Below is a statement from Miami-Dade county Mayor Carlos Alvarez regarding the death of Mr. Christophe Lacanne:
The death of a bicyclist along the Rickenbacker Causeway is a devastating tragedy caused by the recklessness of a hit and run driver. Miami-Dade County arrested a suspect, is investigating the sequence of events, addressing opportunities to improve regional cooperation with emergency responders and determining whether any additional engineering measures would be effective in preventing this type of collision. Additionally, if it is found that standard operating procedures were violated with regard to emergency response, those involved will be held accountable. No one wants to see this happen again. My son is an avid biker and trains along this same route, along with thousands of other bikers and pedestrians. This issue is a personal and professional one for me.
Thanks Mayor Alvarez. We need strong leadership on this issue, and I hope you not only listen to your professional public works and planning staff, but the many people who use the Rickenbacker Causeway as more than just a high speed connection between Key Biscayne and the mainland. Their daily experience is worth more than any textbook standard.
A few mornings every week I have breakfast with my grandfather. We shoot the shit, talk about what’s going on at work, and argue/discuss issues from the morning headlines. (To give you an idea of our respective demographic groups, he reads the paper version of el Nuevo Herald, while I read a bunch of online papers/blogs/magazines.) As we had our cafesito this morning, the shitstorm that will become Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s week remaining time in office dominated our conversation.
Now, my grandfather and I don’t see eye to eye on a wide variety of issues (i.e. he was a two time Bush voter, I was not), but we had the same reaction to Matthew Haggman and Jack Dolan’s excellent article on compensation in the Mayor’s office: Se jodió la bicicleta! Literally translated this means “The bicycle is f#*!&d”, but in the common parlance of our times it means that the proverbial pooch has been screwed. We were in complete agreement that this was not good government, and that the Mayor had made a big mistake in cutting the budget of ‘feel good’ programs (my grandfather’s words) while bloating his staff’s salaries. If my grandfather feels betrayed/pissed, then I can only imagine what the rest of the population of Dade County feels (I take him to be a typical Dade County voter if there is such a person).
I don’t care whether the pay increases have merit or not. I’m positive that the jobs performed by the Mayor’s staff are difficult and worthy of high salaries, but the County is not flush with money. When times are tough you slim down. These raises are unacceptable, and undermine the important work that these folks do. I don’t want to get into specifics, but I will recount an interesting exchange I had with Miami-Dade Communications Director Vicki Mallette a few weeks back regarding the Dade County Budget, as she is one of the main characters of this drama.
Let me start by saying that Vicki has been a great partner in communicating with us on a variety of issues. I might not agree with her on every issue, but I do appreciate her regular contributions to this site. She recently contacted me to inquire if I had any ‘questions’ regarding the budget. We scheduled a phone call and I proceeded to study the budget in anticipation of our conversation. I noticed the cuts to Parks and Rec, Cultural Grants, and most notably, Transit. In our conversation, she made it clear that the lack of a 3.5% increase to the transit budget (as passed by the County Commission in March) was one of the most painful ‘cuts’ to make (totaling $4.2 million).
I made a point of voicing my disappointment over the lack of transit funding, but assured her (and Matthew Pinzur, who was also on the call) that I was not going to make a point of writing about the budget because it was a dog and everyone was affected. While transit is the main focus of this site, it is not the only important part of the budget - and ‘everyone’ has supposedly been impacted. I thought that a 5% salary cut across the board was reasonable and that it didn’t make much sense for me insist that transit be spared when everyone was slimming down.
Fast forward to this morning. I can’t describe how upset I was to read that the Mayor’s staff had been given such ridiculous (and retroactive!) raises in face of the cuts made to transit and other departments. During our conversation I made it clear that transit needed significantly more funding, to which she replied that transit already had a sizable general fund contribution at $143 million (I informed her that it was actually considerably less than other metropolitan regions) and that restoring the cuts to transit would have to be made up with cuts in other places. (Something I don’t necessarily agree with either. A minor increases in property tax, amounting to $20 per house, could make up a big part of the budget shortfall.)
As we learned last week, the 3.5% increase in the general fund contribution legally has to be reinstated or MDT will face even greater problems, but if that were not the case the $4.2 million could have come from not raising salaries at the top, including your salary Vicki. Not to mention cutting more than 5% from the salaries of those in the ‘inner circle’ (starting with the Mayor and Manager and working down - say 15%). I wonder what other aspect of public safety, culture, or community outreach is being compromised because of this sort of mismanagement. As chief executive, and ‘strong mayor’, of Miami-Dade County the buck stops with Mayor Alvarez. He wanted to be ‘stong mayor’, and now he is going to feel the political repercussions of that responsibility. I hope he is ready.
