Ocean Drive in South Beach to welcome cars again in January

Ocean Drive in South Beach will reopen to cars in late January, nearly two years after the city closed the street to traffic in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand outdoor dining and recreation spaces public.

When the tourist attraction reopens to cars on January 24, there will be a southbound lane on Ocean Drive from Fifth to 13th Street, with a two-way bike path replacing the public parking spaces on the east side of the street. . Valet parking and loading areas will be located on the west side. A new two-block pedestrian plaza will be created between 13th Street and 14th Place. Roadblocks will prevent drivers from entering the South Fifth Quarter from Ocean Drive.

The closure of Ocean Drive in May 2020 was welcomed by pedestrians and cyclists, but this year it has been the subject of two lawsuits against the city by hotel owners who have argued that it prevented clients from accessing their properties. After an eventful spring break last March, city and police officials also raised safety concerns related to large gatherings on the empty street and access for emergency vehicles.

The reconfiguration of the famous promenade is intended to be temporary. Over the next few months, the City Commission is expected to consider a new vision for the South Beach Entertainment District developed by consulting architect Bernard Zyscovich, which includes the option of making Ocean Drive entirely pedestrian or allowing limited vehicle traffic. .

A 2018 general bond program included $ 20 million to design and rebuild Ocean Drive with limited to zero traffic. When a final plan is approved, construction could begin as early as December 2023, according to a September memo from city manager Alina Hudak.

A woman stops in the middle of a bike ride to take a photo of the curfew crowds on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Fla. On Sunday, March 28, 2021. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

News of the return of traffic to Ocean Drive has disappointed cycling activist and South Fifth resident Matthew Gultanoff, who has chronicled Ocean Drive’s pedestrianization surge since early 2020. He said that the elimination of cars had turned the road into an extension of Lummus Park, where children played football or street hockey and pedestrians shared the road with cyclists, skaters and snowboarders.

Gultanoff said the initiative has been very popular and he has conducted informal surveys on Ocean Drive that show it.

Bringing back the cars, he said, would bring back the noise and “show-off culture” of South Beach, where motorists compete against each other to see who can be the loudest or most obnoxious driver.

But he said he was optimistic that the contrast will make people realize that a pedestrian-only street is the way of the future on Ocean Drive. And getting a new cycle path is an achievement in itself, he added.

“It’s not over. Nothing is ever over,” he said.

Commissioner David Richardson, who joined four other commissioners in October to vote to reopen the street to one lane of traffic, said he would be happy to see the cars on Ocean Drive again after seeing how the pedestrian setup led large groups of people to drink and play music in the street. It also limited access to the hotel for guests, he added.

Richardson said the city’s rush to shut down Ocean Drive in 2020 was a mistake because there was no plan for it. Still, he said he supported the long-term goal of making the street more pedestrian-friendly.

“I really hope we can close the street as part of the master plan once construction begins,” he said.

The cars’ return to Ocean Drive was originally slated to kick off on Jan.3, but contractor delays and insurance issues delayed painting the bike path, Hudak said in a note Wednesday.

The Clevelander Hotel, one of several Ocean Drive companies involved in lawsuits challenging the road closure, released a statement criticizing the delay.

“We have just learned that, surprisingly, the city is once again postponing the opening of Ocean Drive to cars,” the statement said. “As hotel owners whose customers arrive and depart with a lot of luggage every day, we cannot run our business without access to vehicles. “

An image of Ocean Drive at night with two lanes of traffic. Miami Herald file photo

Commissioner Mark Samuelian, who voted against returning the cars to Ocean Drive, had a more positive interpretation of the delay. He said residents and visitors now have an additional three weeks to enjoy the pedestrian experience. Samuelian argues that the pedestrian experiment was a success for the city and that recently there have been fewer public safety concerns amid increased law enforcement and code enforcement.

The return of the cars also means the return of rental vehicles like three-wheeled slingshots, golf carts and mopeds which are popular with tourists but a constant source of annoyance for some residents who complain about the loud music and loud music. reckless driving.

“I believe residents and visitors have had an incredible opportunity to enjoy Ocean Drive,” said Samuelian. “I am very disturbed by the prospect of the vehicles returning. “

He said that with the new traffic pattern on Ocean Drive and the introduction of a new pedestrian plaza, city leaders and residents will be able to judge for themselves what type of street design works best for them. the band.

During the vote to reopen the street in October, Samuelian and Commissioner Ricky Arriola backed a plan to assign a fleet of Freebee shuttles to transport passengers from the ends of the street to their hotels instead of bringing traffic back into the Street. The Ocean Drive Association, made up of a group of business owners on the Strip, agreed with the plan.

Since the vote to reopen Ocean Drive to cars, two new commissioners have been elected. Samuelian said he would push for the Freebee plan if the new traffic pattern didn’t work.

“I hope the new body will give this careful consideration,” he said.

Miami Beach resident Samantha Drew, 29, skates on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Fla. On Saturday, May 16, 2020. City officials closed part of Ocean Drive in South Beach to traffic on Saturday. Cars will not be allowed to travel on Ocean Drive from 5th to 15th Street and authorities will keep the road closed for the foreseeable future. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

David Wallack, the owner of Mango’s Tropical Cafe on Ocean Drive, said luxury cars – or “automotive art” as he calls it – are part of South Beach’s allure. When someone sees one parked in the valet in front of a fancy restaurant or club, they stop to take a picture. High-end customers are less likely to visit Ocean Drive if they can’t get their cars past, he said.

Since the street was closed, Mango’s and other companies have set up temporary valet parking on the side streets that lead to Ocean Drive.

Wallack, who is a member of the Ocean Drive Association, said that while a free cart on Ocean Drive would be good for transporting visitors down the street, it wouldn’t help those who drive to restaurants or hotels and need to access the front door.

“Locals are used to any good place that can park in front, do a valet, get in, out, get in their car and go home,” he said. “All good restaurants have it. All hotels have it.

Martin Vassolo covers Miami Beach politics and government for the Miami Herald. He started working for the Herald in January 2018 after attending the University of Florida, where he was editor of The Independent Florida Alligator. Previously, he was a general assignment reporter in the Herald subway office and political reporting intern.

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