Friday News

Energy and oil is the dominant theme this week, however the articles about the Everglades and affordable housing in Miami are very troubling.

  • NY Times: Efforts to save the everglades are faltering
  • Newsday: Gas prices affecting community, car use
  • NY Times: Rising demand for oil provokes new energy crisis
  • KITV Honolulu: Gas prices have reached $5 per gallon in parts of Cali
  • Miami Herald: Housing crunch (lack of affordable housing) hitting low-income residents hard
  • NY Times: High gas prices and long commutes having an impact on the sprawl market


Wiki City Rome

In an attempt to help people better understand the way a city functions and how to integrate with the city MIT's, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SENSEable City Laboratory created an interactive map of Rome. In what they are calling "Wiki City Rome", MIT collected cell phone signals and GPS, Global Positioning System, to create a real time map of the mobility of people and transit in the City of Rome.

Transitography 38: Manhattan Bound

Before Sunset, originally uploaded by photomagister.

Sorry about the sluggish pace of the website lately folks, it certainly isn't because of a lack of information this week, but rather the time...

Tonight however, I am headed to Manhattan to get my winter dose of Urbanism...


MDT Introduces Train Tracker for Metrorail

Miami-Dade Transit is finally rolling out some high(er) tech service upgrades, which should make riding Metrorail at least somewhat more pleasant and definitely more predictable. From the MDT press release:

(MIAMI, November 2, 2007) - Miami-Dade Transit is proud to announce a new online system that allows Metrorail customers to check the next train's arrival time right from their computers and mobile devices.

The new Train Tracker is available at www.miamidade.gov/transit/mobile. The site is specially configured for web-enabled mobile devices. Customers can simply select their station from the drop-down menu, then click “Go” for the arrival times of the next southbound and northbound train. Passengers should refresh times frequently by clicking “refresh times.”

The Train Tracker site also features links to the Metrorail system map and schedules for all the bus routes serving each Metrorail station, as well as information on connecting routes and transit customer service phone numbers.

Customers also can check Train Tracker on their computers or laptops at www.miamidade.gov/transit by clicking the "Where is the Train?" link under the Metrorail icon in the Quick Links portal in the upper right, or they can go directly to www.miamidade.gov/transit/traintracker.asp. Train Tracker also is available on the electronic transit information kiosks located at Miami International Airport and the Government Center and Dadeland South Metrorail stations.

"This is the latest example of how we're using technology and the Internet to improve how we communicate with our customers," Miami-Dade Transit Director Harpal Kapoor said. “Train Tracker will take the guesswork out of waiting for the train so passengers can plan their trips accordingly.”

To further improve the customer service experience, Miami-Dade Transit plans to install overhead electronic signs at every Metrorail station displaying Next Train arrival times. The first sign was installed in May at the Government Center station on the second floor next to the Metromover entrance.

The official public launch and demonstration of Train Tracker will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 6 from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Government Center Metrorail station, 2nd floor, near the Metrorail turnstiles.

Miami-Dade Transit staff will be available to demonstrate how the system works and show customers how to access Train Tracker on their mobile devices. Cell phones and mobile devices must be web-enabled and have a web browser to access Train Tracker.


Could the North Corridor be Threatened by Juvenile Politics?

If you read the Herald yesterday, you probably saw this article. It's not so hard to believe given the bizarre political culture of Miami-Dade, but the proposed North Corridor extension of the Metrorail may be in trouble.

Apparently, the administration of Miami-Dade College North Campus has been working with county transit planners for the last three years to bring not only a station on campus, but a gym/wellness center, a 2000-space parking garage, a conference center, classrooms, and a bookstore. However, all of this would have forced a $26 million relocation of the US Army Reserve Armory at NW 27th Ave and NW 119th St, which the county cannot afford. Furthermore, it appears that these expenses were never even taken into account in the Environmental Impact Statement given to Washington, which means any federal aid allocated to the county for the North Corridor would not include these MDC expenses. From the Lebowitz's Streetwise column:

And here's where it gets really strange. All of the letter-writing traffic is one-way, with Vicente (of MDT) memorializing his understanding of what agreements were reached in these meetings.

Nobody from Transit ever responded -- even though the agency clearly couldn't afford to make these ludicrous promises to the college and hope to compete against dozens of other U.S. cities for $700 million to $825 million in matching federal funds for the North Corridor.

Transit's files are curiously thin on the issue. And three key players from Transit's side of the talks are no longer with the agency. One retired last year. Bradley was fired in March and one of his top aides a few weeks later.

