South Miami, Florida is an early suburb, built between the 1930s and 1960s. In 1992, the community embarked on a process to transform its major downtown street, Sunset Drive, into a more inviting thoroughfare for people.
Sunset Drive and nearby Dorn Avenue had fallen on hard times by the 1980s, when a commuter rail station was brought to the community. Over the next decade and a half, an ambitious street redesign and rezoning process led to changes that also sparked economic growth and change in South Miami. Here were four key moves that created a successful street:
Tackle the problem on several fronts: The street redesign was made in conjunction with zoning and planning changes to promote street-oriented architecture, a mix of uses, and shared parking in public garages and along the street.
Shift the physical center of gravity toward pedestrians: Right-of-way changes included the following: five travel lanes were converted to three lanes on Sunset Drive. Twelve-foot travel lanes were narrowed to 10 feet. On Dorn Avenue—which had been a one-way asphalt street with a single, 23-foot-wide travel lane, angled parking, and narrow sidewalks—the sidewalks were substantially widened, and the travel lane was narrowed to 12 feet.
Add features that slow drivers and increase amenities for pedestrians: Bulbouts further reduce crossing distances. Concrete sidewalks and asphalt roadways were converted to brick, which creates a slight rumble that tends to calm traffic, on Dorn. Aesthetically, the brick generates a warmer, more inviting tone to the streetscape. Street trees were lacking on both thoroughfares, but now they arch over the sidewalk and street, narrowing the perceived width of the roadway and providing shade for café tables, which didn’t exist prior to the redesign.
Suit the buildings to the context: New buildings come up to the sidewalks and have doors, windows, and business entrances. The narrow, brick, tree-lined Dorn Avenue is notable for being the only street of its kind in South Miami and one of the few in South Florida, according to Dover, Kohl & Partners, the firm that designed the new streetscapes.
A longer version of this article originally appeared on Public Square, the journal of the Congress for the New Urbanism.