Posts by: Community Commentary
Last May, Miami-Dade Transit introduced a $19 unlimited ride pass good for seven days. Called the Visitor Passport, it was marketed toward out-of-town visitors, and sold in only a few tourist-heavy spots such as Miami’s airport. Why, some wondered, couldn’t there be other innovations to make getting around easier – for locals?

At the time, transit officials insisted they had plans underway to create various rider passes in addition to the existing $75 monthly pass. There was talk of something akin to New York’s per-ride Metro Card, coordination with transit systems in Broward and Palm Beach counties, free beer. Okay, maybe not free beer, but you get the point.

Granted, transit does offer discounted tokens and various price breaks on monthly passes for groups, seniors and college students. But still no easy-to-use, per-ride cards.

It’s been a year. The average person still has to fumble for exact change, carry a stash of tokens or commit to a monthly pass. No wonder people consider public transit impractical.

When is MDT going to wake up?

In their March 13th edition, the Economist magazine published this article in which it was written that a company in Washington state, spun off from Microsoft, will be compiling and analyzing real-time satellite transponder and cell phone data from delivery vehicles. The company, INRIX, then will provide this real-time traffic analysis to companies like Tom-Tom, Garmin, and ClearChannel (I guess for their currently lackluster traffic reports), to push to their devices to alert customers of current traffic conditions along various corridors.

On the plus side, it is reported that this information can also be used by emergency authorities to guide them around traffic blockages to provide faster response times. Additionally, this might be able to get us closer to a smarter highway concept, reducing fuel consumption and toxic emissions, and increasing the time we have to spend getting to know our neighbors out there in the sprawl that has become our substitute for small-town America.

Where’s Big Brother again?

Photo Courtesy k2d2vaca at Flickr

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Photo originally uploaded by Three15Bowery
If the only way you have found to keep your sanity in the absurd traffic of Miami is by hopping onto your bicycle and riding, you are not alone. As traffic worsens and gas prices skyrocket, bike commuting is slowly becoming less of a recreational idea and more of a reasonable commuting alternative. In addition to navigating around South Florida traffic, biking is an easy way to save money regularly and get in shape daily. Miami-Dade TV has released this video showing an example of an elementary school arts teacher who commutes daily from Cutler Ridge to North Miami using bike and transit.

This website will be helpful to map your route or to see other people’s routes.

Do you commute by bike? Have you considered the idea? We’d love to hear from you.

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Miami-Dade Transit has set March 25 as the date of the next public meeting to discuss plans for the new Metrorail line connecting the Earlington Heights station with the Miami Intermodal Center under construction near the Miami International Airport. The actual meeting will start at 7:00 p.m., with an open-house being held before, at 6:00 p.m. The location of the meeting will be at the Sheila Winitzer Central Administration Building Auditorium: 3300 NW 32 Ave.

Several items of interest regarding this particular segment of Metrorail:

  • It will be the first extension of the train since the extension to Palmetto station;
  • This segment will not be constructed with federal funds, but solely from the half-cent transportation tax implemented in Miami-Dade county, along with state funding;
  • Once opened, this segment will provide a much-needed alternative for transport into the airport both by tourists using the airport’s facilities, and for workers providing services.

Further information can be found at this link to Miami-Dade Transit’s website.

On the Tomorrowland Transit Authority this past week, I passed a model of Walt Disney’s original plan for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). I got to thinking: “I wonder how many people passing this model on a daily basis know that the Walt Disney Company actually tried their own hand at an experimental community, albeit on a smaller scale?”
Celebration sits on roughly 5,000 acres at the southern end of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the same parcel of land on which the Walt Disney World resort is built. While billed as small-town americana, Celebration is actually considered a census-designated place (CDP): It is an unincorporated master-planned community with slightly under 10,000 residents, as of 2004 American Community Survey data.

Walk through the streets of Celebration and you’ll enjoy a very clean, crisp atmosphere. Everything is in its place, all of the shops and homes are freshly painted, lawns are manicured, and yes, those apartments above the shops are real apartments. There’s a small “downtown” core of shops, restaurants, a movie theater, schools… inhabitants of the community are encouraged to use their NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles… think, golf carts) to get around town. Just about everything has been thought of.

Forget, though, about affordable housing in this “mixed” community: two bedroom, two bathroom condo-style homes go for $400,000. The nearest mainline transit links are the route 55 and 56 Lynx buses that run on US 192, approximately two miles to the north, too far to be walked on a regular basis. These are quite possibly the fundamental explanations for why there are no people milling about the center of the community.

While the Walt Disney World company wasn’t trying to recreate Walt Disney’s vision of EPCOT with the founding of Celebration, they were definitely reaching back to try to recapture the small-town feeling of pre-1950s America. While they made a valiant effort, like so many of these new, master-planned communities, they’ve missed their mark. Without a connection to some sort of mainline transit, and without affordable housing, the Walt Disney Company excluded a huge portion of America that wants to live this quintessentially American dream: living, working, and playing all within walking distance of one’s home.

