Ocean Drive’s cramped sidewalk is almost as well-known as its neon-lined Art Deco hotels and rambunctious nightlife.
With the street’s array of cafe tables and street vendors, busy nights can make walking the promenade feel claustrophobic. In an effort to make the street more comfortable for pedestrians, Miami Beach will block off one traffic lane for pedestrians’ use each weekend in September, effectively making the sidewalk five feet wider.
The experiment begins at 8 p.m. Friday, when the street will become one-way southbound from Fifth to 11th streets heading into the holiday weekend. The arrangement will be in place from 8 p.m. through 5 a.m. each Friday, Saturday and Sunday night in September. Because of Labor Day, the extended sidewalk will also be open through 5 a.m. Tuesday.
“This pilot aims to add an additional five feet of extended walkway for pedestrians to enjoy, and provides a safer experience along this portion,” said Amy Mehu, the Beach’s redevelopment specialist for Ocean Drive.
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Besides altering Ocean Drive’s traffic pattern, the change will eliminate some street parking. Officials are encouraging drivers to park at municipal garages on Seventh, 13th and 16th streets.
Beach elected officials have debated how to change the party atmosphere of Ocean Drive enough in the past few years that they’re putting a referendum on the November ballot on whether most bars should stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. Mayor Philip Levine has persistently pushed for the change to last call since last year. Ocean Drive businesses are suing the city to take the referendum off the ballot.
Other changes that were devised last year have already been implemented. In some stretches, sidewalk cafe tables have been moved closer to the buildings, creating a more linear walking path. More police officers have been assigned to the area, and businesses have increased private security. New standards for cafe umbrellas have been approved. Shops and clubs, previously exempt, are now required to adhere to noise limitations.
City officials will evaluate the sidewalk extension each week and make adjustments when necessary.