Right now our state legislators are debating whether or not to pass a law that would allow Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade County to reallocate 80 percent of the money that is generated by an existing surcharge of $2 per rental car per day from funding for road building projects to funding for the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA), the agency that runs Tri-Rail. The 80 percent equals about $41 million per year, which is enough to fund Tri-Rail operations at current service levels. If passed, the counties could reduce their funding levels from current levels to the federal minimum levels, thus reducing their general obligations. Without the portion of the rental car tax, each county will still cut their level of funding and so will all the matching agencies, forcing Tri-Rail to drastically cut back on service. It appears that the rational direction to take from the perspective of the south Florida region is to establish the dedicated funding source for Tri-Rail. There are several reasons.
- First, from a fiscal standpoint, we as taxpayers paid $265 million to improve the CSX corridor by double-tracking to increase train capacity. The cuts in service Tri-Rail would have to make without a dedicated funding source would mirror the pre-double-tracking schedule. Clearly, this inconsistent with the investment we made to improve the CSX corridor.
- Second, even with proposed fare increases looming for riders, Tri-Rail is a fiscally wise choice for commuters as gas prices will continue to rise over the long run due to the constricted supply of oil. It’s a fact that the world has reached peak oil production so the temporary lull in gas prices we see is just that, temporary. Saving money on commuting gives riders more money to spend in the local economy.
- Third, after 60 years of post WWII experience with unending road building and suburban sprawl, we now know that it is impossible to build our way out of congestion by continually widening roads or building new roads. Many traffic engineers, the very people who used to advocate for wider roads and better “levels of service,” now believe that the answer to increasing mobility is multifaceted and includes balancing land uses and providing alternate forms of transportation other than the single occupant vehicle.
- Fourth, every rider that takes Tri-Rail is one less car on I-95 so there is an incentive to non-Tri-Rail users to make Tri-Rail as successful as possible. A recent study (http://www.ceosforcities.org/blog/entry/2169) shows that even a slight reduction in rush hour vehicle trips on the roads can result in a large decrease in congestion. Tri-Rail isn’t the right transportation choice for everyone and it won’t ever be the right mode of transportation for everyone but it is for many people and we must provide the alternative. The consequences to riders and non-riders is a decrease in quality of life; less frequent service to riders equals longer waits for trains and less free time, while riders who are pushed into driving congest the roads for drivers already there, making commuting times even longer.
- Fifth, a trip taken on Tri-Rail pollutes less than a trip taken by a single occupant vehicle. What kind of world would we be creating for ourselves and the next generation by not funding Tri-Rail?
- Sixth, taking a trip on Tri-Rail is safer than driving. Why set policy that moves people from a safer form of transportation to one that is increasingly more deadly?
- Seventh, a fully functional Tri-Rail expands the job markets for Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. For example, people living in Palm Beach County who could not or would not drive to Miami can consider jobs in Miami knowing they can take Tri-Rail. When job markets are expanded, everyone wins.
- Finally, everyone’s quality of life has a vested interest in seeing Tri-Rail succeed. Let us imagine a world where every car and truck and train runs on solar energy, no emissions from any form of transportation and the technology was inexpensive so everyone could afford a car. This would be great for the environment and many detractors of mass transit would argue that mass transit would no longer be necessary. But if we all drove single occupant solar cars, would we still be stuck in traffic? Of course we would. Our quality of life would still suffer because we would still be wasting time in traffic jams. That’s why the answer to the problem of pollution generated by transportation/congestion is not a singular answer of “build less polluting cars.” It has to include mass transit as a component of a regional transportation network.
Individual transportation is unfortunately something that is subject to the dilemma of the “tragedy of the commons.” The classic example of the tragedy of the commons is a group of fisherman who fish the same waters. If each fisherman acts only in accordance with what benefits his own economic situation the most (catching as many fish as possible each day), the entire community of fisherman will eventually suffer because the waters will be overfished and there will be no fish left for any of the fisherman. It therefore behooves the fisherman to act collectively, imposing limits on themselves as individuals so that everyone prospers in the long run.
