Peter Calthorpe, an urban planner working on the California high speed rail project, wrote a very good piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on the lack of transit funds in the current form of the economic stimulus. Check it out—it sounds like something we would say here. We definitely agree that there is not enough funding for transit in the economic stimulus bill. I would take it a step further and point out that there is not enough infrastructure funding in the stimulus bill, period. Infrastructure investment pays off in the long term, while offering jobs in the short term. Of course, between highways and transit, transit spending creates more jobs in both the short term and the long term, besides further stimulating the economy.
Many different figures have been floated as to how many jobs are created per dollar spent on infrastructure. Depending on which source you look at, you might see that for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure, 18,000 or 28,000 or some other high number of jobs are created. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact number, but the point is it’s high. Yet only about $30 billion of the $900 billion package is being directed at roads, with transit and inter-city rail getting $12 billion. Some of the other money is being directed to places that will do very little to create jobs.
The New York Times points out some of the latest additions to the bill, which include tax credits for home buyers and car buyers. I hate to say it, but this only attempts to feed our way of life for the past 50 or so years. The message it sends is, buy more homes in the suburbs to contribute to suburban sprawl, and buy a new car to drive on all those new lanes that are getting added to our highways. Don’t bother changing commuting habits or moving into the city, there was nothing wrong with our lifestyles that caused the economy to collapse or anything. (Oh, yeah. We bailed out the car industry so now we have to protect our investment. Same goes for the mortgage companies. Bleah.)
That’s totally the wrong message. Our representatives need to take advantage of the opportunity to encourage sustainable development by directing the funds to the places that will make a difference. Among those places are mass transit and high speed rail. If we don’t learn from our mistakes of spending unwisely in the past, we’re doomed to repeat them.
Noting the transit paradox — more and more riders, less and less funding — Richard Fausett of the LA Times has written an excellent piece featuring our own embattled Tri-Rail system. Says Fausett:
The dramatic spike in gas prices that began in 2005 sent Americans flocking to trains, buses and subways, a trend that appears to have held up even as gas prices have dipped. But 2009 could be a year of crisis for the agencies that run them — a time of more riders but much less money.
Some new funding could come as part of House Democrats’ proposed $825-billion stimulus package, which, in its current form, sets aside $9 billion for public transportation. But all of that money would be used for new capital projects, not operating costs. And it is operating budgets — the money agencies need to run the systems they have now — that are getting hammered.
Tri-Rail service cuts are expected to reduce trips from 50 trains a day — the result of a $450 million investment to meet demand ad expand service two years ago — to 20 trains a day. This would not only nullify render the original investment useless, but also discourage a continued growth in ridership. After all, if the train isn’t running when and where you would like it to, who is going to take it? In addition, it will hurt those who depend on the train for their own livelidhood.
For some, the cuts will be an inconvenience, but for others the consequences will be more serious. Lisandra Fonseca, 21, of Miami relies on off-peak and weekend trains to get her to her job at a McDonald’s 30 miles north of home.
If the trains are mothballed, she said, ‘I’d just lose my job.’
As Streetsblog put it last week, stimulus funding may hire construction workers, while thousands of transit employees are fired.
For now it seems we may have lost the battle for adequate stimulus transit funding. However, with the Fed’s 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: (SAFETEA-LU) up for reauthorization this year, the war has only begun.
This Disney cartoon from 1950 (!) places Goofy in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario whereas Mr. Walker (pedestrian) is perpetually threatened by Mr. Wheeler ‘s (driver) quest for roadway supremacy.
Sadly, not much has changed…
Thanks to Felipe Azenha for the tip.
Urbanist and well-known writer Neil Peirce almost always gets it right. In his latest article, “Obama Open Government: The Stimulus Bill Test,” he asserts the importance of using stimulus funds for fixing existing roadway infrastructure, and directing funds to metropolitan areas, via MPOs, to get things like mass transit built.
With reports indicating state highway departments are ready to divert major portions of stimulus funds to new and broadened roads, national guidelines should put a premium on “fix it first” programs for decaying highways and bridges, plus transit and rail service. The new green mantra should be “No new lane miles!” And the law should require major allocation of funds to metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), with rules leading them to repair first and focus significantly on transit, undergirding the 80 percent of the American economy their regions represent.
Last week, Transportation for America officially launched their plan to improve our nation’s infrastructure, reshape our economy, and wean Americans off foreign oil. T4America is a grassroots network composed housing, environmental, public health, urban planning, transportation and other organizations. Transit Miami will be actively working with T4America over the coming months to bring you the latest news from the congressional front lines. Together with T4America, we can make a substantial change on national (and Local) transportation infrastructure policy. We are committed to enacting sweeping changes in the upcoming 2009 Transportation Equity Act (TEA), a long-held bastion for highway lobbyists and insiders.