-Photo courtesy of Picasa Web Photos

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I live next to a busy intersection in South Beach - Meridian Avenue and 13th Street. It’s the main entryway to Flamingo Park as well as the beach’s central avenue. It’s the only tree-shaded roadway around. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of traffic: cars, bikes and pedestrians.

Within the past few months, four-way stop signs went up at the intersection, making it significantly safer, or so I thought. One of the stop signs is all but hidden behind a tree. Cars blow past it all the time. This is doubly dangerous considering pedestrians now assume cars will stop at the intersection. There are people pushing baby strollers to the park, little kids going to shoot hoops, people walking their dogs.

I emailed the city to point out the problem. There had been small temporary stop signs in the middle of the road until recently, and I suggested they do something similar on a permanent basis or at least make the hidden stop sign more visible. Never heard back.

Walking home one night, I came across two Miami Beach motorcycle cops. They were there to run down cars that rolled through the stop sign. I told them people couldn’t see the sign, but they argued there is a warning sign farther back (small red octagon with arrow) and nothing that could be done. When I emphasized the inherent danger, one of the cops said pedestrians should be “alert” anyway.

So, I’ve contacted the county’s public works department. They tell me they’ll check it out. In the meantime, I have a strong feeling someone is going to get hurt or killed. I hope I’m wrong.

Critical Mass Miami- Photo by The Universal Dilettante

The past year has been a great year for cycling around the world. High oil prices, an increased interest in the environment and the success of bike sharing programs in Europe have been some of the highlights. Here in Florida, Governor Charlie Crist has proclaimed March as Florida’s Bike Month. This opportunity should not be missed to help increase awareness of biking, not only as a recreational activity, but also as an alternative means of transportation. There are many activities planned throughout all South Florida.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Last Saturday, a 75-mile bike ride took place from Tequesta to Oleta River Park in Miami.
  • Pledge to bike to work, March 24-30.
  • Critical Mass Miami has bike rides planned throughout the month on South Miami, Coral Gables, Florida City.

Many more events planned throughout South Florida. Check out the full calendar here and here

In a city as bicyclist-unfriendly as Miami, it seems ungrateful to critique any new two-wheel initiative. But what exactly is the point of a bike path that goes only two miles from essentially nowhere to nowhere?

The recently opened Kitty Roedel bike path extends from NW 87th Avenue to NW 107th Avenue. It parallels 836 to the south and CSX railroad tracks to the north. The Miami-Dade Expressway Authority built the 10-foot-wide asphalt path as part of a larger area beautification project. Certainly the landscaped bike path, which includes a wide, grassy right of way, is beauteous (except for the roar of traffic beyond the chain-link fence). Certainly it is a worthwhile addition for area residents out for a recreational ride or a gas-free trip to the Miami International Mall. MDX should be congratulated for taking the initiative on this project.

The path’s construction, however, seems to point up a Miami truism: bicycles are not considered a viable mode of transit. There are no plans to extend the path or link it to other roadways. The NW 107th Avenue access point involves jumping a curb if you’re coming off the avenue. The solution is easy, according to MDX spokeswoman, Maggie Kirkpatrick. “They have the sidewalk.”

Roedel, the path’s namesake, is a former MDX board member who apparently pushed for more “greenways” during her tenure.

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Originally uploaded by Ping
This is the title of a paper, written by Lars Gemzoe, a Danish professor of urban design at the School of Architecture in Copenhagen. In this paper, he uses Copenhagen as a case study to illustrate the changes that helped change the Danish Capital from an autocentric city to a pedestrian friendly one.

During the first half of the twentieth century, Copenhagen didn’t have many outdoor gathering places. In the 1960’s Stroget, the main street of the inner city, was converted to a pedestrian only street. In the following years more plazas and spaces were also converted to pedestrian use only, and people started doing more than walking. They were strolling, sitting down to enjoy the weather, watching street performers, people watching, etc. It had become a destination — a high quality urban space.

The changes in the city came through a slow process, reducing parking 2-3% year, taking away traffic space and dedicating it to urban spaces, and implementing bike lanes, among other improvements.

Miami has its own success story, Lincoln Road. But maybe things shouldn’t stop there. Miami-Dade County could be more pedestrian friendly. We have the weather and tourism as an advantage. Up and coming areas like Downtown and the Design District would be ideal areas for pedestrianised areas.

Find the full paper here.