With individual transportation, driving a single occupant vehicle is clearly the most convenient mode of choice (if a car is available but, converse to convenience, a car is the most expensive). However, when everyone drives a single occupant car we know what the results are, crushing congestion and pollution resulting in a loss of quality of life for everyone. The “commons” are in this case the collective quality of life for society as measured by commuting times, pollution, disposable income, access to wider job markets and increased personal safety. We live in the fifth largest metropolitan region in the United States. We cannot cut funding to our regional mass transit system in a time of increasing ridership and increasing gas prices when we know that a trip taken on Tri-Rail means less pollution, more money in the local economy, more access to jobs, less congestion on the roads and is safer and reduces our need to build more roads.
Submitted by: Matthew Barnes
The Transit Advocates of Florida recently submitted this editorial. If you have any comments, suggestions, or articles you would like to submit, feel free to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Passenger Rail in Florida is vital to the economic future of this state. The federal government has presented a tremendous opportunity for states to leverage their money for rail corridors. Locally in the Miami metropolitan area both Tri-Rail and Metro Rail are both suffering from a lack of support for maintenance and new corridor development. Statewide rail corridors have been studied since Governor Lawton Chiles’ administration before being undercut by the Bush administration.
I urge you to support dedicated funding for Florida’s passenger rail service through the state legislature. This includes existing services such as Tri-Rail that have shown that passenger rail service in Florida is vital to the economy of a region. Tri-Rail ridership has surged as facilities have been upgraded and double tracking allows consistent train schedules and capacity upgrades. The state would never build a one-lane road and ask cars to please wait on the side every few miles to allow others to pass.
Regional rail is not for the local transit agencies to fund or run. These are regional systems using different technologies over larger areas. Additionally a state agency similar to the Turnpike Enterprise should be formed to create the Florida High Speed Rail network. Lastly local transit projects should be prioritized to link into these systems and create an interconnected grid of passenger rail for Floridians.
Please support dedicated funding for RAIL IN FLORIDA. Our state and localities competitive future depends on it.
Send a message of support for dedicated funding to your elected officials in Tallahassee, log onto www.tri-rail.com/FundOrFail
Transit Advocates of Florida
And we thought last year was bad. Tri-Rail’s Year Reprieve is coming to an end, and the news looks dire. Sit back and take a deep breathe, there’s a lot going on if you haven’t caught it already.
First up we’ve been hearing talk of a fare increase, and the amounts have been made official: 25%. So the cheapest one-way fare will rise from $2 to $2.50, while the monthly pass will rise from $80 to $100. The increase has yet to be approved, so stay tuned for news of a public hearing which the Sun-Sentinel reports will take place on April 24.
SFRTA, Tri-Rail’s parent agency, is also announcing plans to reduce weekday trains from 50 to 30 and drop weekend service entirely beginning October 5, if no dedicated source is found. Like last year, Palm Beach County has already said they will reduce their funding of Tri-Rail from $4.1 million to $1.5 million, and the great imitators in Broward and Miami-Dade County would follow suit for some strange reason. (Can someone tell them they don’t have to do what Palm Beach County does? They could fund Tri-Rail more and let Tri-Rail just reduce service in Palm Beach County if it comes to that.) No one’s come up with any new ideas for a funding source since last year. The controversial $2 rental car surcharge is still being floated as the solution to their funding woes.
A few more minor, but equally interesting details include the fact that Tri-Rail will be tweaking their schedules in an attempt to keep their trains on time. The Palm Beach Post reports how they also just dumped their law firm that had helped them lobby for the $2 rental car surcharge. Get this—the firm also lobbied against the $2 rental car surcharge for Enterprise. If the law firm were a Palm Beach County Commissioner, they would be in jail for that!
