Currently viewing the tag: "Streetcar"
Edinburgh is covered by an intricate web of bus lines which keep things moving along the narrow city streets. Double Decker buses constantly flow in and out of central bus stations filled with locals and tourists alike. A couple of enclosed central transfer stations exist to handle several bus routes as well as to keep passengers out of the whimsical Scottish weather. A sign posted near the rail station informed me of upcoming plans to add streetcars…

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(Click on the photo for a larger image)
  • Appropriate density w/rowhouses
  • Quality architecture and urban design
    • Front porches
    • Short setbacks
    • Beautiful ornamentation
    • Designed to interact with people and not cars
  • Bike Lanes
  • Real Trolleys (aka Streetcars)
  • No Curb Cuts/Driveways - On-street parking ONLY

It’s very straightforward - we could have this in Miami, too.

photo courtesy of freekpowerticket’s flickr account

Although I have been generally pleased with Miami’s growth patterns of the last few years, I have always been concerned about the outcome. I am afraid Miami is building a completely novel urban environment, perhaps unlike anywhere else on Earth. What do I mean by this? Partially due to the lack of comprehensive transit and the region’s obsessive car culture, nearly all of the City’s new development is being designed for people to drive to, park in a garage, and walk in only the very immediate area to arrive at their destination.

This is exacerbated by the excessive minimum parking standards set by the City Code. Miami’s urban central business district has always had way too much parking for an urban core, but with the addition of all these new buildings as many as 100,000 more parking spaces are being added to the area. What a disgusting waste of valuable urban space. This is what I mean by Miami creating a novel urban environment – I can’t think of another major city in the history of the world that has simultaneously added so much core density and so much more parking. Or, put another way, I can’t think of another major city in the history of the world that has added so much more dense urban infrastructure without substantially curbing driving demand.

Perhaps even more worrisome is that people won’t even do the little bit of walking I mentioned above. They often may not need to. If you’re living in a high-rise in Brickell, you surely have a large parking garage pedestal. Say you want to go shopping at a downtown building with ground floor retail. It’s highly likely, especially if the building is new, that it will also have plenty of on-site parking. All you would have to do, in this case, is take the elevator to the parking garage (or valet), pull out and drive to the on-site garage at your destination. In many instances, there may even be direct access from the parking garage to the ground-floor retail. The same is true if you’re planning on visiting a friend in another building; just drive from one garage to another without ever setting food outdoors.

To see if this is happening, I went downtown and to Brickell to do some qualitative observation to gauge the ratio of pedestrian-to-automobile traffic coming and going from various buildings. I started at the One Miami building, where one of my friends resides. First of all, it doesn’t help that the building is almost entirely designed to interact with automobiles, not the pedestrian realm (seen here on the left), as Gabe pointed out in a recent post. Unfortunately, just as I suspected, one car after another came and went from the building’s massive parking garage. As for pedestrians? I was one of only a handful during about a 45 minute stretch between 1:45 pm and 2:30 pm.

Next, I took the Metromover down to Brickell so I could survey another building where a friend resides – the Club at Brickell Bay. It should be noted that this building felt rather hostile to pedestrians as well, due to the half-circle valet area and columns out front at the building’s only pedestrian entrance. At first, however, it seemed like there was more pedestrian interaction in this area. However, upon closer observation, almost all of the pedestrian activity was from people coming from and going to their cars which were parallel parked within about a two block radius of the Club. Meanwhile, car after car rode down Brickell Bay Drive looking for on-street parking, or entering and exiting the garage from the side of the building. Same went for the building next door. An occasional pedestrian or two could be seen coming from a distance every now and then, but they were far outnumbered by those driving.

Some of my friends have told me to relax, that things will improve a lot once the area matures and more retail is added nearby. This may be true to some degree, especially downtown, where pretty much everything is closed by 8:00 pm. However, I don’t think we can rely upon the major proposed retail projects to help a whole lot. For example, City Square is planning on providing a whopping 4,052 parking spaces! Same goes for Bayview Market (2,360). Same goes for Midtown Miami (2,900), regardless of the proposed Streetcar that would serve it.

