Currently viewing the category: "Miami-Dade Transit"
  • Changing the practice of architecture: A group of Scottish scientists have invented a 3-d laser modeling device that produces ultrafine images of structures.   “The drawings and computer simulations long cooked up by developers and architects will be replaced by more detailed, easier-to-comprehend, more objective views, in essence democratizing knowledge.” (NY Times)
  • Still truckin’: The rally for SunRail is gaining momentum as various civic groups and elected officials back the rail plan. (Winter Park Observer)
  • Congratulations Miami, your political landscape has changed dramatically. What will that mean for transit, walkability and cycling? Only time will tell. (Herald)
  • Why aren’t we doing this:  Check out this great article from the Transport Politic about Tampa’s plans to fund a light rail expansion with a penny sales tax. “The local Metropolitan Planning Organization incorporated the rail project into its long-term plans and has completely reversed course in favor of transit funding; current spending is tilted 83% to highways, while the long-term plan, with almost $12 billion in expenditures earmarked by 2035, provides for a 50-50 split between transit and roads.” This is exactly the sort of shift that needs to happen with our own MPO. It is time to dramatically alter the funding formula of the MPO in favor of mass transit and non-motorized transportation. (Transport Politic)
  • Good News/Bad News: The commission adopted a series of bus service cuts/adjustments, increasing headways in most instances. The good news is that they abolished bus to bus transfers. (Miami Dade County)

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Miami-Dade County via their Miami-Dade Transit Department puts out government contracts to improve our public transportation.  I work for a construction company that was invited to bid on one of these projects and this is my story. On September 28, 2009, along with a business partner, I visited five Metro-Rail Stations to photograph potential job sites.  These public sites are “guarded” by the private security company Wackenhut (whose contract has not been renewed). The treatment I received from these taxpayer funded  goons was so shocking that I had to share my experience with you.

At the first station I had no problem doing my work, I took my photographs and moved on. As I walked up to the second station I was greeted by two power-tripping guards that quickly welcomed me into the reality of the horrors of governmental and private company unions and their inane bureaucracies. To be clear, at all times I had in my possession the plans and contract book from Miami-Dade County stating the job description, locations, and purpose. I also identified myself and my intentions at every stop. It was at this stop where the debate and discussion on one’s constitutional right to photograph in public blossomed.  I spent about one hour trying to get into the station to photograph the area, which I was not allowed to do.  Out of constitutional principal, I decided to challenge their claim that I needed permission and could not photograph the facilities.  As I waited in front of these Wackenhut guards, I called Miami-Dade Transit and was on the phone being transferred from department to department until I was finally transferred to Eric Muntan, Chief of the Office of Safety and Security at Miami-Dade Transit.  To be fair, he was very helpful and solved the issue at that particular station.

I spoke to Mr. Muntan for several minutes explaining the situation and heard his take on the matter.  I was upset and quickly stated my constitutional right to photograph in a public place, which I had repeated to the guards, to which they robotically replied that  I had no right to film in a “private place.”  I did not know that Miami-Dade Public Transportation Stations were PRIVATE!

Mr. Muntan was very respectful on the phone and contacted the necessary parties to inform the guards in front of me to let me in.  Unfortunately, his order to the other stations never went through.

At subsequent stations I already knew what to expect.  Once again, I approached the station and introduced myself and explained myself. This guard appeared to be calm and wise, at least I thought based on his calm, non-emotional, respectful tone of voice.  All that changed after he began talking about his “interpretations” on the law.

At this point, I was just so amazed and shocked that I wanted to hear more on his rationale.  This guard had some of the best quotes of the day.  Some of them are: “Miami-Dade Transit is not Public,” “The Constitution does not apply on Miami-Dade Transit grounds,” “The County Ordinances supersede the Constitution,” and the best justification for those lovers of the expansion of the police state…”9/11,” yes he said, “Now, after 9/11 your constitutional rights are different.” At this point, I was in shock that a Wackenhut Security Guard was stating this was the policy of the county and Wackenhut.  He spoke with so much confidence and belief in the absurdities he was uttering that I said to myself, “This country is doomed.” This was a nice older man repeating unconstitutional, unfounded, non-statutory propaganda and made up law…Welcome to America.

The last stop:  I am Ricky Rodriguez and I am going to take pictures now.  Period. After having put my business partner through torture as we rode around the MetroRail I told him, “do not worry, I will just photograph from the public entrance with my zoom…I can’t take any more stupidity.” So thus, I went into the final station. I went directly up to the guards and started talking to them.  I told them who I was, what I was doing, showed them my county contract bid book, and told them I was going to photograph from the public area.  I did not wait for an answer at this point.  I was fast and aggressive but calm and respectful in my tone.  My presence was fast and did not seem to interrupt their group discussion.  I did not give them a chance to offend our constitutional liberties with their comments.  I quickly thanked them and waived goodbye.