To combat these forces that seek to effectively shut down our commuter rail service, sign the “Fund or Fail” petition at Tri-Rail’s website. You can scream now.
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.
The American Public Transportation Association released figures Monday on third quarter growth in public transportation. Tri-Rail ranked as the second fastest growing commuter rail system in the country with a whopping 32.9%. Public transit use overall jumped 6.5% between July and September across the country, while automobile use shrunk by a much larger 4.6%. More people reduced their driving because the actual number of vehicle-miles is much higher to begin with than the passenger-miles for public transit. So these 4.6% who reduced driving are not all switching to public transit, but also carpooling and combining or eliminating trips. Few bothered to point out that aspect of our new transportation habits, as the released figures don’t include those changes. Personally, I know many coworkers who have started carpooling this year.
Read the Miami Herald article on the subject here. One phrase in the article that nearly makes me shiver with delight is that “meanwhile, the U.S. auto industry is on the verge of collapse…” While I wish it were the case, the statement is rather sensationalist. If they declare bankruptcy they will not be collapsing, just restructuring.
Meanwhile, gas prices continue to drop, so we can only hope these changes last.
Starting today, Tri-Rail is now using biodiesel fuel in all their conventional trains. The Diesel Multiple Units (DMU’s) will continue to use regular diesel because of their warranty, but the rest of the trains will now be reducing their impact to the environment. Of course, I’m sure cost was the main issue here, with biodiesel costing enough less than regular diesel to offset the reduction in efficiency. Read Tri-Rail’s press release here.
I, for one, can’t wait until next week when I get to ride a train that smells like french fries. It’s got to be better than the diesel fumes that assaulted ones nose every time a train pulled in to a station before.
Remember that vote by Broward County Commissioners to remove funding for Tri-Rail feeder buses in Broward County? Well, the Sun-Sentinel reports that on Tuesday the commission will consider replacing the funding for shuttle buses for at least the coming year.
These shuttle buses are a crucial part of the Tri-Rail service, as the stations themselves are generally far from employment centers. The buses, funded by the county, provide the final link to work or home for many Tri-Rail riders. Until we get Tri-Rail service on the FEC tracks that pass closer to city centers, they provide the best connections. County bus service is not timed to the train schedules and often uses longer routes to get to key locations. Take the Fort Lauderdale airport, for instance. Right now we have a nice shuttle bus providing service from the Fort Lauderdale Airport station to the airport terminals. Without the shuttle, the alternative would be to wait for Broward County Transit Route 4, then transfer to Route 1 at US-1. I don’t even want to know how long that might take! Do you want to be able to get to FLL by Tri-Rail? Ask your county commissioners to keep the shuttle.
Find your commissioner and let them know you want to see Tri-Rail shuttles funded for the coming year. Also remind them that you want to see funding continue on a permanent basis.
Remember ShuttlePort? The FLL shuttle service that had problems with drivers crashing? This LA Times article points out that it was owned by the same company that employs Metrolink engineers. Yes, that’s the Metrolink that had the commuter rail crash earlier this month.
Streetsblog had a post last week with a link to a document outlining McCain’s and Obama’s respective positions on transportation. Well worth checking out.
Much closer to home, Broward County is cutting funding for the Tri-Rail feeder buses. As a shuttle stops at my workplace, and my employer just built a bus shelter for it, this is particularly upsetting. We may have more to say about this later.
I recently had the chance to spend a whole day riding Tri-Rail (Fully Work Related) and finally got a good glimpse at the quantity of commuters who depend on this rather primitive commuter rail system daily. Last week, Tri-Rail averted a major financial crisis that would have slashed daily service from 50 to 20 trains and completely eliminated weekend service, thanks to only a 10% budget reduction by Palm Beach and Broward Counties. Another year of near optimal operation should allow the former fastest growing transit agency in the nation (2006) to continue to attract riders, in a time when public transit infrastructure is of paramount importance.
