I have been waiting patiently for either of the current mayoral candidates to come forward to champion better transportation choices for the residents of Miami-Dade County, but with election day around the corner it seems that we are going to have to continue to wait to see real leadership come out of County Hall. Neither of the two candidates, Julio Robaina (Hialeah) or Carlos Gimenez have made much of an effort to describe what they plan on doing to improve mobility in the region, apart from general comments on the recent transit scandal, and a promise to “shake things up.”
Gimenez is the favorite amongst the center and left leaning voters of Miami-Dade county, not because of what he says but because he isn’t Hialeah Julio. I for one can’t tell the difference between the two candidates. I had really hoped for a more forward thinking agenda from Gimenez - a statement on how dysfunctional our current system is and a concrete plan to improve it, but after his lackluster performance on transit issues over the past decade, I can’t say I’m surprised. His answers to the recent Green Mobility Network transportation candidate survey revealed nothing more than a continuation of the current highway building culture that perpetuates our transportation problems. On the question of whether to convert the South Dade Busway into an expressway, he said, “The South Dade Busway is currently underutilized and uses should be expanded. We should look to the 95 Express lanes as a model. Those lanes allow for both bus and automobile traffic and have increased commuter speeds in the non-express lanes by giving drivers another option.” Yuck. Too bad.
Let me clarify - I don’t want to give the impression that Hialeah Julio is any better. His statements on transit read like the comments section of the Miami Herald - an emotional plea for more ‘oversight’, but no real substance. “First and foremost, we must urgently reform the Transit Department and ensure that all public dollars are being spent judiciously and that the ½ cent tax that this community voted to tax itself for improved transportation is in fact being used to remedy transportation ills and not for more management or salaries.” Check out his blog to read more.
Suffice it to say that the current mayoral candidates don’t know what active transportation is, or how to improve mobility for the residents of Dade County, nor do they have any reason to care. This election has shown that the problem is not with the candidates, but with our current metropolitan system of government that pits an independent highway agency against a second-class county transit department. One has funding and can expand its system as necessary, while the other is left to the whim of the current director or mayor or Commission puppet master. The debate is framed around questions of better oversight for transit, and expansion of our highway network - not the other way around. Until we reform our system of transportation governance to establish an independent elected transportation director, we will not see a change in our mobility options.
The Sun-Sentinel offers a voters’ guide for issues that will appear on Broward County’s ballot. While I am not familiar with many of the other issues, I would disagree with their recommendation to vote against Question 1, the creation of a Metropolitan Transit Authority. A letter to the editor of the Miami Herald sheds a little more light on the subject. Read it and consider carefully. I believe it would be in Broward County’s best interest to create a Metropolitan Transit Authority. The Sun-Sentinel thinks it is better to come up with a comprehensive plan first, then create the Transit Authority. I believe the Authority could help create a plan, however. Also, the first steps to creating a plan have been taken through the Transit Summits that Broward County has been having for about a year. Broward County Transit’s own headline says their purpose is to develop a Public Transportation Plan. So it’s not too early to create a Metropolitan Transit Authority. The time is right.
If anyone can come up with a better reason why we should not have a Metropolitan Transit Authority in Broward County, let us know. Otherwise, vote yes on Question 1.
Another important Broward County issue on the ballot is Question 5, amending the county charter to provide a regional focus. That way whenever the county commission considers something, they have to consider it at the regional level. This would help avoid fights with other counties such as the ongoing fight with Palm Beach county over the University Drive extension. Better yet, if this is incorporated with the transit authority, we might have some hope of providing a better regional transit network. So vote yes on Question 5.
In what could only be judged as an effort to stymie opposition on the most contested land use issue in the region, the Miami-Dade Planning and Zoning department has scheduled a public hearing for November 3, regarding an application to amend the County’s Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP). The hearing, of course, entails the expansion of the Urban Development Boundary for the development of a “new mixed-use community” on 961.15 acres, also known as the Parkland Development. The likely horizontally mixed-use development (sprawl) would incorporate residential (cookie cutter houses), commercial (strip shopping centers), institutional (schools deemed necessary by county code requirements), and civic uses (streets?).
Besides the obvious detrimental ecological concerns posed by opening up further land outside the urban development boundary, I am troubled by the timing of this public hearing – only one day before the most hotly contested presidential race to date. The timing is uncanny for such a hot buttoned issue within Miami-Dade’s local politics. Moreover, amid the deepest economic recession in recent history, the precipitous decline of the local housing industry, and the tumultuous wake of the sub-prime lending mortgage crisis i must wonder why anyone would push for a public hearing. Looks like its politics as usual in Miami-Dade…
Remember ShuttlePort? The FLL shuttle service that had problems with drivers crashing? This LA Times article points out that it was owned by the same company that employs Metrolink engineers. Yes, that’s the Metrolink that had the commuter rail crash earlier this month.
