2/28/07

Phoenix's Highway-Widening Extravaganza

Here at TransitMiami, we often are very critical of Miami's auto-oriented planning legacy. However, while Miami has recently made strides toward a denser, more sustainable, more pedestrian-oriented city (Streetcar, Miami 21, countywide efforts such as metrorail expansion), the Phoenix-Tempe-Mesa metro area continues its pursuit to be the King of Sprawl. Tempe council members and Mayor Hugh Hallman are pressuring the Arizona Department of Transportation to expedite a proposal to widen a section of I-10 to 24 lanes! The fact that city planners anywhere would take this proposal seriously is unfathomable. Perhaps they attended the University of Wendell Cox, the (un)Reason(able) Foundation, or some other group that advocates for unsustainable, climate-destroying sprawl through pseudo-science and selective data that leads to inaccurate and misleading conclusions.

Countless studies have concluded that widening highways is almost always an exercise in futility. One report uses a creative analogy to illustrate the ineffectiveness of widening highways:

"Consider the role laxatives should play relieving constipation. Laxatives are sometimes appropriate, but it is generally best to address constipation by changing diet (more fiber and liquids) and exercise (take a walk), because laxatives’ effectiveness declines with frequent use, they can hide more severe diseases, and they can exacerbate other medical problems. A physician who prescribes laxatives without investigating why the patient is constipated or considering other solutions is guilty of malpractice.

Similarly, chronic traffic congestion is often a symptom of more fundamental community design problems, such as inadequate mobility options that force people to drive for every trip, and dispersed land use patterns that increase travel distances. Where this is true, expanding roads may reduce short term symptoms but exacerbate long term problems. "
Click here to read the rest of the study.

Miami: Water Commuting Capital of the World?

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…



2/27/07

BCT Mechanic Pay raise is in the works...

2/26/07

Miami Environmental Policy, Striving for Last Place

I came across the Earth Day Network’s Urban Environment Report which took the time to score and rank 72 major urban areas in the United States based on environmental policy and sustainability principles. Needless to say, Miami came in a spot better than I anticipated; 71st place.

View City results

About Earth Day Network…

Biscayne Boulevard Realignment

The above photograph came from the airplane mounted camera of local photographer James Good. Although certainly not one of his most creative pictures, this picture gives us an excellent aerial view of the realignment of Biscayne Boulevard along Bicentennial (Museum) Park. The beautiful design in the median with new wider sidewalks on either side, will allow the new residents of the condos emerging behind to easily access the Carnival Center and all destinations along the Boulevard easily by foot. The initial conceptual drawings included images of sidewalk cafes, tree canopies, and streetcars running along the new more pedestrian friendly corridor. Of particular interest is the small building in the bottom center; a water treatment pumping facility which emits a foul odor and isn't planned to move elsewhere anytime soon...

2/23/07

Transit News

  • Rick and Alesh lament over a dead proposed bill which would have required slow drivers in the left lane to move out of the way of faster drivers. We saw a similar measure reach Jeb Bush last year, where it was vetoed, citing that there was already an existing law to cover such measures. Once again, it all boils down on better driver education and more enforcement of existing statues by our understaffed Highway Patrolmen.
  • Balloons floated 400 ft over the Mercy Hospital site where three high-rises are slated to rise, to simulate the visual effect the buildings would have on the surroundings if erected. Nonetheless the simulation proved all of our worst fears about this project:
    "It's worse than even my most horrible thoughts, which were pretty horrible,'' Miami historian Arva Moore Parks said while watching the balloons hover over Vizcaya.
  • The Miami-Dade MPO voted unanimously in favor of building the Everglades Skyway Bridge through an eleven mile segment of the Everglades in order to properly restore water flow. This is a great project, aimed to finally correct decades of destruction caused by the Tamiami Trail, however, I must contest the MPO claim that the $300 million project would prove to be a “tourist attraction.”

2/21/07

The State of Our Transit Stations


While Mayor Alvarez is talking about elevated HOT lanes on I-95 and the PTP adding bus routes in the State of the County address, I was thinking in another direction: it's time to make our Metrorail stations more accessible and pedestrian-oriented. This is of primary concern for stations along US-1, which serves as a barrier to anyone trying to use Metrorail from the south side of Dixie Highway.

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:


Besides having to wait at least two minutes for the light to change, the man crossing the street (in front of white truck turning left in this pic) had to dodge a car turning right-on-red from southbound 27th avenue, then step in front of this line of left turn traffic, and this is just to get to the median. Once he gets across the street, he is flanked by a very large gas station and chaotic stretch of merge-lane, followed by this.

