Instead of a Pedestrian Bridge, How About a Street That Works for Walking, Biking, and Transit?

If you build a street that's safe to cross, you don't need a pedestrian bridge. Image: Dover, Kohl & Partners
If you build a street that's safe to cross, you don't need a pedestrian bridge. Image: Dover, Kohl & Partners

When a hastily constructed pedestrian bridge collapsed onto Eighth Street at Florida International University, killing six people, it should have been a wake-up call for transportation officials.

In addition to being a fatal failure of engineering and construction, the bridge collapse was a failure of street design and transportation planning by Miami Dade County and Florida DOT. Eighth Street is wide, fast, and deadly, but instead of making the crossing safe for pedestrians, state and county officials opted to build a bridge over it.

How can car-centric Eighth Street be redesigned as a safe, multi-modal street? Planners Victor Dover and Kenneth García have some ideas. 

Writing in Miami’s Community Newspapers, Dover says it’s time to make Eighth Street work for walking:

We are correctly focused right now on the six victims killed under the bridge collapse. But in the last 4 years, more than 2200 crashes occurred along this part of the corridor, and at least 12 other people died in those collisions.

The real purpose of the bridge was to reduce the pesky crosswalks and speed up traffic, to minimize signal phases when motorists would have to wait for people to cross on foot. Meanwhile, the effect of such bridges is to permanently surrender the at-grade pedestrian experience.

Here Dover and García show Eighth Street in its current form, designed solely to facilitate fast driving:

Image: Dover, Kohl & Partners
Image: Dover, Kohl & Partners

Dover and García propose curbside protected bike lanes and a median busway. Combined, these interventions also calm car traffic and greatly reduce crossing distances for pedestrians: FIU bus lane

The Miami Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization considered bus lanes for Eighth Street in 2015, but officials rejected the idea. 

Obviously, overhauling the street for transit and safe walking and biking would be a more complicated undertaking than snapping a bridge on top of the road. But the benefits would be much, much greater and would compound over time.

Everything decision surrounding the bridge — from declining bus lanes, to choosing a pedestrian bridge over a road diet, to using a “quick build” process to install the bridge and then stress test it without closing traffic — was about accommodating drivers and not delaying them. It’s time for local planners to move past this failed paradigm.

  • thielges

    “The real purpose of the bridge was to reduce the pesky crosswalks and speed up traffic…”
    Exactly. And this is the case for a large amount, perhaps most, pedestrian overcrossing projects. Their purpose is not to benefit people on foot but instead to get them out of the way so cars can moved faster. The brutal irony is that POCs are expensive and tend to be funded by monies earmarked to improve active transportation: walking and bicycling. But instead POCs drain those funds to make walking and bicycling more difficult due to the climbing and detours required.
    Advocates for active transportation avoid making the seemingly obvious but often wrong conclusion that POCs help people on foot and instead push for less intrusive grade crossing improvements where appropriate. And don’t let the automobile lobbies raid active transportation funds for POCs.
    There are cases where POCs provide great benefits for walkers and bicyclists: spanning freeways, high speed rail, rivers, etc. Save the funds for those situations.

  • Cynara2

    The infrastructure is irrelevent to the situation that is happening between cyclists and pedestrians. Cyclists are not going to stop at those crosswalks.

  • Bruce

    If this can work, then a simple crosswalk oughta do just fine:

  • bolwerk

    That street is an urban planning mistake no matter what you do. With something like that, you could almost certainly fit a row of small-ish townhouses townhouses and mixed use apartments into the middle of it and have two intimate streets, put cyclists on one and transit on the other.

    Too bad for the war on housing. 🙁

  • Bruce

    Nearly the whole state of Florida (indeed, the South as a whole) is an urban planning mistake.

  • Bernard Finucane

    I agree, it works fine, but it’s also worth mentioning that new stuff takes time to get used to. For example, my brother got run over by a bike in Berlin (damaging the bike and its rider, but not him) because he was standing in the middle of the bike lane and simply ignored the bike bell. Also, the bike was going too fast for the crowded situation. He was a tourist. Anyone who’d been in town a few months would not have made the mistake.

