October 2012 – FDOT agrees to some fixes; opposes 30 mph

Photo: FDOT seemingly eager to raise Brickell Avenue speed limit back to 35 mph, despite community pleas.

Consensus, by its very nature, isn’t easy to come by. That’s why it’s remarkable that everyone who lives, works and plays in Brickell seems to agree that a moderate 30 mph speed limit in the Brickell corridor is a good idea. The people who walk, cycle, stroll and drive in the area—those we’d call “stakeholders” in community-speak—agree. Their local elected officials agree and the Miami Herald agrees.

So why, despite the concurrence and pleas of the community, do the engineer-authorities at the Florida Department of Transportation fail to agree? FDOT’s local chief, Secretary Gus Pego, has told BHA numerous times over the years that the Brickell speed limit shouldn’t be lowered, or in this case, be left at the construction rate of 30 mph once the project is complete.

HeraldBrickellAvearticle3Secretary Pego reminded the community of FDOT’s resolve when the 35 mph road signs were reinstalled in August, even before the Brickell Avenue roadway refurbishment project was complete.

Mr. Pego was quick at getting the crews out with those signs. Apparently they were so far ahead of schedule, that the FDOT workers had to cover the signs with attractive black plastic garbage bags as if excitedly awaiting some perverse unveiling.

“It was a real middle finger to the residents that those were the first things back in place,” one disgusted resident said who wished to remain anonymous.

Some important changes

Meanwhile we’re waiting on the safety measures FDOT actually did agree to as a result of a June meeting in Miami with Florida’s Secretary of Transportation Ananth Prasad. He accepted Commissioner Sarnoff’s invitation to come from Tallahassee to hear the concerns of the Brickell and Downtown community relating to U.S. Highway 1/Brickell Avenue/Biscayne Boulevard…which runs through our urban metropolis. BHA VP Gail Feldman, a vocal Brickell pedestrian advocate, represented our issues.

Perhaps the biggest safety concern on our list, FDOT agreed to change the dangerous pedestrian flashing beacon in front of the UTD Towers and 1814 Brickell Park to a “hybrid pedestrian-activated red signal.”

Residents have reported problems and near-misses since the flashing yellow beacon installation, some three years ago. Earlier this year BHA took video footage of cars nearly running Ms. Feldman down as she tried to cross with the beacon, cars ignoring the flashing indicator.

“The majority of drivers don’t understand it, or ignore it. The needed ‘driver education process’ hasn’t happened over time and it’s just as dangerous as ever,” Ms. Feldman said. “Now, with older retirees at UTD Towers on one side of the street and children at the 1814 Brickell Park on the other, the need for safe crossing is more acute than ever.”HeraldBrickellAvearticle6

Mr. Prasad wrote in his July 9th letter that changing the beacon from yellow to red would take 90 to 120 days. We’re reminded of its urgency as we approach the anniversary of Rosa Encalada’s passing. Rosa was struck down two years ago this November while trying to cross Brickell Avenue just a few blocks south of the flashing beacon location.

Speed limit request turned down again

As expected, in that same letter FDOT formally turned down our request to lower the speed limit to 30 mph from SE 15th to SE 26th Road.

In addressing the speed limit issue, Mr. Prasad writes that the reason for not keeping the 30 mph limit is based on “data collected prior to construction, but also by the data related to citations issued by the Miami Police Department.” The Police citation data is as puzzling to BHA as the Police. Our area’s Commander Jose Fernandez told BHA directors in September 2012 that he is in favor of the lower speed limit for the entire corridor. As a result of Miami Police’s added attention to the Brickell corridor (also at Commissioner Sarnoff’s urging) a record number of citations were issued in the past year. The Herald has covered these police enforcement efforts to make drivers aware of the growing pedestrian community around Brickell Avenue.HeraldBrickellAvearticle4

Mr. Prasad writes: “Given the corridor history, posting the speed limit permanently at 30 mph will not only not translate to lower speeds or sustained driver compliance, but it seems likely that it would result in less speed harmonization and increased motorist disregard for traffic regulations.”

Seems like he’s giving in to the speeders, instead of heeding community needs.

Other measures to be taken

In the July correspondence Transportation Secretary Prasad points out measures underway that he says will lower speeding:

“….we do understand the concern regarding vehicular speeds and several speed reduction design strategies were included in the on-going construction project with others planned to be implemented shortly. These strategies include:

  • Reduced lane width – Inside lane is 10 feet wide. This allows a wider outside lane and an improvement for bicyclists; it is anticipated that the narrower “left” lane will encourage motorists to comply with the lower speed limit.
  • Installation of ‘’sharrow” pavement markings and “share the road” signs. We expect that the increased awareness and presence of other road users will encourage motorists to comply with the lower speed limit.
  • Additionally, we will install eight (8) speed feedback signs between SE 26 Road and SE 15 Road. Based on early assessment of the speed feedback signs deployed on Miami’s Upper East Side, we anticipate that these additional devices can increase compliance on Brickell Avenue as well.”

We await the implementation of those measures. We’re also continuing to pursue the need for left turn traffic signals at the Brickell Avenue and SE 15th Road intersection, which requires FDOT concurrence. We will keep advocating that FDOT give up the highway mentality for our urban neighborhood, which is unlike any other in South Florida.

Getting up to speed: Background for newcomers or anyone confused

The Florida Department of Transportation controls Brickell Avenue because it is part of U.S. Highway 1, a federal highway. For years BHA has been asking FDOT to make the speed limit on all of Brickell Avenue 30 mph. North of SE 15th Road to the Miami River is 30 mph, but from SE 15th Road south to SE 26th Road had always been 40 mph.

A month after a beloved long-time, Brickell resident was struck and killed when crossing Brickell Avenue, and at our urging and that of Commissioner Sarnoff, and with Herald news coverage of the speeding problem, FDOT announced in December 2010 that it would lower the speed limit to 35 mph on the southern portion of Brickell. And, during the roadway resurfacing project, they would make it 30 mph.
Despite our advocating that it remain at the safer 30 mph, FDOT is keeping to their word and bringing it back up to the 35 mph now that the resurfacing project is complete.

From BHA News Vol. XXII No. 2, Fall 2012