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.

Havanaleah


Alright, I couldn’t allow such a monumental city resolution to pass by unnoticed any longer. The city commissioners of Hialeah should be commended (yeah, I never thought I’d say that either) for their recent decision to reurbanize and re-zone five key districts, incorporating denser mixed-use development while keeping in line with better urban design principles. The plan calls for the establishment of five key business districts which would require mixed-use buildings (commercial on the ground floor with residential above) in higher density format and up to 7 stories in height. I have not been able to dig up any more information on the plan to find out if greenspace, parking, transit, sidewalks, building heights, etc. will be incorporated into the plan. The city website (mainly in Spanish) hasn’t been updated since September 2006 and the Herald article digressed to cover some of the more amusing aspects of politics in Hialeah:

Business owner Robert Morell called for Spanish-speaking residents to learn English -- and was booed by the crowd.

''I am a little bit appalled because if you travel to any other city it looks like they're going into the future. Some of us still want to live in the past,'' Morell said. ``I speak Spanish, even though my whole family is American. I don't understand why everyone else doesn't learn the [English] language.''

Tomas Martinez, a regular at council meetings, where he addresses members in Spanish, approached Morell as he left the podium and an argument ensued.

As the men stared each other down, Robaina and City Council President Esteban ''Steve'' Bovo threatened ejection from the meeting or arrest for anyone causing a major disturbance.

Ignoring Morell's suggestion, resident Randy Carter said he would address the council in Spanish.

''I am going to speak in Spanish because when you do your political campaigns you do them in Spanish,'' Carter told council members in Spanish.

Members of the audience laughed and applauded.

Despite the fact that this plan is perhaps the best thing that could happen to the zonal mess of Hialeah (this city must have invented spot zoning and strip malls while completely ignoring any sane citywide development plan,) many residents attended the meeting last week to protest the decision:

Some residents said they feared being displaced from their trailer homes or that historic landmarks would be dwarfed by seven-story buildings.

I find it amusing that the largely Cuban audience (who typically spends time lamenting over how great a city Havana was) would try to defeat a plan which could potentially bring some of Old Havana’s urban planning charm (by charm I clearly mean the old Spanish, walkable, non-autocentric, dense, ground floor commercial with residences above, covered walkways, etc.) to the city of Hialeah… Like the photo above/below, minus the decay of the past sixty years…

2/20/07

FEC, The Obvious Route

The Sun-Sentinel published a rather ho hum article today concerning the possible use of the FEC corridor for local commuter rail traffic. Basically restating everything we already knew about the study being conducted to alleviate traffic on I-95, local developers paving over our way of life, Henry Flagler and the oranges, blah, blah, blah, the whole nine yards… The article confirmed my recent estimates placing the start of construction on a best possible scenario at 2015 (oddly enough the same year Baylink will be reconsidered for funding by the MPO.) As usual, the comments on the Sun-Sentinel’s site proved to be an everlasting source of entertainment for me. Here is one of the more ridiculous replies which just about sums up why we need to focus on changing mentalities around here first...

Here are some of Bob from Boca's deep and well thought out ideas:
Finally, my first reaction:

Yep, I wanna give up my Lexus to ride with the vermin of the world.

Let me take my lovely family and sit among people from nations where personal hygeine is a dark mystery associated with the like of the full moon and witch-craft. Oh sorry, did I say other nation? I meant Hialeah.

Let's have a "chat" with the hip-hoppers who can't say 3 words straight without an F-Bomb, or the others who can't say 3 words in English.

Even better, I want to give up the luxury of personal transportation in order to roll in the filth left by the previous passengers. Gum stuck in chairs, overflowing toilets (if they even bothered to enter) and the associated residue of society all stuck to my seat, and now my pants all at one time.

Snob? Perhaps...Dude, I'll simply say it's not technology that kills public transporation. It's the public.

American's golden days passed when manners and social grace were put aside in favor of personal gratification and the current selfish, boorish behavior that seems to be a norm among so many.

So yeah, raise our taxes even higher and strangle our economy to death. Chase out and destroy the middle class and build the train. We'll have extremely wealthy and those so poor they are tax exempt. At least the latter will have a train. All they need is a reason to use it. What are the chances that will be for work?

