Spring 2011 – FDOT agrees to Brickell Ave. speed limit reduction

Walkers, cyclists, and BHA pleased, but say 40 to 35 mph is not enough; 30 mph sought for all of Brickell corridor

After years of battling to slow down traffic on Brickell Avenue, neighbors learned in December that the Florida Department of Transportation conceded to permanently lower the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph in the southern half of Brickell Avenue at the conclusion of the current resurfacing project. Other key concessions from FDOT include the addition of crosswalks at several intersections and sharrow markings to encourage road sharing with cyclists.

These changes, although not everything that neighbors want, signified that FDOT is recognizing the need to make Brickell Avenue, which is also U.S. Highway 1, compatible with the residential and urban character of its surrounding neighborhood. With condominiums everywhere, the reality is that Brickell Avenue is a residential street first and foremost and is only circumstantially a state highway.

The FDOT announcement came a month after an extensive Miami Herald article in November that discussed the complaints, concerns and near-misses experienced by residents in this growing urban neighborhood. And sadly, after the tragic death of 83-year-old Rosa Encalada. Rosa was crossing Brickell Avenue in front of her condo, Brickell Bay Club, at the 2300 block where she lived for 30 years, when she was struck by a taxicab heading north. She died shortly thereafter.

Rosa walked daily in the neighborhood, to the grocery store, to church. She caught the bus. She walked for her health and at doctor’s advice, and was in good health, her daughter-in-law Teresa Encalada said. “We anticipated having her be with us for another 20 years.”

Teresa shared the news of her mother-in-law’s death with BHA and local officials a few weeks later, and things began to happen, culminating in a press conference announcing the changes mid-December.

“It was a horrible way for her to die. She was the mother of eight, grandmother to 25 and great-grandmother to six,” Teresa said. “Brickell Avenue needs to be safer so it doesn’t happen to anyone else’s beloved family member.”

Along with speeding–encouraged by long, uninterrupted stretches of roadway without traffic signals to slow cars down–the limited number of crosswalks has long been a bone of contention, with only two in the heaviest residential portion of Brickell between SE 15th Road and 26th Road. Rosa was not in one of those crosswalks when she was struck, and with the recent time change the area was dark at the 7 o’clock hour she set out, Teresa said.

The taxicab driver was not cited for speeding, Miami Police Commander Ethyl Jones reported.

As news of this fatality was made public, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, the Downtown Development Authority and other transit and cyclist advocacy groups joined the BHA neighbors in chorus demanding FDOT re-evaluate its position on Brickell Avenue, Miami’s densest pedestrian district, before construction on the resurfacing project was to begin.

As the construction start date neared and tension mounted over whether residents’ concerns would be heard, Mayor Regalado pledged his support at the BHA November Board meeting:

“We have an opportunity with the Brickell road project to lower the speed limit. Brickell is the densest residential area,” the Mayor said. “You have a right to walk, jog, walk your dogs and cross the street.”

New residents are vocal, involved

The growing pedestrian and cycling community who now call Brickell home want to walk out of their doors and enjoy the neighborhood without an artery of speeding, dangerous traffic down the middle. They looked at plans for the fast-approaching start date of the Brickell Avenue rehabilitation project last summer and asked, “Where are the improvements to make Brickell Avenue safer for those of us who like to walk and bike?” It was merely a resurfacing project that didn”‘t address fundamental design issues.

“With tens of thousands of new residents, millions of square feet of new office space, and hundreds of new hotel rooms, this is a great opportunity to fix many of the safety and design issues created as a result of the massive influx of new people,” Brickell advocate Adam Mizrahi wrote in whatmiami.com. “Upcoming changes will affect the neighborhood for years to come.”

Groups like TransitMiami.com and South Florida Bicyclist Coalition became fierce advocates, not shy to blog about the concerns, show up at meetings, persist with public officials and demand answers.

FDOT’s public meeting in early December on the rehabilitation project was standing-room only at the Simpson Park community room. Residents were angry and vocal about safety concerns, with many stories of near-misses between cars and people.

The problem is not new to long-time Brickell residents. Throughout two decades of BHA Board meetings, one could always count on someone, usually a resident new to the area, to ask, “Why can’t we lower the speed on Brickell?”

But now Brickell has a lot more residents and a lot more allies.

Car vs. Pedestrian

The rub is that FDOT’s chief mandate has traditionally been on moving traffic, which makes sense for highways but is an out-of-synch priority for Brickell Avenue with its considerable residential base on both sides of the roadway and side streets from Miami River to 26th Road. Even the old delineations of the “Financial District” north of SE 15th Road and the “Residential Corridor” south of SE 15th Road don’t hold any longer, with residential high rises on nearly every block. Pedestrians are everywhere on Brickell. And trying to get across it.

“FDOT’s focus is on moving traffic,” Commissioner Gimenez said. “Every now and then you have to tell them it’s not just about moving traffic, but about quality of life.”

The speed limit has already been lowered to 30 mph between S.E. 15th Road (Broadway) and S.E. 26th Road (Tory Jacobs Blvd.) for the road rehabilitation project that got underway in January. BHA is pushing to have it remain at 30 mph instead of increasing to 35 mph as proposed after the completion of the project. Miami Police patrols have been increased with officer shifts added to the neighborhood. They are cracking down on speeders.

Another major new element in the project as a result of the public outcry, crosswalks are getting some needed attention. Plans address places where the crosswalks now exist along one side of an intersection and not the other, so some legs are missing. FDOT’s lead engineer on the project, Andres Berisiartu, said they are replacing all the existing crosswalks with a pavement design, plus:

  • New unsignalized crosswalk at SE 14 Terrace
  • New signalized crosswalk at SE 11 Street
  • Completing missing crossings at SE 13 Street, SE 10 Street, SE 8 Street, and SE 7 Street

Fewer improvements in southern half of Brickell

Unfortunately, none of these crosswalks are between the 15th to 26th Road stretch where so much of the speeding occurs and where the crosswalks are particularly limited.

Regarding traffic signals, which residents believe are ultimately the best solution to prevent speeding on Brickell: “…we will be replacing the existing traffic signals and mast arms at 15th Road, but we won’t be installing traffic signals at any new locations,” Mr. Berisiartu said.

Finally, something to be done about the broken pavers at the 1500 and 1800 blocks — an attempt several years ago to provide traffic calming to help pedestrians, but ill-fated due to improper materials, installation and maintenance. Those pavers will be removed and new crosswalks installed.

Sharrows are best offer for cyclists

Bowing to the safety needs of a significant cycling community, lane widths will be adjusted to allow for sharrows in the right lanes both north and southbound. Sharrow pavement markings, intended to advise motorists to share the lane with cyclists, fall short of the dedicated bike lane many bikers had hoped and advocated for. The overall width of the roadway was insufficient to add a dedicated lane, engineers reported.

Modern lighting fixtures extended

Initially, FDOT’s plans called for replacing lighting fixtures for only half of Brickell, from the River and stopping at SE 15th Road. BHA objected and requested that all fixtures be upgraded. With the help of Commissioner Sarnoff and the DDA, all of Brickell will now get the same modern fixtures that fit with the architecture of the neigborhood. Made of painted aluminum and using metal halide lamps (white light), one fixture design serves vehicular needs and the other pedestrian.

Enduring construction

FDOT is providing weekly updates on the Brickell Avenue construction project progress, which is linked on the BHA website.

FDOT engineers are also in attendance at BHA Board meetings to hear feedback, problems and concerns. Questions can be directed to the project’s public information officer Heather Leslie.

From BHA News, Spring 2011, Vol. XXI No. 1