Planning to attend the Miami International Boat Show’s inaugural event at the Miami Marine Stadium this holiday weekend? Then pay attention: You probably don’t want to drive to Virginia Key. There’s virtually nowhere to park. And that’s intentional.
Boat-show organizers have an $850,000 plan to ensure the five-day event won’t bog down amid a morass of traffic on the Rickenbacker Causeway, the only way in and out of Virginia Key and neighboring Key Biscayne, and it hinges largely on keeping the vast majority of local attendees’ cars completely off the island.
The plan relies on tens of thousands of showgoers riding to the waterfront stadium site from mainland Miami on fleets of free water taxis and shuttle buses, some from points as far afield as the parking garages at Marlins Park in Little Havana. At the show venue itself on the environmentally sensitive island, there will be just 800 parking spaces for the general public, which must be secured in advance online, and a few dozen more valet spots at Whiskey Joe’s restaurant, the latter at $50 a pop.
And that’s it, for a show that expects a daily attendance of around 25,000.
Event organizers are calling their transportation plan one of the most ambitious ever in the history of Miami special events. It may also be a test of whether Miamians, accustomed to driving and parking everywhere they go, are ready to embrace a future involving lots more reliance on public transportation.
“It definitely will be a learning curve,” said boat-show director Cathy Rick-Joule. “There’s no doubt about it.”
It definitely will be a learning curve.
Boat-show director Cathy Rick-Joule
But Rick-Joule also says she’s confident the plan will work.
She said more than half of boat-show visitors are from out of state, a crowd that was already well used to taking shuttles and boats in the years the show was held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, as well as to ancillary exhibitions elsewhere. For the rest, she said, the boat show has sent out email blasts and placed ads in heavy rotation on local TV and radio touting the park-and-ride options, which are detailed on the event’s interactive website.
Shuttle buses will ferry showgoers from garages at Marlins Park, the Omni and AmericanAirlines Arena, which have a total of 10,000 available spaces. Nineteen Island Queen water taxis will provide regular service from Dinner Key in Coconut Grove, downtown Miami and Sunset Harbour in Miami Beach to Virgina Key and back. Trips should take no longer than 15 to 20 minutes, Rick-Joule said.
Anyone who drives to Virginia Key Beach without a parking pass will be turned around by police and given a map of parking garages and shuttle and water-taxi pickup spots, she said. While parking for 3,200 vehicles for boat-show workers, vendors and exhibitors will be provided on the road leading to the Miami-Dade water treatment plant at Virginia Key, those would arrive well before the 10 a.m. show time and leave well after the 8 p.m. closing, Rick-Joule said.
The future of the boat show could depend on the plan’s success.
Key Biscayne village officials, who are suing to block the boat show from moving permanently to Virginia Key, are predicting a traffic quagmire and will have people out on the causeway to document it.
They say boat-show congestion will only be exacerbated by the simultaneous Coconut Grove Art Festival, which by itself already seriously backs up traffic every year during the weekend along South Dixie Highway, South Miami Avenue and Interstate 95, all of which feed into the Rickenbacker.
Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay said it’s unrealistic to expect that people making a long drive to the boat show from Kendall, South Miami-Dade or other far-flung areas will park downtown or at Marlins Park, then endure a bus ride through heavy traffic to Virginia Key. Because one radio ad the boat show has run also mentions that paying to park on the island is an alternative to parking and riding, she fears many confused people will simply drive to Virginia Key assuming they can do so, clogging up the causeway in either direction as they’re forced to turn around.
I love the boat show. I continue to strongly support that's not the best place for it. The impacts are far too great.
Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay
“I'm extremely concerned,” Peña Lindsay said. “When this was first sold as a temporary solution for two years, they were extremely careful about identifying that traffic and access and safety were a problem, so the solution was to make sure everyone was either bused in or ferried in. In the last week or so, that plan has done a complete one-eighty. There is massive advertising both on the radio and television inviting people to drive in. They say there is parking on the premises.
“I love the boat show. I continue to strongly support that's not the best place for it. The impacts are far too great.”
A spokeswoman for the boat show noted that only its radio ad mentions the option of parking on the key, and then only after emphasizing the “ease and convenience” of parking and riding. Its Pandora and TV ads don’t.
Moreover, the boat show is spending $250,000 just on off-duty Miami and Miami-Dade police officers to control traffic and keep one causeway lane in each direction — as well as the heavily used bike lanes on each side of the roadway — open at all times, Rick-Joule said. She also promised that access for Virginia Key beach-goers, cyclists and runners will not be hindered, though fences will be erected along Hobie Beach to keep people from parking there and crossing the causeway on foot to the marine stadium.
Miami Police Lt. Joel Gonzalez, the special events unit commander, said the agency conducted traffic studies last year during the art festival and doesn’t expect any major traffic issues, though resources will be strained by the need to have officers at both the art and boat shows as well as an art fair and a charity underwear run and party in Wynwood.
He said at least 40 city and county officers will be on patrol at all times during the boat show and art festival, with about a dozen directing traffic at the major intersection at the Rickenbacker entrance. The Miami police command center will receive video feeds from state and Miami-Dade highway agencies so they can adjust to incoming traffic. Stop lights will be synched so that most motorists will hit only one red into and away from Key Biscayne.
“The reality is that this is a very challenging weekend for us,” Gonzalez said, but added: “We think we're prepared for it."