2/19/07

Transit Miami Updates

  1. Well, I don't know if anyone has noticed or not, but, I've gone about the arduous task of importi../ng all of the previous blog entries _one by one due to blogger.css's lack of an import feature...) This process is going rather slow, but, the archives should be back up within the next few weeks...
  2. Also, you may wish to update your links; seeing that Transit Miami is now fully accessible through www.TransitMiami.com. Yeah, I cut the blogspot back out of the domain again. However, you may notice (IE users) that you can't access the page by typing in just http://transitmiami.com (minor glitch I'm working to fix) unless you are using firefox which will add the www in for you...
  3. E-mail service will be returning soon, once I resolve an issue behind the fact that Ryan's Posts do not get sent out via e-mail for some odd blogger reason or another...
  4. The sidebar has been updated with new links, Transit websites, Blogs, Feeds, and a new headline bar bringing the latest news from the Planetizen Page...

2/18/07

MDT Honors Rosa Parks

Miami-Dade Transit Honors Rosa Parks for Black History Month:

"A permanent memorial to Rosa Parks will be on display above a designated seat behind the bus driver’s position, to honor Park’s refusal to give up her seat to another person. The decal reads, "Seat dedicated in honor of Rosa Parks" and is written in three languages."

2/17/07

Ghost of Transit Past


In posts from long ago, Gabe had mentioned the "ghost station" that can be seen looking west from the southbound platform at Government Center Station. This station platform was built long ago to serve inbound trains from the west, that is, before the original east-west line was canceled as a result of ridership numbers that did not meet illusory ridership estimates.

2/15/07

FDOT Plan to Pave Over Palms is Finally Nixed

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…

2/14/07

Skyline V-Day

All dressed up for the occasion, we can always count on the Bank of America Tower to be shining bright...

Via Unkledan's Flickr...

Davie Commons; We have Nothing in Common

Noting that the traditional enclosed shopping mall concept has dwindled within American Culture, we have seen the rapid rise of lifestyle centers modeled around the “Town Center” concept. Aside from various fake streetscapes and generally navigable streets within the complexes, these centers will continue to ravage the urban fabric of our cities in a fashion similar to that of the mall. The “Town Center” concept has taken off over the recent years and is designed with automotive access and developer’s pockets in mind. The recently approved Davie Commons retail and office center is no different. Sprawling out over 150 acres, this complex will certainly do little to centralize Davie and will only compound the traffic problems in the whole South Florida region. If fully approved by the city commission, this will signal a complete reversal of general urban planning principles, placing yet another massive development on the western fringes of the county’s sprawl, abutting the Everglades. Broward County traffic will be further disrupted by reverse commutes for people working in the 800,000+ square feet of office space or the Million+ square feet of retail.
Developers downplayed the potential traffic impact, claiming it would add fewer cars to local roads than a new housing subdivision.

The Davie city commission swallowed this load of crap, recently giving the project an initial first round approval, despite widespread opposition from the community. The complex will continue to exemplify the type of construction we need to stop in our region. Suburban office complexes and expansive shopping centers which are only accessible by vehicle in the western parts of the county equate to an ecological, immoral, and urban planning catastrophe for the whole region. The city commission is likely clouded by the massive tax benefit the city would reap:

In exchange for the town's approval, developers will ask that the agricultural exemption on the 152-acre property be lifted beginning in 2008. The change would increase the taxable value of the land from less than $100,000 to about $20.1 million, creating a windfall for the town, Siegel said.

In addition, if the land-use change receives final town approval, developers have agreed to pay $3.5 million per year to guarantee that Davie receives the amount of revenue the project is estimated to generate.

Join the Opposition!

More Pictures:

Main Street! Main to what, the Everglades? (Wow, they got people to walk...)

The Bustling urban Town Fountain (Look at the water flow...)

Mosquito Park

New Miami-Key West Ferry Service...

2/13/07

The Metrobus Blues

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.

New Metromover Livery


A forum member posted this picture recently depicting the new livery of the Miami Metromover Cars. I'll try to get some better quality shots as soon as possible...

Update: Lil Pony on public transit, a new blog I discovered today, has the lowdown on the interior...

2/12/07

LRT vs Streetcar

The streetcar articles have stirred up some great discussion in the comments section, both in favor of and against the proposed route. I would like to address one of the main reasons cited against the streetcar; the proposed and possibly upcoming LRT along the FEC corridor.

