Miami supports plan to narrow Biscayne Blvd. near port
By Paola Iuspa
Biscayne Boulevard could be narrowed by two lanes from the American Airlines Arena north for eight blocks under a plan supported by the City of Miami.
City officials hope to attract pedestrians to Biscayne, or US 1, from the arena to the performing arts center planned along the boulevard between 13th and 14th streets. The project calls for widening sidewalks and medians by reducing the number of lanes for cars.
The city's planning department is working on a concept that could go to the Florida Department of Transportation, which controls the road, in three months, said Dena Bianchino, assistant city manager. It would need federal approval.
Property owners and merchants between Fifth and 13th streets, the stretch planned for changes, aren't happy with the idea, said Raul Masvidal, whose development company represents Calor, an investment group and affiliate of the Miami Heat Group and owner of land on the west side of the 800 block of Biscayne Boulevard. The Heat Group, owner of the NBA team, leases American Airlines Arena.
Opponents said fewer lanes would slow traffic to the Port of Miami, the arena, Freedom Tower, Bayside Marketplace and the arts center, he said.
After analyzing how narrowing the eight-lane boulevard to six would affect traffic, the transportation department will decide if it will make the change, said spokesman David Rosemond.
With the arts center to open in 2004, preparing the area for patrons to walk to Bongos Cuban Cafe or from Bicentennial Park to Bayside Marketplace seems logical, said Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton.
"I am hugely in favor," he said. "You need sidewalks to promote activities in the park. A landscaped median and larger sidewalks will allow north-south pedestrian traffic. This is just logic."
Jack Luft, a former city planner, said the initiative is rooted in a 1987 master plan. Part, with pedestrian crossings and wide sidewalks with art, is in place north of 13th street, he said, where Biscayne has six lanes.
Only the portion between fifth and 13th streets has eight lanes.
Mr. Rosemond said his department has allocated $6 million to enhance that section of Biscayne by early 2004. That work, already approved, does not include reducing traffic lanes but will add landscaping and upgrade drainage and traffic lights, he said.
Mr. Rosemond cited concerns that lane reduction could clog parallel roads and it will be up to his department to forecast the impact.
Mr. Masvidal said he and Calor oppose a narrower boulevard because it would slow traffic.
"If it takes three hours to get in or out of the arena, people will stop coming. It will end up hurting event bookings," he said. "If downtown earns the reputation that it is difficult to access, Miami is going to start losing major events."
Raul Tercilla, vice president of the Rouse Co. of Maryland, which owns Bayside, south of the arena, welcomed a pedestrian-oriented boulevard but opposes the city's plan.
"The idea of pedestrian linkage is great," he said. "But to reduce Biscayne Boulevard is a mistake. It will complicate vehicular access to Bayside and the other event-driven venues. That portion is way too busy."