Little Havana business owners call for pedestrian friendly Calle Ocho

Local urban planning, design firm rolls out redesign for Southwest Eighth Street

MIAMI – One of South Florida's most famous streets could undergo a major makeover thanks to a plan rolled out by a local urban planning and design firm.

It seems ironic that the iconic Calle Ocho, South Florida's biggest pedestrian street party one weekend a year turns back into a three-lane roadway the rest of the year. After all, the internationally famous street in little Havana has become a tourist destination.

Bus loads come from near and far.

"Business is exploding. It is amazing, and the hotter it is outside the better it is for me," said Suzanne Batlle, who owns the Azucar Ice Cream company.

Batlle agrees that the road needs to be more pedestrian friendly.

"Certainly for walking traffic, and we have a lot of that and it is only going to get more and more," said Batlle. "They don't realize people are going 50 miles an hour down this street."

Juan Mullerat runs an urban planning and design firm out of a small Coconut Grove office. He lives near Southwest Eighth Street and wants to see little Havana become safer for pedestrians, and more traffic friendly for shop owners.

So on his own, pro bono without a client, and any monetary stake in the outcome, he instructed his staff to come up with a comprehensive urban pedestrian plan for Calle Ocho.

"Right now it works as a highway," said Mullerat, owner of PlusUrbia. "It wasn't intended to be a highway. It turned into a highway before (State Road) 836 was created."

Fifty years ago, the street was a two-lane two-way street. In his new proposal, it would revert back to that with a dedicated bike or bus lane.

"Southwest Eighth Street is a state road. It is not a city road," said Miami Commissioner Frank Carrollo. "Unfortunately it is a big bureaucracy, but little by little we are working toward making it pedestrian friendly."

Carrollo said he and his office have been working since 2013 to find a solution to Eighth Street's pedestrian problem.

"We are going to add crosswalks and we are going to enhance them," said Carrollo.

Carollo said the Florida Department of Transportation is conducting a study to determine if Calle Ocho should return to its roots as a two-lane two-way street, but that conclusion is three to four years away.

Mullerat said that is too long and he wants the community to have more input.

"The whole idea of this is to get everybody else's opinion and to get a plan everybody is comfortable with," said Mullerat.

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