The LRT along the FEC corridor appears to be the favored alternative transportation choice of those in favor of and against the Miami streetcar. Although I believe that the FEC corridor would prove to be the most useful alternative due to its dedicated ROW through the largest municipalities, I don’t believe it should be the driving force behind the opposition to the streetcar. We shouldn’t discredit the current effort to provide reasonable alternative means of public transportation within the city limits; after all, this is all the city can do to improve its’ own infrastructure. This is a city of Miami infrastructure solution, funded by city dollars, so we can erase the notions of spending the money instead to run rail lines every which way out of the city. Likewise, the FEC corridor situation is basically out of the hands of city planners and is still currently little more than a pipe dream study, leaving at least several years before we can even begin to witness any sort of real planning or development occur. In the meantime, the streetcar would begin to alleviate the traffic problems the current and future development is going to create and would further bolster the reach of an FEC corridor LRT, eventually giving riders more destinations in easy reach of efficient transit. Many streetcar opponents claim the streetcar simply isn’t a reasonable alternative and cite the FEC as a more realistic option, however, I don’t know if this is because it wouldn’t be funded solely by the city or if it wouldn’t impede on their daily vehicular commute...

The Airtrain Solution: Part 4

Miami-Dade Transit's own consultants [Not me, however see below] are concluding that a rubber-tired automated people mover that would run from the airport to the Miami Intermodal Center is a better option, according to a draft report obtained Thursday by The Miami Herald.
It appears that my "Airtrain Solution Series" wasn't such a bad idea to begin with. My main concern regarding this decision is whether it will be designed/built properly to accommodate most of the terminals rather than just one centralized station at the airport (you know, in an effort to cut project costs as usual.)

More info on the vehicle maker, Sumitomo Corp...

2/11/07

Public Picks Favorite American Buildings...It shouldn't come as surprise but only two Miami buildings are mentioned in the top 150, the Delano and the Fountainebleau, which further reinforces the fact that Miami's architecture is rather bland and lacks a single iconic structure...

However, in looking at the top 10 "buildings" notice that 4 of them aren't actually buildings but really just structures...

2/9/07

Studies Favor Density Along US-1

Count them. Not one, or two, but three independent studies call for increased density along the US-1 rapid transit corridor.

Recent Miami 21 studies, Miami-Dade Watershed Studies, and Coconut Grove planning studies all encourage increased density along US1 and near Metrorail stations.

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing better than some cold hard facts to combat the closed minded NIMBY thought process:

“Rush hour is already a nightmare; this will make things even worse,” said Kenneth Newman at a recent meeting between the developer and Grove Residents. “A lot of people are saying that it’s not going to work because rich people don’t ride the Metrorail…they have nice cars and they want to drive them,” says one Grove activist [Mr. Nimby] who wishes to remain nameless.

Wrong!

However, studies conducted by the transit department reveal a pattern that seems to have less to do with income level and more to do with urban design.

We needed a study to reach that conclusion after 20 years!? You could have looked at just about any other city in the world to see that we were doing things backwards.

Dadeland South and Dadeland North, the two southernmost Metrorail stations recorded the seconded highest weekly ridership averages of more than 6,500 boardings each. These two stations are not located in high poverty areas.

I wonder, perhaps, by how much the daily use of metrorail is going to increase once the units at Downtown Dadeland, Toscano, Colonnade, and Metropolis come fully onto the market. Let’s not forget about the upcoming Town Center project (lame name, I know) and final Datran building which are slated to include up to six additional office high-rises in and around the Dadeland area.

As Ryan showed below, the city is planning on investing millions of dollars to transform the area along 27th avenue from the metrorail station to the CBD of the grove. The plan includes better urban planning than what we’ve seen in most Miami neighborhoods and is a great way to integrate metrorail with the coconut grove district. Grove Residents are always citing parking/traffic concerns, but, if only they would get out of their cars then perhaps they’d begin to understand what a better place the grove could be…

All is silent over at CGG...

2/8/07

Extreme Makeover: 27th Avenue

Fortunately for Grove residents as well as other Miamians, 27th Avenue between US-1 and Bayshore Drive will soon be getting a long overdue makeover. This important stretch of avenue that links the neighborhood center with Coconut Grove Station has long been in shameful condition for pedestrians.

The plan to beautify 27th Avenue is to include expanded sidewalks, tree landscaping, and a mini traffic circle at the intersection of Tigertail, Day, and 27th. Predictably, some Grove NIMBYs are voicing concerns about parking. Apparently, they’re worried that the project right-of-way on both sides of the avenue will eliminate hideous lagoon parking in front of buildings in favor of widening sidewalks. God forbid anyone takes away “reserved” parking spots to add/widen sidewalks.

Below are some pictures showing what it looks like to take a walk from the southern part of the avenue to US-1:

The first leg of the walk does not even have a sidewalk, just a series of ugly, windswept sand and gravel parking lagoons for several apartment buildings.

