Some Coral Gables residents concerned city values appearance over safety

City spent $180,000 on crosswalk considered artwork

The city of Coral Gables is known as the City Beautiful, but some residents are worried the city is more concerned with its appearance than public safety.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The city of Coral Gables is known as the “City Beautiful,” but some residents are worried the city is more concerned with its appearance than public safety.

“This is a crosswalk that cost $180,000, and it’s going to cost them $30,000 a year,” attorney Matthew Dietz said.

The crosswalk he was referring to is hard to miss. The brightly painted multi-colored crosswalk spans Biltmore Way right in front of Coral Gables City Hall. The city bought the artwork, titled Induction Chromatique Coral Gables by Carlos Cruz-Diez, for $180,000. The purchase price comes from the city’s Art in Public Places program, which is funded by fees paid by developers in the city. Maintaining the artwork is estimated to cost around $300,000 over a 10-year period. That cost will be covered by taxpayers.

“You would imagine that if they spent a half-a-million dollars on a crosswalk it should be accessible to people [who] are blind or have low vision,” Dietz said.

Dietz is director of litigation at the Disability Independence Group. He questioned the city spending so much on a painted crosswalk when there are so few accessible pedestrian signals throughout Coral Gables.

He was referring to the audible signals at crosswalks that verbally instruct pedestrians when it is safe to walk and when to wait. They are prevalent in cities like Miami Beach, but Coral Gables resident Janice Bartleson told Local 10 News in her city, they’re scarce.

“I am a bus user and so I do walk the streets,” said Bartleson. “And crossing these busy streets is very, very difficult.”

Bartleson is blind and said she relies on her guide dog Dusty to get around. Crossing the street safely is not something she takes for granted.

“Five years ago, I was hit by a car in a crosswalk in a school zone when a car ran a stop sign,” she said. “And both my dog and I were injured.”

She said she spent years working to get an audible signal at just two crosswalks in the city, including one at LeJeune Road and Minorca Avenue. By now, she said, she hoped there would be many more.

“I was under the impression that when they did the renovation for the Miracle Mile downtown area that part of that was audio signals at the major intersections,” she added.

The brightly painted multi-colored crosswalk titled Induction Chromatique Coral Gables spans Biltmore Way right in front of Coral Gables City Hall. (WPLG)

Local 10 reviewed meeting minutes from the city’s Advisory Board on Disability Affairs dating to 2015, when residents requested audible crossings be part of the planned multi-million dollar streetscape renovations along Miracle Mile. Fast forward to 2017, when minutes show a board member asked the status of those signals and was told by an attorney for the city that they did “not have a position yet.”

“The city considered them,” Dietz said. “They were initially recommended and then they just didn’t put them in.”

According to information from Assistant City Manager Ed Santamaria, “All traffic signs and signals in Miami-Dade County are under the purview of Miami-Dade Traffic Signs and Signals (MDTSS), a Division of Miami-Dade County Transportation and Public Works (MDTPW).”

When Local 10 contacted the county about the process, Jennie Lopez, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works, replied that the city can undertake a project to install the audible signals in commercial areas, as long as they request a permit from the county.

“The county is not aware of any requests for Accessible Pedestrian Signal (APS) systems on Miracle Mile,” Lopez added.

City spokeswoman Maria Rosa Higgins Fallon provided Local 10 with a statement:

“Both public safety and aesthetics are important to our residents’ quality of life. Fortunately, we are able to prioritize both. The city’s Art in Public Places program, which includes the Carlos Cruz Diez crosswalks, is funded through fees paid by developers, which must be used exclusively for art. Coral Gables has an established commitment to inclusion and accessibility for all and will continue working toward this important goal. Though traffic signal jurisdiction lies with Miami-Dade County, and in some cases FDOT, we are happy to provide assistance to anyone wishing to request audible pedestrian detectors at specific intersections.”

“The city commissioners should take affirmative action to make sure that the ‘City Beautiful’ is inclusive to all and not just those who can see,” Dietz said.

Bartleson said it boils down to policies and priorities.

“I think the priority should not be style. It should be safety,” she said.

A city representative said there are also current plans underway for the Florida Department of Transportation to install two more audible signals at crossings on Lejeune Road at Andalusia Avenue and Alhambra Circle.

About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.