4/26/07

Miami's First Green Mayor





The Mayor delivered an historic, encouraging speech today at the State of the City Address yesterday. Among the major items mentioned by the Mayor, there was a heavy emphasis on becoming a greener, more sustainable city. In support, he mentioned that Miami 21, the Streetcar, higher densities, green buildings, and an improved parks system are crucial to accomplishing these goals. The Mayor even went so far as to challenge everyone in the City to change their traditional light bulbs to compact fluorescent ones, which save loads of energy and subsequently cut down significantly on CO2 emissions. As you can see from these statements, as well as quotes below, the Mayor was very critical of sprawl and clearly understands the dynamics of sustainability:

  • "We will move away from government policies that invest in sprawl".
  • "Cities (incl. Miami) have been planned around cars and not people - well, not anymore. We need to move away from government policies that invest in sprawl".
  • "Make no mistake, the low density suburban sprawl the characterizes growth in South Florida is the true enemy to sustainability...the cure for sprawl is a return to the core, bringing people together so they can live, work, shop and play close to where they live".
  • "The message will be clear, you either build green (in Miami), or don't built at all".
  • "We need to invest in a streetcar system today, like the one we used to have. And, we must do it while we can still afford it. Rather than wait years and Miamians (wonder) why we failed to act, a streetcar system is an inevitable solution - Miami can either pay for it now, or pay for it later - leaving future generations to pay a much, much higher bill to ensure sustainability".
When he made the last statement above about the streetcar, I shook my head. Both publicly and privately, I've been using almost that identical line for at least a year now to help explain the value of going through with the streetcar project. Miamians should be excited that they finally have a Mayor that gets it. People need to start looking at what has/likely will be accomplished under his terms:


Considering that Miami was a nearly bankrupt, sprawling, quasi-urban mess with a junk bond rating just 10 years ago, it puts into perspective the historic legacy of Mayor Diaz and you've really got to give props to what he has done for the City, at least from an urban planning and livability perspective.

Miami, See it like Anything but a Native; Bayfront Park and Flagler

I continued my walking tour around the Citi Center and Wachovia towers and along the Intercontinental Hotel as I headed into Bayfront Park. I must begin by saying that Bayfront Park has incredible potential. It’s a beautiful public place which for the past decades has sadly been neglected. Efforts to promote the park as something other than a park, has led it to become cramped and paved over with too much cement. The attraction should be its’ natural beauty and the seaside serenity offered by Biscayne Bay. The park is direly underused, but as you’ll see, it also has incredible design flaws which detract from the experience of visiting an urban park. The picture below depicts what I’m talking about, just look at the width of the sidewalk. The walkways in the park are better suited handle a couple of 18 wheelers side-by-side than a few people strolling around. It was just after noon when I walked through here and there was a nice breeze coming in from the bay, however, the heat radiating upwards from the cement was nearly unbearable.

In an apparent attempt to provide yet another use for the park, the city is constructing a children’s play area to accommodate some of the families moving into the downtown condos. I like the idea, most parks have places for kids to play but I am worried that the park has already become too cluttered.

Looking back south along a slightly less wide path, we see from a different angle the proposed downtown station for commuter ferry service.

I noticed something unusual. There were people in the park, mainly concentrated along the shore, but most of them were sitting in the grass or leaning up against the coconut palms. I was wondering why there wasn’t any suitable seating in the park when I came across the vast concrete bench apparently designed to fry anyone in the park who wanted sit. Nearly all the available seating in the park was in direct sunlight. The few shade trees in the park all had someone sitting below them on the grass…

Looking back into downtown along Flagler St., we see 50 Biscayne topping off to the right. Once again notice the broad sidewalks.

There is a big green fence swallowing up half the park and blue one obstructing another quarter of it. The green fence is part of what I assume is Miami’s newest tourist attraction in Bayfront Park: Miami Skylift. This contraption will lift visitors 500 ft into the air, providing the first observation-like platform in Miami. I first encountered this object when I visited Berlin. Rising outside my Hotel window in Potsdammer Platz was one of the first of these floating observation decks.

The second major obstruction, surrounded by a large blue fence is that of the Sunset Cinemas, also known as Movies by the Bay. Movies by the Bay is an intriguing idea concocted by the Hertig Family of New Jersey which shows movies in an open air theater every night. Unfortunately, as the Riptide recently reported, the cinema is struggling to attract enough visitors. If it wasn’t for the huge blue fence, I’d be a little more receptive to the idea, but it leaves me wondering why the cinema couldn’t open up shop in the unused open air amphitheater just across the park.

The other recent attraction to Bayfront Park is the Miami Trapeze course.

Heading into the CBD along Flagler, I decided to check out the streetscape project and vibrancy of the emerging retail district. A café owner is attempting to create a sidewalk café type atmosphere:

They just don’t build them like this anymore. This is the Alfred I. DuPont Building (Marsh & Saxelby, 1938) at 169 Flagler St. It is an example of Depression Moderne architecture, using a restrained Art Deco style. The lobby is allegedly one of the most spectacular in Miami, featuring bronze bas-relief elevator doors.

The Olympia Theater (Gusman Center for the Performing Arts) built in 1925, was designed by John Eberson and was the first air-conditioned building in Miami. The beautiful theater inside features 246 twinkling stars in the ceiling, 12 foot long chandeliers, and a beautiful wood paneled lobby. The Theater is also home to the downtown tourism office, where I stopped by and obtained a self-guided walking tour and much of the background information on these buildings.

The Historic Walgreens, now home to La Epoca Department store, was built in 1936 by Zimmerman, Saxe & MacBride, Ehmann. Designed in a streamline modern style, this building was home to Walgreens for over 50 years; it featured a popular cafeteria and was only the third Walgreen open outside of Chicago at the time. In a typical American fashion, Walgreens abandoned the location for the cookie cutter like store a couple blocks along Flagler. Lame. La Epoca is a jewel in Miami’s urban core. The original department store was founded in 1885 in Havana, Cuba. It was seized by the Castro administration in 1960, leaving then owner Diego Alonso no choice but to start over in Miami. The Miami store opened in 1965 and was located next to the aforementioned Alfred I Dupont Building until 2005, when the store relocated to the former Walgreens store.

The First National Bank of Miami building still standing today was built in 1922 and was designed by Mowbray & Uffinger. When the market crashed in the 1920’s after the Florida land boom, Fist National Bank was the only bank in Miami that did not fail. The building is currently being restored and converted into the Flagler First Condominium project.

The Downtown Burdines store (sorry Macy’s, I don't care for the name games) was originally built in 1912; however it was remodeled in 1936 in the streamline art deco style. This store is the anchor of the downtown retail industry. The city is working closely with the store to clean up the surrounding area after Macy’s threatened to leave.

The last couple of pictures below depict some of the urban decay and grit which still covers much of this area. I am glad to note that some new stores have started to move into the area including an upscale optical store as well as some chain shoe stores. The downtown American Apparel, located North of Flagler however recently closed. Revitalizing this area and creating a vibrant shopping district in the urban core needs to become a top priority for our city. With thousands of condos coming into the area, we need to have an area with easily accessible pedestrian oriented shops and cafes…

Stick around for part three, where I was apprehended by a US Marshall for being normal...

4/25/07

I decided to post Steven's excellent recap of yesterday's meeting regarding transit along the Kendall corridor. I'm glad someone was able to attend to share this with us:

I was able to attend the meeting tonight at the “Kendall Village” location. First and foremost, I would like to say that the location is a bleak reminder to what we need to avoid in planning. It is essentially a big mall that is offset from the main roadway and is a huge waste of space. As I walked through the area I couldn’t help but wonder how much different the place would be had there been another level or two with low cost apartments rather than the community-like environment they were trying to achieve by putting roads through the middle of the mall.

Anyways, on to the meeting!
The room was surrounded by pictures depicting different various transit alternatives ranging from BRT to Heavy Rail to DMUs. Next to the large pictures of these different transit technologies were maps depicting route alternatives with charts depicting cost vs. ridership predictions vs. effect on traffic. Additionally there was a table where they were showing traffic analysis of the Kendall area should the alternatives actually be constructed. We were also able to talk with the different planners about the different portions of the projects.

The actual meeting portion started with a representative of the project speaking to the group about where in the stages of development they were (presently in the alternatives analysis part). The different alignments were as they are presented on the website and are listed as follows:

East-West
1. Exclusive Right-of-way BRT down the middle of Kendall Drive from US1 to Krome Ave.
2. Metrorail or Heavy Rail down the middle of Kendall Drive from US1 to around 152nd Ave.
3. Exclusive Right-of-way BRT from Dadeland North Metrorail down SR 874 to Kendall and then out west to Krome Ave.
North-South
1. Heavy Rail or Metrorail extension from FIU to 152nd Street
2. BRT running from FIU down Coral Way to 137th Ave and then south to 152nd Street
Alternate
1. CSX alignment running DMUs (Diesel Multiple Units) from MIC to Metrozoo
2. CSX alignment running DMUs from MIC to Tamiami Airport

The main differences between the CSX alignments are where stations would be placed and how frequently trains would run and if double tracking would be an option.

The floor was then handed over to another member of the planning team who discussed traffic concerns. During his presentation, many interruptions took place in the form of audience members questioning what was being presented. Such things sparking debate and uproar from the crowd was the amount of time that a gate effects traffic flow being only 45 seconds. Additionally, on a model they produced based on actual traffic numbers, several members of the crowd spoke in disbelief that the numbers were accurate. Prior to the completion of the presentation and opening of the floor to questions, someone in the audience interrupted repeatedly asking what percentage of the people in the area would benefit from the construction of a heavy rail alternative.

When the floor was opened to questions, a group of citizens had claimed a 9 minute block of time to present on how they were displeased with the CSX alternative and how it would be inappropriate. Their presentation was fair and well produced. Unfortunately what followed the three person presentation was more complaining about the CSX corridor and how it would keep people awake at night as well as block traffic among other things. Very little was said about Metrorail, but some were obviously for it while others were clearly against it. One woman said that the only way that she would support it coming down Kendall is if she were compensated for it obstructing her view.

The people complaining about the CSX issue pretty much dominated the entire meeting from the middle of presentations all the way to the very end. One threatened a class-action lawsuit should it be considered in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. Many called for the heads of the planners and made claims that they were incompetent and unprepared for the meeting, in spite of the fact that we are in the alternatives analysis phase and alignments are only now starting to be considered.
I figured the CSX issue would dominate the conversation, seeing that a) people here are against any at-grade rail options because it would further hamper their vehicular commute and b) there are far too many houses built along the rail corridor, another example of planning gone amiss. Lucky for us, Florida Law prohibits any sort of compensation requirement for "blocked views."

4/24/07

The Miami Mentality still going strong:

However, some opponents of the plan say it would only worsen traffic.

“This interferes with east west traffic on all corridors between [Southwest] 152 street and the Miami Intermodal Center, said Erick Moffett. “It also impacts several avenues north and south."
Right, transit will make the situation worse for us because it will interfere with east-west car travel. You know, never mind the fact that the east-west travel could ride the train instead, that would be too practical... I'll touch some more on the subject later...