The sidewalk first appears awkwardly (I’m not sure that word does justice here) about 20-25 yards from the street behind another parking lagoon. If this doesn’t symbolize walking as an afterthought in this community I don’t know what does.
More discontinuity that ruins the street. The sidewalk reappears in the middle of this parking lagoon flanked by what else, cars.
Another awkward stretch of sidewalk flanked by a gas station and huge swath of asphalt, which serves one main function: allows cars an excessively wide turning radius from Bird Rd.
This enormous chunk of asphalt adjacent to EZ Kwik is such an eyesore it makes me sick to look at. The city recently put in a speed bump on the corner of Bird just keep cars from using this space to evade traffic at the light. Talk about putting a band-aid on a stab wound.
Just past EZ Kwik, the sidewalk suddenly disappears again, forcing pedestrians to walk across a sand and gravel wasteland.
After getting back on the sidewalk again, one comes to this mini office park that warns pedestrians to watch for cars. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
More discontinuity. After being steered into a jungle-like setting, the sidewalk is again fragmented by a parking strip - far from the street by the way.
After reappearing, the walk finally terminates at US-1. The trash isn’t always there, but a greater pedestrian presence would require sidewalk cleaning to be more consistent.

2/7/07

Super Air Traffic

Well, you might question the economic impact that the Super Bowl had on Miami last weekend, but, here is an image of the corporate aircraft traffic departing Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Opa Locka on February 5th at 10 am. Simply unbelievable...

Via Ministry of Tech...

Streetcar Discussions, Part 2

My lengthy reply to Mr. Frank Rollason:

Frank,

It's great to finally get some discussion going on this critical issue with some of Miami's more prominent individuals such as yourself. I followed the election closely and was hoping that your campaign would have taken you a bit further.

The streetcar issue is a difficult situation to address. I've given this idea much thought and have tried to analyze its' impact from all different angles. In the end, I concede that I am a bit of a realist when it comes to this sort of development but I find it difficult to think otherwise especially when I've witnessed and studied similar projects rise flawlessly around the United States and the World.

Placing cost the cost of the streetcar aside for a second, I'd like to first discuss the impact that the streetcar would have on the city, its residents, and the future of both.

Development:

As I mentioned previously, the streetcar would serve as an economic engine for the city, steering development along its corridor. You informed me that residents are against further development, a fact which I have come to understand from their perspective, seeing that all upcoming development within their neighborhoods is likely being improperly constructed to suit the needs of urban living elements such as the streetcar (see: New Urbanism.) Their stance isn't unwarranted, seeing how terribly these buildings were designed and then approved by the hapless commission. Growth, however, is inevitable in every city. A stagnant growth stance by any municipality will in the long run lead to further economic strife for both the city and residents. I get the feeling that much of the anti-growth sentiment can be attributed to the lack of reasonable transportation options to offset the increase in traffic, general regulatory abuse by the city commission to approve every building, and overall disregard by the developers. Not building the streetcar, the area we'll continue to witness truly devastating projects (ie. 2222 Biscayne, Bayview Market) rise throughout the district. A streetcar combined with the appropriate rezoning would severely alter the type and context of the development which will inevitably continue in the area. By placing better constraints on development within a close boundary of the corridor, I feel that the area citizens will fully benefit from the streetcar, truly creating an environment (detailed in this herald article from 2002) where people can live without the burden of owning an automobile. (Note: the constraints that I speak of are used in various municipalities and include: minimal parking requirements for buildings within a stated distance of the transit corridor, required building/street interaction elements like covered porticos and ground level retail, on street municipal parking, pedestrian-only zones, etc.) I would not endorse the streetcar if such constraints were not enacted simultaneously in order to guarantee its success.

The streetcar is much more than simply another form of transportation; it's a critical piece of Miami 21 and a vital method of reconstructing our city in manner which caters to humans rather than vehicles.

Economically:

Going along with the constraints I mentioned above, the economic benefit that the streetcar would provide the city is well worth more than its initial costs. Placing constrictions on developments within the corridor such as requirements for affordable housing in the form of rental units would not be unreasonable. Using principles outlined in Miami 21, the city can rezone the corridor to include areas which would favor the construction of mid-density and lower priced rental units or condominiums. The affordable housing units would be cheaper to develop given the lower parking constraints and thus construction costs while eliminating the burden of relying on a vehicle for some of the city's neediest constituents.