- Changing tides: Mayoral aspirant Regalado’s developer contributions increase (according to the Herald because of Miami 21.)
- Slots are almost in South Florida…I wonder what the redevelopment of the Flagler dogtrack will do to the neighborhood. Maybe they can use their increased profit to develop something nice on their huge, empty parking lot.
- Transit advocates and local officials in Tampa are miffed that proposed high speed rail plans bypass the recently renovated Union Station, an early 20th century Italian Renaissance revival-style station. Check out the photo, it’s pretty nice.
- Sunrail: Can link to high-speed rail help sell Legislature on commuter rail?
- Miami-Dade budget: the Kendall Community Council is not happy over the Mayor’s proposed budget cuts to planning and zoning staff. (This staff organizes neighbhorhood charrettes and guides community planning - value creating activities that are economic generators for the county.)
- Transit gets shafted (yet again): the proposed budget leaves out an expected 3.5% increase in the general fund contribution.
- Commissioner Moss is pushing for high speed rail to Miami. The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce also endorses the idea. Cool.
- Awesome article about demolishing urban freeways and redevelopment opportunities. Can anyone say I-395?
- What a coincidence: seems like transit financing is a problem in NY where a combination of dropping real estate tax, sales tax, and state tax revenues are putting the MTA in the red. The conclusion reached in the article: we need more government subsidy to make up the difference.
- President Obama is moving to undo Bush era changes to weakening enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. I thought this was interesting, considering our own problems with ignorant state legislators trying to do away with growth laws in the name of commerce. “But in a statement, Bill Kovacs, the vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, condemned the action as an unreasonable interference with needed projects.”
- Marlins Stadium Update: A new bill is on the floor of the state legislature that would require a county referendum on the use of tourist dollars for the stadium, even as City and County leaders shuffle meetings and complain about each other. Mayor Alvarez is pissed about the way negotiations have been going….join the club dude. Then there is the reappearance our friend Glenn Straub who is offering the old Miami Arena site as an alternative. I like it. This would allow the city to reduce its investment in parking by relying on its existing downtown parking supply. And don’t forget there will already be a neighborhood growing up around the Park West thanks to the Miami WorldCenter project. And it has transit connections. And it frees up the Orange Bowl site for other purposes (can anyone say Manny Diaz Memorial Park?) BUT we still don’t know all the details, and you know what they say about details…
- Miami-Dade is getting serious about skate parks. Cool.
- Those state legislators - what schizophrenia. While trying to undo growth laws (a bad move) they go and push ahead with the recently named Sunrail (a really good move). “He pegs the price of SunRail at close to $1billion. But that is a bargain, SunRail enthusiasts say, when compared to the estimated $7billion it would cost to add one lane in either direction to Interstate 4 for the 61.5 miles covered by the train.” Sounds convincing to me. This is really cool, and will hopefully coincide with the Obama administration’s push for a national intercity railway network. Tamiami trail here we come.
- The FTA just released the Federal Register Notice describing the allocation of the $8.4 Billion transit stimulus. More on this later….
I thought it would be nice to start the week off with some hope - there seems to be a lot of it going around. Last week was a roller coaster ride for transit advocates across the country. From Seattle to the Twin Cities, everyone was asking what transit solutions could be expected from the first wave of stimulus projects (yes - I said first wave), and while the initial draft was not great a piece of shit, I am proud to say that one of our leaders - Mayor Carlos Alvarez - finally put his thinking cap on. Reading the letter and revised stimulus project list, I was filled with hope. After being ignored and mismanaged for so many years, our transit system has an advocate in Mayor Alvarez. His blueprint puts transit front and center, stating that constructing the Orange Line is a priority. Bravo!
By asking for funds to complete the Earlington Heights Connector to the airport, along with $93 million worth of maintenance requests, Mayor Alvarez has made a huge shift in how the County perceives its responsibility toward providing transit alternatives. The Intermodal Center and Earlington Heights connector should never have been funded by the PTP without matching Federal Dollars (rather than funding the entire project with Trust dollars with some state funds). Not only is it shovel ready, but getting funds for this project would free up revenue for Phases 2 and 3 of the Orange line. Similarly, the maintenance projects listed will also help improve MDT’s fiscal future.
