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5 February 2014

Metrorail to receive face-lift, new routes

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School of Architecture (SoA) students are teaming up with civic activist Meg Daly and the Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation Department to make the space under the southern leg of the Metrorail more user-friendly.

This semester, professor Rocco Ceo, SoA’s director of undergraduate students, and visiting critic Raymond Fort are leading a studio project that  encourages upper-level students to envision a new look for the 10-mile M-Path trail that runs from the Miami River to the Dadeland South station.

“The idea is to create a great public space in Miami,” Ceo said.

The hands-on project will make students incorporate both urban and landscape design concepts to create a linear park that will enhance the paved pathway that borders South Dixie Highway for most of the trail.

According to Daly, head of the Metrorail Greenline Steering Committee, the linear park will consist of “a widened walking and bikeway with lighting, amenities and indigenous landscaping.”

The Green Line is one of two Metrorail routes that connects southern Miami-Dade and the rest of the county.

This is not the first time architecture students have created large-scale practical designs. In 2009, 12 students worked on a redesign of neglected Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key. City officials then approved the renovation project in 2012.

“My expectations are that students are exposed to a project that is public and civic in nature,” Ceo explained. “We want people to get excited about the M-Path and what it could be.”

As a part of this project, SoA invited renowned architect Peter Cavaluzzi on Jan. 22 to talk about the five key principles of “open transit design.”  In addition to faculty and students, the lecture attracted prominent community members, including Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason.

Cavaluzzi specializes in large-scale projects, in which buildings and public spaces are conceived together as a complete design. The goal with open transit design is to create iconic places by integrating all transit modes, orienting real estate development, fusing culture with the space’s design and creating an appeal for non-transit users.

“Every day, three quarters of a million people go to Grand Central Station [in New York City] and over one half of them are not boarding the train,” Cavaluzzi said. “You wouldn’t think of it as transit infrastructure because it is created as a great public space.”

Although the M-Path is not part of a closed structure like Grand Central, the same “open transit” principles can be applied to make it a more appealing place.

“We hope to encourage commuters to ride Metrorail as an alternative to driving downtown or other destinations, while also offering a beautiful and safe walk and bike way for exercise and transportation,” Daly said.

Ceo believes that modifying the current path, which doesn’t offer much landscaping or stop-off points, would increase bike and pedestrian movement as well as building a more sustainable network throughout the city.

“People want to be connected to green spaces,” Ceo said. “We are actually a part of a larger initiative.”

In fact, the M-Path project is a small part of a greater plan for connecting parks across municipalities.

Maria Nardi, chief of planning, research and natural areas for the Miami Dade Parks and Recreation, said the M-Path project will eventually unite students, civic activists and public officials into creating a system of connectivity between the Everglades and Biscayne national parks at the south tip of the county.

“The project will provide residents and visitors with the experience of a park system that can begin at their door step,” Nardi said. “We are very excited to be working with UM’s School of Architecture in a project that will inform the existing and future development of the M-Path.”