Furthermore, we can’t blame a lack of transit for people deciding to drive everywhere in downtown and Brickell. These two locales are served by multiple modes of transit including taxi cabs, pitting them among the best transit-served areas in the southeastern United States. Everything, from groceries, retail, medical care, schools, jobs, banks, parks, restaurants, cafes, and nightlife are all accessible from short Metrorail, Metromover, or taxi rides (I’m not even going to include Metrobus in this piece).

In fairness, I know there are many people who have moved downtown or to Brickell so they could leave the car at home (or behind). We’ve even had commenters on TransitMiami mention their delight for being able to walk or take transit to most destinations. However, I believe these people are still very much in the minority.

Miami 21 aims to solve these problems. Due to fervent public outcry, parking will still be over mandated, but not quite as much as under current ordinances. Moreover, Miami 21 will force new buildings to have habitable space on nearly all building facades, aiming to significantly improve interaction with the pedestrian realm. The Streetcar proposal aims to improve north-south transit between downtown and midtown. A Bicycle Master Plan is still desperately needed. I sincerely hope that these actions improve the current situation in our urban core.

I don’t want Miami to become infamous for its dubious distinction as a park n’ walk city.

top photo courtesy of James Good’s flickr account

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Below is a series of pictures that I just love. I think they do an excellent job illustrating the concept of street capacity, making clear how much valuable urban street space is wasted by private automobile travel.
This first picture above shows 24 cars on a block in some town. It’s amazing how much space is taken up just so a couple dozen people can move around (or store their vehicles if the outside columns of cars are “parked” in this picture).

The second picture below clearly shows how much street space is wasted by all these private, single- occupant vehicles.

The third picture below clearly shows how much street space is preserved when mass transportation such as streetcars or buses are used to transport the same number of people through uniform space.

The last picture below illustrates just how small a space is used by the same number of people when they are pedestrians.
All of these pictures help us to see the intrinsic link between land use (e.g. density, urban design, parking requirements, etc) and transportation. In turn, it helps us understand how high quality urban land uses that emphasize density, pedestrian-oriented design, and transit instead of automobiles actually make for more sustainable environments than less dense or more sprawling locales which facilitate private automobile usage.

When you can to begin to grasp this concept, you will have begun to understand how unsustainable the auto-centric city is even with an unlimited supply of the cleanest, greenest fuel technology.

Photos courtesy of terrian.org and streetsblog.com

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The Mayor delivered an historic, encouraging speech today at the State of the City Address yesterday. Among the major items mentioned by the Mayor, there was a heavy emphasis on becoming a greener, more sustainable city. In support, he mentioned that Miami 21, the Streetcar, higher densities, green buildings, and an improved parks system are crucial to accomplishing these goals. The Mayor even went so far as to challenge everyone in the City to change their traditional light bulbs to compact fluorescent ones, which save loads of energy and subsequently cut down significantly on CO2 emissions. As you can see from these statements, as well as quotes below, the Mayor was very critical of sprawl and clearly understands the dynamics of sustainability:

  • “We will move away from government policies that invest in sprawl”.
  • “Cities (incl. Miami) have been planned around cars and not people - well, not anymore. We need to move away from government policies that invest in sprawl”.
  • “Make no mistake, the low density suburban sprawl the characterizes growth in South Florida is the true enemy to sustainability…the cure for sprawl is a return to the core, bringing people together so they can live, work, shop and play close to where they live”.
  • “The message will be clear, you either build green (in Miami), or don’t built at all”.
  • “We need to invest in a streetcar system today, like the one we used to have. And, we must do it while we can still afford it. Rather than wait years and Miamians (wonder) why we failed to act, a streetcar system is an inevitable solution - Miami can either pay for it now, or pay for it later - leaving future generations to pay a much, much higher bill to ensure sustainability”.
When he made the last statement above about the streetcar, I shook my head. Both publicly and privately, I’ve been using almost that identical line for at least a year now to help explain the value of going through with the streetcar project. Miamians should be excited that they finally have a Mayor that gets it. People need to start looking at what has/likely will be accomplished under his terms:

Considering that Miami was a nearly bankrupt, sprawling, quasi-urban mess with a junk bond rating just 10 years ago, it puts into perspective the historic legacy of Mayor Diaz and you’ve really got to give props to what he has done for the City, at least from an urban planning and livability perspective.

