The powers-that-be want you to walk. To leave your car behind, take transit and use your feet to get around. But they don't make it easy, especially in traffic-choked downtown Miami and Brickell, where increasing numbers of pedestrians sometimes risk their lives just to cross the street.
But now the city and state are putting some of their money where their mouth is and giving downtown workers and residents a smidge of respect: They will install new and improved pedestrian crossings at the entrances to six heavily used Metromover stations, some of which entirely lack them at present. And the city will improve a connecting "walkway" between two stations by Miami Dade College's downtown campus that's now little more than a partially unpaved cow path.
It may not sound like a lot. But in a downtown where cars have long ruled and pedestrians sometimes seem an afterthought, even small improvements can markedly increase safety — and a sense of welcome — for pedestrians, experts say.
The Miami commission gave the green light to both projects on Thursday. The crosswalks will be covered by a $362,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation. The city will pay for the enhanced connecting path that runs between the Metromover's College/Bayside station and the north end of the First Street station, but the cost was not available Thursday.
"Downtown Miami has grown exponentially in recent years, with more people living and visiting here each day," said Christina Crespi, acting director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority, which planned the crosswalk project. This "vote is a positive step that should encourage wider use of our free Metromover system and reduce congestion on our streets."
The crosswalk project is part of a broader push by the DDA to make downtown, home to what may be the city's worst intersection, far friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists as a way to reduce auto dependency and boost street life and commerce.
One persisting problem is streets designed to move cars through quickly — an issue that experts say helps explain why Miami-Dade County and Florida as a whole consistently rate among the worst for pedestrian safety. Last year, the Governors Highway Safety Association released a report that ranked Florida second-worst in the nation, after New Mexico, for the rate of pedestrian deaths. The report found that the number of collisions between cars and pedestrians is rising, possibly in part because of increased smartphone use by people while walking and driving.
Some of the new crosswalks will be installed at Metromover stations whose gates are in the middle of a block. When the system opened in the 1980s, planners expected transit users to walk all the way to the end of the block to cross the street, but that's not how people behave. The new marked crosswalks will enhance safety by recognizing that people naturally want to cross as they exit or approach a station entrance, planners say.
Bright new signs will also warn motorists to expect people crossing at mid-block and to stop for them. Curb extensions will increase the margin of safety by reducing the crossing distance. The Metromover stations set to get the crosswalk improvements are Brickell, 10th Street, Third Street, First Street, College/Bayside and Bayfront Park.
Construction is scheduled to begin in August and conclude by January 2020.