Archive for the 'Land Use' Category

Critical Miami Misses the Point

To all our regular readers, the message below is a direct response to the recent criticisms presented by local blog Critical Miami:

We are not anti-car zealots, we strongly believe that the key to creating a sustainable community is a multi-modal transportation policy rather than the uni-modalism that currently overwhelms Miami-Dade. It appears that in the eyes of some, Transit Miami has lost its focus, becoming too obsessed with creating a city that is designed and navigable to humans, rather than the voluminous heaps of metal we all wander around in.

A Message from the Publisher

I started Transit Miami for one reason: because I care about my community. The way I see it, Miami has a potential that no other city does, a vibrancy no other community could dream of achieving. Sadly, in my 22 years of living here, I have witnessed nothing more than its potential crumble, eroded away in congestion, corrupt politics, and square mile after square mile of inauspicious development. In my travels abroad, to Paris, London, San Francisco, Vienna, and New York, among other places, I experienced the nature of true global cities and came back longing for the same characteristics that make those cities successful. Regarding thriving, diverse economies, unparalleled educational opportunities, a pulsating cultural scene, etc, it is often difficult to understand how all of the qualities* we want for our city are tied deeply to the urbanism which defines our landscapes.

After all, we find it alarming that on average Miamians spend 30% of their income on Transportation needs, don’t you? There is a better way to live.
-Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal

Clarity on the Issues

While we appreciate Critical Miami’s kudos and acknowledge their own fine work over the last few years, we definitely feel that it is their site that is out of touch with reality in this case. Perhaps Critical Miami is baffled because they are not likely educated on best practices in contemporary urban planning. Frankly, we find it contradictory that a site that calls for “holding the line” so adamantly would be so misunderstanding when it comes to better land-use policy.

To be clear, Transit Miami never stated that worsening driving conditions was the best way to improve transit. In fact, we stated the opposite, “Additional parking will increase congestion…” The developer, not Transit Miami, originally proposed the position of hampering a vehicle’s ability to access the EWT development. We supported his decision and original plans to reduce parking capacity at EWT due to the direct links his structure would have with the adjacent Metromover structure (just as we supported reductions in parking at the Coconut Grove Metrorail Transit-Oriented Development) and never once suggested making driving more difficult, only parking.

Critical Miami mentions several times that “making driving more difficult” is political suicide and is essentially foolish. What about traffic-calming? Wouldn’t Critical Miami agree that traffic calming makes streets safer and livable for everyone, perhaps at the expense of a little speed for the motorist? If you support traffic calming in any capacity, it makes your statements about making driving appear paradoxical.

The interesting part is, we aren’t even advocating for anything drastic. For example, we promote the Miami Streetcar project, which calls for constructing a streetcar line through one of the densest and fastest-growing urban corridors in the state. This is not very drastic at all, especially in a city with a woefully underdeveloped mass transit system and sizable low-income population. We promote decreases in minimum parking standards. This is not so radical either since it reduces the overall development cost, making housing more affordable. There is a sizable body of scholarly literature available that correlates the underlying message of our letter: increasing parking capacity increases driving demand like dangling a carrot for cars.

Sustainability, Miami’s Growing Problem

Miami-Dade County, as it currently stands, is one of the most unsustainable metros in America. You can analyze this from a variety of angles, but you will always end up reaching the same conclusion: our actions will have devastating economical, environmental, and social costs if we do not change. If you want to look at it from a mobility/accessibility/congestion standpoint, Miami is incredibly unsustainable under a current unimodal paradigm and without change, it will become a less and less viable place to live and conduct business. Traffic congestion and VMTs (vehicle miles traveled) are expected to increase significantly between now and 2025. Contrary to what Critical Miami and most Americans believe, it simply is not economically or spatially feasible to build your way out of congestion (i.e. build more highways/widen roads.)

This means two things: in order to be more sustainable from a transportation perspective we must improve and expand our transit capacity and we must improve our accessibility. The transit component is straight forward enough. However, continuing the auto-centric status quo gives the illusion that we do not have to change our transportation habits and there will always be some fix or policy to make things better for driving. This could not be further from the truth and is flat out irresponsible. This is why we are against excessive minimum parking requirements, because it is like mandating more beer for an alcoholic.

