Visitors flock to Miami Beach from around the globe for many reasons – the sun and sand, Art Deco architecture, world-class nightlife, restaurants and a vibrant arts scene.

But the subject of national headlines these days about Miami Beach is enough to make anyone cringe - the proliferation of ‘designer’ parking garages.

A new piece in the Wall Street Journal highlights the unhealthy obsession with parking that consumes Miami Beach. This article comes on the heels of a New York Times story from last year illustrating more of the same.

While reading the latest WSJ story, a quotation from Victor Dover, chair of the Congress for New Urbanism, rang through my head.

“Parking is a narcotic and ought to be a controlled substance. It is addictive, and one can never have enough.”

The mutated Chia Pet garage at 630 Collins features 'greenwashing' at it's finest. The designer Arquitectonica claims the vegetation will 'absorb carbon dioxide''. I suppose this is so the Hummer drivers can feel better about themselves. Photo courtesy of Architizer.

Sure, it’s long past due that builders are finally adding some additional utility to parking garages beyond their primary purpose of storing motor vehicles. But let’s not allow ourselves be distracted by the fancy adornments. A new parking garage is a still parking garage. Dressing it up with a restaurant on top is akin to putting a silk hat on a pig.

It’s still a pig.

More parking encourages more driving, which increases congestion and diminishes the livability and civility of the city. The addiction to parking that is deeply ingrained in Miami Beach knows no bounds. I can only describe it as a ‘fetish-ization’ of vehicular storage. With the newly-constructed ‘designer’ garages and three more parking-centric projects on the way throughout South Beach, I am beginning to wonder just how many more cars can cram on that narrow sliver of sand before it sinks into Biscayne Bay. Perhaps those airy parking garages will someday make a nice artificial reef.

The new Frank Gehry bunker on Pennsylvania Avenue. It lights up at night. This is supposed to make us feel better. Photo courtesy of Architizer.

There is a compelling argument that Miami Beach has reached ‘peak car’, meaning the street grid can no longer accommodate additional vehicles in a comfortable manner at the current capacity. Anyone that participates in the sadistic practice of motoring in South Beach can attest to that (or walking for that matter). The relentless pursuit to make Miami Beach more friendly to cars is a serious distraction from taking the steps that could make Miami Beach more friendly to people. That includes enhanced pedestrian mobility, improved bicycling infrastructure, dedicated bus lanes or bus rapid transit, improved public spaces and – glaringly obvious – a viable rail connection to the mainland.

The 'City Hall Annex' 7-story parking emporium. Miami Beach now holds the dubious distinction of having a better engineered parking facility for city hall than the actual city hall building itself. Shows where the priorities lie.

Superficially addressing these issues won’t cut it. A bike path here and a better crosswalk there is progress but quickly negated by new parking monstrosities and the increased vehicular traffic they attract. There needs to be a step-change in thinking, a paradigm shift in what Miami Beach stands for. The first step is to remove our heads from our collective exhaust pipes. Then, hire a qualified pedestrian and bicycle coordinator in city government like all modern cities employ. The truly modern cities actually listen to that person as well.

Safer, improved mobility options will lessen the crazed addiction to parking. It will allow our civic leaders and officials to have meaningful dialogue about the future of the city free from the incessant, distracting conversation over the storage of cars. Perhaps then the ‘starchitects’ will stop building garages and instead help build public schools that look more like important places worthy of our affection and less like insecticide factories.

The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is actually the right to destroy the city. - Lewis Mumford, 1964.

Right now, it's a temporary home for cars at $4 an hour. In the future, it could be a permanent home for coral and lionfish. Photo courtesy of Architizer.

You have to admit, the garage-building boom is all the more appalling when you consider the geography of Miami Beach, only a few feet above sea level and surrounded by water on all sides. With the threat of rising sea levels attributed to carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, I would think that Miami Beach would have quite a vested interest, even if symbolic, in preventing their island from becoming the next City of Atlantis. More garages just encourage more driving, and therefore more emissions. It’s like watching a slow-motion film of the city’s own demise.

Miami Beach must decide - is it a city for cars or a city for people? Based on the national headlines lately, the answer is pretty clear.

(In other news, an innocent pedestrian was struck and killed yesterday morning on Collins Avenue by a drunk, underage reckless driver in a speeding SUV. Another tragic by-product of an overpoweringly auto-centric culture.)

