When the Florida Department of Transportation heard neighborhood feedback Tuesday on alternative plans for a bridge linking West Avenue over the Collins Canal17th Street, the clearest message came from people who feared the bridge would turn the neighborhood into a shortcut for avoiding Alton Road.
FDOT public information officer Yvette Holt asked the crowd of about 50 residents from the Sunset Harbour, West Avenue, North Bay Road and Belle Isle neighborhoods what they thought was the best option of many discussed at the two-hour meeting. The largest group — about one-third of those attending — said they preferred a bridge that only served pedestrians, runners and bicyclists.
Their fear: that the proposed bridge would serve as an alternative to congested Alton Road, and the growing but quiet Sunset Harbour neighborhood would shift from a destination for neighborhood restaurants and stores to pass-through for commuters.
FDOT consultant Jose Lavell, the deputy project manager, gave an overview of the planning process for the proposed bridge, which began with a study in 2007 and is now in its public input and design alternative study phase.
FDOT has a website on the bridge project, which will be updated with materials shown at the meeting. The site also can be used by residents to submit questions for the planners, Holt said.
If the process moves forward toward building a bridge — something the Miami Beach City Commission will ultimately decide — the design phase would happen in 2013 and there would be one to two years of construction. So if a bridge is built, it won’t be in place until 2014 or 2015.
Tuesday’s meeting was the second held to tap neighborhood sentiment about the bridge. There will be more, Lavell said.
“We want as much feedback as possible,” he said.
He received plenty.
In a PowerPoint, FDOT showed four options for the bridge. All include at least two lanes for cars, a bike lane north and south, and eight-foot-wide sidewalks on either side. They varied in the number of vehicle lanes based on how traffic would be allowed to turn off West on 17th Street and Dade Boulevard. They ranged in cost (estimated, of course) from $3.9 million to about $4.7 million.
Feedback was frequent, pointed, and driven from the perspective of the different neighborhoods. Most focused on concerns that a bridge connecting West Avenue would lure drivers trying to avoid heavy traffic on Alton Road.
Two residents of the lower North Bay Road neighborhood (north of 20th Street) said they supported the bridge, but only if the south end of Bay Road — near the entrance to Sunset Islands and Mark’s Cleaners — is only for traffic leaving North Bay Road.
“What we want to see at the south end of North Bay Road is an exit only,” said lower Bay Road resident Mark Ausley. “Otherwise it would be disasterous to our neighborhood” because of drivers heading north to avoid Alton Road.
A representative of the Sunset Harbour condo association said his neighbors support the bridge because Purdy Avenue already serves as the cut-through to avoid Alton, and this would divert some of it. He said the upcoming opening of Fresh Market and the new city parking garage, there will be even more traffic in the neighborhood and this would help relieve the congestion.
And Michael Comras, a business owner at 1261 20th St., said he also backed the bridge.
“This is no longer a sleepy little area,” he said. “It’s all about balance. With Fresh Market, the new parking garage, the area will be very constricted. It’s all about a compromise.”
But residents of the Sunset Harbour Townhouses, on 20th Street, said they worry the bridge will bring traffic through the center of the neighborhood only to collect where West Avenue ends — right at their front door.
Another Sunset Harbour Townhouse resident, Nina Boniske, said planners would spoil the neighborhood with the bridge.
“What makes this neighborhood unique is that it is an enclave, she said “It is a natural enclave. The minute you put the bridge in here all you are doing is moving traffic from one road to another. If you are just looking to help the Beach have more bicycle and pedestrian access, this won’t do it.”
Boniske said the area can advance without the bridge.
“If you use the existing roadways and reconfigure them, and increase green space, you can keep the neighborhood enclave,’ she said. “We are as a thriving commercial area already without having this access, without having parking.”
Mark Wohl, who lives in a condo at 1688 West Avenue, where it currently ends at 17th Street, said FDOT and the city haven’t listened enough to resident input and been open to alternatives to the bridge. He criticized the current construction at Dade Boulevard and Bay Road, where a concrete median has been installed to prevent westbound drivers on Dade from turning right on to Bay.
Lavell said there are a variety of tools that can be deployed to slow traffic on the bridge, and to prevent drivers from using the bridge — and the neighborhood to avoid Alton Road. Few lanes, no left or right turns at 17th Street or Dade Boulevard, traffic calming devices — all could have an impact.
FDOT also could propose is no bridge at all, he said.