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Rebuild or Rethink?

Earlier this month a $14.2 million pedestrian bridge collapsed in Miami, Florida killing six and injuring ten people. Immediately, new articles sprang up trying to figure out the cause, such as here, here, and countless others. I’ll leave it to the structural engineers and the courts to sort out the cause of the bridge collapse.

When I first saw the photos and video, I thought the pedestrian bridge was over a highway. As more photos became available, I realized this was a bridge over SW 8 Street, or Calle Ocho, with traffic lights and crosswalks. The purpose of the bridge was to connect Florida International University (FIU) students to campus housing and the adjacent community. The real problem with this street is that functions as a highway that prioritizes motor vehicles over people. If we can change our mindset to prioritize people, can reduce the roadway footprint and reduce our infrastructure needs.

From what I can tell on Google street view, the street is about 10 lanes wide (8 travel lanes, 1 hashed area the width of a lane, and 2 bike lanes that equal 1 travel lane) plus a median. Based on data from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the Average Annual Daily Traffic on the street was 66,500 vehicles, which is about the same volume as New York Avenue NE in DC between Montana Avenue and Bladensburg Road which has 6 lanes plus a median.*

I made an approximate cross-section of the existing conditions at the location of the pedestrian bridge, based on Google Earth images. This perspective is looking westbound.

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After the investigations are finished, there is the question to rebuild the bridge. Rather than rebuild, FIU and FDOT should consider other options that would make it a complete and safe street. I played around with cross-sections including some that do not require putting SW 8 Street on a road diet. All the cross-sections are looking westbound. Some options they could consider, not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • Widen the median: It appears that the westbound lane had a double left turn at one point. Rather than narrow the roadway it looks like the lane was removed by hashing. Given the space available, they could reorganize the roadway, so the median is equal to the current median and the hashed travel lane or about 16 feet. It would create a pedestrian refuge. Below is a cross-section that I mocked up that maintains the existing number of travel lanes. 

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  • Install protected bike lanes: From the Google aerial, it appears there are bike lanes on both sides of the street. The speed limit is 40 miles per hour, which means people are probably driving closer to 50-60 mph. For even the most fearless of cyclists, that is terrifying. They could consider installing a two-way cycle track on the south side of the street or raised cycle tracks on both sides of the street. Below is an example of a two-way cycle track

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  • Increase public transit: The Sweetwater Trolley operates every half hour. The Miami- Dade Transit has three bus routes that serve the university even at their peaks they are about every 30 minutes. While the system is free, 30-minute headways are not ideal for encouraging ridership. FIU could work with Sweetwater and Miami-Date Transit to develop a robust public transit system that benefits the university and residents. For the illustrative, I repurposed two travel lanes for bus only lanes and added in a bus shelter.

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  • Create people friendly public space: The sidewalks are right at the curb, which means people are walking right next to the roadway. In addition, there is very little shade along the sidewalk. Even with the location of the utility poles on the south side of the street, it is possible to create a grass median between the curb and a wider sidewalk as well as adding trees to add more shade. On the north side, it is possible to add a sidewalk and shade trees to make the linear park something more special that how it is today. If the roadway is narrower by a lane, that space could be added to the linear park. For the illustrative, I kept the cycle-track, narrowed the inside lanes to 10 feet and reduce the capacity from 7 travel lanes to 5. I left the outside lanes 11 feet to accommodate public transit.
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These are some ideas based on doing a digital tour on the site. After the investigations conclude, hopefully, there will be consideration of turning SW 8 St into a boulevard that is a gateway to FIU and Sweetwater.

*Note: FDOT’s data is 2016 and District Department of Transportation’s data is 2015. The point of comparison is volume and number of lanes.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.
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My First Year at TransportationCamp

The Transportation Research Board Conference is one of my favorite times of the year. For me it’s like a big reunion where I get to see everyone who has moved away from DC (we’re so transient) or who I met through various transportation events throughout the years. This year, however, is the first year I attended TransportationCamp (yes, it’s all one word). I had no idea what to expect from this “un-conference”, but as I did expect, I had a great time and was introduced to ideas I had never considered.

