Building Like There's No Tommorow
For the inexplicable, it is hard to top what is going on in South Florida, unless you count Washington. There is little we can do about Washington, not since our fairest daughter stopped working in Congress, but at least we can offer a little support for those voices that are having a hard time being heard in the South Florida forest of high buildings.
The Sun-Sentinel, with fewer readers, and fewer resources (namely reporters) every year, has done some notable recent work on the subject everybody is complaining about—the sudden and infuriating increase in traffic throughout the area. Several weeks ago the newspaper had a strong Sunday editorial on the proposed mall in western Dade County. This is a sprawling development (the paper called it a “monster mall”), billed as a major tourist attraction even larger than Disney World, which seems to enjoy near-unanimous support of Dade County leadership.
The paper pointed out that its location promises to affect Broward more than Dade, and yet Broward’s government has no say in the matter. “American Dream Miami” is close to the Broward County line, and most of its traffic is likely to come from the north rather than south. But the Sun-Sentinel blames Gov. Rick Scott for killing the state’s growth management agency, leaving Broward without a say in the matter.
In supporting this project, Miami-Dade commissioners parrot our maniacal-looking governor who is obsessed with growth and jobs and doesn’t worry about the environment at all. What Broward officials can do something about, but don’t seem anxious to, is control the building going on in and around Fort Lauderdale. The traffic congestion, which civic associations warned about several years ago, became a reality this past season. Even as the snowbirds draft north, it doesn’t seem to make much difference as major intersections in the downtown are often gridlocked. It is hard to understate the anger this is producing in the neighborhoods surrounding the city’s business core and among workers moving in and out downtown offices. In many cases, the traffic jam begins in their parking lots and gets worse with every traffic light.
Our magazine company has employees traveling from northwest Broward and central Palm Beach County who come in early (one arrives at 6 a.m.) and leave in mid-afternoon. They effectively cut their travel time in half. Alas, most workers can’t do that, and they find themselves increasingly in the same situation that many of them left northern cities to escape.
That situation keeps getting worse. The building frenzy seems to intensify with every report (and they are getting frequent) that the ocean is rising even faster than the experts had predicted. It seems that the faster the ice cap melts, the faster it melts, and the faster the seas rise, and the faster developers rush to get new buildings up and sold—before people become aware that their Florida dream condo might be inaccessible, not a century from now, but possibly in their lifetimes.
The result, particularly obvious in Fort Lauderdale, is that instead of preserving open space and foliage to absorb water, the opposite is happening. Modest, single story houses with lawns and tree canopy are being knocked down for townhouses or apartments, often several stories high, enormously increasing the number of people, and their cars, in the same space. Worse are the increasingly taller buildings already built or approved, adding thousands of new residents (and vehicles) to streets that can’t handle the present demands.
University of Miami climate change expert Dr. Harold Wanless, among those predicting a water disaster sooner rather than later, has summed it up classically.
“They’re building like there’s no tomorrow,” he wrote. “And they’re right.”
The tone of the Sun-Sentinel’s editorials has been notably restrained, considering how upset their non-readers are. People find little comfort in the proposed solutions—a streetcar, which will make matters worse by blocking a lane of traffic on some of the busiest streets, and even narrowing some streets to make them more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. One official has been quoted as saying the city will force people to get out of their cars. Fat chance. You think people are going to walk or ride a bicycle a few miles on a humid August day? Not unless they have a locker room and shower at their workplace.
The one idea that will help, but not much, is moving some Tri-Rail trains to the far more convenient FEC Railway tracks. That corridor is positioned to become a very busy commuter line, much to the distress of the marine industry, which would be plagued with more drawbridge closings. But the number of riders abandoning cars would not offset the numbers of additional vehicles associated with new development. Those downtown residents aren’t traveling far enough to become rail commuters.
The good news is that the anger of residents is starting to have an effect. Two controversial developments are now stalled. The Bahia Mar redo and the Galleria Mall expansion have drawn fierce opposition from neighborhoods where a lot of influential people live. They just don’t want any more traffic. More recently, the proposal for a zoning change for a large property on Davie Boulevard, which already has some of the worst traffic in the county, faces similar opposition.
And it just isn’t moving vehicles creating stress. All the new residents are too much for parking lots. A restaurant owner complains that although new buildings generate business, “parking is a nightmare. People can’t get to us.” The situation at one shopping center is so bad that cars line up on streets waiting to get into parking lots. Some drivers have taken to parking in a bank’s drive-through lanes.
The simple fact is that the city’s oldest, and in most cases most pleasant neighborhoods, simply were not built to accommodate dramatic density increases. Restaurants and other businesses on Las Olas Boulevard have been allowed without adequate parking. Workers and customers have been parking on the quiet adjacent streets to the annoyance of homeowners who sometimes can’t park in front of their own houses. Many have planted trees or installed concrete spikes in swales to prevent people from parking. Still, the old oak-shaded Colee Hammock neighborhood has taken the extreme step of seeking permit parking on streets near Las Olas. That would bar everyone but residents and their guests. Businesses on that busy strip are naturally opposed. A hearing scheduled for this week was canceled by the city at the last minute. That tells you something by itself. Stay tuned. On your car radio.