Archive for September, 2006

Cars, Sprawl, and Global Warming

The Following piece was contributed by guest columnist Ryan, the Sprawl Hater, a regular reader and contrubutor to Transit Miami. As always if you would like to contibute an article, thoughts, or questions with our readers feel free to e-mail me (MoveMiami@gmail.com) or leave comments…Enjoy…


The other day I was at a friend’s apartment by 89th and Flagler, when he had a “got milk?” moment. So, instead of walking a distance equivalent to if not shorter than my block-and-a-half walk from home to the EZ Kwik Mart in the Grove, he chose to drive to a gas station at Fontainebleau and Flagler to get milk. Piqued by his rationale, I took it upon myself to consider his other option: walking. It turns out, despite the short distance; there was actually very little option at all. If he had chosen to walk, he first would have needed to traverse a small section of his labyrinth-like private community. A dead end would have forced him to take the long way, an equivalent of an extra block to reach the exit of his community. Upon reaching the exit, he would’ve been forced to cross Flagler at mid-block, a quasi-suicidal option indeed. If he made it alive, he’d have to then walk across the surface lot of the gas station to reach his destination. After all that, he’d have to do it again to get home. Walking would’ve been awkward, artificially lengthened, and flat dangerous. So, this begs the question; is this an isolated incident or is it symbolic of a more endemic problem that plagues metros like Miami-Dade?
Unfortunately, I’ll suppose the latter. A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund has exposed what I believe to be the most serious and pressing issue behind the anti-sprawl campaign: global warming. There are many arguments against urban sprawl, but I think global warming is unequivocally the most significant. Yet, it seems most Americans are apathetic, unaware, or just indifferent to the effect sprawl has on worsening global warming. Sprawling, low-density development (incl. private communities, gated communities, subdivisions, cul-de-sac ‘hoods) are almost purely auto centric, meaning they create enormous and almost exclusive demand for automobiles for transportation. Moreover, the presence of distant schools, rigid land use separation, awkward street grids, and guaranteed parking make it near certainty that every trip taken will be via automobile.
The
EDF report
provides some startling conclusions: carbon dioxide emissions from American vehicles in 2004 totaled 314 million metric tons; an average household with two mid-sized vehicles emits more than 20,000 lbs. of CO2 a year (that is equal to 10 tons of pollution a year added to the greenhouse gases that trap heat and consequently raise global temperatures). Furthermore, while the U.S holds only about five percent of the world’s population, it is home to 30% of the world’s cars and accounts for 45% of global auto emissions. You see, minimizing auto dependence is not just an urban planning issue or lifestyle choice anymore – it’s a paradigm shift of global significance that must be embraced before we humans destroyour global environment. Hyperbole? I don’t think so.
If we doubled the fuel efficiency of every new vehicle tomorrow the results wouldn’t be seen for another 20 years. James Hansen, the head of NASA’s top institute studying climate and arguably the world’s leading researcher on global warming, has theorized that humans have only 10 years to reduce greenhouse gasses before global warming
reaches a tipping point and becomes unstoppable.

Think about that the next time you’re forced to drive somewhere to get milk. Think about that when eight of 13 county commissioners voted to move the urban development boundary. Think about that the next time you consider moving.

Financial Aid Request: DENIED!

Enough Said…

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said the developers approached him earlier this year and asked for $200 million from city coffers. He said it would be a poor use of public funds.

”The answer was very clearly no,” Diaz said. “I couldn’t see government putting money into that kind of a private project. In a property like this that is right next to the PAC, where every major private developer in the world submits a bid, and they want a subsidy? I flatly rejected them.”

Enjoy the weekend Folks… Moronic Mondays will return this Monday, plus, perhaps some weekend posting and a guest Column from Ryan…

Crossing That Highway Some People want to Widen

Today is not an ordinary day, its actually my Birthday; big celebrations are in line for the weekend, however, until then, the blog must go on…I have decided to answer some of the “fan” mail I have received recently. This particular piece comes from Coral Gables Resident Stephen E. McGaughey of Miami Watch:


What are your thoughts, or do you have any information, on the benefits and costs of pedestrian bridges. One is being planned for my neighborhood to cross Dixie Highway and I think that a lot of peoplewill not use the bridge because of the climbing required. Of course,keeping UM students from being run over by our unique Miami drivers is a laudable objective. I note that little or no consultation tookplace on this project.