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Robert Samuels, along with other staff writers of the Miami Herald has been writing this week about Unity Boulevard, perhaps better known as 27th Avenue. This thoroughfare traverses four of the most culturally and economically diverse areas of South Florida.
While the article delves into detail on the neighborhoods of Miami Gardens, Opa-Locka, Liberty City, Little Havana, and Coconut Grove, Samuels and his team wrote a particularly poignant description of the one-two punch that killed a once-vibrant, if still economically-challenged, 35-block stretch of the boulevard:
“Liberty City’s not like it was,” said Edwina Howard, 68, who was waiting for a bus near 79th Street. To her left was the Northside Shopping Centre, the neighborhood’s decrepit crown jewel of retail, now undergoing a $14 million renovation. In front of her was a burned-out hair supply store.

“Things were much better,” Howard said. “There were much better shops and they kept the place clean. I’d go to Sears or J.C. Penney at that mall. Now, I have to go to Dadeland Mall or one in Pembroke Pines.”

The area never recovered from 1980. Blacks erupted in riots that year, after an all-white jury acquitted white police officers charged with beating to death a black man named Arthur McDuffie.

Past Northside, more empty lots appear. One small matchbox house advertises collard greens. Another offers barbecue ribs. Both are locked up.

If you ask why the businesses disappeared, some say that all you have to do is look up.

You’ll see the Metrorail.

The neighborhoods beneath it — from Northwest 76th Street, the northern end of Liberty City, to 41st Street, in Brownsville — are the poorest on Unity Boulevard.

“The Metrorail decimated this neighborhood,” community activist Kenneth Kilpatrick said. “This place used to have a lot of business, a lot of good things. And then Metrorail came, and they all left.”

But why would something that was billed as the be-all end-all transit system destroy a neighborhood, rather than provide the enhancement intended? Samuels writes simply that according to Kilpatrick, the stores along this portion of the Avenue couldn’t stand the dearth of customers due to the length of construction of Metrorail through this corridor.

Having ridden the train through this area countless times, I’ve often wondered the same thing. On occasion, I’ve wanted to exit at Brownsville, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or Northside stations, and walk along the 27th Avenue corridor myself, to see if I could figure out what I might be able to do to help bring this community alive. But as sure as the train kept moving down the line, my thoughts soon turned to other items - typically my upcoming transfer to Tri-Rail.

Nonetheless, Samuels’s article, especially the part on Liberty City in which he interviews James Brimberry on becoming owner of the last remaining Royal Castle, has reignited that flame. It makes me want to drop everything and go there for one of their burgers. Perhaps that can refuel me and my once-perpetual thoughts of helping redevelop the neighborhoods the train was supposed to bring people to. This desolate space, once teeming with individually-owned and operated businesses, has so much potential to become one of the most livable neighborhoods in the county.

Robert Samuels’s six-day series, which began running Monday, concludes tomorrow with a write-up of 27th Avenue’s southern terminus, in Coconut Grove.

… Sean Bossinger is a new writer for Transit Miami. He manages the UTS Call Center at Florida International University, where he is a Ph. D. student in the Public Management program. In his copious spare time, he enjoys playing with his sons, Donovan and Logan, and spending time with his wife, Tracy. Living in Coral Gables, he frequently finds himself reading a book on the 24 Bus on Coral Way.

The National Park Service wants to know what the community thinks is the best scenario for the well known Miami Circle park. There are three scenarios ranging from a “passive park” to “the gateway to Biscayne Bay regional educational efforts” which calls for the building of a visitor center and the need for boat tours.

An ambitious plan from City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz . What answer will the commission deliver?

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Financing plan would bypass voters

Miami city and county leaders have forged a multibillion-dollar public-works bonanza that could alter the face of the downtown core — affecting everything from a baseball stadium to a port tunnel to museums.

The plan, coming together with rare speed in the world of governmental red tape, envisions a holiday bounty of projects aimed at garnering support from constituencies ranging from sports fans to arts patrons.

Announced late Wednesday by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, the deal would cover everything from a $914 million tunnel leading to the Port of Miami to finally transforming fallow Bicentennial Park into a waterfront jewel with new art and science museums.

By also shoring up the shaky finances at the fledgling Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, the plan’s framework would free up additional tax monies that could be used to build a $525 million retractable-roof ballpark for the Florida Marlins.

”This is a great opportunity for all of us — all of us — to create an incredible legacy for the urban core,” Diaz said following a long day of negotiating the multi-party pact — and then selling it to individual commissioners.

While Diaz and others in the city embraced the so-called ”global” agreement with the county, many questions remain.

One is whether a deal this complex can actually come to fruition. With so many parts forming the larger whole, it’s possible that criticism of one piece of the blueprint could derail others.

Secondly, the intricate financing has been crafted in a way to sidestep a potential voter referendum — which could embolden critics.

COMMISSIONS TO VOTE

Selling it is key, and the first test comes Thursday when Miami commissioners decide whether to move the multilayered plan forward.

County commissioners would then begin their review of key pieces of the ballpark financing and redevelopment plans Dec. 18.