Streetsblog had a post last week with a link to a document outlining McCain’s and Obama’s respective positions on transportation. Well worth checking out.
Much closer to home, Broward County is cutting funding for the Tri-Rail feeder buses. As a shuttle stops at my workplace, and my employer just built a bus shelter for it, this is particularly upsetting. We may have more to say about this later.
The Republicans: Now while Transit Miami is a non-partisan blog, Republicans and Libertarians generally do not have a strong record for supporting smart growth or transit-oriented urban policy. The Republican candidates for this year’s election are no exception. All of the front-runners are soft on climate change, using the typical rhetoric of voluntary reductions on greenhouse gas emissions. Fred Thompson, who has fortunately dropped out of the race already, at one point even mentioned considering opening up the Everglades for oil exploration.
The Democrats: Though far from meeting our high standards, the leading Democratic front-runners are unquestionably more dedicated to livable cities issues than Republicans. Here’s a breakdown of where the top three candidates, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards stand on planning-related issues:
Hillary Clinton: From “Powering America’s Future: Hillary Clinton’s Plan to Address the Energy and Climate Crisis”:
“Hillary’s big three goals: “Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 – the level necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Cut foreign oil imports by two-thirds from projected levels by 2030. Transform our carbon-based economy into an efficient green economy, creating at least 5 million jobs from clean energy over the next decade.”
“Creating a market-based cap and trade program, and auctioning 100% of greenhouse gas permits. Hillary would raise fleet-wide fuel economy standards from the current level of 25 miles per gallon (mpg) to 40 mpg in 2020 and 55 mpg in 2030.
“Increased public transit usage is one of the best strategies for addressing the energy and environmental costs of transportation…As President, Hillary will increase federal funding for public transit, including buses, light rail and subways, by $1.5 billion per year. She will also link federal public transit funds to local land use policies that encourage residential developments that maximize public transit usage and discourage sprawl. She will also invest an additional $1 billion in intercity passenger rail systems. Intercity passenger rail is an environmentally efficient alternative to highway driving and short flights; it elieves congestion on roads and airports; reduces the emission of automotive pollutants; and it timulates economic growth by linking metropolitan areas.”
“Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Over the longer term, we know that the amount of fuel we will use is directly related to our land use decisions and development patterns, much of which have been organized around the principle of cheap gasoline. Barack Obama believes that we must move beyond our simple fixation of investing so many of our transportation dollars in serving drivers and that we must make more investments that make it easier for us to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives.”
“Reform Federal Transportation Funding: As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks, and he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Building more livable and sustainable communities will not only reduce the amount of time individuals spent commuting, but will also have significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
“Level Employer Incentives for Driving and Public Transit: The federal tax code rewards driving to work by allowing employers to provide parking benefits of $205 per month tax free to their employees. The tax code provides employers with commuting benefits for transit, carpooling or vanpooling capped at $105 per month. This gives drivers a nearly 2:1 advantage over transit users. Obama will reform the tax code to make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal.”
John Edwards: From Edward’s “Achieving Independence and Stopping Global Warming Through a New Energy Economy”:
“Transform the Auto Industry to Lead the World in Cars of the Future: Edwards believes that everyone should be able to drive the car, truck or SUV of their choice and still enjoy high fuel economy. American automakers have the ingenuity to lead the world in building the clean, safe, economical cars of the future.”
“Raise Fuel Economy Standards: American cars and trucks are less efficient than they were two decades ago, despite the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Standards in China, Japan, and the European Union are between 40 and 100 percent higher. Edwards will raise standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2016, a step that could single-handedly reduce oil demand by 4 million barrels per day. [Pew Center on Global Climate Change, 2004; Reicher, 2007]”
“Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled: Edwards will create incentives for states and regions to plan smart growth and transit-oriented development with benchmarks for reductions in vehicle miles traveled. He supports more resources to encourage workers to use public transportation and will encourage more affordable, low-carbon and low-ambient pollution transportation options.”
Transit Miami will not take the position to endorse any particular candidate at this point in time but we will however attempt to portray how the candidates stack up on the key issues. We believe Hilary Clinton has the best climate change policy and has the strongest ties to the type of people who will bring about positive environmental changes over the next four years. Barak Obama has the clearest development policy of the three democratic candidates and his platform specifically addresses the benefits of smart growth. Obama is endorsed by many bicycling groups and has even stated that he will push for better pedestrian and cycling oriented policy as president. John Edwards presents the most conservative approach, concentrating much of his policy of fuel efficiency and alternative fuels. We’re concerned about all of the candidates’ positions and emphasis on coal energy and alternative fuels and are disappointed to see that none adequately address better growth principles.
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