  • The Developer Billionaire partnership Leviev Boymelgreen composed by Lev Leviev and Shaya Boymelgreen, known in Miami for Marquis and Vitri, have decided to split their partnership, citing a difference of opinions towards future development. Boymelgreen sees a formidable future in the Miami market, opted to stay with the Miami land holdings concentrated around the Carnival center, while Leviev maintained ownership of the NYC properties. Besides the developers’ optimistic stance on Miami’s market, it interesting to note that he is considering developing rental units or workforce housing in the CBD, a stance we have long advocated to help alleviate Miami’s recent housing shortages…
  • Miami is ranked 63 in the top 100 most liveable cities by Business Week, down a notch from last year. In browsing through the list I was compelled to notice that all but one of the top 15 cities have Streetcars, Trams, or LRT running through the city streets. Coincidence? I think not…(Via: Spacing Wire)
  • Open Road tolling is coming to a highway near you…
  • Jersey City is quickly becoming the model of the urban future according to this article in today’s USA Today. I should note, on top of existing transit, the city recently completed a light rail transit line to continue to facilitate transit use for the more than 40% of its residents who ride regularly…
  • Blog Update: I’ve somehow neglected to add a link to Cyburbia to the website. Cyburbia was founded in 1994, and is the Internet’s oldest continuously operating planning-related Web site; it functions today as a portal and busy social networking site for planners and others interested in the built environment. Check it out…

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Anyone interested in learning about Miami 21, especially residents living in the East Quadrant, should attend the open house this weekend being put on by planning consultant firm DPZ. The open house is meant to discuss and provide details about recently updated documents of the Miami 21 code.

The open house will be held from 8:00am to noon this Saturday, March 24th, at Archbishop Curley Notre Dame High School located at 4949 NE 2nd Avenue.

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I ask; if I am ever ousted from a political or public works position (which, I assure you, will never be the case) please, do not hold a special “name clearing hearing” in my honor like the one scheduled tonight by the county commissioners at 5 pm over the firing of former transit director Roosevelt Bradley. How pathetic is this? Have we stooped to a new low in the commission chambers? Has our commission become complacent with substandard performance and abysmal results from one of the county’s largest departments? I assure you, the removal of Bradley from the top Transit post was a good thing for Miami-Dade Transit. It’s depressing that the best argument provided thus far against his removal from office has been racial, which I must mention had nothing to do with his lousy performance.

Yes Bradley has overseen a recent growth in Bus operation and has blanketed our county with awkwardly placed glass bus benches, but, we must not give credit to him for these ‘advances.’ After all, the transit department is growing because of the efforts of the 2002 PTP supporters, not the efforts of any transit individual. Since the 2002 approval we have yet to witness any considerable advances with our transit tax money. Sure they’ve purchased a few buses and installed some illuminated street signs, but, is that really what we expected out of the PTP? The north and east-west corridor are anything but certain seeing that either has yet to secure federal funding, the airport connection hasn’t even been finalized, and our transit oriented development is abominable, all the while precious PTP money is squandered. As director, Bradley should have and could have forced Baylink to begin financing and development. He could have created a joint development to accelerate plans to create the Miami streetcar. He could have modernized the transit system, abandoning the ludicrous token system and implementing a friendlier metrocard system. He could have worked to add bus benches in more strategic locations, rather than the wonderful collection we now have along SW 72nd St. in front of half million dollar houses with Range Rovers in the driveways. Hey, anyone remember the FEC and CSX rail corridors decaying across the county? The fact of the matter is that Bradley was fired not for what he accomplished, but for what he has failed to accomplish thus far as transit director.