The unfortunate experience I had with Wackenhut underpins the bloated, inefficient, and disgraceful state of our transit system. The County should be aware that its mismanagement and abandonment of the transit system could have legal consequences, especially when their hired representatives violate the Constitution of the United States. As Benjamin Franklyn said, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” I for one will not be returning to the MetroRail.

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  • In some zoning trickery Miami-Dade is applying to have horse racing at MIA (but off site) so they install slot machines in the airport? Really? How about we just concentrate on completing the never ending construction before we embark on horse racing and gambling.
  • Metrozoo’s waterparks are moving forward… unfortunately. Good bye last remaining pine rocklands in Dade County.
  • Miami-Dade Transit gets a boost from investors with A+ rating: “The ‘A+’ rating on the bonds reflects solid coverage of debt service from a voter-approved one-half cent sales tax despite some recent softening, sound historical growth in both sales tax revenues and transit ridership, and Miami-Dade County’s broad, diverse economic base, which is a significant factor in the county’s ‘AA-’ general obligation bond rating.”
  • Congrats Mayor Manny: The Southwest Florida AIA invited Mayor Diaz to give the keynote address at their annual dinner for his Miami 21 efforts.
  • A new use for abandoned railways in Dade: “GROW is a nonprofit, urban garden that operates on an abandoned railway track near the Miami International Airport. It is a grass-root, public education initiative. After nearly two years, it finally gets the blessing of the county to operate.”

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Announcing DawnTown 2009: Metromover!  DawnTown is the annual international architecture competition for Downtown Miami.  This year’s topic is a new station for Downtown Miami’s elevated public transportation system, Metromover.  Full contest details are at www.dawntown.org.

Registration is open to all, and closes October 14, 2009.  The jury includes:

  • Terry Riley, Director of the Miami Art Museum
  • Gillian Thomas, President of the Miami Science Museum
  • Mera Rubell of the Rubell Family Collection
  • Dennis Scholl, Miami program Director of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
  • Harpal Kapoor, Director of Miami-Dade Transit

Prize are $8000, $4000, and $2000.  The award ceremony will take place on Friday, December 4, at Marquis, the luxury condo and hotel tower across the street from the competition site.

For more information and to download competition materials, please go to www.dawntown.org

DawnTown 2009: Metromover is sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Miami Downtown Development Authority, Marquis, and Akerman Senterfitt. The competition is produced in partnership with the University of Miami, Florida International University, and Miami-Dade College schools of architecture, Design & Architecture Senior High, the Miami Art Museum, and the City of Miami.

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Last night I moderated attended a transportation panel that brought together highway folks with transit folks in the hopes that they would interact and teach each other a thing or two about how we can advance transit in our community.  The panel included  Alice Bravo (FDOT District 6 Director of Transportation Systems Development), County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez (District 7), Harpal Kapoor (Director of Miami-Dade Transit), and Javier Rodriguez (Director of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority).

My thinking was that there was  some secret that the highway planners knew that could enlighten us transit advocates as to why transit consistently fails in our region, but I was wrong. There is no secret, just institutional malaise, lack of vision, and as one member of the audience described it, a ‘bubble’ mentality.

I was disappointed in myself on my way home because I came armed with a series of tough questions about why we don’t have transit, and how the panelists (as the responsible parties) could do something to change the status quot. But I didn’t ask my questions - I was too busy listening to the spin. Don’t get me wrong, I learned an awful lot about how things work, but it wasn’t because of anything that the panelists said. Their insulated and distant positions on the need and demand for transit was more revealing than any of their answers were. It was as if their opinions of what ‘works’ in Miami, after so many years of experience, had been calcified into facts. ‘This is the way it is in Miami-Dade County’ was the idea touted by some , with Commissioner Gimenez sharing with me in conversation that his apparent cynicism came from years of dealing with inept transit management (an understandable feeling considering his efforts to address the management of the PTP).

I abandoned my questions early on because of the enthusiastic and vocal audience of transit professionals, planners and interested citizens who came up with their own questions for the panel. I was happy to see such an interest in the subject, and thought it was a signal to the members of the panel that they need to get moving on providing creative transit solutions.

Funding dominated the conversation (as it will when discussing transit issues), and I was happy that Javier Betancourt (Miami DDA’s Manager for Urban Planning and Transportation) asked the panel why transit doesn’t get the same funding that highways do. No one could give a simple, straight answer, but I think the answer to this question is the key to solving our mobility problems (and no, I don’t think our highways are the solution).