Ridership is up already 45% over June 2007. May saw a 25% increase, April 28% and March 22%. More than 157 companies signed up for the authority’s employer discount program in May — about 881 riders.
While travelining along the line, I noticed a few key areas where tri-rail could drastically improve its bottom line and service:
TOD: Currently Inexistent. This is my major focus in Regional Planning studies. Often times, I find that our problems are not necessarily the fault of poor transit policy but rather what we choose to do with the land around our transit centers. In Miami, this usually equates to fences, poor access, and inappropriate uses.
Parking: Currently free and very limited. Potential revenue source? There are several reasons why free parking poses many problems, even at transit stations.
Employee Parking: Seriously? This parking is largely unused and unnecessary.
Tri-Rail has received a year reprieve in which it must continue to attract a larger share of riders while working to better integrate itself with the South Florida Landscape. Most of the land use issues are largely out of the control of the agency but must still be addressed regionaly if we ever hope to make a sliver of change in our very autocentric lifestyles.
Lots went on this week in transit and I for one am exhausted. I know we have been silent these past few weeks on what has been happening, and speaking for myself, I didn’t have anything new to add to the discussion that I had not already said before. MDT is having problems, ridership is up, and the people in charge are asleep at the wheel. Does that sum it up? Not to be frivolous, but if we don’t laugh about this we’ll go crazy.
There are no quick fixes. We are fast approaching a time when people realize that not having a transit system in place is the same as not having adequate sewers or electricity. We are living up to our image as a Banana Republic, and unfortunately some of those so-called Banana Republic’s down south are much better off transit-wise than we are.
This morning on NPR Houston Mayor Bill White talked about the challenges facing his city. In light of the Mayor’s Conference going on today, I thought it appropriate to show how another car-centered modern city is dealing with not having adequate mass transit:
A lot happened this week behind the scenes and between the lines. Here is a review:
Kudos to this editorial today from El Nuevo Herald columnist Daniel Shoer Roth. I think he did an excellent job in highlighting how mismanaged our transit system is. Accountability goes out the window when ten different departments and municipalities are ‘responsible’ for certain aspects of mass transit. I’m always talking about how our system is ‘mismanaged’ but that really isn’t the case at all. It’s a question of priorities, and transit has not historically been one of them.
Our planning priorities were on full display this past weekend in an insert produced by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that the Herald included in its Sunday edition. The insert describes work done to date and future projects. If you are not familiar with the MPO, it is a County run organization that is charged with coordinating the various transportation projects around Miami-Dade, as required by Federal Department of Transportation rules. Their mandate is described on their website is:
“…to have a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive transportation planning process that results in plans and programs that consider all transportation modes and support metropolitan community development and social goals. These plans and programs shall lead to the development and operation of an integrated, intermodal transportation system that facilitates the efficient, economic movement of people and goods.” (emphasis added)
Many worthy goals, but unfortunately their focus is more on expressway and road building projects than on balancing roads with mass transit. My favorite part of the insert is titled “Miami-Dade: Urban Travel Trends” which utilizes graphs, bright colors, and a lot of traffic engineer lingo (vehicle miles traveled, peak period speeds, etc), with only a brief mention of transit under a graph called ‘Transit Mode Share’. The text accompanying the graph states, “the countywide transit mode share in 2005 was approximately 2.5%” It goes on to say that share will grow, “albeit modestly.” Ok. I find it disillusioning that the organization supposedly responsible for coordinating our transit system is not very optimistic about the future growth of MDT.
Truth be told, after this week’s political farce concerning tranist fares and another half cent tax, I might tend to agree with the MPO. Our future transit does not look so good because the people responsible are alseep at the wheel. Commisioners Bruno and Barbs: wake up!! You have have been reaching in the dark these past few weeks trying to placate your constituents. I know this issue gets heated and personal. Let me be clear: this is not a personal attack. It makes it difficult for those of us who are transit advocates and who supported the first tax increase to justify anything you ask for now because of how the money has been squandered. Surely you can understand that. Next week I am going to work on a series of posts on how the People’s Transportation Tax has been spent to bring to light how that opportunity has been, and continues to be, botched.
