Thousands of people walk, bike and run on the Commodore Trail every week and don’t even know it.
The five-mile route from the Rickenbacker Causeway entrance south through Coconut Grove to Cocoplum Circle in Coral Gables is one of the most beautiful stretches of roadway in Miami. The trail meanders through lush neighborhoods and bayfront parks and past a string of historic sites such as Vizcaya, the Barnacle and the Kampong.
“The story of Miami is right there on the trail,” said Hank Sanchez-Resnik, co-founder and co-chair of the Friends of the Commodore Trail. “It could be the jewel of Miami-Dade County’s recreational trail system. But it is not that now. It’s neglected and dangerous and in some parts it’s a trail in concept only.”
Certain stretches are nothing more than slim, dusty shoulders next to busy roads with cars whizzing by perilously close to pedestrians drawing on their tightrope-walking skills. Other segments are narrow, crowded, bumpy sidewalks. Some sections don’t connect.
The goal of the volunteer Friends organization, which Sanchez-Resnik founded a year ago with Mary Munroe Seabrook, great-granddaughter of Miami pioneer and Barnacle and boat builder Commodore Ralph Munroe — the trail’s namesake — is to restore and finish building the trail into a safe, accessible, resilient and attractive corridor.
“We discovered the first recorded mention of the trail in 1969, but very little has been done to improve it since then,” Sanchez-Resnik said. “You don’t fix a five-mile trail in one shot. You do it in pieces. But we are determined to get it done. This is not pie-in-the-sky.”
The Friends collaborated with Ebru Ozer, FIU associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental and urban design, and nine of her graduate students, who devoted a semester to developing enhancement projects that address specific flaws of the trail.
The students gave a presentation Tuesday night at the Kampong, where Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Commissioner Ken Russell, Kampong director Craig Morell, landscape architect Raymond Jungles and other civic leaders came to lend support.
“We want to thank Raymond Jungles, who has offered to donate his time to design medians and swales on the one condition that the city implements the plan and it doesn’t sit around gathering dust,” Russell said.
It’s that spirit of community that Sanchez-Resnik and Munroe Seabrook want to tap to unlock the trail’s potential.
The students’ proposals encompassed habitat restoration, pavement materials, protection from cars, way finding, historic markers, bike lanes, expansion of trail space and narrowing of traffic lanes to reduce speeds.
They examined problematic sections such as along Douglas Road to Edgewater Drive in the South Grove, where the skinny trail blurs into the road.
Natalie Lopes zeroed in on lack of lighting and borrowed ideas from the Chicago Riverwalk and Dublin’s Grand Canal Square. Bryan McNeil wants to improve stormwater drainage utilizing vegetation, limestone bedrock and planters that would separate traffic and pedestrians.
Beatriz Alchalaby focused on rerouting car traffic around a clogged section of Main Highway in the central business district of the Grove to enhance pedestrian traffic. Alex Stauber’s “Hidden History” project would inform users about culture along the trail.
“Each student has their own vision,” said Ozer, who has also worked on design of the Underline and Ludlam Trail through her studio, LandscapeDE. “They interviewed users of the trail and spent time using it. I want my students to experience real world problems. Our design studio wants to respond to our local communities.”
Sanchez-Resnik grew up riding his bike in New York City, which began transforming its dense streets under Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a network of bike lanes. When he moved to Miami he formed Bike Coconut Grove and now the Friends organization.
“Mary contacted me and said, ‘Do you know who the Commodore Trail is named after?’ and we just hit it off and decided that together we could actually get something done,” he said. “I can’t stand mess, waste, disorder, stupidity. I bike everywhere in Miami and talk to people who say they would love to ride a bike but it’s too scary. We’ve got to fix that.”