Miami-Dade County

Protesters take to downtown Miami streets, demand that they be made safer

Protesters greeted the 500 politicians, transportation experts, urban planners, civil engineers and public transit officials attending the Safe Streets Summit with pleas for what the annual conference has been promising for six years: safer streets.

The demonstration was staged Monday at a busy downtown Miami crosswalk on Biscayne Boulevard outside the Intercontinental Hotel, where summit participants gathered to listen to panels on “Daring to Walk,” “Building Ridership,” “We Planned This City on Walk and Roll,” “Making Political Champions for Complete Streets” and “Beyond Traffic: The Emergence of a Connected City.”

Yet the location for the day-long discussion of better mobility options in traffic-choked cities was at an intersection with one of the most dangerous roads in Miami and in a metropolis that is consistently listed at or near the bottom in national rankings of pedestrian and cyclist safety, smart street design and adequate mass transit.

“Biscayne Boulevard is the poster child for killer streets that are built too wide and too fast,” said Hank Sanchez-Resnik, who was holding signs that said, “Crossing the Street: Miami’s Extreme Sport” and “All Lanes for Cars? Let’s Get Transit Moving Faster” as cars sped north on four lanes. “Our elected officials say they care about making Miami more livable, but that is the big H for hypocrisy. All these people trooping by are transportation professionals who are paid to go to this conference, where it’s all talk and no action. We are the people risking our lives on our streets and we want change, not more studies.”

Protesters Simon Rose and Lucy Binhack are avid cyclists who said Miamians are desperate to get out of their cars but see no evidence of a protected network for walking and biking.

“I felt safer cycling in Manhattan than in Coconut Grove,” Binhack said. “Other cities have proven it can be done, and it doesn’t take forever to turn all this unhealthy car-commuting space into livable space.”

Rose blames the “greed and impatience of developers” for shortsighted, half-baked planning.

“Our leaders boast about being a 21st century city but we are stuck in the Stone Age,” Rose said. “You’re in one of the few bike lanes and it just ends abruptly and you’re exposed to really bad traffic. Make continuous bike lanes and sidewalks a requirement, not an afterthought.”

In 2017, nearly 66,000 crashes led to 32,389 injuries and 285 fatalities in Miami-Dade County, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Under the “Vulnerable Users” category, Miami-Dade had 1,357 pedestrian injuries and 733 bicyclist injuries in 2017.

“The people at the Safe Streets Summit have power but it’s almost like a token effort, a smoke-and-mirrors show,” said Transit Alliance Miami Director Azhar Chougle, who organized the protest. “Miami has this affliction of constantly talking about fixing things but never actually doing it. It’s time for our leaders to fall in line and serve our community — and that doesn’t mean serving cars. It means prioritizing people over cars.”

Protesters and pedestrians at a busy Biscayne Boulevard intersection outside the Safe Streets Summit conference. Linda Robertson

In Miami, the percentage of total mileage devoted to Complete Streets design — streets that are built to accommodate multiple modes of use — is a mere .0005 percent, according to Transit Alliance.

“We put drivers in situations that are designed for danger, conflict, mistakes,” Chougle said. “Pedestrians and cyclists continue to be second-class citizens. In fact, they used to be classified as ‘non-automotive units.’ That mindset persists.”

Inside the summit, participants from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties discussed how to improve mobility, walkability, accessibility and political accountability. Awards for Complete Street projects and community upgrades were given to Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority, Broward’s redesign of A1A by engineer Steve Braun, the Clematis Streetscape, and the cities of Doral, Sunrise and Palm Beach Gardens.

Planner Chris Sinclair talked about his journey from Miami International Airport to the Intercontinental Hotel on Monday morning and how the quickest option was to take Uber (20 minutes) rather than public transportation (54 minutes).

“We have to look at complete trips and the way users look at the world,” Sinclair said. “The data is out there. It just requires a level of precision planners are not used to. It’s door-to-door planning and the home door or job door must be as close as possible to the transit door. A quarter mile is the sweet spot. Beyond that, ridership declines.”

Alice Bravo, Miami-Dade’s director of Transportation and Public Works, said transit-oriented development is key to smart growth.

“A lot of it started with the Brickell City Centre, which was a cue to the rest of the developers — ‘Hey, people are tired of driving 60-90 minutes from the suburbs,’” she said. “The biggest impediment to public transit is the first mile and last mile. If we can get the density model to work around our existing stations, it will go a long way to improving congestion and pedestrian safety.”

Sinclair concurred with Bravo that people want less driving and more walking in their lifestyle.

“We have under-produced and under-infrastructured that lifestyle option and we need to catch up to the demand for it,” he said.

Participants also heard from representatives from New York, Baltimore and Atlanta, as well as examples of success stories in Seattle, Chicago, Denver and Charlotte.

“Our streets are our largest public space,” said Rebecca Serna, director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “People want complete streets and safe streets because these projects make a big difference in the quality of their daily lives.”

Linda Robertson has written about a variety of compelling subjects during an award-winning career. As a sports columnist she covered 13 Olympics, Final Fours, World Cups, Wimbledon, Heat and Hurricanes, Super Bowls, Soul Bowls, Cuban defectors, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Lance Armstrong, Tonya Harding. She golfed with Donald Trump, fished with Jimmy Johnson, learned a magic trick from Muhammad Ali and partnered with Venus Williams to defeat Serena. She now chronicles our love-hate relationship with Miami, where she grew up.