If you really care about transit, and Commissioner Jordan I think you care about getting the Orange Line built, here are a few recommendations that can serve as confidence building measures that might make any fare or tax increase palatable:
- Make the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust the sole entity responsible for deciding what happens to that money. Give it back its teeth, and allow it to do its job.
- Charge veterans and the elderly. We can’t give away transit that doesn’t exist yet. Until MDT gets its house in order, they should be charged, albeit at a reduced rate that should be revisited when MDT’s finances get better. MDT needs income, and the Trust shouldn’t be responsible for giving it an allowance every month.
- Charge for the Metromover. Same reasons as above.
- Have MDT work with the Trust. Recent reports from Miami Today describe how the Trust is having a tough time getting cooperation from MDT with regard to budget issues. How is the Trust supposed to operate if it doesn’t know how much the system costs to maintain?? This is silly.
Note to Mayor Carlos Alvarez: the strong mayor powers you wanted came with responsibilities, ie. get MDT organized. How can they run the business of Miami-Dade Transit without a budget. Helloo?? Not to put all the blame on you though, as you’ve only really been in charge for a short while.
- Tie the 20% Municipal Transportation Plan funding to transit specifically, not transportation which has become synonymous with roads and expressways. A majority of payments to municipalities have been spent on roads, resurfacing, and other road related infrastructure. The PTP was marketed primarily as a transit plan. Spend money on rail, buses, and the infrastructure related to these much needed systems. Our roads are in fine shape. That way projects like the Coral Gables Trolley continue to get funding, while other money is free to be spent on, oh, I don’t know, maybe a few bus shelters (around International Mall maybe)?
- Increase fares to be consistent with our how efficient our system is. Don’t over do it. We want to pay for our transit, but we want to get something in return.
You need to rebuild our confidence in your ability to provide us with a functional and growing transit system. Very soon public perception of transit in this community is going to turn from being a nonessential ‘social good’ to an indispensable and basic part of the infrastructure of the city. When that happens, when people start to feel like they have no choice but to get in their cars at $8.00 a gallon, watch out Commissioners and company. The mob will be ruthless, and the storming of the Bastille will seem like a trip to Disneyworld in comparison to your worth in the public eye.
Imagine the kind of reaction we’d see if I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike were to be closed in the Tri-County area on weekends, holidays, late nights, and you could only drive on them a handful of times during weekdays. Sound crazy? This is what Tri-Rail is facing.
While we all stand to lose tremendously from the proposed Tri-Rail service cuts, it may not be entirely clear who stands to lose the most. I’ve outlined below the stakeholders who should be fighting tooth and nail to save Tri-Rail:
-> Commuters traveling north-south in all three counties: Of course this is a no-brainer, but it has to be mentioned. Tri-Rail is currently averaging 14,000-15,000 weekday boardings, which translates to maybe 6,500 round-trips and roughly 1,500 one-way trips. Cuts in service would alienate these thousands of commuters, not to mention stifle anticipated future growth. As gas prices continue to rise (forever), more and more people would switch to commuter rail at current service levels. The service cuts could compromise this, forcing commuters to suffer in traffic congestion and definitely in the wallet.
-> Airport users of FLL: This is probably the second most popular use of Tri-Rail other than commuting to work. Tri-Rail provides great service to FLL. I use it almost every time I fly (what can I say, FLL has great deals to NYC and Philly) and I save a ton of money on airport parking and don’t have to worry about paying off friends to drive 40 miles round trip…twice. Also, let’s not forget about the thousands of employees at FLL (and MIA for that matter), that could use Tri-Rail to get to work. Airports are major employment centers — they should be served by reliable transit.
