This Is What a 'Complete Streets' Campaign Should Look Like

In Miami Beach, grassroots activists have put together a powerful campaign for roads that suit bikers and walkers, along with cars.

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I took a tour of Miami Beach this morning. No, not in person (though I wish), but via the wonders of Google Earth. And I didn’t see South Beach, the grand hotels, or the ocean, for that matter. So what was the point?

Alton Road, Miami Beach
Alton Road, Miami Beach

I wanted to see a stretch of road on the backside of the community – away from the Atlantic – that is being reconstructed by the Florida Department of Transportation. It’s a 1.3-mile stretch of Florida Route 907, known locally as Alton Road. My first set of impressions varied from it’s nondescript, to it’s chaotic, to it’s every road in America, to "are you kidding me, it’s sunshine and palm trees, where’s the beef?"

Alton Road, Miami Beach
Alton Road, Miami Beach

But, as I looked closer, I noticed the stranded pedestrians. They wouldn’t be in the middle of the roadway if they were better accommodated, and I even felt frightened for one or two of them. This is not an easy road to cross conveniently. And, to tell the truth, it doesn’t even look that pleasant to drive on. Isn’t the reconstruction – required mostly for flood control – an opportunity to make it work better for everyone with a "complete streets" approach?

Alton Road, Miami Beach

That’s exactly what a grassroots group called the Alton Road Reconstruction Coalition thinks. I love the graphic below, which sets out the possibilities and the coalition’s position about as clearly and sensibly as I’ve seen. What they are proposing wouldn’t cost that much more, if anything, and it would make both the road safer and that part of the community more pleasant to be in. There are all sorts of wins here, and no real losses that I can see. It’s a terrific example of how to do local advocacy, in my opinion. 

graphic from Alton Road Reconstruction Coalition

Take a look at the coalition’s website to learn more. There’s more detail, but the citizens' proposal includes the following:

  • Wide sidewalks
  • Hike / Bike trail for runners and bikers on the west side of Alton
  • Narrow driving lanes to slow traffic and allow for more sidewalk space — 10 ‘ vs. 11′
  • More shade trees
  • Center island medians to allow a refuge for pedestrians and planting space for shade trees
  • 30 MPH speed limit
  • More parking
  • Pedestrian crossing signals at all intersections

It’s a great concept as is, but I would urge that they consider a few improvements to the proposal. In particular:

  • This is at least partially about flood control. Why not add some green infrastructure in the form of pervious pavers in the sidewalks and crosswalks, and with sophisticated landscaping specifically designed to absorb rainwater? It makes sense to work on complete streets and green streets at the same time. By the way, some of this may be implicit in the proposal; if so, I would highlight it so the DOT has to respond.
  • The illustration does show pavers in the bike lanes. That’s the wrong place for them. Bumpy pavement is okay for pedestrians but horrible for cyclists, and wet pavers are especially slippery for bicycle tires. Keep the bike lanes smooth.
  • I also would not encourage runners and cyclists to use the same space, particularly a two-way space, as seems to be the proposal here. That diminishes the experience for both and is an accident waiting to happen, especially since so many runners wear headphones while they are out and can’t hear warnings.

Those are minor tweaks, though. On the whole, this is a great idea and very well presented.  Let’s hope the coalition gets the results they and the community deserve. Thanks to Wanda Mouzon for bringing this issue to her friends, including me.

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

  • Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More
    Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.