By John Dorschner
|NE 2nd Avenue near 70th Street: Bangladesh by the Quike Foodmart|
Some stretches could be Paris -- smooth streets, curbs, good drainage, bike lanes and decorative lighting. Other parts feel like Bangladesh -- pock-marked and bumpy streets, with poor lighting and puddles pooling in mud and gravel beside the curbless pavement.
The ritzy Design District, home to upscale shops such as Hermes and Pucci, with a powerhouse developer planning much more, occupies a fine section of NE 2nd Avenue from 36th to 42nd streets.
Just north of that comes a hodgepodge of shops and restaurants, a Catholic high school and the middle-class Buena Vista residential neighborhood. That area, from 42nd to 51st streets, is akin to a Third World street, with dark lighting and bumpy road -- conditions that residents say helped cause the death of a night-time pedestrian earlier this year. Buena Vista residents have become exceedingly vocal in complaining to politicians that their area has been ignored.
Just north of Buena Vista, starting at 51st and going up to 69th, comes another excellent section, with designer lamps and trees planted in the swale area. This stretch includes the sprawling campus of Miami Jewish Health Systems, Little Haiti and the McArthur Dairy plant.
'IT'S NOT ONE UNITED STATES. IT'S TWO'
North of that, from 69th to 79th streets, it's back to Bangladesh.
"It's not one United States. It's two United States," complains Mohammed Siddique, who runs the Quike Foodmart on NE 2nd at 70th Street. "People don't want to stop at a store when they see a street like this," he said nodding toward the puddles that occupy the swale area in front of his store.
Siddique drives down the avenue frequently and is livid at the contrast. "It's been like this two years now," Siddique says -- the time since some areas were fixed up while others were ignored. "Why not fix this problem? I don't understand."
Siddique isn't sure who to complain to. He's been thinking of writing a letter to Sen. John McCain of Arizona -- a guy he's seen on TV, but who spends his days thinking much more about Syria than NE 2nd Avenue.
|Design District: Nice curbs, nice palms, smooth pavement|
RESIDENTS FIGHT BACK
Rich Raimann, president of the Buena Vista East Historic Neighborhood Association, has a much more focused idea on who to talk to. Earlier this summer, residents of his homeowners group barraged city and county politicians with letters -- a campaign reported in July by TransitMiami.com.
That campaign led to a meeting on July 30 between city and county staffers and Buena Vista residents about what they wanted to see along their stretch of the avenue, Raimann said in a telephone interview.
The residents' demands included trees and a new stop light at NE 46th street. Restaurant owners along that stretch noted the need for wide sidewalks so they could have outdoor seating and street parking -- something the area sorely needs because residents on the side streets are irate about restaurant-goers blocking their driveways.
Residents too emphasized the need for better street lighting -- pointing to a pedestrian killed by a motorist some months ago on the dark stretch.
|Rough pavement in Buena Vista area, just north of smooth road in the Design District.|
ARE THEY GETTING CLOSE?
"We're getting close to the end," Raimann said hopefully. Construction on the stretch, he was told, might start this fall.
UPDATE: In an email after first publication, Raimann said county officials had told him that the city has a moratorium on construction through the holidays and it would be best to tell residents that construction will probably get rolling at the beginning of 2014. END UPDATE
Raimann, a real-estate agent, said he wanted to make clear that he wasn't angry that the Design District got its section redone two years ago while Buena Vista waited. He understands the street renovations were rushed through in time for Art Basel, the annual December event which "brings a lot of money to the city. ... We're not at odds with Dacra," he said of the Craig Robin's company that has huge plans to develop the area.
“I completely understand why the Design District should come first," Raimann said. "But it's two years later. We've waited long enough."
He said "it's been very unclear" why there have been delays on improving the other stretches. "Everybody is passing the buck."
When this reporter told Raimann that he had asked the city and county to explain the delays, Raimann replied: "Good luck with that."
WHY? IS OBAMA TO BLAME?
On Thursday, the county came up with an explanation that involves a lengthy series of events, starting with voters approving the half-penny transportation tax in 2002 and continuing with Obama stimulus funds that became available in 2009.
Frank Calderon, communications manager of Miami-Dade County Public Works and Waste Management Department, said the NE 2nd Avenue project from NE 20th Street to NE 91st Street was part of the adopting ordinance of the People's Transportation Plan on how to use the tax money. (Calderon's full statement is included in the post below this one.)
That means it was in the fundamental plan to persuade voters to shell out an extra half-penny in sales tax -- a plan that originally included ambitious expansions of Metrorail. County leaders eventually admitted that the plan had "overpromised" transportation improvements to voters.
For NE 2nd, however, there was initially some progress. Fairly quickly, the county built the northern section -- from NE 84th through NE 91st Street -- the Little River commercial area and the village of El Portal.
Calderon said the city asked the county to let it handle the avenue within city boundaries -- from NE 20th Street to NE 84th Street. The sections that have been improved used funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, generally known as the Obama stimulus money handed out to boost the ecomony and create jobs.
Plans for other areas -- including the Quike Foodmart section and Buena Vista -- are slogging through the bureaucratic process. Those sections "are still under design by the city," Calderon said in an e-mail. "The city is currently developing the final cost estimates, right-of-way section maps, plans, and typical sections for county staff to review and approve. ... At this time the City has not provided a schedule, as they recently selected a new consultant to finalize the design."
When the city process is complete, then the Citizen's Independent Transportation Trust, which administers the half-penny tax for the county, can fund the project.
The full text of Calderon's reply can be be read in a post at the bottom of this article.
As this story is published on the web, the city has not responded to five requests for comment.
STILL A LOT OF STEPS TO GO
A CITT document shows that the design of the Buena Vista segment is 90 percent complete, but there is not yet a contract reward for construction -- an often lengthy process of its own.
The area from NE 69th to NE 84th streets -- the stretch including the Quike Foodmart -- is said to be 60 percent designed. Design of the last section -- from NE 36th to 20th Streets, a mixed area of pawn shops, storage units and car dealerships -- is 20 percent complete, according to the Trust document.
For many, the street improvements can't come quickly enough.
|Buena Vista, near Emilio Robba, looking toward Design District.|
The store is in the 42nd block of NE 2nd Avenue, just north of where the nice stretch of Design District road ends. Contreras suspects that many shoppers stop when they get to the curbless road with its gravelly swale and puddles and don't visit her store.
"We don't understand why they stopped fixing the street," Contreras says.