Regarding the second component, accessibility, this means changing our zoning to allow mixed land uses and creating higher densities. This will enable people to travel shorter distances for their employment, retail, commercial, recreational, and residential purposes (if they so chose.)

Note: the goal of changing our land use policy is to enable people to have a choice when it comes to personal mobility, where walking or driving can be considered equal alternatives. This is a fundamental component of transportation equity.

This increases the viability of walking and cycling, which incidentally is the cheapest way to get around. However, if you continue down the auto-centric policy paradigm, you are not facilitating the type of conditions that make walking, cycling, transit, and higher density a formidable option.

Transit Miami’s Global Comparisons

Regarding the division between the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, of course it is the county that operates the local transit agency. This is likely the root of many of the problems we will face in this region over the coming decades; our inability to work together due to the multiple bureaucratic layers we have created because of perceived political injustices. This fragmented landscape of local municipalities will only serve a divisive role when it comes to regional planning initiatives.

Ryan never said or even implied that Miami was going to have a transit system like Montreal’s – he simply implied that Montreal had a quality transit system and that Miami should strive to improve theirs in order to achieve a higher transit standard and all the external benefits that go along with it. That is tough to misconstrue. In addition, he never mentioned or even remotely implied that Miami needed to “grow a mountain” to have a grand urban park. That is very clear for anyone reading that section, and it seems to me that either you grossly misread it or cherry picked that part and took it out of context to support your own point.

Transit Miami often uses global comparisons to drive home points visually to our readers on the effects of better public transit and land-use policy in other cities.

Bicycle as a means of Transportation, not just a Vacation

We don’t recall any sort of official “challenge,” however Critical Miami is unequivocally wrong about their assertion that such a program cannot work anywhere in Miami. Just because Critical Miami is a bike enthusiast doesn’t mean you understand how bicycling systems operate or can function in an urban setting. South Beach offers the perfect place for a pilot program, at a minimum. Transit Miami is in the process of working closely with our local agencies to see such a plan come to fruition, we invite Critical Miami to attend any of the local Bicycle Action Committees to air their sentiments.

Regarding Critical Miami’s comments about it taking generations to enact the type of changes we advocate, this has been proven otherwise. Enrique Penalosa, the former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, created a thriving bicycle network in his city and within just five years captured 5% of the daily transportation needs. It just so happens that Mr. Penalosa was recently in Miami, meeting with Miami officials to discuss their plans to create a bicycle network in this city, a meeting that this blogger was privileged enough to attend. Looking beyond bicycles, formerly auto-centric cities like Perth, Australia, with guidance from visionaries like Peter Newman, have transformed into legitimate multi-modal communities in just 20 years or so, which is well within the time frame of the county’s current Long Term Plan and the City of Miami’s Comprehensive Neighborhood Development Plan.

The fact of the matter is that changes occur when the funding (and mentality) is there in support. Sure, cities evolve and mature and most changes do not occur overnight, but the mentality Critical Miami presents falls in line with the mentality that has accomplished nothing in Miami over the past several decades.

-This article represents the views of the entire Transit Miami Staff…

Busway-HOT Lane Combo is Smog and Mirrors

This week’s Streetwise Column by Herald Reporter Larry Lebowitz, presented an “innovative” new use for Miami-Dade’s Busway program. We’ve taken some time to mull over the basics of the plan over the past few days (apparently so have a number of you based on the number of emails I received) and have prepared an analysis of the project based on the data Larry provided in the article.

Imagine widening the Busway from two lanes to four and giving buses and carpoolers with at least three passengers a free ride.

It is a stretch of my imagination, that is for sure, but from the looks of it, this does not seem like a promising solution for South-Dade commuters. Granted, the Busway is far from perfect, but adding lanes, albeit managed lanes, is hardly the solution to an ever-growing congestion problem.

Instead of encountering dozens of incredibly looooooong lights at the busy cross streets on today’s Busway, imagine flying over all the major intersections as the government guarantees a reliable 50-mph journey from Dadeland to Florida City or the turnpike interchange near Southwest 112th Avenue.