Click Here for the CBS 4 Video.

Let's Plan!

The MPO is looking for public input concerning future transit options in the Kendall area. Proposed options include an extension of metrorail, BRT, or extending tri-rail further south through the existing CSX tracks...


Sorry for the short notice, but, the meetings are today and tomorrow:

Tuesday-
6-8 PM @ Kendall Village Center

Wednesday-
6-8 PM @ Country Walk Homeowners Association Clubhouse

For more information on the project, click here. I will not be able to attend, but, if anyone can make it out and would like to share what happened and what the most common residents concerns were, please e-mail us: movemiami@gmail.com.

4/23/07

The Incredible Potential of Biking in Miami

I'm convinced that bicycles will play a major role in Miami's transportation future. Why? Because biking can act as a major facilitator bridging the gap between driving and walking, especially within moderate proximities to transit. Biking is much faster than walking, but non-motorized. However, I have not seen the vision to make this happen yet.

On my way to Coconut Grove station recently, I noticed a flyer promoting a forum for county residents to come comment on a proposed enhancement project to the southern tier of the "M-Path". I immediately thought this was a horrible idea, and regret that my frenetic schedule did not allow me to attend this forum. This is the kind of project that should be pursued only after you have a thriving, comprehensive mass transit system, city-wide latticework of bike lanes/greenways, and an outstanding pedestrian realm. Not only do I believe this project lacks vision, but it is redundant. Instead of encouraging people to ride bikes under the metro's only rapid transit line, emphasis should be on connecting neighborhoods and thoroughfares to transit stations.

A good example for realizing such a system can be found within the 27th Avenue beautification project, which should be finalized in the next couple months. I find this to be one of the most encouraging, visionary projects in a long time in Miami. The concept is simple: implement bike lanes on 27th Avenue, between US-1 and South Bayshore Drive, giving bicyclists a dedicated right-of-way from the bay to the Metrorail. Of course the improvements in the pedestrian realm are also much needed and will certainly enhance the corridor from that aspect; however, the biking infrastructure will make the prospect of riding transit much greater for those living near 27th Avenue and >0.5 miles to a transit station.

With the bike lanes, cyclists could get from Tigertail Ave to US-1 in five or six minutes riding at a leisurely 10MPH pace. From near the Bird Ave intersection it could be even quicker. With additional bicycle parking at Coconut Grove station (and of course, at all stations), someone living in the South Central Grove could be on the platform waiting for the train in just 7-10 minutes, consistently, without ever having to worry about traffic, parking, or gas. Moreover, during rush hour trains run about every six minutes and the ride from Grove station to Government Center is less than 10 minutes (only 6 minutes to Brickell.)

This model should be adapted for the following streets, at a minimum:

  • SW/NW 27th Avenue
  • SW 37th Avenue
  • SW 57th Avenue
  • SW 72nd Street
  • SW 88th Street
  • SW 67th Avenue
  • SW/NW 12th Avenue
  • NW 20th Street
  • NW 79th Street
  • Coral Way

  • If a plan like this was to be implemented, thousands more citizens would have easy, fast access to Metrorail stations. With ample bicycle parking available at each station, riders would have the option of bringing the bike aboard and using it after they reach their destination, or they could park it for free and not have to worry about lugging it around the office.

    This also has the potential to significantly reduce congestion on these thoroughfares, especially during rush hours . Under the current system, massive park-n'-ride lots are designed to encourage people who want to use Metrorail, but cannot easily (or quickly) get there by walking, to drive to stations. Then, they are faced with $4.00 parking fees. Biking to the stations instead would eliminate these issues.

    Furthermore, if Mayor Diaz really wanted a world-class Green Policy, he would embrace this plan by requiring all new commercial buildings in the CBD and Brickell to provide bicycle parking and locker rooms with showers so riders could clean up before work if necessary. Toronto has amended its zoning laws to require that new large-scale developments provide storage and showering facilities for bikers. Given the excessive parking requirements currently mandated by the City, I don't think it would be too much to ask to provide these bike-friendly facilities - at least if you really care about sustainable transportation and traffic reduction.

    Lastly, providing the bike infrastructure has inherent benefits even without everyone using it to connect to transit. Biking presents a fast, efficient, dirt cheap transportation alternative to the automobile. If you use 10MPH as an average biking speed, one could go from Downtown Coral Gables to Downtown Miami in just 20 minutes; it would take just seven minutes to travel one mile. This is significant, given that nearly two-thirds of trips under one mile are taken by the automobile.

    This is part II in a series on biking in Miami. Part III will look more specifically at some potential routes...

    Miami, See it like Anything but a Native; Brickell and Riverwalk

    I started my trip as usual at the UM metrorail station. The station severely needs a pedestrian overpass to connect it with the already disjointed surroundings. Notice, any attempt to connect the station with its eastern surroundings will at best connect pedestrians with any of the many available parking lots of the strip shopping centers.

    I arrived at the Brickell station in full view of some “urban design malpractice,” to quote Ryan’s previous post on the subject. The following pictures were taken either from the Metrorail platform or from the train just as we entered the station (I'm disappointed that Beethoven's 5th No longer plays when the train arrives, what gives?) The first picture depicts the new Infinity at Brickell high-rise with its’ hideous massive blank wall left exposed facing the west. The next two pictures are of buildings adjacent to the metrorail platform. Notice the wide entrance to the parking garage in the first building (Brickell Station Villas designed by Alberto Otero) on the west side fronting the station. The third picture below depicts another new condo with an absurdly huge parking structure below making up more than half the size of the building. These designs are sad and pathetic considering their proximity to mass transit. A parking garage entrance shouldn’t front the station and their designs should be required to consider pedestrian activity. I don’t blame the architects or developers; this is clearly a regulatory issue and the result of a commission who approves nearly anything which comes before them…

    The last time I passed by the Brickell metrorail station (nearly 8 months ago) the brickell metromover escalator was out of service. I was dismayed to see that this was obviously still the case. Great job Bradley!

    I got off the mover by Mary Brickell Village, the disastrously planned retail center in the heart of Brickell which has been under construction for a few years now. I was dismayed however to see that this station’s escalator was too out of commission (that’s 0/2 for all of you keeping score.) Great job Bradley!

    Pictured below is the site of the Brickell Financial Centre, which as I mentioned earlier was slated to officially break ground on Thursday. Despite the continued demolition of the mid-rise previously located on the site, an area with project plans and descriptions was set up on the former back parking lot.

    When I arrived at the 5th street station, just beside the new Brickell on the River Condominium, I looked down to find two separate paths leading from the Station to the river-walk. One was apparently the “commoners” path while the one on the right side of the wrought iron fence was for the residents of the condo. Fenced in or gated condominiums severely detract from their urban surroundings and should not be allowed to rise in such central and prominent locations of our city. These tend to isolate residents from the surroundings, complicating building access for pedestrians and disconnecting them from the closely located transit and public river-walk…

    Looking back inland, the beautiful rear end of 500 Brickell kept staring at me, asking why the developer had left such a plain wall facing the metromover station. A short walk around the building later demonstrated that the front end had been properly designed, with balconies and plenty of glass, it’s a shame the back side couldn’t have been granted the same architectural considerations.

    Although the whole downtown has been morphed into a full scale construction zone, I was surprised to see adequate consideration taken for the area sidewalks. Although I appeared to be the only person walking around, the construction worker turned crossing guard was kind enough to halt passing street activity for me to cross.

    From the Brickell Avenue Bridge looking west I saw further signs of a very disjointed river-walk taking shape. The newly completed Brickell on the River was sectioned off from the neighboring Riverview Complex which is apparently the docking point for some Miami PD boats (this is probably done as a local measure of (in)security...)

    The CBD as we knew it has finally witnessed the removal of the last surface parking eyesores as the Metropolitan Miami Complex rises. In the foreground we see piles being driven for the most important tower rising in the CBD since the Bank of America Tower was completed in the 80’s, MET 2. MET 2 is our newest office skyscraper which will feature 600,000 square feet of office space in one tower and Miami’s first Marriot Marquis in an adjacent tower. Most importantly, MET 2 will dwarf the abysmally lackluster height and design of MET 1 (Center, under construction,) with a glass facade and parabolic glass shape similar to the Esprito Santo Bank tower on Brickell.

    Pedestrian activity already disturbed along the river area due to the EPIC and MET construction is permanently obstructed by the pilings of the metromover.

    One Miami can essentially be credited with being the project which started the latest vertical boom in Downtown Miami. Constructed by the Related Group of Florida and designed by local architect Arquitectonica (like most Related Group projects,) these twin 45 and 44 story towers were the first to test the downtown residential condo market in several decades. The real estate revival launched by this development since has been phenomenal. I was highly unimpressed by the entrance to the towers which obviously caters to vehicular movements while pedestrian access is relegated to a thin walkway alongside the tower entrance.

    One Miami’s contribution to the public river-walk however, was highly impressive and one of the high points of my walk. The area was beautiful, providing ample seating along the tranquil north shore of the Miami River and overlooking Brickell Key. The One Miami river-walk contained various works of art, including a sculpture by Jose Bedia among others. Big Brother was noticeably present as was adequate lighting and access for One Miami residents. Hopefully Epic and the other buildings rising along the river will continue the precedent already established by One Miami.

    Part one of my tour concludes with a view of the unfinished One Miami River-Walk leading into Bayfront Park. The dock on the right is the proposed station for any future ferry commuter boats traveling between the CBD and Aventura/South Dade. Part two of my walk will continue through Bayfront Park as I tackle the changes currently transforming what should be our most prominent urban park…

    4/20/07

    I’m in town and I decided to take a trip downtown (as usual) using transit and my own two feet. Unlike our elected officials, I see the need to periodically take the trip around leisurely to experience things first hand and see where things are going wrong (or right.) Today’s trip was filled with urban issues, many random people, and an encounter with a US Marshall for photographing the Federal courthouse complex, so it should be a good read…I’ll be back soon with the story and pictures…

    4/19/07

    The Miami Office Boom

    1450 Brickell, the newest office building in Brickell since the Espirito Santos Plaza, broke ground last week. The 33 story glass tower will feature over 500,000 square feet of office space and is aiming for Silver LEED certification.

    Meanwhile, just up the avenue today will be the official ground breaking ceremony on the Brickell Financial Center office buildings at 600 Brickell. The 40 story, 600,000 square foot office building is set to be complete in 2009 and is also seeking LEED certification.

    4/18/07

    Miami 21 Announcement

    Tonight Miami 21 goes before the Planning Advisory Board at City Hall. This is a big step forward in the Miami 21 process, so show up at City Hall tonight at 6:00 PM to get involved and sit in on the hearing.

    Can't wait to see how quickly this house falls in value when the owners realize they built under a TV Tower...

