|Run, Don’t Walk|
|Written by Erik Bojnansky -- BT Senior Writer|
A recent study confirms what many already knew: Aventura’s main intersection is no place for pedestrians
On Thanksgiving Day 2012, Barbara Rubenstein was walking home with groceries when she was struck and killed by a Miami-Dade Transit bus. She was 84 years old. It was the second time in the past three years that a pedestrian had been killed by a bus at the intersection of Aventura Boulevard (NE 199th Street) and NE 29th Place.
Seven months later, transportation consultants Kimley-Horn and Associates presented a 28-page report to the Aventura City Commission suggesting ways the intersection could be made safer. It’ll cost $227,000 to implement the improvements, which will include flashing lights along crosswalks, reconfiguring corners, and installing new signs.
The city won’t necessarily have to pick up the entire bill. That’s because a stretch of NE 29th Place between Aventura Boulevard and Abigail Road -- heavily trafficked by visitors to Aventura Mall, Publix shoppers, and bus commuters -- is privately owned by Aventura Mall proprietor Turnberry Associates and Jacksonville-based Regency Centers, owner of the Publix-anchored Aventura Shopping Center.
The projected cost for the “private” portion of right-of-way improvements is $168,000. That means, in order to implement the proposed changes, Aventura officials will need the cooperation of the two companies. The city also must coordinate with Miami-Dade County, since the county has final say on crosswalks and street signs.
City manager Eric Soroka says the report was commissioned soon after Rubenstein was struck and killed. Rubenstein died just across the street from where 51-year-old Tomislav Ritoper was killed by another Miami-Dade bus on November 27, 2010. The bus driver who struck Ritoper was later charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The Miami-Dade Police Department did not respond to BT’s request for information regarding Rubenstein’s accident.
The Kimley-Horn report reveals the intersection of Aventura Boulevard and NE 29th Place experiences plenty of accidents. Between 2008 and 2012, there were 53 accidents there, the majority of them car crashes. Of those accidents, 34 percent were “dark-condition crashes,” the report notes. By contrast, dark-condition crashes constituted only 30 percent of accidents statewide.
Injuries were reported in 18 of the 53 accidents. Only seven of the recorded accidents involved pedestrians. However, three of those pedestrians (including Rubenstein and Ritoper) died. Four of the seven pedestrian accidents occurred near transit stops.
There are a whopping seven bus stops near the intersection. Two of them are on opposite sides of NE 29th Place, in front of the Publix, and used by commuters heading to and from Miami Beach, downtown Miami, other parts of North Miami-Dade, and even Broward County.
This past December, the BT witnessed people dashing across 29th Place’s four lanes of traffic in an attempt to catch their bus. There aren’t any clearly visible crosswalks on 29th Place by the Publix, and the east side of the street lacks a complete sidewalk. (See “Waiting to Happen,” January 2013.)
Says Soroka: “I don’t know if it’s the most dangerous [intersection in Aventura], but it’s up there, based on the number of pedestrians using the area and all the bus stops located along NE 29th Place.”
The intersection will likely become even busier once a state-of-the art Miami-Dade Regional Library branch opens across the street from the Publix, noted Mayor Susan Gottlieb during a workshop on June 19. As a result, she said, “it’s really important that we get [these improvements] done.”
Among the remedies recommended by Kimley-Horn: Reduce the right-turn radius of the southeast corner of NE 29th Place and Aventura Boulevard adjacent to the Publix. The rounded corner that exists now encourages people to speed while turning, Kimley-Horn consultant J. Suzanne Danielson told commissioners during the workshop. Commissioner Luz Urbaez Weinberg, a frequent Publix shopper, said she witnesses cars “flying through” that corner every day.
Because NE 29th Place is enshrouded in darkness at night, Kimley-Horn recommended that decorative streetlights be placed along that street between Aventura Boulevard and Abigail Road. The consultants also suggested repainting a crosswalk by Publix’s entrance and installing flashing lights on crosswalk signs and in the pavement along the crosswalk to alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians.
Additionally, Kimley-Horn recommended placing “No Pedestrian Crossing” and “Use Crosswalk” signs to deter jaywalking, as well as “Yield to Pedestrians” signs to dissuade cars from zipping through crosswalks while people are trying to navigate the street. The traffic consultants also recommend removing the stop sign by the Publix entrance once the enhanced crosswalk is installed.
One change the report didn’t endorse is creating a complete sidewalk on the east side of NE 29th Place. “The sidewalk on the east side south of the intersection is discontinuous and terminates in the Publix parking lot,” the report states, but “since the right-of-way is constrained, we are not recommending sidewalk extension.”
Aventura is still in the early stages of contacting the relevant property owners and Miami-Dade County. Turnberry Associates spokesman Matt Levinson says Aventura Mall general manager Oscar Pacheco will meet with Aventura city officials in July. Chad Byrne, Aventura Shopping Center’s property manager, says his company only just received the report, but he will meet with city manager Soroka this month: “The safety of our shoppers and employees is a top priority.”
Miami-Dade officials from transit, police, and public works did not return messages from the BT by deadline. Has Miami-Dade Transit been helpful regarding safety concerns at that intersection? “Not at this point, no,” Soroka answers. “We will get them involved in the process as well. [MDT officials] have come forward with possibly redesigning the bus stops, but not changing the locations.”
Aventura resident Nancy Lee says city officials shouldn’t focus their attention solely on the Aventura Boulevard and 29th Place intersection. She insists that roads throughout the “City of Excellence” are dangerous. “Aventura drivers don’t respect crosswalks,” says Lee, a blogger for the website Eye on Miami. “My husband and I always think we’re going to get run over.”
Soroka counters that Aventura has done a lot to improve pedestrian safety since its incorporation in 1996, “including upgrading and adding sidewalks, adding more bus enclosures, and installing countdown notifications for pedestrians to cross the street at every major intersection in the city.”
What will really improve pedestrian safety in Aventura, Soroka notes, is education. “We need to remind our residents to not cross in the middle of the street and to use the crosswalks that have been provided,” he says. “On the other hand, motorists need to be reminded to yield to pedestrians and to stop when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk.”
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