Avoiding Miami Traffic (Maps)
There are distinct routes and traffic patterns to avoid at certain times, and if you can do that you should be okay.
From the Miami Relocation Guide.
Traffic in Miami is bad. I mean real bad, to the point that many people, myself included, schedule their lives around not having to sit in it. While it may not offer the endless miles of gridlock of Los Angeles, or the unmoving narrow streets of New York, what we lack in volume we make up for in insanity. But traffic here, unlike in those cities, is avoidable. There are distinct routes and traffic patterns to avoid at certain times, and if you can do that you should be okay. Unless you are on The Palmetto, which is another story altogether. I am going to lay out freeways and directions to avoid for you in the section below. Use this when looking at places to live and work so that you are not caught in any of our cornucopia of traffic jams. (see: Highways map)
US-1 (South Dixie Highway)
Dubbed “Useless 1” by the locals, it used to be the route from downtown Miami to the Keys. Now it is the bane of the existence of most people living in Dade County. This road travels Northeast and Southwest, and while it may be marked “North” and “South” do not be fooled; it is a diagonal. Under no circumstances should you ever get on any portion of this road going northbound between 6:30-9:30 AM. Unless you like all the nonstop traffic of a freeway along with the constant stop and go of traffic lights. Same applies going south between 3-7:30 PM.
Do not come South between 7-9 AM or go north between 3-7:30. These are our rush hours and they pack 95 with people who are too afraid to live in Miami (aka Broward County residents) who still insist on working downtown. Let them sit in the traffic.
836 (Dolphin Expressway)
The Dolphin is an interesting animal. Named after the pro football team as it passes by their old home at the Miami Orange Bowl, the Dolphin is the major East-West Expressway in Dade County. Do not even think about going East between 7-9:30, and even after that the mile or so in front of the airport can slow down considerably. Be advised there is a $1.25 toll going eastbound into Downtown and South Beach, put there solely to extract money form tourists. Also avoid going west during the above mentioned evening Rush. Westbound, there used to be this phenomenon called “The Miami Mystery” whereas traffic form the beginning of the airport to the end (about three miles) would come to a complete stop for no apparent reason. As if no one on the road had ever seen a plane take off before. However, the mystery was somehow solved in the past couple of years and now traffic moves pretty freely if you are not going west during Rush Hour. A new, Sunpass-only section is opening Summer 2007 taking people out to the middle of the Everglades. Or, as some like to call it, SW 137th Ave.
Do not be fooled. Just because the Turnpike costs money doesn’t mean it is not jam-packed. Quite the contrary. North of SW 40th Street up into the County Line the turnpike can get real nasty going north in the morning. Southbound at night is worse, as starting as far north as the NW 106th St. (not far from the county line) traffic can get backed up well into South Dade, as far as SW 184th St. That’s a long way considering a mile in Dade is 16 streets. The Florida Department of Transportation would like you to believe this can be avoided by purchasing this little transponder box for pre-paid tolls called a SunPass. While occasionally useful when traffic is free-flowing and toll lines are long, all the SunPass does during Rush hour is allows you to slowly pass through the toll booth, engage in a colossal mess as you try to re-merge with the cash lanes, and save you a fat quarter for your trouble.
Don Shula, Snapper Creek and Airport Expressways
These are all shortcut expressways that don’t go very far but rarely have any traffic. You can use them to bypass some of the more congested Expressways for a short time, but do not use them unless thy are a direct route to where you are going. Because the only thing worse than taking the expressways in Miami is taking the surface streets.
