At the Intersection of Chaos and Gridlock, safety and sanity are imperiled every day. It is where Southeast Second Street meets Southeast Third Avenue.
It could be the worst intersection in Miami.
Here, in the epicenter of downtown, pedestrians take their lives in their hands as they scamper through the crosswalk, hoping they won’t be hit by cars funneling at them from three different directions. Here, drivers fume and rage, alternatively slamming on the accelerator and brakes as they shove through the bottleneck of traffic. Here, yet another construction project drags on smack dab in the middle of the street, impeding movement, exacerbating confusion.
The scene, accompanied by a racket of honking horns and shouted curses, deserves a Death Metal soundtrack.
“Mayhem, pure mayhem,” said Ryan Keratsis, who breathed a sigh of relief after he crossed the minefield that is Southeast Second Street with his cup of coffee intact. He lives nearby, so he’s a pro. “It’s frenetic, haphazard, possibly life-threatening.”
Each day, pedestrians come and go from the Whole Foods grocery store, CVS drugstore, adjacent eateries and shops, huge office buildings and new residential towers. Four parking garages spit traffic onto Southeast Second Street, which runs one way west. Drivers turn left from Southeast Third Avenue as drivers turn right from the other side of the intersection and clash with those barreling straight ahead, all competing for position on a street that suddenly comes to a partial dead end 100 yards later at the Courtyard Marriott, where cars must feed into different lanes depending on where they want to go — a hard left to Biscayne Boulevard, a medium left to Brickell Avenue or a wide left and then a jog right onto the I-95 ramp, or straight to continue west. No James Bond chase scene could be filmed in this labyrinth. For one thing, Miami drivers would cut him off.
Add the closure of a middle lane due to a Florida Department of Transportation project and the problematic stretch induces legitimate suffering.
“Two people in my office have been injured after being hit by cars simply trying to cross the road,” said Vikas Saxena, who works in the Southeast Financial Center building. “The drivers go right through without stopping. There’s no respect for pedestrians.”
The city of Miami has deployed officers and public service aides to the area to direct traffic and pedestrians. Comments on their effectiveness were mixed.
“Hold up!” a service aide yelled to a man and woman who were on the verge of stepping into the street against the light.
“This is scary,” said the man.
“Yeah, you’re scaring me,” replied the aide.
When the light turned green and the crosswalk illuminated with the white walking figure, the couple proceeded until they were nearly hit by a driver in a silver Mercedes turning right, with attitude.
The couple flinched, held out their hands in the universal Heisman Trophy straight-arm gesture and gingerly stepped onto the opposite curb. Victory.
Sometimes pedestrians aren’t swift enough and get stranded in the middle of the street. Others seem oblivious to the crosswalk signal and saunter into traffic, talking on their cellphones or assuming drivers will yield to them — an assumption one should never, ever make in Miami, where drivers react to any person on foot with furious resentment. Others freelance and slalom between the cars bookended in the intersection. One guy played chicken with a Toyota minivan. A woman pushing a baby in a stroller got locked in a staredown with a yellow cab. A family of sunburned tourists halted in fright as the driver of a red Maserati nudged within two feet of them, leaning on his horn.
“It’s very difficult to maneuver around here — not only walking, but also driving,” said William Hennessey, who lives on Biscayne Boulevard and shops at Whole Foods. “There’s too much going on. Too many turns. The signage is not good.”
Construction is a perpetual menace, he said. Along Biscayne Boulevard at Southeast Third Street under the Metromover tracks lies a giant, dusty pile of orange “Road Work” and “Detour” signs, as if to mock the people they are supposed to be warning. Heaps of barricades, pallets, cement barriers and water pipes sit unattended, no workers in sight. The equipment has forced the closure of two lanes of roadway.
“I lived in New York City and construction projects get done a lot quicker — I’m not just saying that, it’s true,” Hennessey said. “They seem to be poorly managed here and just go on forever.”
Hostility seeps from the skin like sweat. A parking garage attendant ran three blocks after a driver who exited without paying — "Hey, stop, you a--hole!" he screamed . He didn’t catch the scofflaw.
“I think I’m going to have a heart attack,” he wheezed to his supervisor, Marcos Ventura, who was explaining how Southeast Second Street gets backed up starting at 4:30 p.m. when police officers block all four lanes for intermittent spans of time in order to allow drivers to exit from the Southeast Financial Center garage, which is across the street.
“If they didn’t have the police, none of the drivers on the street would let them out of the garage and they’d have to get out like everybody else does — by sticking their nose forward and pleading, ‘Please let me in!' ” Ventura said. “It’s horrible.”
Often, drivers trying to enter Ventura’s garage get stuck in rush hour traffic.
“It can take 45 minutes to go one block,” said John Tims, who was picking up his daughter at the day-care center at 4:30 p.m.
He mentioned the Brickell Avenue drawbridge — a sore subject for downtown commuters — and rolled his eyes. The bridge, regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard, stays locked down during its afternoon curfew from 4:35 p.m. to 5:59 p.m. But it returns to its regular opening schedule on the hour and half hour and opens for Miami River marine traffic at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., when rush hour volume over the bridge reaches 12,200 vehicles per hour. Opening the bridge during peak traffic periods has a ripple effect on surrounding streets. The Downtown Development Authority asked the Coast Guard to extend closure times, but the Coast Guard declined, saying it would have a negative impact on boat traffic and wouldn’t alleviate queues on saturated streets.
“The drawbridge causes traffic to stack up on itself,” Tims said.
The entire area is poorly designed and needs a reboot by traffic engineers. Try getting across the crosswalk where cars swoop right from Southeast Second Avenue onto the I-95 ramp. You’ll need starting blocks and a sprinter’s speed because you’re racing drivers who won’t pause for you.
At the Monarc at Met building entrance, cars occasionally back up at the valet parking stand and obstruct traffic on Southeast Second Avenue, provoking a flurry of honks. It’s also impossible to walk across Southeast Second Street from the Monarc because of construction. On Tuesday, a shooting in front of Whole Foods on Southeast Third Street that left one man injured caused a shutdown of streets for hours.
Miami's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) feels the pain of employees, business owners and residents, recognizing that downtown Miami’s daytime population is 225,000 and the number of people living downtown has doubled to 88,540 since 2000. The DDA is meeting monthly with FDOT to advocate for completion of the project by midsummer. The DDA has also coordinated with the city to ensure that there is a police presence in the affected area to improve traffic flow, safeguard pedestrians and prevent road rage.
Jonathan Delgadillo, who lives in the Monarc building, said he’s learned to be extra cautious when crossing downtown’s notorious intersection, especially when he’s walking Terry, his Shih Tzu.
“It’s part of downtown living,” he said. “There’s not much space, too many cars. This specific intersection is where everybody learns to watch out. It’s a total mess.”