Construction on Alton Road has had drivers, pedestrians and business owners up in arms for a number of reasons since roadwork began almost a year ago, but lately the plans for medians have been in the middle of it all.
The City Commission unanimously approved 17-foot-wide medians in July, but the Florida Department of Transportation released an alternative plan this month.
FDOT instead plans to construct medians at least five feet wide in each block of Alton Road between Seventh and 17th streets.
Initially, FDOT did not include medians in the Alton project, but added them later in an attempt to accommodate community members’ vision for a walkable street.
None of the local associations that have been vocal throughout the process are pleased with FDOT’s decision. Residents expected wider medians to accommodate beautification, while some businesses did not want medians at all and worried they would make it difficult for motorists to visit their stores.
Among those not happy is the Alton Road Reconstructive Coalition, a resident group that originally proposed the medians to create a place of refuge for pedestrians trying to cross the wide road.
The group cited in their proposal the more than 100 pedestrian and bike accidents on Alton Road reported by Miami Beach police between 2005 and 2011.
“We wanted medians so pedestrians could cross safely and so there would be ample room for greenery for beautification,” said Tammy Tibbles, who started the coalition.
The new design cannot accommodate the size trees the group had envisioned, which Tibbles says would provide shade and act as a buffer for the noise traveling from one side of the road to the other.
The medians also will block east- and west-bound vehicle traffic or left turns across Alton at Ninth Street, 13th Street, 14th Street, 14th Court and 15th Terrace. FDOT representatives say side-street access would be prevented at these locations regardless of whether the medians are constructed.
“The medians are being blamed for cutting off connectivity,” Tibbles said. “We need safe signalization at every intersection, so we can fully use the grid rather than reduce people’s access to the infrastructure of the road.”
The association is frustrated with the lack of communication from FDOT regarding the changes to the approved plan.
“FDOT presents one design and then it seems behind closed doors things change,” said Wanda Mouzon, a coalition member. “The questions they don’t answer is why does the design keep changing? Why can’t we be involved in every decision?”
Representatives from FDOT said they held a public hearing in October to get feedback on the medians.
“Based on the feedback at the public meeting, the designers went back and tried to lay out the medians and design what it should like,” said Heather Leslie, an FDOT spokesperson. “The designers had to go back and implement the design based on what the specifications and safety will allow.”
Leslie said the five-foot medians accommodate the numerous turning lanes, some 200 feet in length. The medians range in width up to 17 feet in areas of the street where there are no turning lanes.
She said throughout the process FDOT has been open to community involvement.
“There always has been the opportunity to ask questions and make recommendations,” Leslie said.
Miami Beach United, a citywide homeowners organization, believes the city should take ownership of the road from FDOT.
“FDOT doesn’t even know the word urban development,” president Nancy Liebman said. “They think we are all suburbs. The road should be taken back from them.”
Liebman also feels the state did not meet the desires of the community with the medians.
“It is just a barrier,” Liebman said. “We didn't ask for barriers. We asked for medians.”
Some business owners expressed concern about the challenge the medians pose for access to their storefronts from the opposite side of the street. Motorists would have to drive four blocks and make a U-turn to get to the business in certain cases.
Michael Gorey, president of the Alton Road Business Association, said the businesses also see the medians debate as another potential setback to construction being completed.
“The medians decision is one of those issues that it is dividing everyone in the community associations with my association,” Gorey said. “It is not because we hate medians, but because there is this difference in perspective.”
Gorey said his association wants the street to be safe, but that efforts now need to be focused on finishing major construction.
“We can all work on creating a road advantageous to everyone involved once the road is back on track rather than making businesses foot the bill and carry the weight of this burden,” he said.
Alton Road businesses in the association have seen a 30 to 40 percent decrease in sales since the day FDOT started digging, he said.
“On one hand, there is a group that is being very visionary and forward thinking, and then you have another group that is bleeding to death,” Gorey said.
All of the associations have attended meetings this month hosted by Miami Beach United to discuss the future of Alton Road and create a master plan.
FDOT will make a final decision on the proposed medians after city commissioners hear the issue at their April meeting.