Pedestrian Access Denied
At what point is the Baywalk project going to move forward? Plans were submitted to the City in 2004. What has happened since then? Not much. Contrary to what some might think, this is no fantasy project and shouldn’t be a distant prospect. A Bay Walk is a common aspect of coastal cities throughout the world–large and small, obscure and renown. It represents a fundamental connection between city life and the bay. Biscayne Bay, being one of the defining natural characteristics of the city, is at the core of Miami’s identity, yet Miamians are largely blocked from walking its shores.
Image: Photograph I took of the waterfront promenade at La Coruna, Spain
The plans for Miami’s Baywalk are astounding. It would link together three major waterfront Parks, the Miami River, Bayside Marketplace, American Airlines Arena, and proposed Science and Art Museums. This would make for one of the most distinctive waterfront promenades in the U.S., yet the City has made no encouraging progress since the PPS report was submitted in 2004.
Image: Section of the waterfront promenade in Oporto, Portugal. The bike path is the green segment of the promenade. This picture was taken during the early afternoon in the middle of the week. After work and school, the promenade swarms with pedestrian activity.
Are There Too Many Barriers?
In between the Miami River and Margaret Pace Park, there are few major development impediments. Bayfront Park and the Bayside Marketplace represent a clear line of development. The Bayside Marketplace, although hampered during promenade construction, would likely benefit greatly from projected pedestrian increases later. Overall, from the Miami River up to Margaret Pace Park there are three primary development barriers/challenges:
- Port Boulevard
- FEC Slip
- MacArthur Causeway
Some would argue that I left out the Miami Women’s Club but I don’t consider that a construction challenge since the space along the bay is ample and unimpeded. That’s a matter of deal brokering.
Getting back to the three primary challenges:
1. Port Boulevard
Image: Port Boulevard as seen from Google Maps
This street blocks access from the Bayside Marketplace into Parcel B next to the American Airlines Arena section of the promenade:
- Build across it to the west – A Baywalk becomes a mere sidewalk if it veers away from the bay. This would also involve a crosswalk or inconvenient elevated walkway. Making people stop to wait for car traffic, or go up and down a ramp or stairs hampers pedestrian continuity.
- Build around it to the east – This would involve creating a walkway that goes under the existing overpass in between the land and the causeway support columns. This would require dredging and the creation of a protruded seawall/walkway. Doing so would keep the pedestrian flow continuous and level along the bay. At night, it would also offer an impressive view of the Port Causeway’s columns illuminated in blue.
2. The FEC Slip
Image: The FEC Slip/Inlet as seen from Google Maps
Although some might disagree, the FEC Slip is not a huge problem. I think that it presents two main options:
Build around it – Going around the inlet really isn’t a terrible prospect. It maintains the Baywalk and merely temporarily joins the Biscayne Boulevard (east) sidewalk with the Baywalk to get around the FEC Slip. This represents an unnecessarily longer route for the pedestrian or bike rider but solves the problem.
Pedestrian bridge – Already part of the preliminary plans, this would create a more direct route for promenade users, keep the Baywalk separate from the Biscayne Boulevard (east) sidewalk, and add a unique aesthetic and functional element to the promenade. It’s more expensive than option one but also more attractive and practical for pedestrians.
3. The MacArthur Causeway
Build around it to the east – Really this is the only option and it’s the same as the Port Boulevard scenario except in this case building an elevated walkway is a preposterous alternative. In this case the east extension would have a stunning night view of the MacArthur Causeway’s columns illuminated in purple light. In the event that the I-395 be depressed (“open ditch”) and repositioned, as current FDOT plans call for, then a pedestrian bridge would have to be built.
Images: Waterline night views of Port Boulevard and the MacArthur Causeway
Inaction is Intolerable
I’m not going to get into the issue of Parcel B use because it represents an opportunity for the advancement and promotion of the Baywalk. Really, even if my most dreaded plan of a soccer field is adopted, it wouldn’t hamper the numerous advantages of having a Baywalk. Also, the plans for the Baywalk have to be compatible with the Museum Park plans but shouldn’t have to wait for the park’s development to move forward. The segment of the walkway south of the FEC Slip can be worked on in anticipation of Museum Park construction.
Every coastal city I visited on my recent trip to Spain and Portugal had a notable waterfront promenade. I understand that there are many other important capital improvement initiatives being worked on and planned, but it’s really frustrating to think that despite the limited barriers and ambitious plans in place, Miami has made little progress in connecting urban life to its glistening turquoise bay.