I reiterate the importance now of hiring an individual with a visionary plan for the transportation problems in Miami-Dade County. We need someone who understands how real public transit works in other parts of the world and can bring some of the success of other transit systems to Miami. Miami-Dade Transit needs someone who can work to lobby congress to allocate more federal dollars for our transportation deficiencies. We need someone who will work to bring regional rail alternatives to the whole south Florida area and will work with Governor Crist and the Florida congress to reestablish the Florida High speed rail initiative. We need someone who understands that public transit is more than just trains and buses; it’s a complete redesign of our public spaces, our buildings, and our way of life. All in all, we need someone who at the end of the day will not say “Look at what I have accomplished” but rather “Look at how much more can still be done to improve Miami’s public transit.” No transit official should be tooting his own horn for adding buses which had already received funding from allocated taxes and no one should cry foul when fired over an appalling performance…

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Vienna and its’ surroundings are covered in a vast web of efficient public transportation. Four rail options make life in the Austrian capital a breeze for residents and visitors alike. Like Miami, Vienna lacks a definite central district where workers travel to and from daily. The inner stadt, encircled by a one-way ring street and streetcar is about as close as it gets to becoming the center of Viennese activity, but major business hubs such as the UN complex are located far outside of the center.
The streetcars or Strassenbahns are a marvelous form of transportation, easily accessible by locals and visitors alike due to the vast network they create across the entire city (There are over 30 different routes and it is the third largest network of streetcars in the world.) To understand how vast this system really is, please click on the map here, you won’t be disappointed. Nearly every street contains tracks for the streetcar, which often shares the limited roadway with vehicles on narrow 2 way streets. The streetcars are prompt, clean, and effective forms of traversing the city.

The U-Bahn (Subway) is a relatively new form of transportation in Vienna; it opened in its modern form in 1976 and has since grown to incorporate six different lines (although parts of the U-Bahn date back to the 1890’s.) Click here, for an animation depicting the growth of the U-Bahn over the years including the upcoming extensions of the U2 line due to open in 2008 (to the stadium) and 2010, in time for the UEFA Cup which the city will be hosting in 2008. The U-bahn provides a faster mode of transportation and links some of the major hubs including: Stephansplatz, Vienna International Center, and train stations (Westbanhof, Franz-Joseph Banhof, Wien Nord.) Like most modern transit stations, most stations feature newsstands, bakeries, and all other sorts of convenient amenities foreign to the Miami-Dade Transit System.

The city and its immediate surroundings also contain over 380 kilometers of track for the Schnellbahn, a suburban commuter rail train similar to our tri-rail, only its efficient, vast, reliable, and electrically powered. As I mentioned previously, we used the schnellbahn to connect from the airport to the U-Bahn. There is also a small light rail transit system located within city limits (I know these people are so lucky to have all different forms of rail transit) known as the Lokalbahnen. I’m not familiar with the Lokalbahnen, seeing that we never had the opportunity to use it, but I often saw its trams arriving at the Karlsplatz station, where passengers could connect with U-Bahn, Schnellbahn, or bus transit options along the Ringstrasse. Notice how every site I’ve linked contains maps, schedules, routes, tickets, etc. in English in an easy to find format…

The city is also covered by over 80 different bus routes some of which operate 24 hours a day. The Nighlines provide service once the metro systems close for the night, at 1 am and run until they reopen at 5:30. The Nighline runs every 30 minutes and is just as prompt and easy to use as the Strassenbahns and no less popular among the locals or even us visitors. Using the bus system was no less of a breeze to connect us with the nearest U-Bahn station. The buses also lack the stop signal system found on most U.S. buses, instead a button near the exits serves as a dual use button to trigger doors to open and to signal the bus driver to stop. All buses (thanks to GPS devices) also announce upcoming stops and Strassenbahn and U-Bahn connections.