Ysela Llort, Assistant County Manager in charge of transportation was in the audience, and she answered the question by describing the competitive  and difficult Federal New Starts process for building transit infrastructure. Commissioner Gimenez described the problem as involving the operations and maintenance side of transit once the infrastructure is up and running. (Ysela also made this point.)

In conversation before and after both Commissioner Gimenez and Javier Rodriguez made interesting points about the funding conundrum. Why do roads and highways get funded over transit? Because government doesn’t have to get involved in the operations and maintenance side of the equation-  that is largely the responsibility of the citizenry (you are responsible for maintaining and fueling your car).

Lack of density was also mentioned, but what was not mentioned was lack of demand. I said several times over the evening that we need to get people out of their cars by making driving less convenient, to which the Commissioner and Alice Bravo grimaced. What an un-American thing to force people out of their cars. I disagree. The point of my comment was not that we should make people abandon their cars, but to provide more alternatives. How can we justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars improving flow on the Palmetto - which is within the fiefdom of FDOT :) - while not providing a convenient alternative to people who don’t want to sit in traffic. We wouldn’t have to improve flow if we gave people an easier choice to make.

I heard many promising things as well, most notably from Javier Rodriguez, who really gets the bigger picture. I’ll write more about him and his thoughts tomorrow. All being said, I came away with the hope that we have things to look forward too.

PS. Harpal is awesome. If anyone wants a free EASY Metro card, send me your email.

Join us at two public meetings where you can share your ideas regarding Miami-Dade Transit’s Transit Development Plan. The TDP is a 10-year plan that focuses on the development of transit services in Miami-Dade County based on where they are mostly needed. For more information call María Batista at 786-469-5245 or send an email to BPB@miamidade.gov There will be two meetings:

Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations Town Hall Meeting
Kendall Village Center – Pavilion
8625 SW 124th Avenue Miami, FL 33183
Monday, August 3, 2009 7 p.m.

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City of North Miami Beach Planning and Zoning Meeting
Council Chambers
17011 NE 19th Avenue
North Miami Beach, FL 33162
Monday, August 10, 2009 7 p.m.

According to Metro Magazine Miami-Dade Transit has been honored by the National Association of Counties for their Train Tracker service.

If you have not already check out the Train Tracker by visiting www.miamidade.gov/transit and click “Where is the Train?” in the left navigation bar under “Rider Tools.” If using a mobile device, visit www.miamidade.gov/transit/mobile/.

Congrats MDT!

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Heard on the C bus from the Beach to Downtown this afternoon, 5 o’clock:

English tourist: “I am trying to get to downtown Miami, will this bus take me there.”

Bus Driver: “Oh honey, there ain’t no reason for you to go there after 5pm. There isn’t anything to see!”

While I slightly disagree with the well-intentioned driver, is this the kind of downtown we want, the one where the bus driver discourages anyone from going?

Brickell has made great improvements in nightlife of late, however downtown still lags behind. What type of nightlife would you like to see in downtown Miami?

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Lot going on today, but there always is isn’t there…

  • The Miami-Dade Office of Sustainability & the City of Miami are teaming up to get grant money from the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance by forming a “non-profit entity to deliver energy services to residents and businesses within County geographic boundaries that provide performance based energy audits, retrofits and renewable energy across building types.”
  • Cutting the fat: Miami Dade Transit is cutting bus lines and expenses. “Buses are to serve the Metromover system but are to end at the Omni station to encourage riders to use the mover to get around the city “to reduce our mileage and also traffic congestion in downtown,” Mr. Kapoor said. Officials based the changes on passenger counts and rider feedback.”
  • Plan B:  Now that the commission has voted not to fix the CITT, Commissioner Gimenez is going to try to organize a voter referendum. The CITT is answering with its own Plan B: “The trust and county continue to mull using light rail or bus rapid transit to serve the corridors that were promised heavy rail…Some trust members suggested also considering a sunset provision for the measure that mingles the surtax funds with the general transit budget, as there may be a financially healthier time in the future that could eliminate or lessen the need for what administrators call “unification.”
  • Tri-rail funding from Miami-Dade Counyt  is ok…for now. “Attempts to secure a dedicated state funding source for the cash-strapped South Florida commuter rail system failed during the legislative session, and Tri-Rail officials plan to nearly halve weekday service and eliminate weekend trains anticipating reduced funding from local governments.”
  • Miami 21…delayed again. The next earliest meeting is in June (barring some unknown/unannounced special meeting between now and June 11).

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Pedestrians, bicyclists, bus riders, and motorists be warned: the easternmost bridge of Venetian Causeway will be closed for construction from May 1 - May 30. While it is understood that maintenance is essential to keeping the bridge safe, the loss of this major east-west link presents several challenges for all of its users, especially  pedestrians, bicyclists, and moped operators who depend daily upon the Venetian for a safe link between the City of Miami and Miami Beach.