Now reality: most transit dollars in the stimulus package (now listed as a meager $10 billion) are to be funneled to cities with existing transit systems (NY, DC, Chicago). In addition, it is still uncertain that money will be sent directly to local municipalities, and not highway hungry DOTs.
Either way: good job Mayor Alvarez! At least here at home, we have something to hope for…
If you’ve been too distracted by elections and Vice Presidential nominations this week, maybe you haven’t heard yet that Miami Dade Transit may be cutting bus routes. Larry Lebowitz at the Miami Herald has the details on the routes that could be cut. These are routes with plenty of ridership, so nothing to be taken lightly.
We are sorry we didn’t get this news out before Mayor Carlos Alvarez won reelection by a landslide. It seems these cuts are being proposed by him and County Manager George Burgess. Lebowitz says that they would be returning the total miles of bus service “close to the pre-sales tax levels of 2002.” That would just prove that the sales tax initiative has failed. I believe that Miller-McCune magazine was justified in putting the Metrorail expansion and the sales tax inititiative on their list of “The World’s Biggest Boondoggles.”
The county commission will be voting on this issue Sept. 2., along with the vote on the proposed fare increase. We urge them to clean up this mess by seeking new sources of income for existing transit service, and coming up with a solid plan to expand Metrorail and bus transit—not by cutting existing service or putting extreme burden on the riders. The Herald offered some suggestions in a follow-up editorial, and we agree with most of their points. Especially the one suggesting to stop handing out free rides before raising fares or cutting service.
MDT is underfunded, and the county has been using this expansion sales tax to make up the difference. Commissioners need to find another dedicated funding source to keep the trains and buses moving, and then get the expansion back on track with the originally committed funding source. How about raising property taxes to fund the budget deficit? If you have a better idea, let us know.
Lots went on this week in transit and I for one am exhausted. I know we have been silent these past few weeks on what has been happening, and speaking for myself, I didn’t have anything new to add to the discussion that I had not already said before. MDT is having problems, ridership is up, and the people in charge are asleep at the wheel. Does that sum it up? Not to be frivolous, but if we don’t laugh about this we’ll go crazy.
There are no quick fixes. We are fast approaching a time when people realize that not having a transit system in place is the same as not having adequate sewers or electricity. We are living up to our image as a Banana Republic, and unfortunately some of those so-called Banana Republic’s down south are much better off transit-wise than we are.
This morning on NPR Houston Mayor Bill White talked about the challenges facing his city. In light of the Mayor’s Conference going on today, I thought it appropriate to show how another car-centered modern city is dealing with not having adequate mass transit:
We some how bypassed this article last week, but, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez vetoed commission recommendations to approve a number of projects outside of the UDB. The veto will likely stand given that the commission lacks the 2/3 majority to override the mayor, presuming that none of the commissioners switch sides…
“If Miami-Dade moves outside the UDB, it will affect our delivery of services and strain already taxed resources,” Alvarez wrote. “Police and fire rescue services would be spread over a greater area, resulting in longer response times due to greater distances and road congestion.”
Meanwhile, on the losing end of the veto, Lowes’ attorney Juan Mayol laments about not having short drives to buy plywood:
“We are hopeful that the county commissioners will continue to recognize that these hard-working families are tired of overcrowded schools and long drives to buy such simple things as plywood or a garden hose.”
How often are people in
- Expansion and Improvement of TOD- Transit Oriented Development is critical in such an auto-centric city such as Miami. By placing a greater developmental emphasis on our existing transit line and actively expanding the amenities within easy walking distance of existing stations, our area transit will become more accessible to a greater portion of our population. It is imperative that MDT works together with surrounding developments to ensure safe, easy pedestrian access as well as higher density multi-use projects.
- System wide Farecards- MDT has to modernize our transit system- Quick. Token machines are outdated and the cash system is primitive. Users must be able to quickly and easily purchase flexible farecards at convenient locations using credit cards. Farecards should be integrated with the surrounding tri-county area transit systems and should facilitate the use of transit for locals, not just visitors.
- GPS Integration- MDT is currently working to install a system along metrorail which would provide users with upcoming train statuses and times. We need to move this technology along to every station platform, major bus transfer station, and most heavily used bus stops. Nearly every London Municipal stand alerts passengers of the wait time for the next bus, why can’t we? Plus, the new system would allow users to track transit using mobile or hand held devices.