Excellent question Stephen. Typically, I have found that the use of pedestrian bridges in south Florida does not out weigh the cost of building the structure due to the low numbers of people who choose to use alternate forms of transportation. That is, of course, unless you take into account the lives that can be potentially saved if pedestrian traffic is relegated to such a bridge, then, in my opinion if the bridge prevents even one pedestrian from being hit by a car, it has already outweighed its initial cost.

To analyze the benefit of a pedestrian overpass in your neighborhood, I believe it is best if we take a look at the most recent and similarly completed bridge in the area; the Douglas Pedestrian Bridge. The Douglas Pedestrian Bridge is the most compact and visually appealing pedestrian bridge in the area. The actual Bridge serves a great purpose in safely moving pedestrians across US-1 to and from the metrorail.


Upon reviewing the surroundings of the bridge, however, I have come across several failures of the overpass enhancements. For example, the Eastern terminus of the bridge leaves people in a setting which is very uninviting for a pedestrian; a parking lot and the backside of a gas station (Red Dots on Diagram.) This is where I believe transportation planning is severely lacking in our community. The bridge (like rapid transit itself) should be connecting pedestrians to highly urbanized centers of activity where recreation, employment, or residences abound, rather than another reminder of the fact that using an automobile in South Florida is clearly the easier option.

The second major flaw in the Douglas overpass is its inherent failure to force pedestrians to use it when venturing across US-1. I’ve witness far too many times people darting below the overpass rather than through it. It’s the climbing factor you mentioned. I blame this on inadequate landscaping (Yellow Dot on Diagram) and fencing (Green Line on Diagram) on the part of Miami-Dade transit around the Douglas Station itself. A fence which encompasses the station complex is terminated at the point of entry for the bridge rather than being extended to keep pedestrians within. Public transportation is also an excellent opportunity to connect the public with green spaces and parks. The Douglas road station is severely lacking foliage which would enhance the appearance of the station while also providing a natural green barrier between the pedestrian space and US-1.

The overpass in your area is slated to begin construction in 2008, along with another overpass further South in South Miami. The South Miami overpass will seamlessly connect public transit with the mall and pedestrian friendly area of South Miami. The University of Miami overpass will lead students across to various shops and strip malls; generally areas that are already difficult to navigate as a pedestrian.

MDT and area development currently lack the vision to make Metrorail a vital part of our lives. Transit Oriented development could potentially impact the uses of area pedestrian bridges and rapid transit itself. I’m all for the bridge in your given area because it will make using alternative transportation (yeah, feet are considered an alternative nowadays) that much easier for area students and residents. With two major parts of the puzzle in place, I can only hope that development which takes pedestrians into account begins to revitalize and transform the commercial areas west of US-1…

Highway Enthusiasts

The picture above was taken recently by Miami Photographer James Good. In case you can’t tell what it is; it’s the now defunct Omni Mall project in Downtown Miami. Aside from it depicting an otherwise beautiful south Florida sunset, James Good has also provided us with a rare view of the entire Omni complex and gigantic parking structure. I’ve never quite noticed the immensity of the Omni garage while driving by, but, this picture definitely puts it into perspective for us.

I am a bit troubled that public transit projects have faced so much widespread opposition recently. I’ll quote Troy from Houston Strategies as an example to something I’ve heard far too often:

MiamiTransitMan:Read your post, and I disagree. While a commuter line has the *potential* to move 50,000/hour, most move far, far less - usually less than one car lane’s worth, at much higher cost. Your best bet are high-occupancy express toll lanes that can offer any commuter bus/van/carpool 65+ mph express point-to-point service from any suburb to any business/jobs center. Trying to concentrate jobs a la Chicago or NYC is a lost cause - employers will gravitate to cheaper office space more easily accessible by their employees with more affordable housing…

