A push to initiate an urban transformation for Washington Avenue is in the works. Interested parties are voicing their concerns to end the widely used avenue's fall into what many consider to be disrepair and tawdriness, with its tacky tourist t-shirt shops and at least one XXX store. Crime and homelessness, in the heart of South Beach, is also a problem. Washington Avenue also lacks the sense of urban place, and charm, seen on neighboring streets like Collins Avenue and the residential lanes surrounding Flamingo Park.
In order to address these issues, The City of Miami Beach's Planning Department, the Washington Avenue Blue Ribbon Panel appointed by Mayor Philip Levine, and fellow stakeholders are discussing options to entice investors to pump new life into the rundown area. Plans by Zyscovich Architects would bring increased mobility for pedestrians and bikers along with an improved streetscape, while celebrating its historic and cultural vibe.
By widening sidewalks, adding safe bike paths, and designing "parklets" (inspired by San Francisco's Pavement to Parks Program), the team expects to increase pedestrian traffic and propel an "economic vibrancy." Zyscovich proposed a specific set of design guidelines meant to preserve the existing scale and character of the neighborhood. Boasting a generous 100-foot-wide street, the Panel believes there is great potential to accommodate such a proposal, all in the hopes of incentivizing new commercial investment and reactivating the street (and not just for the night owls).
"Visionary Workshops," open to the public, were held late last year to discuss major concerns and ideas. From these workshops, Zyscovich Architects' educated proposal has been under review since February by the Washington Avenue Blue Ribbon Panel and participating public. Future plans envision a revitalized Washington Avenue functioning as both a residential and tourist destination. The model would focus on attracting retail, office, and hotel investors, while preventing residential development; what seems counterproductive if the aim is to increase local traffic.
One of the major changes that is being proposed includes moving the police station, prominently placed next to and behind the old City Hall (all eyes are on that garage). The police station's parking garage would stay put. The location for the police station is TBD but plans indicate a possible relocation to the lot in front of the current City Hall, with an adjacent linear park. Another key piece of this proposal is to permanently remove two of the vehicular lanes, one in each direction, to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, and commercial uses.
In the interim, a less disruptive version, called the "Pilot Project," may be implemented to test the strategy, where only one northbound vehicular lane would be eliminated, and two southbound lanes would remain. This would allow for an addition of a protected northbound bike lane, and widened sidewalks, on the east side of the street. Another more immediate plan involves the "Woonerf Project" – enhancing the block between 16th Street and Lincoln Road with two medians and introducing decorative paving to the full block. The "Woonerf" and Pilot Project hope to demonstrate Miami Beach's commitment to creating positive changes for the city and the success that the fully implemented project could eventually bring. Concerns linger about how to activate local engagement, how to increase safety, where to direct parking, and how to ensure historic preservation, however, the Panel will continue to review these issues on Friday, March 27th at 9:30 AM at the Wolfsonian Museum. Come November, city residents will also have the chance to vote on said items.—Alexandra J Miller