The framework — hashed out over several weeks of behind-the-scenes talks with city and county managers — centers on expanding the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency to include Bicentennial Park and Watson Island.

CRAs are federally mandated special taxing districts that generate extra cash for areas targeted for revitalization. By aiming to expand the key Omni district, Miami leaders envision new infusions of money that would be doled out for multiple big-ticket projects.

The biggest beneficiaries of this new Omni CRA would be the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts and a proposed new ballpark for the Marlins at the soon-to-be-demolished Orange Bowl.

Diaz said the county would essentially receive up to $400 million in CRA revenue over the next 30 years to cover debt service on the arts center.

This will free up somewhere between $160 million and $200 million in tourist taxes from the PAC — that the county and city could then use for the ballpark in Little Havana.

PARKING GARAGE

Less certain: whether the will, and the money, exist to build a 6,000-space parking garage and one of Diaz’s personal projects — a 25,000-seat soccer stadium also proposed for the 40-acre Orange Bowl site.

By expanding the CRA boundaries over the MacArthur Causeway to Watson Island, the city believes it can also use $50 million in CRA money to pay its share of the $914 million Port of Miami Tunnel over the next 35 years.

Florida transportation officials had vowed to move their $457 million share of the tunnel deal to other parts of the state if the city didn’t put up its $50 million piece by Monday.

”I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, no pun intended,” said City Commissioner Joe Sanchez, who represents the Orange Bowl area.

Miami property owners would also benefit from the expanded Omni CRA, city leaders say.

Diaz said the city would pay off its outstanding debt on the troubled Jungle Island construction loans from the expanded CRA instead of general revenues.

By expanding the boundaries into Bicentennial Park, the city would also use $68 million in new CRA revenue for the development of Museum Park — including a planned underground parking garage. The CRA money would not be used to build the museums.

OVERTOWN IMPACT

Another question mark: whether city officials will be legally permitted to spin another $2 million a year out of the CRA to pay for ongoing capital improvements inside the park.

A second, more hard-pressed, special tax district would also benefit under the city-county pact.

The Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA, which generates considerably less revenue than the Omni, would be extended to year 2030 and its boundaries expanded to 20th Street on the north and Northwest Seventh Avenue on the west.

The city would spend up to $80 million for affordable housing, infrastructure, parks and job programs in the economically depressed Overtown neighborhood, and it would set aside $35 million for the city’s struggling streetcar plan.

Diaz said Miami planned to adopt a pay-as-you-go approach when spending the CRA money on these big-ticket items over the next 30 years, rather than floating bonds to bankroll the projects.

The unstated reason: The projects wouldn’t have to face voter approval.

In previous years, the city had contemplated issuing CRA bonds that could net perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars up front, to be used on large public-works projects.

But the Florida Supreme Court ruled in September that any bond issue local governments do with CRA money needs voter approval. Miami responded by abandoning its bond-issue plans.

This plan would sidestep those concerns.

DETAILS

As in every public project, the key is in the details, and literally hundreds of them still need to be hashed out.

First: Does Diaz have the three commission votes to pass the plan when the body meets this morning?

”God willing, [Thursday] we will approve possibly the most exciting — largest, certainly — package of projects in city history,” Diaz said late Wednesday.

Commissioner Sanchez said of the ”global” agreement: “So far, it looks good. . . . It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Herald staff writers Charles Rabin, Andres Viglucci and Matthew I. Pinzur contributed to this report.

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Like many on their Thanksgiving holiday, I had the arduous task of traveling in order to meet up with the family. Only this time I decided to travel to Tampa, Fl by train rather than car. The Amtrak experience was more interesting than what I thought. For starters the Miami station was a bit of a disappointment, it looked dilapidated and in need of an upgrade. Then again, it probably won’t get one since Amtrak will be moving into the MIC, Miami Intermodal Center, once it finally gets completed.

The Miami station has only two trains leaving a day, the Silver Meteor at 7:50 a.m. and the Silver Star at 8:50 a.m., and both end up in New York-Penn Station. Of the two the Silver Star connects to Tampa while the Silver Meteor travels directly to Orlando.

The train was quite comfortable with ample room for your carry on bag, your luggage and still had room to spread your legs. Also, every row of seats had its own power outlet which came in handy during the trip. During the five hour and twenty minute trip the only annoyance was the constant stop and go in the urban areas of South Florida and Tampa. I have to believe that these stops where for dispatching in order to get permission to access the track and/or other trains where ahead of it. If these stops where eliminated or kept to a minimum I believe at least one hour would have been saved on the trip.

I was impressed to see that the train was sold out to Tampa, and it was evident when the train stopped at the historic Tampa Union Station in downtown Tampa.

Let’s just say I was glad I was able to keep my luggage with me. In such a populous state as Florida the need for its own rail system is obvious. Rather it’s on a high speed train system or not the demand is there.

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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.

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