The sad part about this is that some sort of “benefit” has to be presented for motorists in order to shore up the funds to marginally improve the transit infrastructure. I guess that is one of the major issues we have to deal with when we have a President who in his next financial deficit (that is not a budget) wants to reduce an already anemic transportation fund by $3.2 billion. One major question remains: What is going to happen to all of those cars not going to Dadeland or the Palmetto when they merge back onto a US-1? We cannot honestly expect all these folks to suddenly abandon their cars and hop on Metrorail, can we? Or will the lanes be extended north into downtown, continuing to undermine the reason why Metrorail was constructed along US-1 to begin with - to get people out of their cars.

A similar variably priced tolling plan is about to be introduced on a 24-mile segment of Interstate 95 between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. They are also planned for the expanded Interstate 595 in Broward.

True. However, I do not think drawing comparisons between US-1 and limited access highways is fair. HOT lanes are a novel concept for the highway scenario, but not along a corridor where driveways and intersections all interfere.

Not only could it provide a little relief to the normal wall-to-wall madness on the overburdened South Dixie corridor, but it could also finally fulfill the Busway’s original promise: real rapid transit.

Once again, see our unrelated qualms above on transportation spending as a whole in this country. It’s deplorable!

”Without a strong transit component, this doesn’t work,” said Javier Rodriguez, executive director of the expressway authority.

Amen!

Elevated intersections will incite plenty of sturm und drang from communities along the Busway. The neighbors must be mollified, especially if Transit is forced to relocate its stations away from the intersections to maintain easy street-level access for riders.

Wow, you can say that again. Most of these communities have already reduced the allowable density along US-1 making Mr. Rodriguez’s point listed above extremely difficult to accomplish. Transit needs to treat any further upgrades to this project as a rail project, bringing with that the power to enact land-use changes for the corridor that will continue to prepare it for future rail transit, increase bus ridership, and lay a foundation for preventing future westward and southern sprawl. Without a massive overhaul of the land around the Busway, this corridor will never realize the transit ridership necessary to fund such a project.

Besides noise walls and landscaping, some must-dos:

Whoa, noise walls are a definite must-do-not. This project needs to entwine the Busway (future railway) as much as possible with the surroundings, not create an inhospitable environment for those walking, biking, or using transit.


All plans must leave a pocket for future light rail or Metrorail within the 100-foot corridor as the Busway was originally intended. It might take 30 to 50 years to get trains there, but that’s what the people were promised and the bulk of the growth is already occurring down there.

Definitely! Can’t stress this point enough.


The plan must set aside money to re-time all of the signals for cross-street traffic trying to get onto and across U.S. 1 under the elevated intersections.

This is something MDT/MPO should do now to give the 15,000 daily transit riders a surefire benefit to riding the Busway. Which reminds me, what exactly is MDT up to these days?

An expanded Busway must mesh with the community charettes aimed at future redevelopment of Princeton, Naranja and Goulds into transit-oriented development villages.

Ditto for preserving the existing bike path and enhancing pedestrian access to and from the Busway.

Once again, we cannot stress how important this is. These details will ultimately make or break a project like this. Take Metrorail for example, it is a great transit system but the surroundings are beyond lousy.

The point of this article was not to criticize Streewise or Larry Lebowitz - after all he’s just the messenger - but rather to condemn a plan which is seemingly being hailed as the golden ticket for fixing congestion. The fact of the matter is, for any real change to come of any of these plans (Metrorail, Bay Link, Miami Streetcar, Busway included) we need to push for land use changes more favorable to living lifestyles which are not automatically governed by the necessity of owning a vehicle.

Mecca Farms = Mega Sprawl?

Remember the debacle which erupted in Palm Beach when attempting to identify a location for the massive Scripps Institute? Mecca Farms and Boca Raton were all suggested as alternative sites for the massive Bioresearch center, however in the end, a location in Jupiter near FAU’s campus was selected. In the end, here is why the Mecca Farms site fell apart:

The plan came to a halt two years later when a federal judge sided with environmentalists and ruled that the project’s potential environmental impacts hadn’t been adequately studied. Under deadline pressure, commissioners moved the Scripps Florida headquarters to a smaller, urban site at Florida Atlantic University’s MacArthur campus in Jupiter.