According to a Miami-Dade County construction fact sheet I obtained from a toll booth operator, all traffic will be diverted to the MacArthur Causeway for the duration of the bridge closure. While the detour is  inconvenient for all of the above, the detour is potentially life threatening for the aforementioned groups, those who do not depend on enclosed motor vehicles for their daily transportation.  Since the fact sheet mentions obstruction to motor vehicles only, and nothing for all other users, it is extremely unlikely that the County will take any additional steps in ensuring any viable options for pedestrians or bicyclists to travel in a manner to which they are accustomed.

Certain MetroBus lines will likely enjoy some overcrowding as a result, but will likely be the safest alternative for those traveling between  Miami and Miami Beach. However, the monthly cost and inconvenience of traveling by such a mode will further impede many Venetian Causeway users.

Thus, please join Transit Miami in asking the County to protect both shoulders of the MacArthur Causeway with some type of temporary barrier so that bicyclists and pedestrians may proceed without immediately fearing for their lives. While such a provision will surely not appeal to every user, it will do much to alleviate the temporary convenience.  and allow people to travel more safely.

To make this simple request, please contact Delfin Molins, Public Information Officer for Miami-Dade County Public Works, with this simple request. Delfin may be reached at 305-375-1682, or delfin@miamidade.gov. As always, phone calls tend to be more direct and effective.

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Sorry for the hiatus folks, lots goin’ on.  Hope everyone is having a happy and relaxing Easter weekend. Some interesting bits of news flying around, thought I would share…

The County Manager’s office has released its grant application for 2009 Federal Transit dollars (not stimulus related). MDT is requesting approximately $87 Million dollars for a variety of projects including metrorail maintenance ($80 Million) and bus-related improvements ($7 Million).  I’m happy to see that they are not just raiding the CITT again, although it doesn’t address the basic funding problem MDT has which is that it doesn’t get its fair share of General Fund dollars.

The Transit Committee and the full Commission get these silly monthly Orange Line reports that don’t say anything substantive. Not to mention that a new plan for using the CITT dollars still hasn’t been created, and the only thing we taxpayers have to show for our half-cent contribution is a proposal for monthly or quarterly transit ‘summits’. Greaaaaat. Now they can tell remind us on a regular basis how they are mismanaging the transit system and wasting our money. I can’t wait.

I was happy to read that the County Manager is not going to renew Wackenhut’s contract to patrol transit stations (ahem, what ever happened to the police?) I was also happy to read that some of our criticisms of MDT, the MPO and the commission are finally being recognised:

Some critics have called for creation of a transit authority, removing the county government’s control of the transportation system.

Read here and here for more commentary on what should be done with MDT and our transit system. That should give commissioners something to talk about at their quarterly transit summits.

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The outer loop of the downtown Metromover stopped dead in its tracks early this morning, according to this article.  Apparently, the service halt is due to a problematic switch.

Let’s hope MDT engineers can twist the right lug nut, or what have you, and fix it.

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Infrastructure stimulus funds are coming from two different sections of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, one is for transit & the other for highways. Although the MPO prioritized certain projects at the last meeting, we still don’t know exactly which projects will be funded. This is how funding is distributed in Miami-Dade:

Transit:

$132 million in Transit Capital Assistance to be divided between Surface Transportation Projects (80%) and Transit Projects (with Miami Dade transit getting 80% and municipalities getting 20%).

$5.3 million Fixed-Guideway Infrastructure Investment

$0.00 million Capital Investment Grants (out of possible $700m)

Highways:

$126 million from the FDOT for highways, roads & bridges.

$5.5 million for transportation enhancement - only to be used for pedestrian improvements, bike lanes, & trails.

TOTAL:$260million-ish

The transit stimulus comes at an unfortunate time for MDT because of its Medium rating with the FTA. Stimulus funds are allocated within existing funding programs, which means that Miami-Dade is missing out on money from the Capital Investment Grants program (which operates under the new starts/small starts rules). Too bad.

Carlos Gimenez pushed for the 20% municipal share, which I’m torn about since municipalities tend to spend the money on road projects (just look at what gets funded by the PTP’s $200 million annual municipal share). In this case it makes political sense to get small local projects off the ground so that you can put a sign on them and say “See, this is where we spent your money - on this sign!”

Lets face it, the majority of people are never going to notice the millions going to the intermodal center, or the $112 million going to the airport viaduct - and that’s ok as long as they see something happening in their own neighborhood too.

I’m happy that the City of Miami is funding trolleys with its portion of the transit funds. There are a bunch of really good projects on these lists including streetscape upgrades to Ponce de Leon Boulevard and a tolley in Doral. Even these little projects will work toward a better balance of local vs. county wide transit service (part of why eliminating some routes is the right thing to do…more on this later).