  • 1976boy

    I’m really starting to believe that we ought to only focus really effective complete street solutions in cities and leave the suburban areas to fend for themselves. Most of the people I encounter in the suburbs are hostile to the idea of de-prioritizing faster car traffic and have little to no concern for the needs of pedestrians as they are seen as lowly.

    The problem is that so much of the US has been converted into arterial car dependent suburban and exurban sprawl that people will only walk to and from their cars. And who can blame them when the experience is unsafe and unpleasant?

  • Bernard Finucane

    I agree, the suburbs are too big anyway. most of that land isn’t needed to serve the population, so there is no reason to invest in it.

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree. When I look at that area in Google Earth and read most of the comments here, I see a huge cognitive disconnect. This isn’t NYC. Outside of the area near FIU there’s no potential for significant pedestrian activity for miles. It’s all suburban residential sprawl and/or businesses which people will mostly drive to. Distances are way too long to even consider walking in most cases. So it makes no sense to rebuild that entire street as a complete street to basically make things better in one intersection. To me a pedestrian bridge is an appropriate solution in areas of heavy pedestrian activity on roads which have little potential for pedestrian activity over most of their length. To try to emulate in the suburbs what makes sense in the city make no more sense than the last 50 years of trying to shoehorn cars into dense cities. People who move to suburbs don’t want to walk or ride bikes. They want to drive everywhere. So long as we make sure they keep their cars out of our cities that’s all we can do.

    There are obviously lots of other reasons besides car dependency why suburban sprawl is bad, but the economics will eventually result in many suburbs reverting back to nature as their supporting cities can no longer bankroll them.

    Another reason not to invest heavily here is the fact a lot of Florida is in a flood plane. In 50 years it will either be under water or too hot for human habitation.

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. Eventually for various reasons many suburbs will revert back to nature or farmland. That’s a more appropriate use of that space anyway. No sense putting good money into bad.

  • Joe R.

    That would make lots of sense if the location here was a medium or large city, not more or less the middle of nowhere. In the street view it looks a lot like Suffolk Country, which is definitely not a place where you worry about pedestrian accommodations. That area is about 2 miles from a major wildlife preserve. There would be lots of opposition to putting more people there, both because of that, and because the existing residents likely don’t want the “character” of their neighborhood changed.

    As livable streets advocates, we have to realize a lot of the country is just beyond hope. Let’s stick to getting rid of suburban type development in large, dense cities which already have lots of heavy pedestrian activity. This is a suburb. No matter how nice you make it to walk or bike, you won’t have many takers.

  • bolwerk

    Wasn’t saying that’s what you *should* do, just what you *could* do. I was trying to illustrate the scale of that street. I don’t know enough about that area to say what should be done.

    That prescription would absolutely make sense on Queens Boulevard!

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree with doing something like that on Queens Boulevard. The subway is right there. There is already tons of street activity. You could also do the same thing on Ocean Parkway, Woodhaven Boulevard, etc. Lots of these types of arterials in NYC where some road space could be repurposed for housing. We could also build above and/or under expressways. Ditto for under railway viaducts, such as the #7 viaduct near LIC.

  • Hugh Shepard

    “Suburbs” can mean a lot. Some “suburbs” are denser, and more walkable and bikeable. Also, I think that if an area like this could ease up its zoning laws so as to accommodate denser development then the complete streets, bike-ability, and walkability would follow. People, in my opinion, don’t move to certain places because they want to be dependent on cars. No, they move to certain places because it’s a nice neighborhood, convinient commute, good schools, close to family and friends, affordable, low crime, etc….. If these places with all these attractive features were more dense and walkable, then more people would bike and walk.

  • Joe R.

    What you’re saying makes a lot more sense in the so-called streetcar suburbs which gave over their streets to motoring in the last 50 years. The population density already exists. It’s simply a matter of deprioritizing cars and prioritizing cycling/walking.