    4/17/07

    The Future of Biking in Miami

    What is taking Miami so long to embrace bicycle-oriented policies? Given the area's fantastic year-round weather, terrible traffic congestion, underdeveloped mass transit, and fairly dense urban core (i.e. Miami proper, Miami Beach, downtown Gables), one would think Miami would be at the forefront of developing bicycle-oriented infrastructure. This certainly hasn't been the case, however. As of this day, there are only a handful of bicycle lanes in all of Miami-Dade County, and they are located primarily in the suburbs of Coral Gables and Key Biscayne.

    Mayor Diaz's Green initiatives provide an excellent foundation for sustainability in Miami, I find that a bicycle-boosting initiative is conspicuously missing. If you google "Miami" and "bike", you'll sadly get more results for bike-related activities in Ohio's Miami Valley then in America's southernmost metropolis. Doing some quick research, the only mention of bicycle projects was at the MPO's website. However, there are only a very small number of bike projects being considered, and all of them are either fragmented suburban routes or recreational trails. It appears there is very little direction or leadership for improved bicycle policy in Miami. Meanwhile, many cities across the county and around the world are pedaling full speed ahead (pun intended) with their own initiatives to promote bicycling as a popular, sustainable, safe, and effective means of transportation.

    • New York, NY: An elaborate city website exhibits all the bike information you could ever need, including maps. The City already has several hundred miles of bike lanes cris-crossing all five boroughs, yet plans to implement another 900 lane miles of bike lanes and greenways. NYC even has a bicycle master plan, which, if I am not mistaken, is completely foreign to any municipal body in Miami-Dade.
    • Louisville, Kentucky: The City is in the process of implementing a citywide system of bike lanes and paths. Mayor Jeffrey Abramson, who keynoted the 2007 National Bike Summit in Washington, has adopted a "complete streets" policy that requires bike lanes as apart of all major road improvements.
    • Seattle, Washington: Creating safer cycling conditions is the City's top priority. The City is about to implement its own Bicycle Master Plan, a 10-year strategy to create 200+ miles of bike lanes citywide.
    • Portland, Oregon: A national leader in urban bicycle policy, the City's fantastic website has extensive biking information. Everything from maps, guides, and brochures - it's on the website.
    • Copenhagen, Denmark: Perhaps the most bicycle-friendly city on Earth, 32% of residents bike to work. This is despite being a city with a climate that is cool, wet, and dreary for much of the year - the antithesis of Miami (so much for all those lame weather excuses Miamians use to drive everywhere). So 32% of residents bike to work...fantastic, right? Not good enough for Copenhagen. The City has set a goal to increase this percentage to 40%.

    Photo courtesy of Flickr account: vj_pdx

    Miami's Changing Skyline


    And the unprecedented growth continues...

    Paving over the Redlands, One Farm at a Time

    I went to Knaus Berry Farm recently in the Redlands to savor Miami’s best milkshake and to buy some fresh, locally grown produce. Although the drive is long, the tastes and sweets are well worth the effort. I’m no longer as phased as I used to be about the amount of new development I encounter along the way. Our land use is absurd and we’re swallowing precious farm land (and the whole Miami-Dade farming industry) at an alarming rate. Part of becoming a sustainable city includes retaining enough farmland so that a considerable amount of our produce can be grown locally. As it pertains to agriculture, sustainable describes farming systems that are “capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society indefinitely (Definition via National Agricultural Library.) The costs (and tastes) of locally grown produce are far superior to that of any import and the energy wasted in transportation is much less than conventional methods, making the whole process greener for our local economy. I’ve digressed…

    So, we’re managing to pave over our precious farm land at an astonishing rate. Cut-rate houses are rising on lots far too small for the house size and whole neighborhoods are springing up around a road network better designed to handle cattle and tractors rather than soccer moms and minivans. The whole thing is quite a mess really and it’s rather disappointing to experience. The lack of infrastructure is incredible and the fact that so much development has already occurred or has been approved is quite disturbing. It’s only a matter of time before strip shopping centers prevalent in America as Suburban eyesores begin to dot the landscape, bringing with them total chaotic growth and congestion.

    I was most in shock to see the size of the houses rising beneath the massive NBC radio guyed mast tower. These houses make the houses built in the 1970’s in cocaine alley look like shacks (no, I’m not implying that these houses too are funded by illegal activities.) The fact that anyone would spend the kind of money to construct these multiple thousand square feet houses miles from nowhere was shocking. I took a few pictures which failed to capture the magnitude of these houses, but luckily I found an ebay listing for the lots next door, selling for over $800k and touting the absurd immense houses rising in full view of the property. Here are some pictures and quotes from the listing:

    BUILD YOU DREAM MANSION OR TWO ON THIS 5 ACRE PARCEL OFFERED AT $819,000.00, LOCATED IN MIAMI (REDLAND), FLORIDA. INVESTOR'S DREAM! OWNER FINANCING AVAILABLE...

    MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR MANSIONS ON EVERY CORNER! THIS VACANT AND FLAT 5 ACRE LOT IS ZONED AGRICULTURE AND YEARLY TAXES ARE $244.00. INCOME FROM PROPERTY CAN EARN $250,000/YEARLY IF USED AS A NURSERY, ACCORDING TO NEIGHBORING NURSERY OWNERS. THE LOT ALSO ALLOWS ZONING FOR TWO HOMESITES TO BE BUILT, AS SEEN IN NEIGHBORING PROPERTIES. PROPERTY IS LOCATED MINUTES FROM EXECUTIVE AIRPORT, PRIVATE GOLF&COUNTRY; CLUB, MIAMI-HOMESTEAD MOTORSPORTS SPEEDWAY & THE FLORIDA KEYS.
    The first of several hideous houses which initially caught my eye, I believe the architecture style is more commonly referred to as gaudy Miami or just plain ugly. This house rests just yards away from the base of the guyed mast and seemingly straddled between two of the anchoring cables. These people will be in shock the day they decide to sell this house and realize it isn't worth anything near what they expected...
    This was just the entrance to the house across the street. King Louis the XIV can be found somewhere in the chateaus (yes plural) in the background... Some of the surroundings, just waiting to be bulldozed and have some more McMansions or "affordable housing" built upon them...Another house, designed in the gaudy Miami style, still under construction...McMansions piled upon each other despite the amount of land available nearby... The ebay listing was far too childish and poorly written to be taken seriously, "Oh, Mansions!" but the construction occurring in this part of the county is undeniably genuine. The area will continue to explode if growth continues to be unchecked, bringing it with it more of the same suburban sprawl that plagues most of our city. The county will have to fund massive overhauls in the area to deal with the influx of residents while damage to the everglades ecosystem nearby and the disappearance of Miami's farming will continue at an alarming rate unless we pro actively take measures to heed the advancement of greedy development...


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    4/16/07

    Monday Morning News Flash

    • The Developer Billionaire partnership Leviev Boymelgreen composed by Lev Leviev and Shaya Boymelgreen, known in Miami for Marquis and Vitri, have decided to split their partnership, citing a difference of opinions towards future development. Boymelgreen sees a formidable future in the Miami market, opted to stay with the Miami land holdings concentrated around the Carnival center, while Leviev maintained ownership of the NYC properties. Besides the developers’ optimistic stance on Miami’s market, it interesting to note that he is considering developing rental units or workforce housing in the CBD, a stance we have long advocated to help alleviate Miami’s recent housing shortages…
    • Miami is ranked 63 in the top 100 most liveable cities by Business Week, down a notch from last year. In browsing through the list I was compelled to notice that all but one of the top 15 cities have Streetcars, Trams, or LRT running through the city streets. Coincidence? I think not…(Via: Spacing Wire)
    • Open Road tolling is coming to a highway near you…
    • Jersey City is quickly becoming the model of the urban future according to this article in today’s USA Today. I should note, on top of existing transit, the city recently completed a light rail transit line to continue to facilitate transit use for the more than 40% of its residents who ride regularly…
    • Blog Update: I've somehow neglected to add a link to Cyburbia to the website. Cyburbia was founded in 1994, and is the Internet's oldest continuously operating planning-related Web site; it functions today as a portal and busy social networking site for planners and others interested in the built environment. Check it out...
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    4/15/07

    5th and Alton's Intelligent Planning Measures

    I got some of the latest shots of the proposed retail center slated to rise on 5th street and Alton Rd. on Miami beach, just across from the up and coming Vitri Lofts. The retail center will feature some of the principles I am always advocating for the buildings rising in the design district and other parts of Miami. If just some of these concepts were required on all of the buildings in Miami, I guarantee we would have a far better pedestrian friendly atmosphere and a much easier time implementing public transit infrastructure and use. For example, a bus station will be integrated into the project, bringing the beach's many transit users right into the front doors of the complex:Covered sidewalks and tree landscaping are an integral part of creating and maintaining vibrant pedestrian activity, particularly in Miami due to the heat and frequent summer showers. 5th and Alton will feature cover porticoes, palms, and public artwork, similar to that of many of the buildings on Miami Beach:Some of you think we're against vehicles, which simply isn't true. We're against planning for vehicles as the priority of any project. Buildings should be designed to primarily interact with people rather than cars. 5th and Alton will likely feature enough parking for most of its visitors, but the parking garage won't be the focal point of the structure and neither will its' unsightly entrance. The entrance is relegated to a back street, Lenox Ave, where the traffic impact will be minimal and the pedestrian and transit entrances will remain uninhibited:
    Update: Fifth and Alton is being developed by the Berkowitz group in conjunction with the Potamkin Family. The project is slated to be 170,000 square feet and will contain a Staples, Best Buy, and Publix among others. The City of Miami Beach will be purchasing parking spaces from the retail center for public use at a cost of $9.5 Million. The Berkowitz group created the Dadeland Station mall in Kendall as well as the Kendall Village Shopping complex in west Kendall, which both also featured large Romero Britto sculptures...

    4/13/07

    Superficial Miami

    During a casual lunchtime stroll along the Miami River, I happened to catch a moment that all too often legitimizes Miami's superficial export image. The SW 2nd Avenue drawbridge, in the heart of downtown Miami, was raised to allow this luxury yacht (with only one visible person on board). Even worse, the yacht would have fit if it weren't for it's unnecessarily long spires. It's ridiculous how the City allows luxury private vessels to have precedent over the public realm - especially in the heart of downtown. This issue will surely be magnified in the near future with all the new development downtown and along the river. Residents need to speak up - this is not something that happens in quality public spaces.

    Jeb Bush Snub, well deserved

    I was featured again today by the Independent Florida Alligator’s Opinion column in response to an article written by the newspaper on Wednesday. As some of you may recall, a few weeks ago, Jeb Bush was snubbed by the UF Faculty senate for an honorary alumni status. Now, Representative David Rivera, R-Miami, is pushing a plan through the Florida State Senate to name the UF college of Education after the former governor.

