Slow Streets Concept Being Piloted in Miami Beach’s Flamingo Park Neighborhood

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Slow Streets Concept Being Piloted in Miami Beach’s Flamingo Park Neighborhood:

Shift to pedestrians and bike safety as people stayed home during pandemic

If you pass through the Flamingo Park neighborhood this weekend, you’ll see something new – signs that indicate some of the roads are open to local traffic only. They’re part of a 30-day pilot program called Slow Streets. It’s a concept that has been getting traction around the country to provide space for walking and bicycling while people have been at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places it’s being tried: Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Toronto. Following approval from Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach is implementing a pilot, the first municipality in the County to try Slow Streets.

The idea for bringing Slow Streets here was first raised by bicycle activist Matthew Gultanoff, founder of Better Streets Miami Beach. Gultanoff took the issue to City Commissioner Mark Samuelian and the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association. Flamingo Park seemed like the best fit for a pilot, he said, because of its central location, connectivity to cultural and civic centers, and the high percentage of car-free households.

Gultanoff said the idea was well received by the neighborhood association. “They’ve been asking for years and years and years for something like this. They want to make their neighborhood as pedestrian friendly as possible, institute as much traffic calming as they can.”

“This is a concept that has had success in the US and across the world,” Samuelian said. “The simple goal is to make the streets safer and more pedestrian and cycling friendly. That is the real goal that we’re pursuing.”

“This is a logical extension of our Transportation Master Plan to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists. It’s also a very logical extension of what we did on Ocean Drive, removing the vehicles and allowing people and cyclists to have space and then also our protected bike lane on Washington Avenue,” Samuelian pointed out. In those cases, space was also allocated for restaurants to extend their sidewalk cafés into the streets to allow for socially distanced dining.

Gultanoff was one of those pushing for Ocean Drive to be closed to vehicle traffic after seeing what other cities were doing to respond to the pandemic. Washington Avenue followed shortly after. He called those streets, “the lowest of low hanging fruit,” and noted that one of the reasons those happened quickly was because of the business need. 

“We really wanted to see something for residents only,” Gultanoff said. The Slow Streets program in Flamingo Park “is a huge win for residents” who want to see safer streets, fewer cars, and slower speeds.

Here’s how it works: Take residential streets with low traffic volumes and create shared spaces for pedestrian and bicycle use by making them one-way or closed to all traffic except residents and local deliveries. In Miami Beach’s case, there are no changes from two-way to one-way but there are plenty of signs restricting certain streets.

The “rules of the road” according to the City:
  • Only LOCAL TRAFFIC is allowed on a Slow Street
  • Walking, biking and non-motorized scooters are welcome on this street
  • Slow your speed
  • Look out for each other
  • Maintain a 6 foot distance
  • Residential parking is not affected

Streets included in the pilot include Lenox, Jefferson, Pennsylvania and Meridian Avenues which run north-south and 14th, 13th, 10th, 8th, and 6th Streets east-west.

Miami Beach Transportation Director José Gonzalez became familiar with the Slow Streets concept after the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) endorsed it and several cities began implementing it.

To identify the best streets within Flamingo Park, Gonzalez said, “Part of the thought process was to create paths for pedestrians and bicycles to get to key locations within the neighborhood, so to designate Slow Streets that would provide access to things like the park, a CVS or a Walgreens, a grocery store, the school – Fisher Feinberg – there.” 

The plan was presented to the County which “took a conservative approach,” Gonzalez said, approving a 30-day pilot, after which they will “assess the impacts – the pros and the cons of the pilot – to see if it warrants continuation.”

Gonzalez said criteria that will be used to determine the success is both qualitative and quantitative:
  • Safety: From the number of accidents to sentiment (e.g. do people feel safer?).
  • Usage and traffic flow: Teams will conduct observations to determine if more people are walking and biking than before along the designated slow streets and how traffic is impacted. 
  • Community satisfaction: The Transportation Department plans weekly check-ins with the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association and local residents.

While the concept was developed during COVID to provide safer spaces outdoors, Gonzalez said, “It’s an initiative that can outlive COVID. It’s not a COVID-related measure that we’re implementing. It just so happens that we’re in this COVID environment and traffic volumes are lower so that should make it a little better, a littler safer.” If the pilot is approved for a longer period, the Department will observe impacts to traffic as volumes go up as more people return to work.

The pilot just started on Wednesday and the weather has been rainy but, so far, reaction has been good. “The feedback that I’ve seen has been positive,” Gonzalez said. “There hasn’t been a lot, but it’s all been positive so far.” He noted, however, “This pilot is very flexible. It’s very adjustable… It consists of signage which can very easily be picked up and moved as needed.”

Scott Needelman, President of the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association, said his group endorsed the concept and communicated the idea as much as it could prior to the implementation. Now that it’s in effect, some people have been surprised. Initial reaction that he’s seeing on Facebook “seems split,” he said, with “a lot of people saying, ‘It’s about time’” and others thinking “there’s some sort of scam with it.” 

“It’s a trial basis,” Needelman said. “Basically, all they’re trying to do is keep the traffic on those streets to local residents and keep it slow. That’s it. In my opinion, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

“If it can slow some cars down, that’s great,” he said. “If it can lessen the traffic in the neighborhood, that’s great. If it can make pedestrians feel more safe walking in the street – the same for bicyclists – then that’s great.”

Samuelian said he’s already heard from residents of the Bayshore neighborhood that would like to try Slow Streets. “I have a feeling, given that we worked so closely with the County on this, that there will be other areas and municipalities across Miami-Dade and South Florida that will want to see how this is going.”

One of Gultanoff’s goals is to show the benefits of Slow Streets to prove “more permanent pedestrian safety initiatives” can work. “I’ve heard from folks in other neighborhoods that want to see this where they live,” he said. “One of the hopes is, if it’s successful, it will potentially spread to other neighborhoods within the City” and, eventually, become permanent.

“Miami Beach residents are a very active bunch who spend a lot of time outdoors,” Gultanoff said, but so much of the City’s outdoor space is dedicated to cars. “The pilot is so great because it reallocates space from cars, especially in this neighborhood where the streets are so wide and cars can go fast.” In a neighborhood with “lots of kids” and where 70% of children attending Fisher Feinberg walk to school, slowing the speed of cars is a big concern, he said. 

Implementation of the pilot wasn’t the only good outcome for Gultanoff. The process has worked better than he’s seen it work before. For advocates of bicycle and pedestrian safety, he said, the pandemic has put things on the fast track. “Ordinarily it takes years and years of studies and outreach and this was all done concurrently.” 

While public outreach was taking place, the Transportation Department was working with the County on permits. “At end of the day, when it was finally approved by the [City] Commission, we were all ready to go.” The faster process was “another exciting thing that we’ve been able to do in this, of course, unfortunate situation,” Gultanoff said. 

He also thanked Samuelian for being “a champion of this project... It’s a great idea but it likely wouldn’t have happened without his support.”

For more information on Slow Streets Miami Beach, including a map of affected streets, click here.

For additional questions, contact Lauren Firtel, the City’s South Beach Neighborhood Affairs Coordinator, at 305.986.6403 or laurenfirtel@miamibeachfl.gov
 

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