- Car/Bicycle Sharing Program- This should certainly be higher on the list. We can’t expect citizens to fully abandon car use, that’s unreasonable and absurd. Therefore a reliable and reasonable car sharing program such as Flexcar should be sought to partner with MDT to provide service to the greater Miami area. Flexcar could park cars at every Metrorail station or major transfer facility providing more flexibility for Miami residents. The car program would allow residents who can solely rely on public transit for daily needs to do so, but will provide them with flexibility of regular car use (without the burden of ownership, of course.) A bike rental/sharing program could similarly be instituted along every station, allowing resident and tourist rental of bicycles from electronic stands. The idea here being that MDT needs to expand from a system of buses and trains, it should encompass all forms of local transit. Bike rental facilities could one day be found along the river walk, Museum Park, or Midtown, giving residents greater choices of mobility…
- Better Transit Facilities/Amenities- Take a ride along the NYC, Boston, or any other major cities subway system and each station will feature a newsstand, coffee shop, or lunch stand. MDT’s stations are barren and hostile by comparison. NYC is currently working on a citywide plan to update and standardize all newsstands and public toilets. MDT needs to work to bring such amenities to our local users. Some cities even feature buses and trains which display news, weather, and transit updates to users on televisions…
Three bills proposing to give the Marlins a $60 million dollar subsidy to bridge the funding gap for the new stadium easily made it through the state Senate and House committees on Thursday. While the baseball fans in Miami-Dade and Marlin stakeholders should be excited by early popularity of the proposed bills with the state House and Senate, it appears Broward legislators have a bad case of sour grapes over the stadium location. Broward senators are leading the charge against the stadium funding because they’re upset the proposed stadium sites are not located in the suburbs near county line. Speaking of the stadium site, there still has been no settlement; however, it appears the Orange Bowl plan is unfortunately still gaining steam.
FDOT is planning on making major “improvements” to I-95 between Ft. Lauderdale and downtown Miami. The proposal calls for the replacing the current HOV lanes with two HOT lanes (High Occupancy Toll) in each direction. Newly installed computer sensors on the highway would measure traffic volume and average speed, which would allow the system to increase or decrease the toll fees in the HOT lanes based on how much congestion there is. Drivers wishing to use HOT lanes would use a prepaid toll card like the SunPass. I’ve never been much of a fan of these “Lexus Lanes”, but I’ll let Gabe elaborate on the issue as he is the resident transportation engineer of the group.
Miami-Dade Transit director Roosevelt Bradley was forced to resign last night. Apparently, Bradley is one of the first casualties of Mayor Alvarez’s new powers to hire and fire administrators at County Hall. According to the Herald, Bradley, who took over Miami-Dade Transit in 2002, was inefficient as a boss and oversaw massive deficits under his rule. We’ll keep posting any updates as soon as we hear who might be the next director.
Just as we thought the pieces were starting to come together, our urban planning geniuses over at the county commission step in to screw things up. Their three reasons to oppose the downtown location include: loss of parking, new site for the children’s courthouse, and the closing of a couple of minor streets. I think they are against losing their cushy surface parking lot spaces just outside the 500 ft
Seriously, this is why we have issues in this County. This is why projects are never completed on time. Everything is a disaster when the fab 13 on the county commission step in to make a decision. Placing the public funding issue aside, why not place the stadium in a location which has been proven to work for Major League Baseball since the early 1900’s- in downtown, urban parks. Any venue outside the CBD and without convenient access to highways and existing public transportation will be destined to be a failure and will serve as the next “white elephant” to further remind us of the injustices caused by the members of the
Take, for example, the Coconut Grove station. It should serve as one of the most important transit gateways in Miami-Dade County, but instead functions as an isolated entity. Countless times I have interacted with tourists at both ends of 27th avenue in the Grove, asking me where the Metrorail station is probably because a) it is effectively cut off from the neighborhood and b) there is little urban continuity between the station and Grand Avenue that is emblematic of a place where people walk and take transit. Check out the pictures below:
The point is, better integration between Metrorail stations and adjacent streets and intersections is critical to the success of Metrorail, as well as realizing the pedestrian-oriented urban goals for Greater Miami. I guarantee there are people who would otherwise ride Metrorail but are turned off by either the prospect of crossing US-1 or the auto-centric environment of streets leading to the stations.
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