After experiencing yet another efficient and effective public transportation system, I am forced to realize that Miami has far to go before it too can become a very accessible city to all. Below are a series of photos I took while in Vienna for the purposes of depicting some of the most fascinating elements of their public transit system on this site:

Notice anything conspicuous about this entrance to the U-Bahn platforms? The absence of any turnstiles should jump right out at you, especially if you are familiar with the heavily armored nature of most American subway entrances. In parts of Europe however, subway entrances like this are the norm because the entire metro system operates on the honor system- Gasp! Yet, it works, because people know what the law is. Enforcement is done completely at random on bus, streetcar, and U-Bahn routes. Throughout our week long visit we were checked a whole zero times! While I’m on the fare subject: we were able to purchase an eight day coupon using our credit cards at an ATM like machine at the subway stations. The eight day card (24 Euros) enabled us to eight full days (not necessarily consecutive) of transit use (all forms) provided that we stamped our tickets daily at anyone of the punch card boxes located on every vehicle or station entrance. This marvelous system eliminates the foolish token or cash system and enables passengers to board the trolleys or buses through any door at any stop. The Honor system and punch card system is far too advanced of a thought for any U.S. Transit system. With heavily fortified entrances and armed station guards, many of our transit systems still suffer from delinquent fare box evaders. Part of the reason why Miami’s Metromover system is free rather than 25 cents is that the cost to add security to every platform would cost more than the income gained and more than cutting back security and making the whole system free. In any case, imagine at least if we could add machines which allow users to buy extended day metropasses with credit cards at every station. Maybe our next transit director will bring our transit system into the 20th century, let alone the 21st…After passing through the faux turnstiles, you emerge on a subway platform which is far cleaner than any public space you’ve ever experienced. Though even I admit this station was cleaner than most, it was interesting to look down at the tracks and not see the usual litter, sewage, and congregation of rodents which is typical of any subway system in the United States. Like the honor system, citizens here know to deposit trash in the appropriate receptacles rather than all along the station platform or tracks. It was rather stunning to encounter such an immaculate station in any case. The trains themselves are very well kept, with clean comfortable seats and handles. The absence of graffiti or window etchings was a plus and I even witnessed residents asking fellow passengers to remove their feet from the seats… Some of the busier stations featured the wall advertising typical of most subways along with maps depicting the upcoming routes (way too advance for Miami, but more common elsewhere.) Some of the busier stations also feature projectors and screens displaying top news headlines and local information.
Most of the subway cars are extremely modern, like the one pictured above. The trains are surprisingly smooth and quiet, making the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods minimal in the areas where the trains travel above ground. The Strassenbahns (Aka. Streetcars or Trolleys) are an eclectic mix of old and modern technology. The new cars, designed by Porsche Design Group, feature the lowest ground to floor clearance of any similar vehicle. Every station features covered waiting areas with benches and route maps. They also contain real time data LCD screens which depict upcoming trains and expected waiting times which are frighteningly accurate. As I mentioned above, the streetcars share the roadways with vehicles and rarely travel along their own dedicated right of way. Often times, the only lane in either direction is shared while the shoulders are reserved for on street parallel parking spaces. The streetcars operate under different signals than cars and usually have dedicated space in the “medians” for the stations . The overhead power cables are strung from the surrounding buildings, eliminating excessive poles along the side of the roads. The streetcars enhance the pedestrian activity along every street and do not detract from the vehicular traffic flow at all. The electrical wires are not unsightly and share dual use with the overhead streetlight system. What I always find impressive when touring European cities is the amount of young children (typically 5 years and older) wandering around alone on the public transit systems. I took the picture above to emphasize the benefits a good transit system would have on our education systems. See, in Vienna, like many other cities, their is no school bus system. Kids use public buses and trains to get to and from school. When field trips are scheduled, school groups take public transit like the group pictured above; on its way to the Museum of Natural History. Sensational. Imagine how much money we’d save if we didn’t have to fun an independent cheese wagon transit system just to transport kids to class daily? I took the above picture while waiting for the Nightline bus. After a long night of Karaoke and drinking, the minimal wait for the bus ride home was pleasant as street cleaners buzzed by routine maintenance was conducted on the streetcar power cable systems. Oh, and yes, at night the LCD screens display the wait times for the buses as well…
Nearly all the intersections in Vienna are dotted with Siemens sound sensors to aide blind pedestrians cross the streets. Gas stations such as this one above and below emphasize the idea that cars are secondary forms of transportation in the Austrian capital because well, they are. This particular gas station is located outside the opera house and does little to take away from the imperial surroundings. The one below was built into the side wall of a building.