T4America’s 5 Step Plan:
BUILD TO COMPETE – We must catch and pass competitors in China and Europe, by modernizing and expanding our rail and transit networks to reduce oil dependence and connecting the metro regions that are the engines of the modern economy.
INVEST FOR A CLEAN, GREEN RECOVERY – Our nation’s clean-energy future will require cleaner vehicles and new fuels, but it also must include support for the cleanest forms of transportation – modern public transit, walking and biking – and for energy-efficient, sustainable development.
FIX WHAT’S BROKEN – Before building new roads, that will themselves have to be maintained, we must restore our crumbling highways, bridges and transit systems.
STOP WASTEFUL SPENDING – Re-evaluate projects currently in the pipeline to eliminate those with little economic return, that could deepen, rather than relieve, our oil dependence.
SAVE AMERICANS MONEY – Provide more travel and housing options that are affordable and efficient, while helping people to avoid high gas costs and traffic congestion. Save taxpayer dollars by asking the private developers who reap real estate rewards from new rail stations and transit lines to contribute toward that service.
An excellent article from the New York Times covers rising transportation costs the world over, which is causing what economists call the ‘neighborhood effect.’ That is to say, global supply chains are shrinking and more goods are starting to be produced closer to home. The days of fish caught in America and then shipped to China for packaging, only to be shipped back to the United States for consumption are probably numbered.
From the Times article:
Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages. Rising concern about global warming, the reaction against lost jobs in rich countries, worries about food safety and security, and the collapse of world trade talks in Geneva last week also signal that political and environmental concerns may make the calculus of globalization far more complex.
“If we think about the Wal-Mart model, it is incredibly fuel-intensive at every stage, and at every one of those stages we are now seeing an inflation of the costs for boats, trucks, cars,” said Naomi Klein, the author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”
“That is necessarily leading to a rethinking of this emissions-intensive model, whether the increased interest in growing foods locally, producing locally or shopping locally, and I think that’s great.”
Read the full article here:
Thanks to a tip from one of our dedicated readers, David, it has come to my attention that US Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters will be speaking at the Downtown Miami Hilton Today. The event, A New Transportation Approach For America, is sponsored by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and will begin at 12:30 (Click here to register, $75 fee for non-members.) I’m going to try my best to make it there and hope that despite the short notice some of you all can attend. You can find some of the emails SBH has shared with me concerning the subject here.
Like our friend over at Hallandale Beach Blog has noted, we too find it interesting that Mary Peters can make some time out of her busy schedule to speak about transportation in Miami, while FDOT director Stephanie Kopelousos remains MIA in the South Florda region. Kopelousos recently held a transportation summit in Destin Florida to discuss the congestion issues of North Florida. I guess a drive down to Miami would have been to difficult.
Here is what the Halladale Beach Blog has to say:
When federal public transit policy meets South Florida’s notoriously fickle apathy, who wins?
98% of Americans are in favor of expanded public transportation. Yes, there is a catch. This is what the study released today by the APTA concluded:
A study released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association reveals that 98 percent of Americans support the use of mass transit by others.
Now, that is a scary statistic. With hordes of environmental and financial problems looming over the US economy (chiefly the result of our unappeasable appetites for oil), one would assume that our citizens would become better acquainted with more sustainable lifestyles. This national mentality falls in line with some situations we’ve addressed here on TM; evidenced by the opposition against bringing commuter rail service to the CSX corridor because it would “hamper the commutes of motorists traveling along several east-west corridors.”
Of the study’s 5,200 participants, 44 percent cited faster commutes as the primary reason to expand public transportation, followed closely by shorter lines at the gas station. Environmental and energy concerns ranked a distant third and fourth, respectively.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news America, but this is not how transportation works:
Anaheim, CA, resident Lance Holland, who drives 80 miles a day to his job in downtown Los Angeles, was among the proponents of public transit.
“Expanding mass transit isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity,” Holland said. “My drive to work is unbelievable. I spend more than two hours stuck in 12 lanes of traffic. It’s about time somebody did something to get some of these other cars off the road.”
You will notice that equally important in our quest of reshaping the American Landscape (and mentality) is to create a better understanding of our land use policies.
- With Gas Over $4, Cities Explore Whether It’s Smart to Be Dense (WSJ)
I returned yesterday from a whirlwind weekend trip to Mexico City. My head is still buzzing, perhaps due to the overwhelming amount of smog, but more likely because the sheer amount of kinetic energy inherent to the world’s seventh largest city is still pulsing through my veins. I will post more complete and complementary thoughts over at Planetizen later this week. For now, I will keep this post as short as possible and transit-oriented.