-> The City of Miami Beach and its’ residents: As it currently stands, tourists flying into oft-cheaper FLL en route to Miami Beach can use Tri-Rail instead of renting a car. This saves tourists money, which will be spent on the Beach. More importantly, it means less traffic congestion on South Beach. Given the current levels of congestion there and forecasts for increases in the future, Beach residents and officials should be doing whatever they can to keep cars out, which means supporting Tri-Rail.
-> Anyone who commutes on I-95 or Florida’s Turnpike: That’s right — if you drive north-south on I-95 or Florida’s Turnpike to and from work each weekday, you definitely stand to lose big with Tri-Rail service cuts. The Tri-County area continues its explosive population growth, which means those traffic jams you face everyday are only going to get worse. Tri-Rail is currently averaging between 14,000-15,000 weekday boardings, and ridership continues to grow. This offsets the effect of population growth on north-south highway congestion. If a significant number of these 6,000 people or so decided to abandon poor service on Tri-Rail and get behind the wheel, you’d notice your daily commute sucking even more.
-> Low-income households that rely on Tri-Rail: Believe it or not people with low-incomes have a right to travel between counties in the metro area. It just so happens that it’s likely weekends and holidays that they would be most likely to make this travel, whether it’s to see family, friends, or just for travel. Eliminating this service would frankly be discriminatory.
If the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority is forced to cut trains, the authority — and even the state, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — could face a $275 million lawsuit by the Federal Transit Administration, Tri-Rail officials fear.
Only in Miami/South Florida does a transit agency face a lawsuit from the Federal Transit Administration for reduced local funding for transit. How do we think this decision will affect Miami-Dade’s attempts to secure funding for the north corridor? Let’s ask “Pepe” Diaz what he thinks:
“If we’re cutting routes locally,” [“Pepe” Diaz] said, “where are going to get the funding for Tri-Rail?”
That’s the spirit, justify the Tri-Rail cuts with our own local stumbles.
Follow this link to send emails to our local senators in support of Tri-Rail…
In case you haven’t heard, Tri-Rail is in big trouble.
Larry Lebowitz wrote a piece a couple days ago (sorry for the tardiness in reporting) outlining the impending doom for the Tri-County commuter rail line:
Tri-Rail may be facing no weekend service and a 60 percent cut in weekday trains in the fall after the state Legislature failed Friday to pass a major commuter rail bill that jeopardizes funding for the South Florida train.
Tri-Rail has been battling for years to get the Legislature to approve a dedicated funding source so it doesn’t have to seek money annually from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties.
Without dedicated funding, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA), which operates Tri-Rail, is preparing for massive service cuts starting in October.
Tri-Rail executive director Joseph Giulietti said the agency would have to kill its entire Saturday, Sunday, and holiday service — about 15 trains a day — and reduce weekday commuter service from 50 trains down to 20.
SFRTA had been hoping two years ago that the Legislature would pass a measure that would allow Tri-Rail counties to hold a referendum on initiating a $2 a day fee on most rental cars that would provide a dedicated funding source to Tri-Rail. The result? Transit-hater Jeb Bush vetoed the bill. This year, two more bills pushing the $2 rental car fee passed the House, but died in the Senate without a vote a few days ago.
So this is how it will likely go down now: Palm Beach County will cut its share of funding down to the legal limit of $4.23 million. Of course, Miami-Dade and Broward will follow suit, resulting in an $18 million dollar loss for Tri-Rail.
This is almost unfathomable considering the following:
- Tri-Rail is one of the fastest growing transit systems in America
- A $440 million doubling-tracking project was completed less than two years ago
- Ridership is up 28% from this time last year, largely stemming from service increase
- Tri-Rail provides the only regional north-south transit service between Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties
Can it get much worse for transit in South Florida? We finally have a successful transit system that serves a critical role in the regional transportation network, it’s seeing rapid growth every year, and that’s not even good enough? Shameful, embarrassing, moronic — these words that immediately come to mind don’t even do justice here.
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