One aspect of Transportation Camp that is very different from other conferences I’ve attended is that, after someone from the host organization, Mobility Lab, gave an introductory speech, they went around the room and almost every single one of the 400 attendees said who they were, where they worked, and three words that described why they were at the conference. I was pleasantly surprised that there were attendees of all ages (‘camp’ made me think ‘young’), in all different stages in their career, and from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds. And TransportationCamp had sessions to please all groups, including the planners, engineers, data crunchers, GIS specialists, and more.

TrnspCmpThe first session I attended was my coworker’s Christine Mayeur. I may be biased but it was one of my favorites of the day. Each of the five or so tables were given a Google Map printout and description of a particular area in DC, trace paper, and colored markers. She began by giving a brief presentation about how the widespread switch to autonomous vehicles will open up street space for other uses by reducing the need for parking and allowing for narrower lanes. Each group was then asked to redesign their area for how it could look once this change happened. The ideas were interesting and I can definitely see them happening if there’s enough will for them. For example, blocking off car access on H St NW in between 5th St NW and 7th St NW. Removing car travel lanes and parking would create room for a cycle track, bus lanes, and wider sidewalks, since the area is always crammed with tourists and residents. See the drawing below for all of the ideas for the area!

I also really enjoyed a session that focused on transit videos, not just because I got to watch some wonderful, horrible, bizarre, and hilarious YouTube clips, but because it made me really think about the best way for transit agencies to advertise themselves and provide public service announcements. One video that really stood out for me was an LA Metro PSA about a superhero called “Super Kind”. It would definitely fall under the bizarre category. I can’t really even explain it well – you’ll just have to watch it yourself – but I will say there’s a big furry monster eating Skittles on the train and a superhero girl trying to get him to stop. The first time I saw it I was turned off because of just how weird it is, but after the panel started discussing it I realized I was approaching it wrong. The whole point of the video was to remind people that they can’t eat on the train, and it sure imprinted that on your mind. One of the panelists shared how she showed it to her 4-year-old and ever since then he is adamant about not eating on the train and is upset with other people he sees doing it. I guess it has its audience. Was the production cost worth it, though? Not sure. What do you all think?

The video that was rated the highest, though, and my personal favorite, is from our own WMATA to advertise the opening of the Silver Line. It’s probably because I’m a transportation nerd, but every time I see it I get excited about the work we’re all doing to improve transportation around the country (okay, so it’s definitely because I’m a transportation nerd). But here’s the thing I love about Transportation Camp, TRB, and all of the other conferences I get to go to – we’re all transportation nerds who love getting together to bask in our nerd-iness and our shared passion for creating better transportation systems. I can’t wait for the next one!

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Reflecting on the Past, Ready for the Future!

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The new year is a time to reflect on the past and set goals for the future. The past year brought us satisfaction and challenges that allowed us to grow as individuals and as a team. We hope 2018 comes with opportunities to help communities become more sustainable.  

Over the past year, we have continued to grow in the region leading projects such as Vision Zero in Alexandria, VA, providing technical research on innovative beneficial reuse of dredged materials in Maryland while expanding our reach to our not-so-distant neighbor Philadelphia, PA to lead the University City District Just Spaces project.

At home in DC, we are continuing our work on projects such as the Southeast Boulevard and Barney Circle Environmental Assessment as well as the GreenWrench Automotive Pollution Prevention Program.

While these projects represent a snippet of the contributions we are making in the planning and environmental realm, we anticipate continued growth in this new year. Our main goal for 2018 is to continue developing and implementing creative solutions that will help communities achieve their social, cultural, economic, and environmental goals. As such, we look forward to working with new and existing clients; meeting other communities and leaders; and learning and implementing other methods and practices into our projects, such as public art.

We pride ourselves on being forward-thinkers; therefore, we believe that creative solutions are the most effective way to tackle the challenges facing communities today. Later this month, we will tell you a little bit more about our “refresh” for 2018. We look forward to an exciting and fulfilling 2018.

On behalf of the entire Nspiregreen team, we wish you a Happy New Year!

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