The picture below depicts the middle level of one of my favorite transfer stations in Vienna, Schottentor. This station is a major transfer point for at least 10 different Strassenbahn lines, including the 1 and 2 trams which traverse the inner stadt. Trams arrive on the ground and mid level of the station, one level below ground. From the mid level the Votivkirche (church) provides a beautiful backdrop for the arriving trams. One level below, passengers can access the U2 line of the U-Bahn. Note: None of the stations feature parking, parking garages, or anything to accommodate ridiculous vehicular usage.

The regional transit options are no less spectacular than those of the city or of other parts of Europe. The OBB, a train I could liken to tri-rail, only dependable, transported us to a town called Melk, 85km west of Vienna in about one hours time. The OBB trains are powered by overhead electrical wires and make stops in various stations along the way. It was amazing to be outside of the city and traveling through woodlands and pastures in the matter of a few minutes, emphasizing the compact nature of Viennese life and making such marvelous transit feasible in the first place. Melk, a small unassuming town along the Danube River even boasts a local bus circulator and is so compact we had crossed the town by foot in a matter of minutes. Stay tuned for Part 3…

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APTA (American Public Transportation Association) just came out with a report citing 2006 ridership figures. Among the findings:
  • More than 10 billion trips taken on bus and rails in 2006 nationwide
  • 2.9% increase over 2005
  • Highest levels of ridership since 1957
  • Ridership nationally has increased by 28% over the last decade
This is great news and again proves that even without first-class transit systems in every city, people still are willing to ride transit. Just imagine the ridership gains if all of our major cities did have first-class transit systems.

APTA president William Millar stated in the article, “Certainly a lot of the growth last year was with the high gas prices”. This offers more support to raise our gas taxes. This may be especially necessary for the future of South Florida transit, given cutbacks in funds the region could see if the proposed property tax rollback bill is passed. Raising gas taxes will better represent the true cost of oil, encourage more people to ride transit, and generate millions of dollars to improve transit.

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One of our dedicated readers, Carolyn, informed me of an interesting lecture coming up in Miami:
The U.S. Green Building Council South Florida Chapter and University of Miami School of Architecture present:

MARCH 21
MIAMI STREET CAR UPDATE
7 pm. Refreshments at 6:30 pm, Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center Stanley and Jewell Glasgow Lecture Hall, Dickinson Drive, University of Miami, Coral Gables Campus. and open to the public.

Mary Conway, P.E., Chief of Operations, City of Miami

In recent years, the City of Miami has seen an unprecedented wave of urban infill and redevelopment in a compressed downtown core area, and in adjacent neighborhoods. Miami Streetcar Project has emerged as one essential component of a transportation network that will entice Miami motorists out of their cars, into convenient mass transit, and onto city (and County) streets. Miami Streetcar Project is a direct response to the challenge to provide improved mobility options for users of the transportation network throughout the downtown core. This presentation provides an update on the Miami Streetcar Project, and an overview of the roles that streetcar systems play in shaping cities, by fostering pedestrian-friendly urban environments, and re-invigorated downtowns across the United States. This affordable mode of mass transit is emerging as an increasingly popular application, because of its cost-effective and time-efficient construction, its financial affordability, and its ready adaptability to active pedestrian-focused environments. City of Miami has responded to the local mobility challenge by pursuing multi-agency partnerships and innovative project delivery methods to build the single transit investment that could make a profound difference in re-shaping downtown Miami, in record time.