The word potential seems to scare away far too many people apparently. The “potential” of having 50,000 passengers/hour along a single rail line is far more efficient and effective than the guaranteed maximum of 2,200 vehicles per hour that can possibly flow on any highway. I guess it’s the fact that there is a guarantee that the lanes will be filled to capacity at all times that makes the highway method seem so appealing to some. However, the automobile enthusiasts need to understand that there is more to transportation planning than just highways and rail networks. The same cities which have experienced some of the worst sprawl are also facing the greatest difficulties in creating transit systems that work. The Urban center concept isn’t dead; it’s being used creatively now to create various smaller centers in an urbanized area. It’s about creating Urban Growth rather than urbanizing more land. Concentrating jobs is a great idea for everyone, including the corporations who choose to do so themselves. If you take a look at the most recent Fortune 500 list, I am willing to bet that most of the US’s biggest corporations are located in the center of major cities. Besides, we’ve only seen the exodus of major employment to the suburbs (not to mention other countries as well) because we have simply allowed it to happen without realizing the congestion issues that it would create…

Study: Miami traffic will only get worse, especially if these people have anything to do with it

I’d like to thank Herald reporter Larry Lebowitz for remaining impartial when composing today’s article about the Broward Libertarians who seem to have all the solutions to our local traffic issues. With that being said, I’d like to tell them why they are wrong.

The picture above was taken in the mid 1950’s. It depicts rush hour traffic heading north along Biscayne Boulevard. At the time, Biscayne Boulevard was the major North-South route into and out of downtown Miami. Since then we’ve added 3 North-South expressways (I-95, Palmetto, and Turnpike expressways) as well as widening countless other avenues in Miami-Dade County. So using the theories of Bob Poole and Co., one would think that the 20 to 30 some odd lanes we’ve added would have solved the traffic congestion, right? Wrong. Just like the 3,400 more miles of lanes they propose will do nothing but spread our current problems all around the county. See, I say this because as any transportation expert would know, the maximum capacity of any expressway is about 2,200 Vehicles per Hour per Lane at a free flow rate of 60 MPH. Which, given the typical stubborn South Florida commuter who fails to carpool, this equates to 2,200 passengers per lane per hour. A typical heavy rail line can easily move upwards of 50,000 people per hour per lane. So, in short, we can go through the trouble and expense of widening expressways to add some minimal capacity as they suggest but then also have to deal with widening major streets such as Bird road, Kendall, or Coral Way. How? Let’s take away people’s land and make wide boulevards so that our community is as hideous and inefficient as western Broward. So when do we begin?

The people mentioned in the article also speak of a key point which I always tend to bring up; our city and area lacks a defined center in which public transit can be implemented easily, as in New York and Chicago which both have traditional business districts and suburban areas. So why don’t we begin to change our city to model those which have had success in the past. In short, don’t build stadiums out in the everglades, add density along major corridors like US-1, create incentives to create business centers, etc. We can use government incentives and better development oversight to steer construction properly rather than the haphazard, disorganized mess that their solution aims to perpetuate…

Update: Robert from the 26th Parallel is on Board

Midtown Madness Part 3

Speaking of hideous massive parking garages in places where they shouldn’t be, Michael Lewis of the Miami Today News recently discussed the plans of a pretentious developer trying to get the city of Miami to contribute $200 Million to provide parking for his parking garage. I highly recommend that everyone reads this article immediately, seeing that the City Commissioners will be voting on this project next week (September 7th, my Birthday.) I ranted about this project a while back, you can read it here

I pretty much agree with everything everyone has said about this development except for two key points: 1) the obstructed bay views of the PAC and the bay and 2) the Times Square Like advertising. The first point merits no argument considering the thing was built three city block inland and a block away from a major highway (I-395.) The second point needs to be considered for some location within our city, but, perhaps this is not the best location to create a Miami Times Square like area. We could definitely use a pedestrian friendly area in downtown with plenty of bright lights, advertisements, major Hispanic news networks, etc… Miami is the Gateway to Hispanic culture, so why not create a Times Square geared to our strengths?