In less than three days time my girlfriend and I were able to see a fair amount of the city, including Zocalo Square (one of the three largest in the world) in the Centro historico, the neighborhood extant of Roma, Condesa, Zona Rosa and Coyoacan, and the ancient city of Teotihuacan, which translates to ‘birthplace of the gods,’ by one account, or ‘place of those who have the road of the gods,’ by another. After walking the Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacan, which stretches for two miles, one would feel like they were in the presence of gods if it were not for the hundred or so schlock-hawkers peddling everything from cheap rain sticks to fake bow and arrow sets. I digress.
Although we walked a good 6-7 miles each day, as that is always the best way to understand urbanism, the city;s breadth required us to intermittently relyheavily on the Subway, taxi service and a very comfortable bus that got us all the way out to Teotihuacan and back. Thus, all of our explorations would not have been possible if it were not for Mexico City’s robust, multi-layered transit system.
Let me take a step back. Mexico City is literally choking on automobile traffic. Many of its avenues and thoroughfares operate as auto-sewers broken only by the occasional monument. Such streets are incredibly wide and often have a street section comprised of wide sidewalks - three to four lanes in one direction - median - then three of four more lanes… in the same direction - wide sidewalks. Seriously, one must always look when crossing the streets. Think Biscayne Boulevard in front of American Airlines Arena as a one-way street. Hellacious.
Public transportation in Mexico City includes jitneys, buses, electrified bus lines, bus rapid transit lines, light rail and the 201km Metro subway system, which is set to expand another 24km by 2010. The subway in particular is thought of as the transit mode of choice for the middle to lower classes, which is probably because it costs only two pesos (20 cents) per ride! Nonetheless, one gets the sense that no matter how extensive the public transit, it will never keep up with the city’s ever-growing demand.
The Subway system is clean, highly efficient and very easy to use. We hopped on three blocks from our hotel and didn’t think twice about taking it to Chapultec, the city’s central park, south to the Coayacan neighborhood or all the way out to the city’s northern bus terminal for our trip to Teotihuacan.
Although I wonder how much subsidy the system receives, I also dream of the day American cities might democratize transit in such a dignified way.
A few nerdy facts about Mexico City’s Metro:
- It began operation in 1969
- It was the first system to be color coded and it features unique logos for every stop. This is because at the time of its construction so few Mexicans were able to read.
- In 2006 the system garnered 1.417 billion passengers
- It is the cheapest metro system in the world
Now, what about bicycling you ask?! Unfortunately, Mexico city is not nearly as friendly to the two-wheeler as it is to the metro rider. Actually, it’s terrible. There are no bicycle racks to be found. Bicycles are generally not allowed on the Metro system and the traffic is so deadly that unless one is very experienced, bicycling anywhere but the quietest of streets would be utterly hair-raising. Sound familiar?
Despite its current ways, Mexico city is starting to push the bicycle as clean, fast and dignified mode of transport. In 2007, the local advocacy group Bicitekas and an international NGO, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, created a blueprint for bicycle infrastructure expansion. At present the government is making good on the plan, which will eventually add 300km of bicycle routes, paths, and lanes.
In addition, the government instituted “Muevete en Bici” every Sunday from 8am-2pm. This weekly event, similar to Bogota’s Ciclovia, bans traffic on some of the city’s major avenues and connects residents and visitors to the city’s most vibrant public parks and squares. What is more, on the last Sunday of every month the city expands and renames the “Muevete” to the “Cicloton Familiar,” which closes 32km of the city’s streets and features hundreds of loaned bicycles, hydration stations and doctors to deal with any physical-related injuries.
As we left out hotel room on Sunday morning we witnessed just how successful this program has become. Hundreds of bicylists, walkers, joggers, and skaters were out enjoying their city. It was a beautiful site, one that would give anyone hope that the city of cars is changing its way. It made me salivate for my own bicycle.
If all goes well, Miami may soon be experience its own bicycle awakening. As for the transit, just hope our commissioners don’t hike the fares.
Miami may be one of “America’s cleanest cities,” but it certainly is not one of the most bicycle-friendly. This fact was recently recognized in the June 2008 issue of Bicycle Magazine, which bestowed Miami with the dubious distinction of joining Dallas and Memphis as one of the three worst cities in America for bicycling. The excerpt, linked above states the following:
In Miami, the terrain lies pancake-flat and the sun shines bright nearly every day-perfect conditions for cycling. But Miami-Dade County has done little to foster safer streets for bikes, despite the fact that Florida ranks second in the nation in bicycle fatalities and that much of Miami’s poorer population relies on bikes for transportation. The county enacted the Bicycle Facilities Plan in 2001, but it failed to state any specific goals. The city of Miami has no finished lanes, and the only one under construction is less than a mile long. The rest of the county’s lanes are just as short, appearing randomly and disappearing a few blocks later. “We’re so far behind and in the dark with bikes it’s absurd,” bike-shop owner Chris Marshall told the Miami New Times in January. “I’d say we’re stuck in the ’60s, but it’s worse than the ’60s. In the ’60s you could still get around by bike.”