Yet, records show that Transit was already warning federal regulators in early 2006 that it might not be able to afford the armory relocation, forcing the agency to consider the station closer to the MDC-North main gate.

Why Transit couldn't brace Vicente with the same candor about the armory site in early '06 remains a mystery. And someone definitely should have told him, in writing, that the agency couldn't build that massive conference center-garage without endangering the federal funding.

This is upsetting for several reasons. First, this was supposed to be the next expansion of Metrorail, before the East-West extension or anything in Kendall. MDT is this close to receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to help finance the expensive project. Keep in mind, the transit market is extremely competitive nationwide as cities everywhere are scrambling to make up for lost time and do the right thing by improving their public transportation systems. At the same time, federal funds are shamefully low, which means Miami-Dade is very fortunate to be in the its current position. As Lebowitz says in his column, redrawing the route or ceding to MDC's demands is totally infeasible right now because of high costs, wasted time, and the potential for jeopardizing federal aid.

It's also upsetting because the whole thing is just so juvenile. This is the kind of thing that just cannot happen at this level of government, especially when dealing with billion dollar capital projects and $800 million subsidies, not to mention the future of Miami-Dade County.


DARPA Urban Challenge: Autonomous Cars

The DARPA Urban Challenge is over, and the winners have been announced. Six out of 11 cars crossed the finish line, completely autonomous without a human driver anywhere. Why do we care about this? Because cars that drive themselves have the potential to be much safer and increase the capacity of existing highways. As long as Will Smith doesn't switch his car over to manual control, that is.

The cars in the Urban Grand Challenge drove themselves without any changes to the highways or communication between each other. If they could do it without those two, adding them will only make fully automated cars that much closer to reality. Work is underway to develop infrastructure for highways to communicate with cars, in an initiative known as Vehicle Infrastructure Integration, or VII. It's ostensibly for safety, which is good, but the other improvement is in efficiency, as the space between cars can be decreased and computers can precisely calculate times to let one car maneuver without slowing the others down.

The latest development with VII seems to be the opening of the Connected Vehicle Proving Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Michigan Department of Transportation seems to be making the most progress with VII, developing test beds such as that proving center to be used by the auto manufacturers. These developments could be worth paying attention to.

It is worth mentioning that improving flow on highways through automation will not come close to the capacity of mass transit (like the Metro). We wouldn't have to worry about red light running, though.


Friday Briefs

  • Planetizen: DPZ planner Mike Lydon has devised the Top Ten Reasons You Know You Are an Urbanist

  • Streetsblog: How Bogota has transformed itself from a traffic choked city to a thriving cycling and transit city

  • Miami SunPost: Hundreds of thousands of Miami-Dade trailer park residents could be forced from their homes


Red Light Running

Red-light running cameras are all the rage at the moment. Local officials want to install them to reduce red-light running, and we applaud them for seeking to make our intersections safer. The question is, though, is that the best way to make them safer?

Studies have shown that rear-end collisions increase when cameras are installed, so the overall accidents increase. It definitely can be argued that rear-end collisions are not as dangerous as T-bone collisions, but they are still collisions. Engineers should be doing everything they can to avoid them. If every alternative has been exhausted and the only choice is to choose one type over another, then the discussion can turn to which type is less dangerous. Until then, we want to see fewer accidents. Period.

The problem here is that politicians are making the decision by looking at things from an economic perspective. Since red light cameras promise to pay for themselves and then some, it's an easy decision. Cameras come first before other more expensive methods.

What are those expensive methods that help reduce red-light running? For starters, how about retiming signals? Synchronization with the rest of the signal network has the benefit of improving traffic flow in addition to reducing red-light running. Adding a second or two to the yellow has also been shown to reduce collisions. The FHWA offers some more ideas to improve safety here.

There are even newer ideas being put forth to reduce the rate of red-light running. One was presented in the August 2007 issue of the ITE Journal, and the basic premise was to paint the message “Signal Ahead” on the pavement at a precise point before the signal. It would be measured based on the yellow timing and the speed limit so that drivers could know that if the light turned yellow while they were in front of it, they had time to stop safely. If the light turned yellow once they had passed it, they had time to get through the light before it turned red. The article, available without figures here, showed that the rate of red-light running could be reduced 65% with this pavement message.

Painting a pavement message is fairly cheap and retiming signals that need them anyway is also a wise investment. But since cameras actually generate income, they have become the first choice. We can only hope the camera contractors don't work to reduce the yellow signal length like some have been accused of doing, and we can thank our legislature for keeping these off of state roads until better solutions have been tried. We can also ask for better solutions.