Somehow, the voice of reason prevails over absurd westward development, even if it was for a monumental institution; this project had absolutely no reason to pave over thousands of acres of farmland. Palm Beach County paid $60 million for the Mecca Farms complex and is now trying to figure out what to do with the rural designated land. Considering the reasons why the institution was blocked from building here, their “ideas” may surprise you:

More than four years after the county bought the 1,919-acre property with a sprawling Scripps Florida science campus in mind, commissioners are taking steps to usher in a new reality: suburban home development.

Suburban home development? How is this environmentally friendly? Well, it isn’t but they have some ideas which are actually worse:

County administrators want to use about 100 acres for a landfill, set aside land for water marshes and environmental improvements and package the rest for home builders.

Palm Beach County has the unique opportunity to conserve thousands of acres as farmland, able of producing enough goods to satisfy the needs of much of the South Florida area. This is a pristine opportunity to make our region sustainable, by actually producing food locally and Palm Beach County commissioners are looking to throw it away on yet another ridiculous sprawled out single family home compound. With oil recently reaching $100 a barrel, I am shocked to see still autocentric development mindset…

We’re all Strangers Here

I just completed Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself and I came across a couple of quotes which are noteworthy:

“…Although the bookshop was no more than seventy or eighty feet away, I discovered that there was no way to get there on foot. There was a traffic outlet for cars, but no provision for pedestrians, and no way to cross on foot without dodging over six lanes of swiftly moving traffic. In the end, I had to get in our car and drive across. There was simply no other way. At the time it seemed ridiculous and exasperating, but afterward I realized that I was probably the only person ever even to have entertained the notion of negotiating that intersection on foot…”

Sound familiar? I can think of dozens of roads and intersections locally which could serve as the exact road Bill is describing. Try crossing Kendall, US-1, or any other stretch or road and you too will notice that pedestrian planning is an afterthought, at most.

“…You find it at Disneyland, where people flock to stroll up and down a Main Street just like the ones they abandoned wholesale in the 1950s. It happens at restored colonial villages like Williamsburg, Virginia and Mystic, Connecticut, where visitors drive long distances and pay good money to savor the sort of compact and tranquil atmosphere that they long ago fled for the accommodating sprawl of suburbs. I can’t begin to account for it, but it appears that in this country these days we really only want something when it isn’t really real…”

I get the feeling Bill Bryson gets “it.” I’ve long noticed the obsession with fakeness in this country. Celebration and Tradition, two newer Florida “towns” immediately come to mind, let alone Disney or any of the various “town centers” popping up across our landscape. More on this subject later, I get the feeling it’s a topic we’ll be addressing more often…

Understanding Street Capacity

Below is a series of pictures that I just love. I think they do an excellent job illustrating the concept of street capacity, making clear how much valuable urban street space is wasted by private automobile travel.
This first picture above shows 24 cars on a block in some town. It’s amazing how much space is taken up just so a couple dozen people can move around (or store their vehicles if the outside columns of cars are “parked” in this picture).

The second picture below clearly shows how much street space is wasted by all these private, single- occupant vehicles.

The third picture below clearly shows how much street space is preserved when mass transportation such as streetcars or buses are used to transport the same number of people through uniform space.

The last picture below illustrates just how small a space is used by the same number of people when they are pedestrians.
All of these pictures help us to see the intrinsic link between land use (e.g. density, urban design, parking requirements, etc) and transportation. In turn, it helps us understand how high quality urban land uses that emphasize density, pedestrian-oriented design, and transit instead of automobiles actually make for more sustainable environments than less dense or more sprawling locales which facilitate private automobile usage.

When you can to begin to grasp this concept, you will have begun to understand how unsustainable the auto-centric city is even with an unlimited supply of the cleanest, greenest fuel technology.

