good reason.

       1 likes

  13. Joe says:

    If you think that the lanes on US1 can be narrower, then you have never driven on US1. This is not Miracle Mile or Sunset through South Miami. This is a busy Federal road that people need to be careful crossing.

       0 likes

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