Miami Beach to Explore Making Ocean Drive a One-Way Street

Ocean Drive

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach to Explore Making Ocean Drive a One-Way Street:

Recommendation from Mayor's Ocean Drive panel

When Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber appointed his panel on Ocean Drive, he asked not for a final report but rather regular action items that could be implemented to improve the experience on the iconic street.
This month, Commissioners gave the Administration the go-ahead to explore one of those action items from the Subcommittee on Safety, Security and Infrastructure – support for the exploration of an enhanced pedestrian experience along Ocean Drive, implementing permanent southbound-only traffic, removal of parking on the east side of the street, and expansion of the western sidewalk.
Gelber called the idea “something that is easier to police and has a better pedestrian experience and creates an Ocean Drive that we all wanted which, I think, is a little different than the one we have, frankly.”
He noted that because Ocean Drive is a County road, Miami-Dade County will need to approve any changes.
“The truth of the matter is, I think it’s time for us to take action on Ocean Drive,” Gelber told Commissioners. “I feel like we have danced around this for a long time and I feel like this [subcommittee] had a pretty good segment of the population and they’ve endorsed something that I think both the Police Chief and others want.”
City Manager Jimmy Morales said this is something that has been talked about for the past six years and with the GO Bond money for Ocean Drive, this is a good time to begin a design process that would include significant input from all of the stakeholders. 
“We’re talking about a process,” Morales said. Even with the go ahead to explore the idea, he said the City is “probably a year plus away” from bidding an actual construction project out.
The County approval process that will include traffic studies “could add anywhere from six months to a year to the process,” Morales noted.
Miami Beach Transportation Director Jose Gonzalez said, “Ocean Drive doesn’t play a major role in the transportation network in terms of traffic flow, it’s more a street for cruising.” He anticipated the biggest concerns for the County will be how to treat the intersections at 5th and 15th Streets.”
Commissioner Mark Samuelian, a member of the Ocean Drive Safety, Security and Infrastructure Subcommittee, said, “I think it’s prudent that we proceed… there will be a lot of opportunities to review it.”

“The headline is when you set up this committee, you asked for it to be action-oriented and come back with specifics,” Samuelian said to Gelber. “I think the committee has done a fine job. I think we have a consensus that we don’t have the best street layout and traffic patterns, whether it’s the interface of cars, pedestrians, there’s still challenges walking down the west side of the street, so we need to do better. I think there’s strong interest in the community for a much more pedestrian friendly experience.”
“We want to make this a positive for the business community and a positive for the City so as this analysis proceeds, I just want to underline the importance of the economics,” Samuelian said. “If we lose parking spaces, but we could grow our sidewalk cafes, that’s going to be an important part of it, but I fully support this moving forward.”
David Wallack, owner of Mango’s Café, objected saying the business community’s voice has not been heard. “What is needed is certainly a traffic impact study but also an economic impact study of a formal nature. To exclude the business interests is a severe mistake. There is not one person on this board that has business experience on Ocean Drive. Not one.”
The question of the impact of the changes on the business community, “Not even asked,” Wallack said. “Please do not leave out the economic impact study that is so much needed to go with a traffic study.”
Commissioner Michael Góngora asked, “Why isn’t the Ocean Drive business community involved here?” Referencing the subcommittee list, he said, “Now that I see the members here, there’s some fine people that I know but I don’t think other than Jo [Manning] nobody lives on Ocean Drive and none of them are certainly business owners on Ocean Drive. This is kind of a big deal item. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad, I’m not sure as I sit here today.”
Commissioner John Alemán asked, “Because we don’t have an operator on this committee, what are we going to do to make sure that in the design we don’t have a negative impact on the ability of, the flow of people so people can get to the businesses as well as freight loading and deliveries, rideshare, disability access to the businesses? What is the mechanism by which we make sure that all of those operational concerns are addressed and shored up?”
“The idea is the west side of the street will continue to be valet, freight loading, so that plan will have to take that into consideration,” Morales answered. “We will work with the stakeholders there.” He said centralized valet per block is being considered and ADA accessibility will be a mandatory part of the review.
One of the subcommittees ideas, to potentially decrease the size of the eastern sidewalk, was removed from the item after Alemán and Commissioner Joy Malakoff objected. They are concerned any reduction would hamper efforts of people who want to stop and view the Art Deco buildings across the street.
Gelber summed it up. “I feel like this is one of these things we continually analyze and analyze and analyze. The best way to do it is to give the Administration the opportunity to actually come back to us with something that we could actually say, ‘yup, let’s go.’ And this is not a ‘we’re doing it,’ this is an exploration motion,” he said. 
Morales said funding and the scope of the project will all come back to Commission for final approval.
“I just want to start moving in this direction,” Gelber said. “It will take a year or two but I think we need to take the first step.”
Commissioners agreed with Gelber and authorized the exploration of the changes.

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