    I, naturally have issues with this. I think we need to stop rewarding people for doing average jobs, doing what they were elected or hired to do. Roosevelt Bradley touted how he purchased so many buses for MDT under his tenure, but then again, that’s what we expected him to do when we passed the PTP. Under Jeb Bush, Florida’s education system suffered. We’re ranked 47th among the 50 states and our high school graduation rates, teacher pay, and standards are deplorable. Jeb was a strong advocate for the student school voucher program, which was a considerable dis to the Florida Public education system. Naming the UF College of Education after a governor who failed to accomplish any educational advancement would be a disgrace to our Public Education system, UF, and the Faculty Senate who was in the right to snub him in the first place…

    To read my reply, click here...

    Some other noteworthy editorials: Gordon Van Owen, Lee Dykxhoorn

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    4/12/07

    Close Encounters with the Turtle Kind

    Drought Could Cripple Everglades’Life… You don’t say... As the drought continues (yes, despite today’s downpour and hail storm there is still a drought) our ecosystem will continue to feel the pressure of our encroachment and insatiable thirst for more land. It’s easy to surmise that as water levels continue to recede (partly due to our absurd water use) typical everglades’ natives will begin to explore their once former habitat (your backyard) in search of water, food, and other necessities.

    It’s funny how things happen. After reading this article by the Herald this morning, I went for a drive to run a couple of errands. Along a two lane street nearby, I encountered a few cars, stopped in the middle of the road for no particular reason. No particular reason happened to be a fairly large Florida Cooter (Turtle) trying to cross the street. So, being the animal lover that I am, I pulled over and darted across the road to move the little guy along (I have a couple of turtles of my own, so that helped.) Standing on the grass looking around, once the traffic flow had resumed, I noticed his retention pond home had dried out and he was crawling along in another direction in search of some new watering hole, which I knew didn’t exist. So, I did the next best thing and put the dry turtle in a box and drove to a nearby lake where I released him, back into some relative safety…

    Animal encounters such as these are going to become more common place. Alligators will soon flock to the rock quarries many South Florida sprawl-land houses are built around in search of better conditions and more space. Meanwhile, people will likely wonder what these critters are doing in their backyards. They will be seen as nuisances, yet few people seem to understand that we encroached on their land and not vice versa…

    The water restrictions in place are long overdue and are finally becoming even more stringent. Our region has had an insatiable, virtually unrestricted use of our water resources for far too long. We should not be squandering one of our most precious resources on lawn watering (30 MGM, for a Golf Course, are you kidding me?) or other similar petty activities. Sprawl can be partially attributed to this careless use of our resources, with its larger concrete footprint; water runoff doesn’t circulate into the aquifer like it should. Many home owners in sprawl-land, in search of that delusional “American Dream” feel the need to keep their lawn green. Water restrictions aren’t new; it’s just a blatant signal that we need to recreate a truly sustainable community…

    Tri-Rail Service Improvements

    Beginning this Friday, Tri-Rail will now traverse Fort Lauderdale's New River on a new train bridge. This is a big step within Tri-Rail's expansion, allowing SFRTA to start running 40-50 trains per day by the end of this month. This means that within Tri-Rail's new schedule, service will improve to much more manageable 20-30 minute headways. Hopefully more regional commuters will at least consider giving Florida's only regional rail line a chance now that service is improved.

    Photo courtesy of Flickr account: Andrew M Butler

    Bicycle-Sharing

    While Miami doesn't even have car sharing yet, Paris is about to implement a massive bike sharing program. This is yet another indicator of how far behind Miami is in terms of being a truly sustainable, pedestrian-oriented city. Following a similar model used in Lyon, France, Paris will be implementing over 20,000 bikes for rent at 1,450 stations citywide.

    Jean-Louis Touraine, Paris' Deputy Mayor, says the program was meant "not just to modify equilibrium between modes of transportation and reduce air pollution, but also to modify the image of the city where humans occupy a larger space". Wow - you won't find any language like that in city codes and master plans around here. The closest echoing would be the objective of "balancing vehicular needs with pedestrian needs", which invariably means a built environment where cars rule.

    Why are we always preaching compact urban form and mixed-use? Because that kind of environment allows a program like this to flourish. Consequently, most trips for bike renters will be free because they only have to travel a short distance. In Lyon, France's third largest city, 95% of approximately 20,000 daily bike rentals are free because of the short nature of most trips there. Moreover, Lyon's 3,000 rental bikes have logged about 10 million miles since May 2005, helping to eliminate roughly 3,000 tons of CO2 emissions. Also, vehicle travel has decreased by four percent. Officials are estimating that each rental bike in Paris will be used 12 times per day, which equates to 250,000 trips per day and 91 million per year. Just imagine what could be accomplished with a program like this in Miami (or most American cities, for that matter) when you consider that most car trips in this country are within one mile from origin.

    Rental fees will be free for the first half hour and then will double every half hour thereafter to facilitate faster turnover, making a 2 hour 30 minute rental $9.10. Membership would be $38 per year. To release the bikes, riders would use a prepaid card or a credit card at a computerized console. To discourage theft, each rider must leave a credit card or refundable deposit of about $195 along with personal information. Also, each bicycle rack will have a computer that can tell where the bikes are as well as their condition.
    JCDecaux, outdoor advertising giant, will fund and operate the program for 10 years, including start up costs of approximately $115 million. All revenue from the program will go to Paris' coffers, including an additional $4.3 million per year. In return Paris is giving JCDecaux exclusive rights to all city-owned billboards, including revenues.

    I think Miami is a long way off for a citywide program like this to be feasible. However, there are sections of the city and county (Downtown, Brickell, Coconut Grove, South Beach, North Beach, Little Havana, Downtown Coral Gables, Midtown area) where small bike stations could be located. As the program increased in popularity, it would increase pressure on planners and politicians to allocate more space to bicyclists in the form of bike lanes and greenways. Gradually, more stations could be added based on demand. This is the kind of program that could help bridge the gap between driving and walking, decrease automobile trips, decrease pollution, and even make people healthier.

    Photos courtesy of Flickr accounts: DennisWorld & mknely

    4/11/07

    Marlins' Stadium Madness!

    As if the Marlins’ Stadium conundrum couldn’t get any more ludicrous, a few articles appeared in the Miami Today adding multiple new dimensions to the problems at hand. Where should I begin? As you may recall, the Marlins last week asserted their position that a downtown facility would be ideal; it would give the team the greatest chance of success in Miami and would make sense from an urban planning perspective given that it would be easily connected to metrorail, tri-rail, I-95, and the downtown businesses. It appears that our most asinine commissioner, Natacha Seijas, known for such wonderful remarks as: “I don’t see why we need to be creating an environment so they can continue...” when speaking about protecting manatees or “Today is the day that you might just leave here in a body bag if you keep it up…” which she remarked at a county Commission meeting, is once again the forerunner to speak out against the Marlins’ latest statements (Click here for a video of Seijas.) Here is what the Miami Today reported:
    SELF-INFLICTED BEANBALL: Miami-Dade County Commissioner Natacha Seijas says the Florida Marlins hardly helped themselves over the weekend with their insistence that the team's stadium be built downtown on a site designated for the county's new juvenile-justice center. The team's comments were a "completely and absolutely offensive" brushback of the county's children, Ms. Seijas said Tuesday during a meeting of the commission's Governmental Affairs and Operations committee. "The Marlins need to be more respectful when interviewed on TV. They need to be more respectful of the children's courthouse."
    Ok, so Natacha Seijas has no clue what she’s talking about, right? Big Deal? Well, yes it is a big deal because she’s one of our Fab 13 who will be deciding where we will one day place the stadium in question. Given her take on the manatee, I’m sure she’d have no qualms with paving over everglades to accommodate anything…

    In any case, like I mentioned above the stadium issue has gotten more complex. Now Michael Cannon, a “real-estate researcher” whatever that is, is declaring that the new Marlins’ stadium should be constructed on the Melreese Golf Course property. Sure, it would be next to the Miami Intermodal center, but, why complicate that project any further, FDOT has been constructing it since the late 90’s and we’ve yet to see any considerable progress. The Marlins’ stadium belongs in the city center which a new MLB drawing will soon depict, according to Miami Today:
    COMING SOON: Major League Baseball is preparing a schematic of a stadium as it would appear in the proposed downtown location. "As soon as they have something formalized, they'll bring it to us," Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez said in a committee meeting Tuesday. The Florida Marlins want a retractable-roof ballpark with 37,000 seats and 60 suites to be built on nine acres of county- and city-owned land just north of the county government center north of Northwest Second Street, east of Interstate 95 and west of Metrorail. Commissioners have been reluctant to give full backing of the downtown location. "I know there are not seven votes here for this site," Mr. Martinez said at a Tuesday meeting of the Government Affairs and Operations Committee. The favored plan is to replace the Orange Bowl with a ballpark.
    Things can’t possibly get any worse, right? Try again. Plans also resurfaced at a recent commission meeting by Jose “Pepe” Diaz to analyze a “Bayfront” park idea. That’s Bayfront as in Bicentennial Park, the same park slated to for the new home of the MAM and Museum of Science, apparently chop liver and easily moved to sites elsewhere…Apparently it doesn’t matter if MAM has already contracted Herzog and DeMuron to design their new complex. The Millions spent thus far on plans to recreate Bicentennial into Museum Park also seem to be dispensable, after all, its only taxpayer money and there seems to be a never ending supply of it, why not keep wasting it? The Bayfront idea will never fly. We voted to create bonds to establish a cultural icon on the site, not another waterfront sports venue.
    BACK TO THE BAY: Some formerly favored sites for a stadium haven't been discarded, county commissioners say. Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz said he has asked County Manager George Burgess to give further study to putting the ballpark on the Biscayne Bay front. "I've asked him to look at it," Mr. Diaz said, though he said he doubts a bayfront site is viable. The 29-acre Bicentennial Park, designated for a pair of museums, got a passing mention Tuesday. "If the city somehow has a change of mind, then that location would be back on the table," Mr. Diaz said. Also back on the table, he said, would be the problem of parking. That's been a major challenge for the bayfront Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, he said, and would be an even bigger one for planners of a ballpark on the bay.
    Parking not the issue, not building any parking to along with the Carnival Center is the problem, which was under development since the 80's...That's the problem. Museum Park should feature underground parking, beneath the museum structure, with enough parking for some, but not all of the Museum Park visitors. The point is to provide some parking and some public transit, but just little enough to price people into not driving...

    What is so incredibly difficult about agreeing on a single location for the Marlins’ stadium? Why can’t the Commission show some solidarity? One is discussing the orange bowl site while another asks for research on the Bayfront site and I'm sure someone else is still fixated on the Hialeah plan. There may very well be 13 different plans on 13 different sites floating around the Commission chambers. Heck, they’re not even sure of why it shouldn’t go in downtown. It’s amazing how hypocritical they are, somehow the Children’s courthouse poses as an insurmountable obstacle to placing the stadium downtown, but yet the two iconic museums and parks can be easily relocated elsewhere…Go figure!