 

14 Responses to Visit Miami Beach - Come See Our Parking Garages

  1. Rima says:

    I met the bicycle coordinator in Miami Beach. Nice girl, but she never rides a bike and did not know the difference between a bike lane and a bike path. Totally useless for this purpose.

    I agree with everything you say. Designer parking garages is for me the most ridiculous, useless, structure that I could imagine. I hope these will be abadonded in a few years and torn down to make space for people and shops, you know, the stuff that cities really need to be “world-class”. You don’t see many parking garages in Manhattan, or Paris now, do you?

       3 likes

  2. Gables says:

    I was actually in a meeting last year with the Director of the Parking Dept. He was talking about the garage being built on West Ave in the Sunset Harbour neighborhood. He said the department was being careful not to make Miami Beach a city of parking garages. He went on about the need for more parking in the city and in the same breath mentioned the relative failure of the 5th and Alton garage because it is half-empty most of the time.

    This line really struck me, “The relentless pursuit to make Miami Beach more friendly to cars is a serious distraction from taking the steps that could make Miami Beach more friendly to people.” So true!

       3 likes

  3. Whisperjet says:

    Brilliant.

       1 likes

  4. Daniel says:

    Miami Beach is really moving in the right direction now. Rent an SUV for as little as $9 an hour, and it’s as easy as ordering a pizza. This oughtta be good for european tourists who wouldn’t even know how to handle a smart car.
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/19/2597565/miami-beach-to-launch-car-share.html

       1 likes

  5. Whisperjet says:

    Daniel: FYI, car-sharing is not a new concept in Europe like it is here.

       0 likes

  6. B says:

    Nice discussion. I’d just add that adding garages is still not going to ease parking issues on the beach, because most motorists are not willing to walk the few extra blocks to get to their destination, let alone (God forbid) jump on the South Beach Local. The municipal garage at 17th st is rarely even half full, even on weekends, because people still come with a “strip-mall” mentality and try to park within 50 ft of wherever they’re going, even if it means driving around the block 10 times. Even the one at 6th and Collins is rarely full.

       2 likes

  7. Kesley says:

    Baylink

       3 likes

  8. Gables says:

    out of curiosity, is baylink still on anhone’s radar, or is the idea completely dead? i would like to know what politicians think about it.

       1 likes

  9. Kevin says:

    What ever happened to Baylink? If Miami Beach wants to grow up, it needs rail transit. It’s such a mess to get to South Beach let alone drive around it, that’s why I avoid the Beach. More parking garages and traffic lanes are not the solution.

       2 likes

  10. Whisperjet says:

    Baylink hasn’t happened because it’s basically up to Miami Beach whether it’s going to happen or not. If the entire county could weigh in, it would be a different story.

       0 likes

  11. swampthing says:

    Ask a talking car how it feels about all the attention?

       1 likes

  12. Scott says:

    A friend of mine once suggested making South Beach car free, where once you cross the MacArthur or Venetian, you HAVE to park your car. That would be a dream.

    And who is responsible for that monstrosity of a parking garage at 16th and Drexel? I remember when that lot was clear thinking, “Oh, cool, more shops.” And then, garage. And a hideous one at that. I can’t imagine traveling here and marveling at the parking garages.

    Cars, their drivers, and the traffic they generate are the most offensive elements to life on the beach.

       2 likes

  13. Gabrielle Redfern says:

    I have long been saying parking, especially on-street parking on Miami Beach is like Heroin. People exhibit drug seeking behaviour looking to snag that elusive fix of the spot in front of the place they want to go. They will drive around the block several times waiting for the magic spot to open. They will change their plans if they cannot find it. They will lie about where they have been and what took them so long because it was unavailable. I have been a strong advocate for getting the monkey off our backs and removing low-revenue generating (or in most cases FREE) on-street parking to rededicate our limited ROW for bike lanes and wider sidewalks. While the garages were planned to help,almost like methadone, the City has not been able to kick the habit and now takes it both.

       1 likes

  14. FQMiami says:

    The 17th street municipal garage fills to capacity most weekends. The commenter above is incorrect. In fact, if there is a show at the Fillmore or New World Symphony on a weekend, both the 17th street and New World garages will fill to capacity.

       0 likes

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