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Two major Brickell projects suffer delays

Two major Brickell initiatives stalled for months might finally be moving forward… hopefully…

Transfer of Control of Brickell Avenue

The first matter — the transfer of control of Brickell Avenue from the State’s FDOT to local authorities — was approved by FDOT and the City of Miami Commission in June. Thank you to those residents who answered BHA’s call to let authorities know we favor this transfer of jurisdiction where the “highway” passes through our neighborhood.

The change would encompass Brickell Avenue from Southeast Eighth Street to I-95 (although we would prefer that the few blocks of Brickell from the Miami River, Southeast Fourth to Southeast Eighth Street be included).

City of Miami officials and Miami Police have supported the neighborhood’s outcry to lower the speed limit of Brickell Avenue and agree that it’s a first-step to making Brickell safer for pedestrians. Over many years FDOT has refused multiple appeals from BHA to make Brickell Avenue 30 mph all the way to Southeast 26 Road. It’s 30 mph on Brickell north of Southeast 15th Road, and on the vast majority of neighborhood streets 30 mph is the norm.

Even though neighbors want to see changes, and the City of Miami approved the plan that Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla negotiated with FDOT chiefs, the transfer has been delayed, sparked by Senator Gwen Margolis.

As best as we can determine, the Senator does not want the State to lose its authority for this stretch of the road, and doesn’t trust the City to manage it. While differences of opinion are to be expected, BHA officers were disappointed to see that the Senator has not been concerned with the safety desires of residents and opposed the plan supported by BHA without dialog. Perhaps the Senator isn’t aware of the transformation of the community and many users of the roadway who are not in vehicles.

The Miami Herald quoted the Senator in January as saying, “The street is fine; there’s nothing lacking. There’s no way to slow down traffic on Brickell.”

This was puzzling because several months prior when the Senator unexpectedly attended the May 2013 BHA Board meeting to lambast the agenda item, she said that “as chair of the State’s Transportation Committee,” she could get the speed limit lowered. “It’s a no-brainer,” she said, and further, “if you need something, it’s me.”

After that meeting her appeals to FDOT and Secretary Gus Pego, fell on the same deaf ears as BHA’s appeals have for the past two decades.

FDOT held a Public Hearing in January, at the Senator’s request, where the vast majority of people spoke in favor of the change to local authority. Only a couple of people among the 100 or so neighbors there did not speak in favor of the change, but they really had more unanswered questions than objections. (Read BHA’s public record comments delivered by Board members.)

In the meantime, needed improvements on Brickell Avenue have remained in limbo with FDOT doing nothing as they anticipate handing it over. We’re waiting on left turn arrows at Southeast 15th Road and Brickell Avenue. We’re waiting for the unpredictable, driver-confusing traffic signal in front of 1814 Brickell Park to be changed for a regular, pedestrian-activated traffic signal that people understand and that cars will stop for. We’re waiting for reasonable crosswalks. We’re waiting for folks to slow down.

Beautification & Sidewalk Plan to Restart

Delayed after a brief startup in September, the comprehensive, long-awaited plan for Brickell Avenue includes median beautification, a new irrigation system and new, wider sidewalks.

Beautification and maintenance of Brickell Avenue have been BHA agenda items for years. This project became a reality and took formation when Commissioner Sarnoff responded to our requests for an avenue befitting Miami’s main entryway.

Initially, 70 trees were to be removed and replaced with 230-some mature trees and palms. The trees slated for removal included deceased trees as well as others growing too close together or too close to the road. Several trees considered hazardous due to weak structures and heavy branches at risk for breakage, such as Royal Poincianas, were also in the first round of trees to be removed. These trees, of course, are among the most beautiful trees in South Florida, and residents were particularly opposed to any of them being removed.

When the project got underway and 36 trees were cut, residents who were unaware of the project voiced strong concerns about the City’s plans. Questions arose as to what the overall vision was for the avenue. Work was curtailed to hear from those concerned.

A Necessary Pause

Commissioner Sarnoff explained, “Once the citizens of Brickell brought their concerns to our office, I had a responsibility to halt the project and reevaluate its objectives. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to hear and implement ideas from both sides of the spectrum on this issue. As much as some residents would like, we have no way to travel back in time and start the project from the beginning. All we can do is move forward with a modified plan that addresses as many of the concerns of residents and fellow travelers as possible.”

The Commissioner said they re-studied and re-evaluated the median plan based on feedback from neighbors and with the aim to balance a high canopy together with plants intended to grow below the canopy so that the median’s arbor will appear full at its highest, as well as its medium height. The new plan will add 180 trees, strategically selected to create the two-tiered canopy.

Eighty-one are new high canopy trees measuring at least 25 feet in height and include:

  • 25 Live Oaks
  • 20 Gumbo Limbos
  • 26 Pink Tabebuias
  • 4 Black Olives
  • 5 Royal Poincianas
  • 1 Mahogany

Ninety-nine are smaller trees and palms and include the following:

  • 34 Jatropha trees
  • 15 Pitch Apple trees
  • 36 Simpson Stopper trees
  • 14 palms of different species

“Additionally, 14,000 shrubs will be added on certain medians where trees are not allowed to be placed because of Florida Department of Transportation regulations,” Commissioner Sarnoff explained in a comprehensive update issued in January.

BHA believes the plan strikes a good compromise and the Board urged the City to continue to move forward.

The work was slated to re-start February 28, simultaneously with the sidewalk reconstruction, with an early summer completion anticipated.

From BHA News Vol. XXIV No. 1, Winter/Spring 2014