Making 41st Street more "people friendly"

41st Street

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Making 41st Street more "people friendly":

Challenges in balancing major transit corridor with desire for gathering space

When Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber appointed the 41st Street Master Plan Committee, he said he hoped their efforts would make the street “more usable to residents, enhance its aesthetics, and transform it into a true town center for Mid-Beach.”
 
Achieving those goals, however, may be more challenging than it would be on other streets for one very obvious reason: It is a major corridor on and off the Beach via the Julia Tuttle Causeway. It is also a State Road meaning any recommendations would have to be approved by FDOT. But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the Committee, working with community input and consultant Gehl Studios, in coming up with a plan. They met recently to discuss the short- and long-term recommendations by Gehl to “put people first,” the company’s hallmark.
 
Of course, the first recommendation, “Finding More Space for People” which included ideas for removing lanes of traffic was probably not the best timed given the meeting occurred the same day FDOT was starting double lane closures on the MacArthur Causeway, emphasizing the impact to the City when one of the entry/exit points isn’t fully open. 
 
The Julia Tuttle Causeway is the most travelled causeway with an annual daily average of 116,500 vehicles crossing the bridge both ways, 59,000 of them eastbound. (By comparison, the second most travelled Causeway – the MacArthur – gets an annual daily average of 92,000 vehicle trips both ways.) While many of the cars making their way to the Julia Tuttle do so via Alton Road, a large number use 41st Street. The annual average daily traffic on the street is 41,000 vehicles both ways, 18,000 eastbound, 23,000 westbound. 
 
The big takeaway from the 41st Street Master Plan was the desire to have wider sidewalks for a more pedestrian friendly environment and space for sidewalk cafes to activate the area. To do that, the planners proposed eliminating parking on 41st Street, something Transportation Manager Josiel Ferrer said contributes to traffic problems as people drive around looking for on-street parking. 
 
The planners also proposed options for the street to have fewer lanes. Currently, there are four travel lanes and one turn lane. Reaction was a bit subdued for options to remove the center turn lane and one travel lane in each direction. Ferrer told the group emergency vehicles going to Mt. Sinai Hospital utilize the center turn lane when traffic is backed up so he would not advocate eliminating that lane. He also noted that reducing the number of travel lanes and not providing an area for buses to pull off to the side would mean more traffic tie-ups. Maintaining the current number of lanes would be the “least controversial” option, he said.
 
While challenging, Ferrer is looking forward to working with the group to balance the City’s transportation needs with creating a better 41st Street. He told RE:MiamiBeach, “I am all-in on the multi-modal bandwagon,” adding “I think a lot of the ideas were very progressive and truly depict what we want to go for in the City. I am looking forward to working closely with the project team and the Committee in the implementation and testing of some of these ideas.”
 
Other priorities the Committee pulled from the recommendations include the introduction of parklets and temporary shade structures, increased lighting, and a pilot bicycle lane. The group also wants to pilot special programming to bring residents out with $100,000 set aside for the area in the Quality of Life Fund. Ideas included an outdoor movie night and activations on a small stretch of Pine Tree Drive between 40th and 41st Streets. The Committee will further discuss the pilot project ideas at its next meeting on September 4th.
 
For the bigger recommendations, the Committee is looking to the General Obligation (GO) Bond offering that will be considered by Miami Beach voters in November. The GO Bond is broken down into three buckets (requiring separate votes on each) including Parks and Recreation, Public Safety, and Neighborhoods and Infrastructure Projects. There is $15 million within the Neighborhood and Infrastructure list for the 41st Street Corridor to “Create vibrant commercial revitalization enhancements to the 41st Street corridor, such as lighting, increased tree canopies, sidewalk expansion, and shade structures.” Details on the GO Bond are here

 
 

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