Mary H. Conway, P.E., currently serves as the Chief of Operations for the City of Miami and is a prominent Civil Engineer and Project Manager with more than 18 years of experience in the industry. studied briefly at Harvard University and the United States Naval Academy before earning a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Miami. was the recipient of the “Most Outstanding Civil Engineering Graduate” award from University of Miami as well as a member of Tau Beta Pi and Chi Epsilon, engineering honor societies. Prior to joining the City, Mary worked with the Florida Department of Transportation for over 10 years, where she oversaw major transportation projects in Miami-Dade County as well Broward to Indian River Counties. She also worked with FPL as a service planner and Beiswenger, Hoch and Associates as a production and project manager. served as Director for the City of Miami Capital Improvements and Transportation (CIT) Department for approximately two years. Mary’s hard work and results were recognized and she was promoted to Chief of Operations and is now responsible for overseeing the following Departments: Parks and Recreation, Solid Waste, General Services Administration (GSA), Public Works and CIT. Mary has also continued her involvement with CIT,responsible for overseeing the planning, coordination,implementation and monitoring of all construction related capital projects and transportation projects in the City of Miami. projects include street infrastructure and flood mitigation; park improvements; public facilities including fire stations, police and other city buildings; marinas; the Orange Bowl; and a state of the art urban streetcar transit circulator project. City’s current Capital Improvement and Multi-year plan encompasses over 1100 projects valued at over $675,000,000 through the year 2010 and will certainly increase as Miami continues to grow. experience, professionalism, dedication and drive have earned her the respect of her peers in the City, with other government agencies and within the engineering community at large.

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Well folks, I’m off again to explore another stunning European city. This week I’m headed to Vienna, Austria, the former home of the Hapsburg Empire. As usual, I’ll be sure to report about my experience on the city’s public transportation which boasts a network of streetcars in addition to its subway, suburban rail, and high speed airport train (CAT.) I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to take the CAT which whisks you from a central city terminal to the airport in less than 16 minutes. Get this; people who ride the cat don’t have to wait for their luggage on the carousel, it’s automatically loaded onto the train so that you can retrieve it at the station. How innovative is that?
I will have net access and do plan to post from Vienna, but Ryan will be picking up much of the slack while I’m away…
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The Miami-Dade MPO is considering an initiative which would bring waterborne commuter transportation soon to our shores. The 99 passenger catamarans would run every 30 minutes between the city of Miami and Haulover Marina in North Miami-Dade and Matheson Hammock in South Miami-Dade. A Miami terminal is planned for the dead end street just north of the Hotel Intercontinental, just one block away from the Bayfront Park Metromover Station. Catamaran acquisition as well as improvements to both Marinas is estimated to cost $18 Million.

I’ve heard this idea floating (pun intended) around for quite sometime now. Similar systems are already integral parts of other transportation networks including: New York, Boston, San Diego, Houston, San Francisco, Sydney, and even London. There are also plans to bring commuter ferries to Chicago along Lake Michigan and Washington D.C. along the Potomac River. Despite commuter ferry success elsewhere, I have many reservations about this project. The decentralization of our city makes such a project fairly difficult to attract sufficient riders. The given route also seems to be a bit redundant to existing public transportation (Tri-Rail and South-Dade Busway/Metrorail) which have thus far failed to successfully attract riders (likely due to the decentralization and inability to properly integrate transit with the surroundings.)

Now, I don’t want to completely discredit the idea either. The ferries would transport commuters from two fairly affluent neighborhoods, a concept which was recently proven to be successful with Metrorail station boarding statistics. The park and ride idea could also work well given that it doesn’t completely remove vehicular use from the commuter. I think the fare should be split between rides and parking however, to further encourage the reduced costs of carpooling or seeking alternative forms of arriving at the departure marinas. The commuter ferry should be a driving force for the city to vastly improve all of our waterfront space. Rather than creating a terminal by Bayfront Park as proposed, I believe the catamarans should berth in the cut just north of the American Airlines Arena alongside the upcoming museum park cultural center. The city should then work to bring the Miami-Key West Ferry from Key Biscayne to this same terminal essentially creating a local water transportation intermodal center which would be only one block from the Parkwest Metromover Station and easier to one day link with Baylink or a Miami Streetcar.