    In this location you would first need to get the density up before affecting any street changes. That alone would be a hard sell. It’s not like people move to these types of areas to become car dependent. Rather, they move there to have a McMansion on 1 acre lots. That unfortunately precludes anything but car dependency. Trying to upzone places like that is always going to be an uphill battle.

    A second problem is it makes no sense at all to encourage more people to settle in this area, and frankly in much of Florida. Long term whatever we build won’t last on account of global warming and sea-level rise.

  • Vooch
  • Vooch

    the only reason Florida has population growth is gov’t employees moving there from north east to collect at tax free pension

    pension reform would kill FLA

  • KJ

    Yet, there are pedestrians and bicyclists in those places who still need safer streets… don’t give up on them!

  • Michael Lewyn

    Contrary to what some of you have posted, this area is not in the middle of nowhere. It is near a major university (FIU) and at the end of a major bus route (the 8, extending from downtown Miami to the edge of suburbia).

  • Bassoon Reedman

    Florida is the third most populous state in US (after California and Texas) — it has more people than New York State. It is not “suburbia”. What it lacks is “urban core jobs” which bring high-rise commercial density. Explanatory Florida anecdote: in the Fortune list of 100 biggest US companies, there are only two headquartered in Florida – Publix Supermarkets and World Fuel Services. There are only three “industries” in Florida — government, real estate/construction, and tourism. The remaining employment is minuscule.

  • Cynara2

    The cyclists do not respect the crosswalks. They are useless when cyclists are around. They refuse to stop for pedestrians. It has nothing to do with infrastructure.

  • Cynara2

    That is frankly, disgusting. Blind and disabled are not going to be able to handle that. Elderly people can’t either. Gosh, get your heads out of your you know whats. This is ridiculous. It is cyclists that need to safeguard the safety of pedestrians. That is codified law and nobody wants it changed except hypocritical cyclists. YOU defer to pedestrians. They do NOT defer to you. You are machines, not pedestrians.

  • Cynara2

    You are very, very wrong. This is California, not Berlin. The law here is that anyone on a machine defers to pedestrians, no matter what. It is the law that you do anything you can to abide by your duty of care to safeguard the pedestrian.
    Cars here do not get to honk at pedestrians in the road and keep right on going and slam into them and neither do cyclists.
    Cyclists and motorists here are legally required to be responsible around pedestrians. Forcing pedestrians to do anything and causing them injury because you made no effort to stop for them, no matter what, can end up in potential prison time for a driver or cyclist if that pedestrian is injured.
    This is California, not China and not Berlin.

  • Bernard Finucane

    I’m pretty sure the drivers are more careful about pedestrians and bikes in Berlin. And I am very sure that drivers are more likely to face consequences from running over pedestrians.

  • UnderMindControl

    so everyone in your opinion should live on top of each other in Urban hell, lowering thwir quality of life, so we live like 3rd world peasants? Why do you want to control where people live? I’m from the Inner City, can’t wait to get the fuck out

  • Stephen Simac

    don’t forget lawn care. Most housing developments are suburban or exurban, although there is more density in “older” cities and towns, while the coastal areas can have condo alleys.

  • Stephen Simac

    I grew up walking and cycling in south Florida suburban neighborhoods, and when shade trees have matured or were left in place it was a delightful experience, not shared by many of course, because they were mostly inside chilled with air conditioning, but I certainly wasn’t the only one, and that number seems to have increased when I return. Year round warmth, coastal breezes, intermittent summer rains, when bicycling provided a constant breeze to dissipate humidity sweat. Even the neighborhoods with larger lot sizes simply had fewer driveways to contend with. I hated riding on arterial roads, but because so much development was gridded, there were almost always parallel routes with little to no traffic.

  • Don’t confuse a slum area of a city with the concept of urban life in general. You can get out of a depressed sector of a city without leaving the city entirely.

    Cities are the natural way that humans organise themselves; and density is inherently a good thing.

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