Photos courtesy of terrian.org and streetsblog.com

Jonesing For Quality Density

I thought it would be a good idea to provide a visual of how auto-centric land use destroys the urban continuity of a neighborhood. The above picture is an aerial photograph of Manhattan’s Upper West Side between 83rd and 86th streets, while the bottom picture is an aerial of Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood between NW 23rd and NW 27th St. It is amazing how much land is wasted to provide parking in the Miami photo - you’re looking at almost a 1:1 ratio of square footage allocated for parking to square footage allocated for housing. Much of this land could have been used to build more affordable housing units, which is obviously in high demand throughout Miami-Dade. And, before you cry foul, this development is located only five blocks from the Santa Clara metrorail station.

Also, notice how the compact nature of the New York neighborhood saves massive numbers of acres to be allocated to parks and open spaces nearby (Central Park). If the Upper West Side, as well as the other other neighborhoods that surround Central Park, were designed in a similar form as the Allapattah development, Central Park would not be possible as we know it, because the land just would not be available.

Moreover, the density in the Upper West Side affords small, independent, non-chain retail to thrive. So many people live within one square mile that it becomes possible to have several stores offering similar categories of merchandise within the same block, as well as on every block. Consequently, residents can find everything they need on their own block, in turn cutting down on demand for long distance trips and sustaining small businesses versus regional retail as in Miami.

Throughout most of Miami-Dade County, densities are too low to support this kind of small business on every block. As a result, regional retailers (often big box or chain) stand alone catering to populations within multiple-mile-radii. Of course, this requires most people to access these regional retail centers by automobile, which leads to bad city codes requiring the kind of auto-oriented land use in the picture above. This leads me to my final point…

The Upper West Side, a rather high-income neighborhood, affords people to eschew car ownership (over 75% of residents in the Upper West Side don’t own cars), which easily leads to savings of several thousands of dollars a year, while the low-income residents of Allapattah continue to be compelled to an auto-centric paradigm.

I could go on foreover about the positives of density, given quality urban design of course. However, for this post I wanted to focus on the visual.

"Fan Mail" Part One

I’m going to take some time to address some “fan mail” I have received via e-mail, forum commentary, or blog comments. Here is one from a forum friend of mine Paul:

Sorry, Gabe. This one is going to hurt. The vote to prioritize the South Link Metrorail extension (Alternative 5) over the Bus Rapid Transit System (Alternative 6) for Kendall failed by one vote on June 22nd! The Miami Planning Organization voted 8-8 for Commissioner Katy Sorenson’s motion to prioritize Metrorail expansion over the other alternatives. The board then voted for the Bus Rapid Transit System which won by a popular vote of 8-5. This system will provide an extension of the current Metorail track to US-1 and 104th. From this stop an elevated busway will take passengers from the 104th station to 312th street, over the existing busway, which will be turned into an express toll lane. We can all thank Coral Gables Councilman William Kerdyk for leaving the country without making his opinion known or making a proxy vote cast (Mari… Monday Candidate?). His vote, which would have been in favor of the extension according to Robert MacDougall, would have been enough to approve the metrorail extension plan. Instead we will get a raised busway and two more lanes for US-1. We can also thank Commissioner Jimenez, who represents Pinecrest, for leading the front against the metrorail. Find out more about MPO’s decision in The Kendall Gazette or the United Citizens for South Link website.

Ouch, yeah that did hurt. Thanks Paul. I actually wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, after I attended the UCSL meeting. The MPO is really in the wrong hands. Jimenez (like all our commission members) is completely oblivious to what the constituents really want and is basically doing what he pleases. Extending metrorail to 104th is meaningless and will do nothing to improve our local traffic issues, enhance our public transportation, or increase ridership. Honestly, it should extend south to The Falls mall at least in order to make some sort of positive impact.

The elevated busway you speak of is actually just a bunch bridges placed at key intersections. This appears to be some sort of a ploy to help traffic flow on US-1 so that cars may turn westward unimpeded. This will however allow the busway to serve as a genuine BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) Line. This is crucial for the 10,000-15,000 daily busway users and has proven to be a success in other cities with dedicated ROW’s for buses…

I got some more great mail that I will reply to later today…Thanks for writing in, Keep it up everyone…

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