State transportation officials will add three new crosswalks along Biscayne Boulevard to make it safer for pedestrians, but MiMo District community activists who had been pressuring them for the past four years feel the changes will actually make the area more dangerous.
“Finally in response to us carrying on about this, they came to us with a plan--death walks,” MiMo Biscayne Association President Nancy Liebman said.
Liebman said the term “death walks” refers to pedestrian crosswalks that don’t give oncoming traffic a red light, which are the type of crosswalks the Florida Department of Transportation plans to install in the area by the end of the year.
Despite collecting hundreds of signatures against the so-called “death walks,” Liebman said FDOT won’t change their plans.
The three new crosswalks will go north of 72nd street, north of 83rd street and south of 85th street. They’ll be equipped with flashers that resemble a police car’s beacon and are activated by the press of a button.
In addition, FDOT plans to add cement islands in the center of the road for those who cross slowly and six large speed feedback signs, which display the speed of every passing vehicle.
Liebman said the Mimo Biscayne Association began meeting with FDOT four years ago, calling for change. She said FDOT has consistently responded to the lack of safety on the road in one of two ways--either by saying their job is to move traffic or by pointing out it’s the city’s job to enforce traffic laws. She believes FDOT’s position has hampered the neighborhood efforts to make the boulevard a destination.
In June, Scott Timm, the newly retired executive director of the MiMo Business Improvement Committee, sent Gus Pego, the district secretary for the Department of Transportation, a letter saying that the boulevard’s design speed was unsafe.
“All we want is a neighborhood that is safe for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists ... Unfortunately, the current design of Biscayne Boulevard is flawed, and for the sake of safety – if not aesthetics – it needs to be repaired before someone else is injured or killed.”
FDOT District Director of Transportation Development Harold Desdunes said the department’s ongoing relationship with Upper Eastside groups is unique.
“Typically the Department of Transportation doesn’t come back and re-do projects,” Desdunes said. “We design for 20 year life.”
He denied that moving traffic was FDOT’s job, and said concerns about excessive speeding have less to do with the design of the street and more to do with enforcement.
Last year, MiMo’s Business Improvement Committee hired urban planners from the University of Miami to redesign the boulevard and present an alternative plan to FDOT, but the department continued with its plan.
“We told them to cease and desist. We don’t want any death walks. We would like a reconfiguration of the street,” Liebman said. “Even when traffic slows down you have to take your life in your hands to cross the street. Lack of crosswalks. Lack of traffic lights. Lack of enforcement.”
But Ramon Sierra, FDOT assistant district traffic operations engineer for the MiMo District, said the plans the MiMo Biscayne Association brought to the table last year would require another reconstruction project, which they thought would be too expensive.
According to Desdunes, the genesis of the project dates back to 1998, when the neighborhood’s concerns on transportation issues were different. FDOT began its latest Upper Eastside transportation reconstruction project in 2006, after meeting with the Upper Eastside Miami Council.
Desdunes said they finished the project in 2008, and are now proceeding to serve areas where the road is in worse condition.
“We’ve been meeting with MiMo continuously. We’re trying to accommodate them as best we can with the tools that we have,” Desdunes said. “Will they get everything they want? I doubt that, but I think they need to see the glass half full because we’re listening and we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.”