There are serious hurdles which need to be overcome, none of which can be solved by just the MPO or any other single branch of local government. In order to make our transit options successful we need to work to centralize our city while making commuting options as comfortable, seamless, and attractive as possible. Miami’s waterfront park space needs to become an integral part of our city, bustling with pedestrians and activity in order for this concept to succeed. Ferry service, if centralized, could one day offer locals and tourists alike easy affordable transit to our coastal cities, Key West, or even further abroad; after all we are the cruise capital of the world…

Some of you may have read about the recent debacle caused by the FDOT and Biscayne Boulevard preservationists over the removal of nearly all of the Royal Palms along the streetscape. Here’s the abridged version of the recent events:
  • FDOT planned to remove most of the palms on Biscayne Boulevard to replace them with shade trees such as Oaks, in order to enhance the pedestrian experience along the boulevard and to improve “safety” along the corridor in a new ROW acquisition.
  • The FDOT plan was met by stiff activist resistance, opposing the removal of any trees and opposing the plans by the FDOT.
  • To date, 135 palms have been removed, approximately 2/3 of the palms along the corridor which were planted over 80 years ago to commemorate the Veterans of all Wars.
  • Trees continued to fall, as recently as February 6.
  • On February 7th, the FDOT agreed to stop further destruction of the Royal palms, claiming that the trees removed the day before were either sick or part of the ROW acquisition.
  • Today, after the lobbying of Commissioner Sarnoff and Mary Conway, the FDOT has finally agreed to end the destruction. The Biscayne Boulevard corridor will now feature much more foliage than had been previously planned, including more Royal Palms and various other shade trees.

It’s difficult to swallow the “pedestrian enhancement” bull the FDOT is throwing at us when the trees are being removed to further enhance the traffic flow along the corridor. As the herald article noted, Miami’s tree canopy is an abysmal 10% (compared to 30-40% in other denser, pedestrian-minded cities) and yet, the solution to improve our tree canopy dysfunction involved the removal of existing trees. I guess we’re trying to maintain it at 10%, rather than improve upon it.

The bigger picture I’d like to point out is while one local agency works to make our streets more pedestrian friendly, our city commission is out approving a monstrous structure with 1,700 parking spaces in the immediate area. Note above: the pedestrian friendly streets of yesteryear featured not only pedestrian friendly foliage but streetcars as well. The approval of 2222 Biscayne is a dark reminder of how far we still have to go to improve the urban culture of our city. Any structure on an existing or planned public transit route should feature far less parking than the city code currently calls for and certainly far less than the 1 space/250 square feet offered by this eyesore…

Here’s another reason why rail transit expansion should take precedent over bus-favored alternatives. This afternoon I hopped on the #11 bus FIU-bound from Government Center via Flagler St at approximately 4:20pm; at 6:53pm, I arrived at FIU. It took the bus two and a half hours to go about 12 miles. If you’re counting at home, that’s an average speed around 5MPH. To put that into perspective, the average human walking speed is about 3.5MPH, meaning at a fairly brisk pace I could have rivaled the bus on foot. Furthermore, Metrorail travels its entire 22 miles in roughly 45 minutes, for an average speed of about 30MPH, or 600% faster than the bus. You would think Sweetwater would be begging for a Metrorail station (or two).

People talk about buses being advantageous to rail because of “flexible” routes, but nearly all routes are placed along arterial and connector roads that are the most susceptible to congestion (which, as we all should know, is expected to get much worse than it already is). Moreover, as we’ve mentioned a hundred times before, buses do relatively nothing to enhance the pedestrian realm, which is a major goal of the City of Miami, as well as Transit Miami. As Gabe said earlier, streetcars may not be guaranteed to significantly lessen traffic congestion, at least not immediately, but they are much more likely to do so than buses and they facilitate pedestrian-oriented surroundings so people have alternatives to driving everywhere.

Manhattan has the most comprehensive subway system in the world, but if you’ve ever driven there, you know that doesn’t preclude the borough from heavy congestion. The point is, they have many alternatives and we don’t - which is partly why NYC is a world-class city and Miami is still a far cry away.

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