I agree that we are far behind, but the article fails to mention Mayor Diaz’s new Bicycle Advisory Committee, which is working under the umbrella of the Office of Sustainable Initiatives to create a bicycle master plan that dovetails with Miami 21. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Interestingly, the City of Boston, another cycling-poor city in which I have lived, repeatedly received similar honors from Bicycling Magazine. However, thanks to an aggressive agenda to improve cycling conditions the city is quickly altering its reputation. Let’s hope Miami is not too far behind.
Many people are going to be traveling this holiday season. The Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald both point out that airports will be crowded and parking scarce for the Thanksgiving travel days. They offer tips like “get a ride,” but they neglect to offer the best suggestion to avoid both the parking issues and the vehicle traffic in the terminal: Tri-Rail. Parking is free at Tri-Rail stations, so put what you would have paid at the airport towards your Tri-Rail ticket and enjoy your gas savings as you zip along towards any of the three major
Once you get to the appropriate station, just hop on a connecting bus and head over to the airport. The connections take anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes to get from the train station to the airport terminal, so don’t forget to add in a bit of extra time. If you’re going to FLL or MIA, Tri-Rail provides the free shuttle bus to the airport. If you’re going to Palm Beach International, you’re stuck using Palm Tran routes 40 or 44, but it’s still free with the Tri-Rail ticket.
We all know it would be better if Tri-Rail consistently ran on time and you didn’t have any delays there. And it would be better still if Tri-Rail or even Metrorail went straight to the airport terminal without bus transfers. (We are all patiently awaiting the
A local or tourist who is interested in renting a bike goes to a high-tech docking station, swipes a credit or debit card at a meter (translated into eight languages), and a bike is yours for a nominal fee. A one-day pass costs only 1 Euro ($1.38), a weekly pass 5 Euros ($6.90), and a yearly pass only 29 Euros ($40.00). There are no surcharges, taxes, or other fees, so long as the bike is returned within 30 minutes. Over 30 minutes, you would be charged an incremental “late fee”, which is designed to facilitate high turnover and ensure that bikes will be available for rent at each station. If you want to take out another bike after 30 minutes, go right ahead - for convenience, bikes can be returned to any of the docking stations, which are located an average of only 300 yards apart.
“This is about revolutionizing urban culture…for a long time cars were associated with freedom of movement and flexibility. What we want to show people is that in many ways bicycles fulfill this role much more today.”
~ Pierre Aidenbaum, Mayor of Paris’s Third District
According to the New York Times, early indications point toward success for Velib. Even before a single docking station was open, some 13,000 people had already purchased yearly subscriptions online.
Paris is definitely moving in the right direction. Bicycle-sharing on this scale is absolutely one of the most important urban planning developments to come along in sometime. There’s no reason why Miami can’t follow Paris’ lead.
In fact, I challenge the City of Miami Beach, which I believe to be the most appropriate place for bike-sharing in South Florida, to strongly consider implementing its own version of Velib. It has the density and compactness that will allow this sort of program to thrive. It would be great for tourists, who no longer would feel obliged to rent cars. It would be great for locals, whom besides benefiting directly from the service, would benefit tremendously from fewer cars and VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) in their communities. It’s even more logical when you consider that Miami Beach lacks (unfathomably) quality transit.
Once the program manifests success on the beach, it could set a precedent for cycling/transportation policy elsewhere in Greater Miami. I mean, after all, Miami should be a national (and global) leader in cycling, given its phenomenal assets - climate and ecology.
The little improvements are nice, but it’s time to step up and create cycling initiatives that will revolutionize urban transportation in Miami and South Florida.
Photos courtesy of Le Fil’s & austinevan’s flickr accounts
In an unprecedented move which will most likely anger most car-commuting suburbanites across the state, a new law aims to tie tolls prices to the cost of living:
The new law requires that all tolls on highways operated by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise must be linked to the Consumer Price Index. This means that tolls on the turnpike and Sawgrass, plus other toll roads in Central Florida and bridges in the Panhandle, will automatically increase with the cost of living.
The law signed by Governor Christ last month allows for changes to be made automatically every five years or once a year by the state.
It’s about time Floridian motorists started paying reasonable prices for their very unreasonable driving habits. We have to understand that our current growth model (sprawl) and dependence on the automobile simply isn’t part of a sustainable lifestyle. By increasing taxes on motorists, we can further discourage vehicular dependent growth and likewise begin to levy a reasonable fee on the destruction caused by our automobile dependency. We have subsidized this destructive uncanny way of life for far too long, it’s about time motorists began to pay their fair share…
See what the nuts have to say already on the Miami Herald’s Comment section…
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