The $200 Million price tag is certain to go up, a fact we can both easily agree upon. However, the state (according to recent reports) would front half the costs leaving the rest to be divided among the city and the county. The city has received $42 Million thus far from its' share of the PTP, money which must be used for city transit options. MDT could also be sought to fund part of the streetcar. Given that a significant sum of the initial cost of streetcars nationwide is attributed to finding a facility to house and maintain the vehicles, the city could look to partner with MDT to build a joint facility which could accommodate the Miami streetcars as well as the upcoming Baylink cars, saving both agencies large sums of money in the long term. All in all, I'm not saying or thinking that any of this will be easy to accomplish, considering the limited discussion which regularly occurs between the city and county, but, it is definitely a reasonable project which in reality would not require such a grave commitment on the part of the city.

Traffic Concerns:

Traffic will only continue to get worse within the city, plain and simple. With the new developments rising and the plethora of interest remaining in the neighborhood, developers are going to continue to exploit the neighborhood. We're going to continue to see buildings situated on massive parking pedestals and we will soon witness gridlock bring many streets to a grinding halt.

Running the streetcar in a lane of traffic would actually improve traffic flows along the corridors. Through improved signal timing and using technology pioneered in Toronto back in 1991 with signal priority timing, the corridor would feature advanced ITS which is endorsed by the USDOT. The Toronto study found that total corridor delay was reduced by 35% (better than with bus signal priority timing) and there were no significant impacts on side street queue delays.

The Bus "Alternative"

From the American Public Transportation Association:

The Transportation Research Board Special Report No. 1221, "Impact on Transit Patronage of Cessation or Inauguration of Rail Service" dated 1989, and authored by transportation researcher Edson L. Tennsyson concluded the following:

"Because transit use is a function of travel time, fare, frequency of service, population, and density, increased transit use can not be attributed to rail transit when these other factors are improved. When these service conditions are equal, it is evident that rail transit is likely to attract from 34 to 43 percent more riders than will equivalent bus service. The data do not provide explanations for this phenomenon, but other studies and reports suggest that the clearly identifiable rail route; delineated stops that are often protected; more stable, safer, and more comfortable vehicles; freedom from fumes and excessive noise; and more generous vehicle dimensions may all be factors."

Click on this link, Transportation Research Record 1221, for the full text of this research report.

Additional Facts:

  • Currently there are 26 existing streetcar/trolley lines operating in the United States and Canada with a whopping 61 other cities actively planning streetcar initiatives. There are over 200 municipalities vying for federal funding leaving funds scarce and competition fierce (Source APTA.)
  • Since 1995, public transit ridership has expanded 25 percent (to 9.7 billion trips in 2005). From 25 in 2000, the country's fixed-guideway (rail or bus) transit systems are likely to grow to 42 by 2030, adding 720 stations to today's total of 3,349.
  • Streetcars are experiencing a revival worldwide with new lines opening in Washington DC, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Bilbao, just to name a few…
  • Streetcars were not dismantled due to a lack of ridership, many were dismantled by GM to push for the expansion of roads and highways…

Like I stated at the beginning, I may suffer from viewing things in an idealized fashion but the facts to support streetcars in Miami abound. I realize it will take a large amount of municipal responsibility and government oversight (something we have been known to skimp on in the past) to fully realize the maximum potential this project has to offer the city and constituents. The current arguments against the streetcar are weak, to place it as mildly as possible. Hurricane concerns can be overcome, development can (and should) be better controlled, and construction costs should not run amuck with city's treasury. The time has come for the city to take transportation initiatives into its own hands to better provide for the upcoming growth we will continue to experience. Thank you for your time, I hope we can continue to discuss this topic further. I have many more reasons why you should support the streetcar including environmental concerns, job opportunities, and tourism…

Let me know if I may share this discourse with the readers of TransitMiami.com...

Regards,
Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal

Streetcar Discussions

Sorry about the delay, I have been addressing the streetcar issue with several individuals via e-mail. With the permission of Frank Rollason, I will share my discussions with him over the issue here on the website. Here were his initial thoughts on the streetcar initiative, my thoughts will follow later today:

Gabriel,

I am contacting you just to give another perspective on the proposed streetcar project. I was an unsuccessful candidate for the commission office that Marc Sarnoff now occupies. We both opposed the streetcar project as part of our campaign platforms. My position has not changed. Previous to running for office, I was the Executive Director for two City CRAs through which a large portion of the system would run and from which the City was looking for funding. There is a huge anti-development mentality presently existing in the residential communities of Miami especially in the Upper Eastside. The proposed streetcar project would do exactly what you speak of - encourage additional development along the streetcar corridor. It’s not an issue of whether the streetcar is needed or not; it is an issue of future development and the community has said enough is enough. On top of this, one must recognize that more and more the CRAs’ funds are being siphoned off for projects deemed for the well-to-do and having no benefit for the affordable housing group. One cannot take this project out of context from the other projects for which CRA funds are being sought - increasing commitment to the new Performing Arts Center, a seaport tunnel, improvements to a park slated to house two museums, and a new baseball stadium. All of these cause huge community opposition for the use of CRA funds when affordable housing goes largely ignored. You speak in the pure scheme of planning for development and here, in the City of Miami, the development has already run amuck with little or no planning and no concern for traffic and infrastructure needs. Now, to suggest a streetcar project that mostly serves underdeveloped areas instead of already existing hi-rise residential units is looked at as another example of poor planning and will cause only what you suggest - more hi-rises along the streetcar corridor.

Nothing is as simple as you lay it out because there are always other issues which are impacted, Frank.

Streetsblog covers the Bush Administrations new plan for congestion pricing...

2/6/07

Tri-rail scored a touchdown this past weekend, attracting record setting numbers of passengers for weekend ridership. How so you ask? Likely because Chicagoans have effective public transportation back home and they probably figured we did too...

The Light Rail Transit Ridership Report for the Third Quarter of 2006...

Looking North for Some Obvious Answers

Perhaps Miami should look north for some answers on how to regulate our urban sprawl. Central Florida community leaders are presenting 4 alternatives on the future growth patterns the area can choose to take for regional developments and are allowing area residents to choose which path the region should take from now till 2050. I think its exceptional thinking on the part of city planners to choose a plan of action for regional growth over the next 40 years while educating the public on the negative effects sprawl will have on their community if the corrective measures aren’t taken. The report is inclusive of urban growth and development patterns, environmental land conservation, area job opportunities, and public transportation. The plan proposes three better urban growth alternatives along with the typical “do-nothing” alternative which would continue the treacherous path of disruptive land use. Needless to say, the citizens are speaking out and are overwhelmingly deciding that the “do-nothing” alternative is not a reasonable plan of action and are instead opting to see denser, smarter developments in their community. Interestingly enough, the seemingly controversial streetcar is included in denser growth patterns, as is extended commuter rail and alternative transit (bike, bus, etc.)

Our region is in dire need of an area wide policy against current land usage patterns. Our neighbors to the north have realized this, why can’t we?

I found this on the myregion.org website, which has a wealth of information. One of their desired outcomes is something I have had a great deal of difficulty achieving with Miami residents since I started Transit Miami nearly a year ago:

Our Desired Outcomes:

  • Build a new regional mentality
  • Strengthen and create regional coalitions
  • Maximize opportunities and address challenges

Changing people’s minds will be the hardest objective for any visionary plan in this Country. The already disillusioned “American Dream” has morphed into an uncanny desire to lay claim to large tracts of land, repeatedly misuse resources, and generally live in an unsustainable manner. To attempt a reversal of this mindset would require a figurative amending of the constitution as well as widespread progressive leadership to reverse the suburbanization of American Culture witnessed over the prior six decades…

  • Heck, they even address the fragmentation which has occurred in the region...
  • Check out who is on board...

2/5/07

Miami Transportation Planning, Part 2

The Miami Streetcar isn't a screwy idea created by corrupt Miami politicians to further cushion the pockets of area developers as some of our community activists and commissioners would like to believe. The Miami Streetcar can and will provide many intangible benefits to the city and all residents. I think it's well worth reprinting today's opinion by the Miami Herald here on the subject:

Take the trolleys to avoid gridlock

OUR OPINION: MIAMI TRANSIT PROJECT SORELY IN NEED OF LEADERSHIP

If there is any hope of avoiding downtown gridlock, it will depend on Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and the City Commission leading the charge for improving the plan for, and then building, the proposed trolley system once championed by former City Commissioner Johnny Winton. Since Mr. Winton's suspension after a drunken fracas with police, the trolley plan has become a City Hall orphan. The city could finance half of the $200 million construction cost with state dollars, but only if the mayor and commissioners soon show state officials that they are committed to relieving congestion in and around downtown.

Hook up to Metrorail

The 10-mile trolley system's two routes would carry riders to museums, the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts and the office core. The routes would circulate between downtown and the Design District and from Wynwood to the edge of the Jackson Memorial Hospital Medical District. Therein lies one of the problems. The westward route stops far short of the Metrorail station at the Civic Center. In fact, under the current plan, the trolley would link up with only one Metrorail station -- Government Center. That isn't sensible. While the plan includes circulator buses to feed the trolley, hookups with Metrorail and the planned Baylink to Miami Beach are necessary to effectively integrate Miami-Dade County's mass transit systems in the future.