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    Flying High with James Good

    James Good is finally garnering some widespread attention for his beautiful (and creative) aerial shots of downtown Miami. The Herald published a wonderful article today on the 34 year old software engineer, discussing his passion for flying his model aircraft (strapped with a camera) over Bicentennial Park to capture images of the bay, skyscrapers, and port. Congratulations James, we look forward to your continued success and creativity when flying over the Miami
    skyline…

    Port of Miami Container Crisis, Part 2

    Like I mentioned previously, the port of Miami tunnel appears to be a botched solution to the accessibility problems facing the port; designed to purely benefit the routes of the trucking industry. As some of you concluded, I believe some of the congestion issues we now face could have been alleviated earlier with the use of the at-grade FEC tracks which run directly into the port. A freight train could easily haul many containers out of the port to an inland port facility (Hialeah rail yards, ROW exists and is owned and operated by the FEC.) The inland port facility would then transfer the containers to trucks, placing the truck distribution closer to many of the warehouse destinations and reducing the number of trucks traveling along our highways and downtown. As someone duly noted, the train tracks also traverse the downtown, which would likely cause a great deal of congestion if these trains were to be operated during rush hour. Therefore, the trains would serve a more limited role, with travel times scheduled after downtown activity subsides but before the morning commute (ideally from Midnight to 5 am or so.) A point I’d like to emphasize is that the rail option should have been considered, heck used on a trail basis for part of the past two decades while a more permanent solution was found, at a mere fraction of the cost of what we’re going to face with the tunnel. The port is now looking at the idea of floating barges up the river with containers to be unloaded at the river facilities. I’d like you to take note of the traffic tie-ups which will be caused as a result of the more frequent use of the drawbridges under this scenario…

    Meanwhile, the city of Los Angels is currently working on a plan to use existing tracks to transport goods from the port to an inland facility. The plan is projected to remove a large percentage of the 22,000 daily trips caused by the seaport daily. The $1.7 Billion project aims to revitalize a neglected airport for cargo uses, while creating an inland intermodal cargo facility.

    After writing the first article, I obtained a copy of the latest MPO Freight Access report produced in February 2007 by Cambridge Systematics. In looking through the report briefly, the study covers all alternatives including: Port Truck Tunnel, Freight Train Tunnel, at grade train crossing, 6th street highway viaduct, and River option. The study also analyzes the aforementioned LA port inland facility currently underway. Before I can draw any further conclusions on the Port Tunnel Project or the feasibility of rail or water options, I will review the study and report my findings back at a later time…

    4/10/07

    Email and Growth

    It's back! Email, that is. Thanks to the reminder I received from Walter, I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon (5 hours) importi../ng all the old blog posts from the previous site._span style_.css""> I had to complete the imports in order to not disrupt the regular email function. The emails are powered by feedburner and I’ve been using them myself for the past few months. I should note however, that readers will receive a daily digest which is sometimes a day or so behind schedule. In other words, you may still want to visit the site for the most recent news or to leave us some much appreciated comments! I’ve also taken the liberty of adding everyone from the former list to the new one, as well as some of you regular readers…

    On that note, after reaching a plateau from November through February, Transit Miami witnessed unprecedented growth last March with our best readership and user involvement ever. I hope we can continue to grow, spreading the word of intelligent urban planning principles and the benefits of Public Transit in Miami.

    While we have reached an all time high for daily visitors, remarkably our Technorati ranking has dipped severely. If anyone perhaps can think of a reason why, let me know. It’s important for our message to reach as many people as possible through many links to the website. If anyone has any ideas on how to promote Transit Miami further or would like to contribute any information or material to the site, please email me at movemiami@gmail.com. I look forward to many more productive months of bringing you the latest transit news while working to make Transit Miami the premier Miami Blog…

    Regards,
    Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal

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    4/9/07

    New Crosswalks in the Grove


    CGG has issues with a new pedestrian crosswalk installed along one of the most dangerous parts of Bayshore Drive. I drove past it this weekend and couldn't pull out my camera quickly enough to snap a picture but luckily they had a picture posted. I bike through the area often and it sometimes seems like I'm walking alongside the track of the Indy 300. The enhancements enable pedestrians to press a button which sets off a number of strobe lights to warn oncoming cars. I think its a great idea, seeing that Florida is the capital of pedestrian deaths and the path links the waterfront parks with a number of prominent hotels. If this is what has to be done to encourage people to walk around without risking life and limb, I'm all for it. Sooner or later, Miami drivers will become conscious of those "pesky" pedestrians and hopefully we'll see a substantial decrease in pedestrian deaths...

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    Marlins Stadium Circus Continues

    It's hard to believe that the Marlins' stadium saga could get even more bizarre (well, maybe not that hard to believe). Now Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has come out opposing the Orange Bowl site, saying that a downtown site is the team's sole focus and the only viable location for a new stadium in South Florida. From the Herald's article on Saturday:
    • Loria: A downtown setting "would be much more beneficial to the franchise and fans...it's very easy to get to...we must get it done".
    • Team President David Sampson: "Our sole focus is completing a deal downtown."
    Wow. First of all, I'm a little curious as to why it took so long for Loria to come out publicly in support of the downtown site, especially given the adamant tone of his language. Secondly, if he felt this way all along, which is how it sounds, then this likely means the county commission has not only gone against good urban planning, history, and common sense in pushing for the Orange Bowl site, but they've also been pushing a site the team owner is not even interested in.

    Predictably, the county commission reacted to Loria's and Sampson's statements with concern. Commission Chairman, Bruno Barreiro, stated "We're just trying to get money from the state...we can't get distracted by the site issue." Oh, really? Well, if I had a vote on whether or not to allocate state funds to the construction of a new baseball stadium, I would certainly be more inclined to vote yea if I knew specifically where the building site was located, especially if it was in downtown Miami. But don't take it from me. State Representative David Rivera, who ultimately controls the flow of legislation for House Speaker Marco Rubio, said "There might be a lack on consensus to build at the Orange Bowl." Rivera then offered his support for a downtown stadium.

    The really disconcerting piece form the article actually came from a commissioner who is now in support of the downtown site. "Commissioner Carlos Gimenez...was one of the strongest proponents of the Orange Bowl site (last month). Now, after studying transportation issues, he says it's no longer his first option. 'For me, I think baseball would work better in an urban, downtown site, he said'." Holy cow! So apparently we have commissioners advocating for a Marlins' stadium at the Orange Bowl without even studying the project's transportation issues! That is just unacceptable. It's pretty tough to debate the merits of a downtown Miami site versus an Orange Bowl site for a new stadium without studying, comprehending, or even considering transportation issues, for that matter. If the Herald piece is accurate, we have county commissioners making major decisions and guiding policy without even examining some of the most important, relevant details. At least he had it in him to change his mind. We're still waiting for the rest of the commission to stop going against the grain (and logic, and history, and urban planning, and best practice, etc.).

    4/8/07

    Vizcaya Views

    I took some time out of my weekend to give a Miami Native a first-time tour of Vizcaya. I often find that many Miamians have never ventured into Vizcaya, so I always volunteer to visit Miami’s most beautiful estate and give them my own personal tour. I was also interested in capturing some photographs of the view from the estate which soon may forever be altered if the City of Miami approves 300 Grove Bay residences, a project by The Related group, slated for a section of land just south of Mercy Hospital.
    Personally, I’d have to agree that the buildings are out of context with their surroundings, but then again so are Mercy Hospital and the Grove Isle trio of towers. The traffic impact has likely been grossly miscalculated seeing that this is the equivalent of placing a skyscraper in suburbia, the only reasonable link between it and the surroundings will be vehicular. As for the visual impact, I think Vizcaya’s views will be pretty much unhampered. Mercy Hospital is currently visible from the grounds, as are the buildings on Brickell and Key Biscayne and yet they don’t seem to adversely impact the tranquility of the Gardens.
    Since the last time I wrote on the Mercy Project, I still haven't been able to come up with an valid enough stance either in favor or against the project. I lean against the project mainly because it continues the decentralization of skyscrapers that is so prevalent in Miami. Ultimately, I believe the towers would be better suited elsewhere, either north in the Brickell area or south in the Coconut Grove Business district, rather than in the Mercy site where they will forever be relegated as suburban towers only accessible by vehicles and disjointed from the bustling hubs to the north and south...
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    4/6/07

    Rail Transit along the Beeline, Further Congestion on 595

    While plans move forward to expand I-595 in Broward, Palm Beach and Martin County commissioners are working on a plan to bring east-west Tri-rail service along the beeline expressway. The commissioners hope to one day use the existing CSX rail tracks to link research and biomedical facilities in the works in both counties. Unlike their Broward counterparts, these commissioners see the financial advantage of not widening roads and instead using our money wisely:

    “Koons estimated that widening the road to accommodate development could cost $1 billion…”

    “Many of those developments are running into traffic concerns because parts of SR 710 are getting congested. Future development could be prohibited if the highway isn't widened. Using commuter rail could reduce the need for widening, Koons said, and help solve affordable housing problems.

    "You can afford more housing if you have to spend less on transit," he said.”

    Nice to know someone sees it...

    4/5/07

    Travels Through Europe, The Conclusion

    Vienna is a grand city, far more grandiose than most European Capitals due to its’ rich history with the Babenburg and then the Hapsburg family dynasties. Just walking around, the city exudes wealth, through its opulent architecture, gold-leafed trimming, and excessive sculpture. The Hapsburgs were rather generous with the citizens they presided over, as far as royalty goes, anyhow. Toward the end of their reign, they opened several parks for public use, constructed two massive museums, and dotted the city with various other cultural institutions. Seeing that Miami has recently concluded the construction of our opera house and is set to begin construction on two bayside museums, I believe we can and should look for the guidance of cities such as Vienna when establishing our new cultural havens. Noting that Miami completely lacks the history and wealth of the Austrian Capital, I think there are some interesting aspects which will broaden our horizons before we plan and design…

    There isn’t much I can say about the Carnival Center, seeing that it is already built. I’ve walked through the area a couple of times and although the plaza and structure are pleasant, the surroundings are rather inhospitable; hopefully with some time the area might mature a little. The Vienna Opera House is situated at the end of the premier pedestrian thoroughfare in Vienna, which links it and the ring, with the center of Vienna and the Hofburg Imperial Palace. When walking by the Vienna State Opera House for the final time on our last night, I noticed an interesting element which caught my eye:

    See it? I hope you do. Someone had the sense to retrofit the structure (built in the 1860’s) with parking. Genius. This brought about a small bout of laughter, as you would imagine, when I conjured images of the Carnival Center debacle I would be returning to the very next day. The interesting thing I later noted is that this was perhaps the only parking garage I saw anywhere near the city center. We seem to have done the opposite…

    When approaching the Museums Quarter (Museumsquartier) I couldn’t help but think of endless possibilities for Bicentennial Park. Now, I know I am not an architecture critic, nor do I try to be, but the idea of a classical structure dotting our shoreline as either of the two Museum Park buildings bodes very well for me. I said it once to an art student, whose look should have silenced my architecture thoughts for eternity, but I actually think a modern Art structure juxtapositioned with a classical Museum of Science would add a great deal of depth to Miami’s architecture.

