On the night of Wednesday, Feb. 23 in the MiMo district, a local blogger met with three veteran community activists at the American Noodle Bar. Over craft beer and Asian cuisine, the group hatched out a plan that they hope will transform the Biscayne Corridor.
The blogger was Felipe Azenha of Transit Miami. The lean, 36-year-old banker and University of Miami real estate development graduate student wants to do for Biscayne what he helped do for Brickell -- rally the community and convince the Florida Department of Transportation to make the road more pedestrian and business friendly.
With him last night were Jack Spirk, president of the the Shorecrest Homeowners Association, and Bob Powers, president of the Palm Grove Neighborhood Association and Louis Bordeau, president of the Bayside Residents Association. Azenha, who lives in Belle Meade, plans to reach out to all the neighborhood organizations in the Upper Eastside within the next few weeks.
He lays out his views about the boulevard on a recent post on Transit Miami. These are the key elements of what he’s calling for FDOT to do for Biscayne Boulevard::
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-- Remove the middle “suicide lane” and add parallel parking on both sides of the street. This, he argues, will be a, “cornerstone for businesses to flourish,” since their customers will be able to easily park close to their destinations.
-- Add crosswalks and shared bicycle lanes to help calm traffic and improve the pedestrian experience.
He believes that these alternations will be inexpensive (a key consideration in a time when the state and country budgets are deep in the red) and will achieve a dramatic result. As he writes in the post:
“...there will be a domino effect in the neighborhood. More businesses will open and remain open. A sense of place will be created and residents and visitors will begin supporting local retailers because the area will be more pedestrian friendly. More importantly, crime will decline since there will be more “eyes on the street”.
Spirk and Powers were supportive of Azenha’s ideas at the meeting, and said they would do what they could to help his plan get community and political support.
Powers thought Azenha was asking for a lot, but that was necessary if he was going to achieve anything worthwhile:
“You need ambition, you need drive, you have to ask for the moon to get the atmosphere,” he said later in a phone interview.
Powers thought that the short-term goals should be to push for the crosswalks and to pursue getting new parallel parking spots in places where they have already existed, like in front of Michy’s restaurant on 69th street. He also suggested that areas that have a broad sidewalk, and “curb cuts,”or sections where the curb is lower to give cars access, could be easily converted into parallel parking spots.
While he agreed with Azenha’ points, he was skeptical that he can achieve everything he’s planning.
“I think a complete re-design on that Biscayne ain’t going to happen,” he said.
Spirk also supported Azenha’s ideas and said that he was, “happy to have young people take an interest and start to get involved. ” He said to be proactive and diplomatic with FDOT and to make sure that he connects people who are already active on the issues he is working on.
“He needs to not recreate the wheel,” Spirk said.
Azenya said that he realizes it will be difficult to get FDOT to act, but that he will take the campaign all the way to Tallahassee if he as to -- just as the collation of groups involved in the Brickell campaign did.
He’s counting on community support.
“I think most people that live in the area and work on Biscayne pretty much know that it’s not pedestrian friendly”, he said.
“The fact is that I live in the community and that I want to see it improve.”
This post was produced by Open Media Miami, a newly formed independent company that works in partnership with the Miami Herald to cover neighborhood news along the Biscayne Corridor. Follow us on Facebook, or join our contributor network at OpenMediaMiami.com.