Tracks for the trolley would be built at grade level, meaning the project could be completed much sooner than elevated rail systems. Cars would be powered by overhead electric lines. If the city approves the project now, trolleys could be carrying riders by 2011.

Some critics complain about the cost. But the city has funding sources, including proceeds from the countywide half-cent sales tax for mass transit. The city already has invested $5 million in an environmental study, engineering and survey work, and ridership studies showing that more people are willing to ride trolleys than buses.

Take the long view

Probably the riskiest aspect is that the city would hire a private vendor to build, maintain and operate the system. Such public-private ventures are common in Europe and only beginning to catch on in the United States. The city would pay the vendor $8 million annually for operations and upkeep. Structured properly, the joint agreement would include incentives that would encourage the builder to avoid cost overruns and delays that hamper many public projects.

Elected officials sometimes focus too much on short-term issues that can be completed during their time in office.

Taking the long view doesn't always bring quick political benefits. But 2011 -- the projected finish date -- is not so far off. The choice is trolleys or gridlock. The time to decide is now.

Our Tax Dollars at Waste

I mentioned this recently, but was only able to snap a picture of it yesterday. There were at least 4 others of these along the way. I find it absurd that our tax dollars are being spent on advertising the fact that toll running will not be tolerated. Instead of highway improvements, more road rangers, or simply more FHP (you know, to catch the toll runners), our money is going down the drain with catchy slogans on oversized billboards. I can only imagine what the Clear Channel bill amounts to. What was the point of those electronic billboards (Florida Sun Guide) if we never intended to use them to actually advertise highway related information? Just another instance of our tax dollars at waste…

2/2/07

Super Weekend Ahead

Shankrabbit is among the many people arriving and chronicling their weekend visit to Miami for the Super Bowl, they were lucky enough to arrive on a chartered United 777 and are traveling to their hotel via motorcade. I'll be down in the mayhem soon and I'll try to bring you the responses of some of our visitors...

I came across a great article which addresses the ineffectiveness of our country’s passenger rail network: Amtrak. Alexander Kummant, Amtrak’s newest director, is plotting a course to expand the floundering passenger rail market. The article highlights Amtrak’s flaws while discussing the future of overseas rail which may soon be linking Europe with Africa. Well worth the read...

2/1/07

Small City Sprawl

Think sprawl is something that is affecting only large metropolitan areas? Well think again. Sprawl is degrading the quality of life in nearly every city across the country. The rate of sprawl may be slower than larger cities, but, even then residents are beginning to quickly feel the effects of such rapid and uncontrolled growth. One such city which I'm quite familiar with is Gainesville, home to my University of Florida. Recent rapid growth has caused the city to sprawl out in every direction possible. The rate of this rapid growth is now being felt by area residents with unbelievable traffic crowding nearly every roadway. The city is also taking an aggressive approach to become ecologically sustainable which as we all know, severely conflicts with sprawling growth trends.

Held back by limited economical resources, implementing public transportation in most small cities is fairly difficult. Gainesville's public transportation would essentially not exist had it not been for the subsidized funding provided by each student's tuition. Now, the city bus system attracts 25,000+ daily trips, which considering the population is just over 100,000, is pretty darn good for a city this size. Despite the wide use of public transportation (largely by the student base) the city is still suffering from major traffic issues due to years of unchecked growth. The city is aiming to fix the congestion issue by revamping the traffic signalization which has been neglected for over 15 years and which alone should increase roadway capacity by 15%. I wrote into the Independent Florida Alligator in response to an article published yeterday on the growing concerns of the traffic. The original article can be found here and my reply is reprinted below.
Letter to the Editor High-density development best way to cure traffic woes By GABRIEL J. LOPEZ-BERNAL 4EG

I'm writing in response to Wednesday's article "SG, City Commission talk transportation." If the city of Gainesville is actually intent on reducing traffic and creating a pedestrian-friendly urban environment, then they need to concentrate on improving the existing options and limiting the city's footprint. Traffic signal improvements will only improve roadway capacity and will do little to discourage residents from driving daily.

The city should aim to severely curtail its urban sprawl by creating higher-density developments that encourage citizens to walk or seek alternative forms of transportation. Creating a sustainable environment is more than conservation. It involves careful urban planning to reconstruct a city that is readily accessible to human beings rather than vehicles.