    Back to my point. Standing between these hulking museums was impressive. I mean, here I was standing in awe of a couple of landlocked museums, just hoping that our new museums with the beautiful bay and beach backdrop could be just even one fifth as stimulating. Is it too much to ask for? We have the opportunity to showcase our architectural cultural talent to the world, quite literally, seeing that these museums will serve as the focal point of nearly every cruise passenger which departs from our harbor. And think, Miami, not Miami Beach, could perhaps for once be hailed for its beautiful waterfront architecture, luring boarding cruise passengers to extend their stay. We severely dropped the ball with the MCM, opting instead for a geometric display of retardation on Watson Island. Between the two museums stood a massive statue dedicated to Maria Theresia, it’s a rarity in Miami to find any recollection of our local history, let alone national history. Perhaps a statue of FDR would be fitting, considering he was nearly assassinated in nearby Bayfront Park…Just a thought…

    Throughout all of my travels, I have always taken the time to compare the city I am visiting with my home town. I often think that Miami would be a much better city if we would just stop, think, and look around before coming up with decisions which will forever alter our urban landscape. We’ve had plenty of opportunities pass us by with failed or improperly managed projects: Metrorail, Miami Arena, Miami Marine Stadium, Miami Seaquarium, Orange Bowl, MIA, CCPA, etc. Plenty of chances to make our city just as marvelous to visit as say Paris, Chicago, or even ViennaWe’re number one right now in hotel occupancy and hotel rates nationally, but imagine how much more we can do to attract visitors to sites other than our shore…

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    4/3/07

    Need for Speed - Transit



    It's official; France's bullet train, the V150, set a record yesterday for fastest speed ever by a rail train. How fast, you ask? Only 357.2 MPH! For some perspective, at that speed someone could go from Miami to Jacksonville in about an hour. Only the Japanese mag-lev trains have gone faster, but they utilize different technology with much less resistance. The fastest train the U.S. has put on the table...the Amtrak's Acela Express, which tops out about 1/3 as fast as France's bullet train.

    Check out how fast this thing whips by the folks on the overpass.

    Transit Tuesday

    Alright, It's about time we got back on Track with some Transit News:
    • Transit Miami is now regularly featured as part of the Planetizen Radar. To access the radar, there is a link in the blog technology section of the sidebar on the lower right hand side.
    • It some how slipped passed me, but our sly commissioners approved a plan to build 940 homes west of Florida City. The project aims to encroach on the Everglades further, induce further sprawl, and build useless homes which are completely nonfunctional to the working class of Miami. The project claims it will be building "work force housing" priced from $160,000 to $220,000 yet it will be situated far from business centers, public transit, public health and education infrastructure, and other necessary functions typically found near true affordable housing development. So far the only people this project has been affordable for are the developers, which likely purchased the land at reduced costs...Good luck with the daily traffic...
    • Jeffrey Bradley, a Transit Miami reader and supporter and member of the Alliance for Reliable Transport has started a new blog: Bus Stop. Bus Stop will cover "All things Transit on the Beach and Beyond."
    • Next time your looking to take a cruise, skip out on the Royal Caribbean or Carnival and hop aboard a freighter. Yes you read correctly, apparently its a growing trend to ride along with Maersk and Sea Land Containers in near isolation...
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    Ohio State, So easy a Caveman could beat em....

    Ok, nothing to do with Transit, but here are some Florida (titletown) celebration shots for all my Gator Fans:Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

    4/2/07

    Florida Vs. Ohio, Take 2

    It's amazing that in the life span of this blog (1 year), I've had the opportunity to root my Gators on in three championship appearances. Tonight, my beloved Florida Gators Basketball team will once again devour the Ohio State Buckeyes. Last time the Basketball teams met, in December, we decimated them by 26 points...Odds are I'll be out late tonight, but, I'll be back at some point tomorrow...Go Gators!

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    4/1/07

    Port of Miami Container Crisis, Part 1

    Before last Wednesday’s article in the Miami today, I was working on an article discussing the woes of the port of Miami container movement situation, which we'll get to later. As many of you may know, a tunnel is in the works to connect the Port of Miami with I-395 via Watson Island, spanning the length of a mile beneath the Port’s main channel. The POM tunnel is a $1.2 Billion joint development project involving the FDOT, POM, MDX, Miami-Dade County and city of Miami. The project, in the works since the early 80’s, aims to remove some of the downtown congestion by directly connecting the port with the highway, no longer making it necessary for trucks and buses to traverse downtown streets. The idea isn’t half bad, considering the necessity which has evolved out of the downtown construction boom; however, I feel that we once again failed to properly evaluate all of our options, especially considering that it has been in the “works” for the better part of the past two, almost three decades. Take a few minutes and analyze the image below, found on the POM Tunnel project website and is presumably the same image our planners have been staring at for the past few years. There’s a striking port access option which, I fear, has been gravely overlooked:

    Any guesses? I’ll be back with the second part of this article later today; the answer is certainly far simpler than the convoluted light barges up the Miami River option

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    If you ever thought that crossing the street in Miami is impossible, don't try this in India:

    3/28/07

    Take a walk along Flagler and Roll Again...

    Ever get that feeling that your elected official is completely out of touch with your district, your city, or even our everyday surroundings? I do, and I have some irrefutable evidence to support my claims. I’ve had a hunch for sometime that our commissioners are the type of people who drive to work daily from sprawl-land in their cushy vehicles to government center. As we all know from their objections against the downtown Marlins’ Stadium venue, they have the reserved privilege of parking on a nearby surface parking lot (I honestly wouldn’t see that as privilege but more of a hassle.) I get the feeling they don’t ride metrorail much (even though the “central station” is right at their doorstep) and don’t wander out for lunch, at least not on foot. An article in last week’s Miami Today confirmed my suspicions; a rare moment in Miami history occurred when Commissioner Joe Sanchez went for a walk... Through downtown... Alone… Ha, ha! Just Kidding about the last one, this was an all out publicity blitz

    "It was very important for us to go out, talk to merchants, find out what's going on downtown," said Miami Commissioner Joe Sanchez, chairman of the DDA. "When you're up on the 29th floor, you don't see what's happening in the streets. You don't see the cracks in the sidewalks, you don't see the lights out on a streetlight."

    You also can’t see much if your eyes are closed, but I thought that too was common sense... I’m sorry, but is anyone else taken aback by the fact that commissioners likely haven’t walked around our downtown (barring special occasions such as these,) taken a ride in anything other than a private car, or heck, been at least somewhat conscious of the decay that has blighted the CBD, Parkwest, and Overtown neighborhoods for the better part of the last few decades? Taking a stroll along Flagler seems to me like the best place to start before making any decisions to spend our $10 Million on “streetscape enhancements” or voting to make the thoroughfare more pedestrian friendly by switching it to a two-way street…

    While he and authority officials were quick to note Flagler Street's potted and hanging plants and the uniformed maintenance crew pressure-cleaning the sidewalk [Strategically Placed, I presume], Mr. Sanchez did not hesitate to gesture to graffiti, unleveled sewer covers and stagnant water in the streets.

    What’s he going to do, ignore it? Given the media circumstances I’m surprised he didn’t call over Sherwin Williams…

    "These are the things we don't see from an office or a board meeting," he said. "People want beautification, people want cleanup. That's what the people deserve."

    To attract more upscale retailers, vital in elevating the status of downtown, "we need to look perfect," he said. "We need to look sharp." Marketing is also crucial, he said. "The DDA needs to help get these tenants. Let's romance it. Bring out all the guns. When they come, seven other merchants come." Improving the landmark Macy's store would be a start, Mr. Alonso said. "I think we need to persuade Macy's to invest $10 million to $20 million and refurbish their store."

    We need to look like any other city outside of the "developing world?" Macy’s has played a great hand thus far, we know they’re bluffing but we still need to come to the realization that a large sum of money needs to be invested in this area. The downtown retail industry should be giving ole Simon a run for its money. The city has the ultimate “lifestyle center” at its fingertips; hey, it could actually emulate real life elsewhere by becoming an actual city center. Who knows? Bob has some thoughts…

    Also in the works are plans to improve area transportation. Because bus service on Flagler Street was eliminated when it became two-way, the county will offer a new shuttle bus on Flagler Street beginning May 21 that will connect to Metrorail, the Port of Miami and Bayside, said Bob Pearsall, manager of service planning for Miami-Dade County Transit.
    That kind of convenience along with cleanliness and safety will revitalize downtown, Mr. Sanchez said.

    You remember that plan to make the area more pedestrian friendly and was endorsed by the same people who later complain about downtown congestion? Well had they known that the conversion to a two-way facility would actually inhibit traffic flow and make congestion worse I think the vote would have come out a little bit different- In any case, I’m not complaining…

    "The whole downtown experience, the whole success for downtown, is people need to feel safe, keep coming back," he said. "They need to have a pleasant experience."

    Pure genius. And all this time we were thinking that allowing homeless individuals to run amuck with our downtown was the right way to go…What were we thinking?

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    3/27/07

    Climate Change and South Florida

    Photo Source: Miami Herald via Green Peace, AP File 2006


    Our global warming crisis continues to become more foreboding. Today the Herald reported findings from a recent study that predicts serious local climate change in South Florida’s future. According to the study, which is one of the first to predict local climate change stemming from global warming, by 2100 South Florida will likely have a novel climate that is warmer, drier, and unlike any other on Earth. Among the findings:
    • Mean temperatures in South Florida could rise by 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer/wet season (+ 3 ½ degrees in the winter/dry season)
    • High temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90’s can be expected during the summer/wet season
    • Much drier conditions: 3 ½ fewer inches of rainfall during the wet season (Note: Drier does not mean less humid)
    • Even if worldwide action reduces greenhouse gas emissions, 4-20 percent of the world’s land could experience novel climates
    These findings have grave implications for South Florida. As I noted above, a “drier” climate does not mean a less humid climate. High temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s coupled with high humidity would make it feel like 110-120 degrees based on heat indexes. Also to consider, the 5-7 degree rise is in mean temperature, which is the average temperature over a 24-hour period. For the last 30 years, Miami’s mean temperature has averaged about 83 degrees during the peak of the summer/wet season. If the predictions are true, then our average daily temperatures could be as high as 90 degrees! Imagine stifling days with highs of 95 and lows of 85. Factor in humidity, and even our nights would feel as warm as 100 degrees!

    All of this does not even consider the potentially catastrophic effects of rising sea levels, increased frequency of major hurricanes, drought, and the decimation of the Everglades. It is now critical that we begin making major changes in the way we live and the way our cities function. Given the implications of climate change in South Florida, you would think that our region would be on the leading edge of sustainable urban planning. Sadly, as we all know, this is not currently the case. Yes, Mayor Diaz should be complemented for his green building proposal, Miami 21, and the Miami Streetcar initiative, but this barely scratches the surface of sustainability. We need a progressive, regional effort to significantly reduce our dependence on the automobile, boost alternative transportation modes, and design sustainable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. We cannot wait any longer to act.


