Can a Highway Median Become an Alluring Public Space?
On one side of Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard is a thriving downtown, filled with condos and office towers. On the other side is the Atlantic Ocean, and in a few choice locations, nice waterfront parks. The division between – Biscayne – has four lanes in each direction and a 100-foot median in between that carries overhead rail tracks and parking lots. All in all, it’s a pretty wide barrier between the people and the parks.
Biscayne Boulevard. Photo Credit: Eric Thayer/Reuters
“It’s not convenient or easy or neighborhood-accessible,” says Tony Garcia, a principal at the Street Plans Collaborative, an urban planning, design, and advocacy firm.
Instead of trying to cross the barrier, Garcia tried to bring the park closer to the people, temporarily converting the median into a pop-up public park. In partnership with the engineering and architecture firm C3TS, Garcia coordinated with the city’s parking authority to take over a 60-space lot for a week to lay down sod and put up benches. It will be open for just five days, closing Sunday, March 4.
“There’s no signage. We didn’t put anything that said ‘please come into our event’ because we don’t want it to be an event. It’s just a piece of infrastructure,” Garcia says. “We’re trying to say that this is a really low cost, easy way of getting park space now for the residents of downtown in anticipation of more permanent changes later on.”
And Garcia says those permanent changes could be coming. The more exposure people have to different ideas about using the median space, the more demand there will be for a new use. He says both the public and the political interest is there, and he’s hoping that this temporary park will encourage more people to get behind the idea of replacing the parking lots. He says that many of the spaces aren’t even needed anyway.
Median parking lot on Biscayne Boulevard, courtesy Street Plans Collaborative
Temporary park, courtesy Street Plans Collaborative
“You would think that by taking 60 spaces out of commission that we would squeeze demand on other lots nearby, and that just hasn’t been our experience,” Garcia says. "It’s very promising."
He says he’s even had support from the city’s parking authority.
“In the scale of the parking requirements for a downtown area, the amount of parking that we’re sacrificing is a drop in the bucket,” Garcia says. “It’s negligible, and they see that.”
Garcia did have to pay to use the spaces, though – a cost of about $7,000 that was covered by a grant. All the sod, seating and outdoor umbrellas were temporarily donated. Even the sod – watered every other day by the fire department – will be returned to the donor after the park is dismantled.
Overall, Garcia says the project has created a successful temporary public space. Transitioning to a permanent redesign of the parking lot and others like it on Biscayne, though, will not be as easy as laying out a few Adirondack chairs.
“The real resistance we’re going to get is from the Florida Department of Transportation, which is responsible for that road,” Garcia says. In the past, the department has tried to dissuade local politicians from proposing a possible new life in the median.
“They’ve already brought up issues of speed and volume of the street and level of service and the same old traffic jargon that we hear when we try to do traffic calming projects around the country,” says Garcia.
But after a week’s turn as a park, the parking lot may be different in enough locals’ eyes to create a strong enough demand for something new to happen in this otherwise uninviting space.