Dade County runs on a fairly simple grid system provided you are not in Hialeah or Coral Gables (more on those later). The grid, much like everything else in this city, was planned with all the foresight of a 17-year-old’s retirement plan. The center of the grid is located in the extreme southeastern corner of the city, at the intersection of Miami Ave and Flagler Street downtown. Every street north of Flagler is northeast or northwest, and similarly every street south is southeast or southwest. Miami Ave. is the East-West dividing line, which is odd since if you go five blocks west of Miami Ave. in downtown you are right in the middle of Biscayne Bay. So what this leaves us with is a whole county full of streets that are “West” of the “center.” They stretch well into the triple-digits. (see: city grid map)
I’m not sure why, but a good deal of people in Miami are convinced taking surface streets is faster than taking freeways. Like somehow gridlock combined with traffic lights is faster than the old “no-light” system. Ask a Miamian for directions somewhere and they may very well tell you how to get there by taking some avenue ending in a 7 for roughly 21 miles. Never mind there’s a freeway right next to it, a lot of people here swear the streets are faster. I’ve done both many times, and those people are wrong. As bad as traffic on the Expressways is, unless there is a major lane closing, you are ALWAYS better off taking the freeway for any longer distance drive. That being said, should some local friend of yours insist otherwise and you decide to take the streets, by no means ever get on a major street going West during morning rush or East at night. You may find yourself contemplating suicide before you get halfway home. Similarly, do not try going north or south from Flagler Street at night, or north or south to Flagler street in the morning. Look at a map and you’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about. As bad as the streets are, however, nothing compares to the icon of Miami traffic that is…
THE PALMETTO F$%#&*^ EXPRESSWAY
If there is one symbol for everything that is wrong with Miami, it is the Palmetto. This road is so infamous among Miami drivers, the preeminent local news blog is called “Stuck on The Palmetto.” Why is the Palmetto so awful? Well, if you can imagine a road with never-ending traffic, give it uneven, shifting lanes, scenery that has you begging for Northern Nevada and drivers who got their licenses out of a Cracker Jack Box, you’re getting close. If you can manage to find a car without working A/C in July you may be in for a real treat if you dare to venture onto State Route 826.
Running for 24.4 miles from suburban Kendall through Doral and Hialeah to North Miami Beach, the Palmetto is the route of choice to work for every single person in Dade County. There is no good time to be on the Palmetto, as even late at night they have been known to shut down all but one lane for construction causing inexplicable traffic jams at 3 AM. And no one likes sitting in traffic drunk. No matter what time of day you get on this beast, you must be prepared to sit.
There was a five-year widening project underway when I moved here during Clinton’s first term. Guess who’s still widening? This perpetual construction of beloved State Route 826 is a fairly good indicator of why its traffic is so bad, but the areas it travels through are another. Doral, which you may have heard of for its famous Golf Course, has also become a popular location for Office Parks. As has Miami Lakes, another area right off the Palmetto. As has Kendall. So at any given time you have a good portion of Miami’s population driving to work on this same stretch of ever-constructing road. But that’s not all: 826 also goes though Hialeah which, aside from being the poster-boy for lawless driving, is also home to most of the warehouses in the city. So let’s add in enough semi-trucks to fill the highways of most states in the Midwest, sprinkle in some gravel trucks coming from the nearby rock quarry, add that to perpetual construction and a massive commute and you have a recipe for hours of head-pounding frustration.
But that’s not all! Hialeah is also home to a lot of trucks selling fruit off the back. Or trucks selling just about anything off the back. And it is not uncommon for some of these exemplary cases of defensive driving to get into accidents on the Palmetto. So say you are driving to work in Doral one day and, whoops! All of a sudden a truckload of flip-flops has overturned in the middle of the road. Or bananas. Or churros. Either way you may be redirected to the dreaded Hialeah Surface Street (which encompass an entirely different numeric grid in the middle of Dade’s countywide grid) to get where you need to go. Did I mention the mayor of Hialeah once punched guy out on live TV during a traffic jam on the Palmetto? I think you’re starting to get the idea.
IF YOU HAVE TO GET LOST….
There is a city just southwest of Miami called Coral Gables. It is home to expensive homes, expensive shopping, expensive bodies, and street signs you couldn’t see with Night Vision Goggles. For some reason, Coral Gables, the ever-trendy rich suburb that is home to the University of Miami, wanted to be totally different that the rest of Miami. Live here long enough and you may begin to understand why. As a result, they completely abandoned the grid and instead gave us a labyrinth of winding streets with names that sound like pasta sauces. So you may be heading north on Salcedo Street and then all of a sudden you are going west on Albegna and then southeast on Anastasia. And you come out two miles south of where you started.
Don’t try looking at street signs, either. In order to make ABSOLUTELY SURE you knew you were not in Miami, Coral Gables also abandoned the easy-to-read white on green street signs with the not-so-nearsighted friendly black on white. Written on stones. On the ground. So when you are driving around you not only can’t read the signs, you can’t even see them unless you happen to drive a car that drives 8 inches off the ground. The good news is the median income in “The Gables” is roughly 900 times that of everyone else in Dade County combined. So getting lost there, while extremely irritating, will most likely not find you carjacked like so many German tourists.
However you decide to drive here in Miami, just be sure you are ready for anything. While our traffic can be horrible, it is by no means unavoidable if you set you job and residence up the right way. Understand that most of the people around you are inexperienced, old, drunk and uninsured and you will be well prepared for automotive life in South Florida. Just make sure you get that uninsured motorists coverage. It may be the one bet you make with the insurance companies you actually win.
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