    I sent an email over the people from the Shops at Wasted Space (Sunset Place) to find out what would occupying the space once the Bodies exhibit concludes. I also decided to inquire if the mall was actively persuing any ideas to better connect it with metrorail by means of a pedestrian overpass. Here is the reply I received:
    Mr. Lopez-Bernal

    There is a tenant planned for the space that Bodies currently occupies, but that tenant's name has not been announced. I have not been advised by Metrorail of any plans for a pedestrian overpass, but it does sound like a great idea.

    Thank you for your inquiry.

    Great initiative. Yes, let's wait for the helpful folks over at MDT to come up with a plan to better link metrorail with its surroundings, maybe something will get done by 2050, we'll see...

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    3/26/07

    Urban Design Malpractice


    On my way to Milam's on 32nd and Bird Ave this afternoon I almost got hit by a car after freezing in the road upon first site of this new building. Known as "Groveloft" at 3062 Bird Ave., this building adds absolutely nothing to the area's pedestrian realm. The architect had a good opportunity, even with an oversupply of parking required, to add some quality density to the Grove and enhance the pedestrian realm along Bird Ave. Instead, they opted for a totally auto-centric design. This building is completely designed to be integrated with automobiles and not human beings:
    • The entrance to the parking garage is large, hideous, and the focal point of the building's principal frontage on Bird Ave, a primary street. The arrows are tacky and the gate is ugly as all get out.
    • There are not any pedestrian entrances from Bird Ave., which is a primary street in Miami. Typical of most buildings in the Grove, this building does all it can to separate itself from public space with its fortress-like ground floor.
    • Instead of planting shade trees, which would have enhanced the pedestrian realm on Bird Ave. and aligned closely with the lush character of the Grove, the developers opted for dinky little palm trees on the edge of the street that serve more as eye candy for passing drivers than for functional green space on the sidewalk corridor. The larger tree in the back right of the photo that could have better accomplished this is instead barricaded from the public behind yet another gate.
    This building is certainly not unique in Miami. Many more just like it are emerging each month throughout the City, and each one of them squanders an opportunity to enhance Miami's pedestrian realm, which would encourage more people to walk and serve as the precursor to increased transit ridership. This is the kind of design that should be eliminated with the implementation of Miami 21 - which couldn't come soon enough.

    Venetian Sunrise



    From the Flickr of JamesGood...

    Posting over the next three days will be sporadic...Stay tuned for discussions on Miami Park Space, I-95, and Stadium Issues...

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    3/23/07

    Train Derailment

    A close friend of mine works next to the location of today's train derailment. They forwarded a picture for me to share. Funny thing was that I walked along the tracks right where this train derailed recently and wondered how any train could possibly travel along them. At first I even thought they had been abandoned due to their horrific state and amount of debris laying along them. It's no wonder accidents like these happen...

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    3/22/07

    Miami 21 Update

    Anyone interested in learning about Miami 21, especially residents living in the East Quadrant, should attend the open house this weekend being put on by planning consultant firm DPZ. The open house is meant to discuss and provide details about recently updated documents of the Miami 21 code.

    The open house will be held from 8:00am to noon this Saturday, March 24th, at Archbishop Curley Notre Dame High School located at 4949 NE 2nd Avenue.

    The Bradley Mess

    I ask; if I am ever ousted from a political or public works position (which, I assure you, will never be the case) please, do not hold a special “name clearing hearing” in my honor like the one scheduled tonight by the county commissioners at 5 pm over the firing of former transit director Roosevelt Bradley. How pathetic is this? Have we stooped to a new low in the commission chambers? Has our commission become complacent with substandard performance and abysmal results from one of the county’s largest departments? I assure you, the removal of Bradley from the top Transit post was a good thing for Miami-Dade Transit. It’s depressing that the best argument provided thus far against his removal from office has been racial, which I must mention had nothing to do with his lousy performance.

    Yes Bradley has overseen a recent growth in Bus operation and has blanketed our county with awkwardly placed glass bus benches, but, we must not give credit to him for these ‘advances.’ After all, the transit department is growing because of the efforts of the 2002 PTP supporters, not the efforts of any transit individual. Since the 2002 approval we have yet to witness any considerable advances with our transit tax money. Sure they’ve purchased a few buses and installed some illuminated street signs, but, is that really what we expected out of the PTP? The north and east-west corridor are anything but certain seeing that either has yet to secure federal funding, the airport connection hasn’t even been finalized, and our transit oriented development is abominable, all the while precious PTP money is squandered. As director, Bradley should have and could have forced Baylink to begin financing and development. He could have created a joint development to accelerate plans to create the Miami streetcar. He could have modernized the transit system, abandoning the ludicrous token system and implementing a friendlier metrocard system. He could have worked to add bus benches in more strategic locations, rather than the wonderful collection we now have along SW 72nd St. in front of half million dollar houses with Range Rovers in the driveways. Hey, anyone remember the FEC and CSX rail corridors decaying across the county? The fact of the matter is that Bradley was fired not for what he accomplished, but for what he has failed to accomplish thus far as transit director.

    I reiterate the importance now of hiring an individual with a visionary plan for the transportation problems in Miami-Dade County. We need someone who understands how real public transit works in other parts of the world and can bring some of the success of other transit systems to Miami. Miami-Dade Transit needs someone who can work to lobby congress to allocate more federal dollars for our transportation deficiencies. We need someone who will work to bring regional rail alternatives to the whole south Florida area and will work with Governor Crist and the Florida congress to reestablish the Florida High speed rail initiative. We need someone who understands that public transit is more than just trains and buses; it’s a complete redesign of our public spaces, our buildings, and our way of life. All in all, we need someone who at the end of the day will not say “Look at what I have accomplished” but rather “Look at how much more can still be done to improve Miami’s public transit.” No transit official should be tooting his own horn for adding buses which had already received funding from allocated taxes and no one should cry foul when fired over an appalling performance…

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    3/21/07

    Travels Through Europe, Part 2

    Vienna and its’ surroundings are covered in a vast web of efficient public transportation. Four rail options make life in the Austrian capital a breeze for residents and visitors alike. Like Miami, Vienna lacks a definite central district where workers travel to and from daily. The inner stadt, encircled by a one-way ring street and streetcar is about as close as it gets to becoming the center of Viennese activity, but major business hubs such as the UN complex are located far outside of the center.

    The streetcars or Strassenbahns are a marvelous form of transportation, easily accessible by locals and visitors alike due to the vast network they create across the entire city (There are over 30 different routes and it is the third largest network of streetcars in the world.) To understand how vast this system really is, please click on the map here, you won't be disappointed. Nearly every street contains tracks for the streetcar, which often shares the limited roadway with vehicles on narrow 2 way streets. The streetcars are prompt, clean, and effective forms of traversing the city.

    The U-Bahn (Subway) is a relatively new form of transportation in Vienna; it opened in its modern form in 1976 and has since grown to incorporate six different lines (although parts of the U-Bahn date back to the 1890’s.) Click here, for an animation depicting the growth of the U-Bahn over the years including the upcoming extensions of the U2 line due to open in 2008 (to the stadium) and 2010, in time for the UEFA Cup which the city will be hosting in 2008. The U-bahn provides a faster mode of transportation and links some of the major hubs including: Stephansplatz, Vienna International Center, and train stations (Westbanhof, Franz-Joseph Banhof, Wien Nord.) Like most modern transit stations, most stations feature newsstands, bakeries, and all other sorts of convenient amenities foreign to the Miami-Dade Transit System.

    The city and its immediate surroundings also contain over 380 kilometers of track for the Schnellbahn, a suburban commuter rail train similar to our tri-rail, only its efficient, vast, reliable, and electrically powered. As I mentioned previously, we used the schnellbahn to connect from the airport to the U-Bahn. There is also a small light rail transit system located within city limits (I know these people are so lucky to have all different forms of rail transit) known as the Lokalbahnen. I’m not familiar with the Lokalbahnen, seeing that we never had the opportunity to use it, but I often saw its trams arriving at the Karlsplatz station, where passengers could connect with U-Bahn, Schnellbahn, or bus transit options along the Ringstrasse. Notice how every site I've linked contains maps, schedules, routes, tickets, etc. in English in an easy to find format...

    The city is also covered by over 80 different bus routes some of which operate 24 hours a day. The Nighlines provide service once the metro systems close for the night, at 1 am and run until they reopen at 5:30. The Nighline runs every 30 minutes and is just as prompt and easy to use as the Strassenbahns and no less popular among the locals or even us visitors. Using the bus system was no less of a breeze to connect us with the nearest U-Bahn station. The buses also lack the stop signal system found on most U.S. buses, instead a button near the exits serves as a dual use button to trigger doors to open and to signal the bus driver to stop. All buses (thanks to GPS devices) also announce upcoming stops and Strassenbahn and U-Bahn connections.

    After experiencing yet another efficient and effective public transportation system, I am forced to realize that Miami has far to go before it too can become a very accessible city to all. Below are a series of photos I took while in Vienna for the purposes of depicting some of the most fascinating elements of their public transit system on this site:

