Miami close to taking control of Brickell Avenue from the state

01/20/2014 5:02 PM

01/21/2014 8:37 AM

Frustrated with the inability to complete what should be rather simple tasks on Brickell Avenue — such as lowering the speed limit and culling overgrown brush and trees — Miami has negotiated a deal to take control of the street from the state of Florida.

The city, which lobbied intensely to take over Brickell, agreed in return to turn over to the state the rights to two as-yet-unnamed streets.

But before Miami begins operating the almost two-mile, tree-lined stretch of one of the city’s highest-profile and important thoroughfares, the Florida Department of Transportation wants to hear from the public and is inviting residents to a public forum Tuesday night at the First Presbyterian Church at 609 Brickell Avenue.

Miami leaders say that with thousands of new residents having moved to Brickell over the past deacde, the street’s 35 mph speed limit is outdated and dangerously high. A plan to clean up Brickell’s shade trees, which stalled after FDOT was notified by a few angry residents, only magnified the issue, local leaders said.

“Brickell has become a community. It’s no longer just a thoroughfare. It’s a quality-of-life issue,” said Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who represents the district.

Sarnoff said it took residents and the city about a decade to get the speed limit on Brickell lowered from 40 to 35, and attempts to get it to 30 have been fruitless.

Naysayers, such as state Sen. Gwen Margolis, say there’s nothing wrong with Brickell Avenue and that changes aren’t necessary.

“It’s one commissioner who wants to take control of everything,” said Margolis, who lives on Grove Isle, just a few blocks off Brickell Avenue. “The street is fine; there’s nothing lacking. There’s no way to slow down traffic on Brickell.”

If the state completes the deal, Miami would be in charge of operating and maintaining Brickell Avenue, which connects downtown to the Rickenbacker Causeway and runs through areas with tony condos, town houses and homes — and the biggest banking center in the southeastern U.S.

For years, complaints from local residents and Sarnoff that Brickell’s 35 mph speed limit was too high fell on deaf ears. FDOT finally responded and lowered the speed limit to 30 mph in 2010 — but only after an elderly woman was hit and killed by a car.

The change didn’t last long. Once the state completed a construction phase that began shortly after the woman’s death, the speed limit was again raised to 35 mph.

Upset with the state, Sarnoff and city administrators convinced the city’s police chief to unleash a motorcycle detail at the corner of Brickell and Southeast Eighth Street in April and May 2012, looking for drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians at the crosswalk.

Officers handed out about a ticket a minute, with fines of $179, and penalties that could be as high as three points on a license. Officers said they could have written far more tickets if they had the resources.

Miami had to deal with another FDOT hurdle involving Brickell Avenue last September when a long-planned median cleanup of dead, damaged or rotting trees was halted by an FDOT director after residential complaints and a call from a Miami-Dade commissioner.

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