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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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Vision Zero Alexandria

Did you know that Alexandria, Virginia recently became a Vision Zero City? On December 16, 2017, the City Council voted to adopt the Vision Zero Action Plan. We are proud to have led the Plan’s process with the city and with our project partners at Toole Design Group. After leading the DC Vision Zero Plan process,  it is great to help the DC Metro region become safer for all users traveling on our streets.

This plan follows years of work that the city has done to improve safety on city streets with a complete streets policy adopted nearly 8 years ago. With this work, the city has seen a decline in serious injuries and fatalities over the last few years. However, along with national trends, 2016 saw a slight uptick in injuries and fatalities. To address this critical issue, we worked with the city to examine Vision Zero best practices, departmental operations,  gauge public perception of traffic safety issues, and present data analysis for their Vision Zero Action Plan. This document serves as their guide moving forward over the next 10 years to achieve zero serious injuries and fatalities.

Alexandria is doing things a little different, by breaking that timeline out into 3-year work plans that prioritize actions in order to allocate funding and staff resources. This allows the city to reassess efforts periodically throughout the implementation period and adjust wherever necessary.

Another key piece about Alexandria is their drive to create a culture of safety in the city, where it’s not just about signals, but about each mode and user looking out for one another. As Vision Zero states, human life is valued above all else. While Alexandria’s fatalities are low, no loss of life is acceptable and we are glad to have had a hand in helping the city bring that number to zero.

Find the plan HERE and see our handiwork. We look forward to continuing to help the region become a safer place to walk, wheel, bike, ride transit, and drive.

Christine E. Mayeur, AICP is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.

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Networking In the Transportation Industry

One of the reasons I love working in transportation is the community. Everyone in the transit industry says it’s such a small world, and in the four years I’ve been involved, I am discovering that to be true. In this industry, people you meet, however briefly, will most likely pop up again years down the line. As a result, I quickly learned that one of the best ways to not only forward your career but to actually enjoy it, is to get involved in industry groups, whether they focus on advocacy, career advancement, or simply socializing (if you haven’t heard of the board game Ticket to Ride, it’s transit-nerd heaven). Starting my position at Nspiregreen (this is only the beginning of my third week) has been making me think a lot about my experience in the industry and how most of my opportunities and friendships were made possible because of all the volunteering and networking I’ve done.

My introduction into the transportation world in DC was when I volunteered for Sustainable DC’s transportation working group. Through those efforts, I met a DDOT employee who I learned a lot from, but whom I didn’t necessarily expect to have a lasting impact on my career. Fast forward two years and I’m applying to be a transit planner for HDR. That very same DDOT employee was the client for the project I was being hired for! Needless to say, that connection helped me get the job.

Later that year, HDR sent me to the WTS-DC holiday party where I met the then-Vice President of the chapter. After spending the night bonding with her and other members at the cheese table (because everyone knows many great moments in life are directly related to cheese), she invited me to join the board as co-chair of their Mentoring Program. Four years later and I am still holding the same board position, and am in awe every year about the amazing mentors and mentees I get to work with. Being on the WTS board and participating in the Mentoring Program have been incredibly gratifying experiences that I recommend to everyone. In fact, after meeting most of the Nspiregreen employees years ago while working with them on a DDOT project, I was able to stay in touch by convincing them to join the Mentoring Program. Three of the five other staff members (and a former employee) here have participated in the program as either mentors or mentees and I will be working on convincing the other two to participate once applications open up again next year.

The final factor in helping me decide to write my first blog post about networking in the industry is my first project with Nspiregreen—helping with public outreach for Vision Zero in Alexandria. Normally when you begin a new job, it takes a little while to adjust to the people you’re working with and feel like you are a part of the team, but I happily discovered that I would be spending my outreach time working with people that I met at YPT (Young Professionals in Transportation) events towards the beginning of my career. Despite not talking to them for years, that shared experience was enough to feel like I had been working on this project with them for as long as any of my Nspiregreen colleagues.

I am very excited to join the Nspiregreen team because these women are known for their ability to network and engage the community, whether within the industry or out in public. I have so much to learn from them and hope to step up my game even more. And because of their vast network and involvement in all types of projects around the area, I can’t wait for the opportunity to work with even more incredible people all throughout the industry.

Stacy Weisfeld is a community and transportation planner whose career has been driven by her passion for environmental sustainability. She is adept at engaging the public, bringing together unlikely allies, and finding innovative solutions to unexpected problems. She serves as a board member for Women’s Transportation Seminar, is certified with ISI Envision Sustainability, and is a graduate of American Public Transportation Association’s national Emerging Leaders Program.

 





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