    Notice anything conspicuous about this entrance to the U-Bahn platforms? The absence of any turnstiles should jump right out at you, especially if you are familiar with the heavily armored nature of most American subway entrances. In parts of Europe however, subway entrances like this are the norm because the entire metro system operates on the honor system- Gasp! Yet, it works, because people know what the law is. Enforcement is done completely at random on bus, streetcar, and U-Bahn routes. Throughout our week long visit we were checked a whole zero times! While I'm on the fare subject: we were able to purchase an eight day coupon using our credit cards at an ATM like machine at the subway stations. The eight day card (24 Euros) enabled us to eight full days (not necessarily consecutive) of transit use (all forms) provided that we stamped our tickets daily at anyone of the punch card boxes located on every vehicle or station entrance. This marvelous system eliminates the foolish token or cash system and enables passengers to board the trolleys or buses through any door at any stop. The Honor system and punch card system is far too advanced of a thought for any U.S. Transit system. With heavily fortified entrances and armed station guards, many of our transit systems still suffer from delinquent fare box evaders. Part of the reason why Miami's Metromover system is free rather than 25 cents is that the cost to add security to every platform would cost more than the income gained and more than cutting back security and making the whole system free. In any case, imagine at least if we could add machines which allow users to buy extended day metropasses with credit cards at every station. Maybe our next transit director will bring our transit system into the 20th century, let alone the 21st...After passing through the faux turnstiles, you emerge on a subway platform which is far cleaner than any public space you've ever experienced. Though even I admit this station was cleaner than most, it was interesting to look down at the tracks and not see the usual litter, sewage, and congregation of rodents which is typical of any subway system in the United States. Like the honor system, citizens here know to deposit trash in the appropriate receptacles rather than all along the station platform or tracks. It was rather stunning to encounter such an immaculate station in any case. The trains themselves are very well kept, with clean comfortable seats and handles. The absence of graffiti or window etchings was a plus and I even witnessed residents asking fellow passengers to remove their feet from the seats... Some of the busier stations featured the wall advertising typical of most subways along with maps depicting the upcoming routes (way too advance for Miami, but more common elsewhere.) Some of the busier stations also feature projectors and screens displaying top news headlines and local information.
    Most of the subway cars are extremely modern, like the one pictured above. The trains are surprisingly smooth and quiet, making the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods minimal in the areas where the trains travel above ground. The Strassenbahns (Aka. Streetcars or Trolleys) are an eclectic mix of old and modern technology. The new cars, designed by Porsche Design Group, feature the lowest ground to floor clearance of any similar vehicle. Every station features covered waiting areas with benches and route maps. They also contain real time data LCD screens which depict upcoming trains and expected waiting times which are frighteningly accurate. As I mentioned above, the streetcars share the roadways with vehicles and rarely travel along their own dedicated right of way. Often times, the only lane in either direction is shared while the shoulders are reserved for on street parallel parking spaces. The streetcars operate under different signals than cars and usually have dedicated space in the "medians" for the stations . The overhead power cables are strung from the surrounding buildings, eliminating excessive poles along the side of the roads. The streetcars enhance the pedestrian activity along every street and do not detract from the vehicular traffic flow at all. The electrical wires are not unsightly and share dual use with the overhead streetlight system. What I always find impressive when touring European cities is the amount of young children (typically 5 years and older) wandering around alone on the public transit systems. I took the picture above to emphasize the benefits a good transit system would have on our education systems. See, in Vienna, like many other cities, their is no school bus system. Kids use public buses and trains to get to and from school. When field trips are scheduled, school groups take public transit like the group pictured above; on its way to the Museum of Natural History. Sensational. Imagine how much money we'd save if we didn't have to fun an independent cheese wagon transit system just to transport kids to class daily? I took the above picture while waiting for the Nightline bus. After a long night of Karaoke and drinking, the minimal wait for the bus ride home was pleasant as street cleaners buzzed by routine maintenance was conducted on the streetcar power cable systems. Oh, and yes, at night the LCD screens display the wait times for the buses as well...
    Nearly all the intersections in Vienna are dotted with Siemens sound sensors to aide blind pedestrians cross the streets. Gas stations such as this one above and below emphasize the idea that cars are secondary forms of transportation in the Austrian capital because well, they are. This particular gas station is located outside the opera house and does little to take away from the imperial surroundings. The one below was built into the side wall of a building.

    The picture below depicts the middle level of one of my favorite transfer stations in Vienna, Schottentor. This station is a major transfer point for at least 10 different Strassenbahn lines, including the 1 and 2 trams which traverse the inner stadt. Trams arrive on the ground and mid level of the station, one level below ground. From the mid level the Votivkirche (church) provides a beautiful backdrop for the arriving trams. One level below, passengers can access the U2 line of the U-Bahn. Note: None of the stations feature parking, parking garages, or anything to accommodate ridiculous vehicular usage.
    The regional transit options are no less spectacular than those of the city or of other parts of Europe. The OBB, a train I could liken to tri-rail, only dependable, transported us to a town called Melk, 85km west of Vienna in about one hours time. The OBB trains are powered by overhead electrical wires and make stops in various stations along the way. It was amazing to be outside of the city and traveling through woodlands and pastures in the matter of a few minutes, emphasizing the compact nature of Viennese life and making such marvelous transit feasible in the first place. Melk, a small unassuming town along the Danube River even boasts a local bus circulator and is so compact we had crossed the town by foot in a matter of minutes. Stay tuned for Part 3...

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    A New Era for Miami's Urban Development?


    Miami could soon become a national leader in green building. Mayor Diaz is pushing an initiative that would require all new buildings of 50,000 sq ft or more to be LEED certified. According to the US Green Building Council,
    "LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health:
    1. Sustainable site development
    2. Water savings
    3. Energy efficiency
    4. Materials selection
    5. Indoor environmental quality"
    If approved by the city commission in May, it would be a progressive policy move that would serve as big step forward in sustainable growth in Miami. The new "green building" requirements would include some of the strictest policies of the sort to be implemented in any major American city thus far.

    Now if only the city and county would overhaul its ridiculous, suburban-oriented parking codes, our new green buildings such as "Green Miami" (under construction adjacent to Douglas Metrorail Station) would truly be sustainable, pedestrian-oriented, and transit oriented, thereby not inducing travel demand by cars and exacerbating the main contributor to global warming.

    3/20/07

    Broward Commissioners approved a plan to buy 200 NABI buses over the next five years to replace aging vehicles and add to their existing fleet. Flexible buses similar to the one pictured above, will begin running along the US 441 route this week...

    3/19/07

    Travels Through Europe, Part 1

    Well, I’m back from my latest travels through Europe; we had a marvelous week exploring Vienna and the Austrian countryside. Although I have many stories to share and experiences worth describing, I will offer you all a glimpse into the transportation efficiency which made my trip so worth while. Some of you may liken it to an apples-to-oranges comparison; but I think there is much we could all learn from the European system of planning and constructing cities which would make all of our lives a heck of a lot easier. I will begin now with the airports through which I traveled: Miami International, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, and Flughafen Wien. Go ahead and visit their respective webpages to see their cyber differences. Ours is a catastrophe, in English only, alluding to the disastrous experience you’ll likely encounter when visiting.Amsterdam’s Schiphol is a paradise for anyone encountering a layover in Europe. The modern terminal is excellently situated to allow transfers between all international flights without having to pass through security or customs, unless traveling to another EU country. The airport features some comforting amenities with which to pass the time including: showers, sleep areas, an museum featuring Dutch art from the 18th century, wireless internet, a mall, and various restaurants, bars, and casinos. The facility was immaculate. The airport employees were well informed, courteous, and fluent in various languages, a rarity even in our cultural "melting-pot.” A PA announcement played whenever someone was running late: “Mr. or Mrs. So and so, you are delaying the flight to Casablanca. Please report to gate D4 for immediate boarding or we will proceed to offload your luggage.” Fantastic.

    We didn’t spend as much time in Flughafen Wien due to the fact that it was our final destination, however, while passing through I noted several similarities between it and Schiphol. The airport featured some enclosed glass boxed rooms for smokers only, an innovative thought to keep the smoke away from the general terminals; even though smoking is generally permitted everywhere else indoors in Europe.

    The City to airport connection at both airports is a marvel in itself. Forget the Miami Intermodal Center, distant thoughts of running metrorail or a people mover into the airport, or the current inconvenient bus rides to the nearest tri-rail station. Flughafen Wien, located several kilometers away from the city center, is linked via the City Airport Train (CAT), an express train which whisks passengers into the city in 16 minutes. What I find most impressive about the CAT is the feature which allows you to have your luggage transferred from the plane to the train. Likewise, you can check in your luggage at the city train terminal and not worry again about your bags until you reach your final destination. The train terminal at the airport is located beneath the baggage claim and departure facilities, placing it within easy reach of all travelers. Since we weren’t exactly traveling to the city center, we rode another train, a suburban commuter train like tri-rail called the Schnellbahn, which also services the airport.

    The City/Airport connection in Amsterdam is no less fantastic than the one in Vienna. Having a five hour layover on the return flight enabled us to catch a train into the city to kill off the wait. Within 15 minutes we were arriving in the city’s central station, within walking distance of all the sights, museums, and activity occurring in Amsterdam. The commuter train was just as pleasant, packed with travelers on both decks of the train.

    Amsterdam's Central Station is an amazing intermodal facility. It links the city with the airport via rail as well as local metro service, streetcars, buses, ferries, water taxis, regional rail service, and long distance rail...

    More to come soon...

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    3/16/07

    News and Updates

    Well, it's been a busy last couple of days with planning news...
    • Three bills proposing to give the Marlins a $60 million dollar subsidy to bridge the funding gap for the new stadium easily made it through the state Senate and House committees on Thursday. While the baseball fans in Miami-Dade and Marlin stakeholders should be excited by early popularity of the proposed bills with the state House and Senate, it appears Broward legislators have a bad case of sour grapes over the stadium location. Broward senators are leading the charge against the stadium funding because they're upset the proposed stadium sites are not located in the suburbs near county line. Speaking of the stadium site, there still has been no settlement; however, it appears the Orange Bowl plan is unfortunately still gaining steam.
    • FDOT is planning on making major "improvements" to I-95 between Ft. Lauderdale and downtown Miami. The proposal calls for the replacing the current HOV lanes with two HOT lanes (High Occupancy Toll) in each direction. Newly installed computer sensors on the highway would measure traffic volume and average speed, which would allow the system to increase or decrease the toll fees in the HOT lanes based on how much congestion there is. Drivers wishing to use HOT lanes would use a prepaid toll card like the SunPass. I've never been much of a fan of these "Lexus Lanes", but I'll let Gabe elaborate on the issue as he is the resident transportation engineer of the group.
    • Miami-Dade Transit director Roosevelt Bradley was forced to resign last night. Apparently, Bradley is one of the first casualties of Mayor Alvarez's new powers to hire and fire administrators at County Hall. According to the Herald, Bradley, who took over Miami-Dade Transit in 2002, was inefficient as a boss and oversaw massive deficits under his rule. We'll keep posting any updates as soon as we hear who might be the next director.

    3/15/07

    Ferry Close to Becoming Reality


    Transit has recommended a three year, five-day-per-week pilot program for the ferry, with service from It appears ferry service may soon be a reality in Miami - at least temporarily. Miami-DadeMatheson Hammock Park in the south and Haulover Park in the north to downtown Miami. According to Jose Luis Mesa, head of the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization), service could be expanded to include additional stops north of Haulover Park, such as at Aventura, if the ferry proves to be a success.

    There are still several hurdles to overcome, however. First, such a service would be a form of park n' ride, which would require a considerable amount of parking spaces in environmentally sensitive, bay front areas. The last thing these two beautiful bay front parks need are massive parking allotments within them. The second major hurdle involves protection of manatees. Speed limits of just seven miles per hour are in place in several sections of Biscayne Bay to protect the "sea cows", which are endangered species. Service would be far too slow to be feasible if the ferries had to follow these speed limits. As a result, the MPO is looking into the possibility of using catamarans with sonar or hovercrafts that float over the water to transport passengers efficiently without compromising the safety of the manatees.

    Also, one-way trip times appear to be a little lengthy along the northern route. While the MPO estimates the trip form Matheson Hammock will take just 28 minutes, the trip from Haulover is expected to take an hour. I would think this needs to be cut to about 45 minutes for it to maximize ridership. Access to Haulover may prove difficult as well, given that it can only be accessed by A1A and is relatively isolated from residences on Bal Harbour to the south and Sunny Isles to the north.


    Upon reaching downtown, the ferries would dock at Chopin Plaza (above and top pic) at the south end of Bayfront Park, which is just one block from metromover at Biscayne Blvd. & SE 2nd St. Service would run approximately every 20 minutes during rush hour and every hour thereafter between 6:00am and 8:00pm weekdays. If the county commission's transportation committee approves the pilot, it could be running by 2009.


    Photos from flickr: pixelflex, ldysteph