Who will step forward to help unclog Biscayne Boulevard?
By Michael Lewis
A tug of war downtown over Biscayne Boulevard is destined to intensify unless we redefine the future of Miami's central lifeline.
The Ultra Music Festival aims to halt northbound boulevard traffic for 79 consecutive hours two weeks in a row.
The Miami Heat is listing concerns about traffic as part of its bid to add 10 years to its AmericanAirlines Arena lease.
And the city's Downtown Development Authority wants to strip the state of control of Biscayne Boulevard and take over itself.
At the same time, the development authority plans to commission a six-month study of all downtown traffic, focused on Biscayne Boulevard.
A study is vital. It would be hard to find anyone who's happy about boulevard traffic flow.
How could they be happy?
That roadway also happens to be US 1, a federal highway that stretches 2,377 miles from Maine to Key West, linking Miami with Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.
No federal highway is geared to also act in a single 15-block stretch as the driveway that feeds downtown shopping, a string of new condo towers, Bayfront Park, AmericanAirlines Arena, Bayside Marketplace, a global seaport that carries both freight and the nation's largest total of cruise passengers, and two vast Arsht Center performance halls.
Soon, that same stretch must also handle traffic for major science and art museums and will be asked, if laws are altered, to feed into a casino that when unveiled was the largest existing or planned on the face of the globe.
If that's not enough, early in 2013 the Florida East Coast Railway will reactivate service into Port Miami, halting daily boulevard traffic for probably two trains — four closings a day, counting port entry and exit. As the rail link matures, expect more trains.
With new uses dependant on a short span of highway that barely served before these capacity-hogging additions, note also that downtown has suddenly become both a young, active residential center and a 24-hour city where nightlife has blossomed — all using Biscayne Boulevard to get in and out.
That's the problem: there's just one Biscayne Boulevard. It's not only a federal highway but also downtown's lifeline — an increasingly clogged artery.
You don't need a cardiologist to tell you that, with so much traffic being pushed into its main artery, Miami is headed for a heart attack.
Pressure on that artery is intensified by the boom in Brickell just to the south, a boom that sends cars flowing on Brickell Avenue — also US 1 — feeding into Biscayne Boulevard.
That flow will increase within three years as the game-changing Brickell CitiCentre opens not only offices and residences but, significantly, a shopping core that could sap downtown proper of any shopping strength and feed even more cars over the river on the Brickell-Biscayne link.
That link is also shaky, because the Coast Guard controls the river, giving ships priority in Brickell Avenue Bridge openings that back up traffic for blocks along already-congested Biscayne Boulevard.
The only glimmer of hope is parallel tunnels being bored into Port Miami from Watson Island, tunnels touted as relievers of Biscayne's truck traffic.
But as the port adds cruise passengers who use the boulevard, downtown might just be swapping big trucks for more cars unless passengers too are forced into the tunnels, thus cutting downtown off from trade it now gets from seaport passengers and crew.
Even before new uses further jam Biscayne, think of when events in AmericanAirlines Arena and both Arsht Center halls end simultaneously. Some drivers sit for an hour on Biscayne without moving 20 feet.
Far more of that lurks ahead unless someone says whoa.
How much more can we pour into the boulevard?
When new condos rose downtown, none alone caused problems, but taken together they hit a critical traffic mass.
Likewise, except for a casino, no new boulevard use now in the pipeline, from museums to rail service, is a problem in itself.
But, taken together, we're facing a crisis.
Is it time for government to bar new development permits until it finds a solution?
Moreover, what could that solution possibly be?
Miamians use mass transit too little, perhaps because it's infrequent, inefficient or doesn't connect with where they want to go.
A nagging question: even were it perfect, would large numbers of Miamians use transit? It's easier to build another road lane than the habit of using transit.
Downtown is already hurting. As offices age and become harder to reach, downtown becomes relatively less attractive for office tenants.
Likewise, retail depends on shoppers getting in and out conveniently. When was the last time you drove downtown to shop?
Again, what agency will rationalize use of a single scarce resource: mobility?
We wanted a vibrant, 24-hour downtown. For years we prayed for it.
Well, we've got it. Now what?
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