Turnout at MDX’s highway open house last Thursday night was generally healthy.
I’d estimate a solid 80-100 people came through the doors of the West Kendall Baptist Church, eager to learn more about the big new highway project MDX is seeking to sell them on. (I didn’t stick around for the whole three hour event, so my count is unofficial at best. Let’s hope the numbers were more around 150-200 people.)
The layout of the public meeting was informal, and MDX should be commended for conducting the event in a way that maximized the people’s interaction with project staff: Good job on facilitating some community face-time, MDX — sincerely.
Four loosely-grouped information stations were set-up.
- Station 1: “Purpose & Need”
- Station 2: “Process & Schedule”
- Station 3: “Natural Environment”
- Station 4: “Physical & Socio-cultural Environment
Each station had two or three MDX staff members (or staff from one of MDX’s contracted consultant firms, e.g., Stantec) on-hand to solicit residents’ thoughts and provide (typically diversionary) responses to their questions.
Staff were generally friendly. All good salespeople are.
My underlying concern is that when I asked even the simplest of questions, or when my questions were apparently perceived as not ‘softball’ enough, I persistently got some variant of the following response: “Oh, this project is just in the planning stage. It’s way too early to be making those considerations.”
A couple of basic questions to which I received no real response.
- Considering all alternatives, from the least to the most expansive, what is MDX estimating the costs of this highway expansion to be?
- Considering all alternatives, how much does MDX consider the total cost of the tolls to be from the southwest to downtown Miami?
Any response that wasn’t overly deflective still didn’t register as sufficient justification for a new highway. For example:
- Me: If the underlying problem is that nearly all of Miami’s suburbanites commute from the west to the east, why would people want to lengthen their commute by driving farther west, just to ultimately go east again?
- MDX (paraphrased): Well . . . some people already go west onto Krome [SW 177th] Avenue to go back east again.
- Me: Yes, a handful do, but Krome Avenue is currently set to be widened by FDOT, and that will accommodate the relatively few who do.
- MDX (paraphrased): Yes, that’s true; Krome is to be widened; but we need to look into whether widening Krome will be enough.
- Me: . . .
MDX was clearly more concerned with selling its message than informing the people of that highway’s impact on their quality of life.
That message is clear: “Miami: You need another highway at the far edge of the city, either along, or somewhere beyond, the Urban Development Boundary.”
While MDX staff weren’t eager to give out any information that could jeopardize their chances of advancing their highway “dream”, they were eager to give out free Sunpass receptors (electronic toll collection devices). The way MDX sees it, we’ll be needing them.
Many attendees, myself included, made their opposition to the project known via the comment cards distributed by the agency.
Still, more voices will be needed to stop MDX from moving forward with its plans to build more highways in Miami, further constraining our city’s ability to liberate itself from its dependence on automobiles.
At last year’s Citizen’s Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) Transportation Summit, Maurice Ferré, former City of Miami Mayor and current Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) Chair, pointed to a map of his agency’s current and future projects and declared that it was MDX’s “dream” — yes, that’s a quote — to realize the proliferating highway vision embodied by that map.
A major feature of MDX’s so-called dream includes expanding the Dolphin Expressway (SR 836) down through the far southwest reaches of Miami-Dade County. One of the competing versions of the dream would put the newly expanded tolled highway along the Miami-Dade County urban development boundary (UDB).
Tolled highways are generally great, as they create an economic disincentive to single-occupant automobile use. People often respond to the price triggers of tolled highways by turning to more affordable, more accessible public transportation (bus, train, etc.), active mobility (biking, walking, etc.), and alternative mobility (car-pooling, short-distance car-sharing (Car2Go), real-time ride-sharing (Uber, Lyft), etc.) options.
In the metropolitan context of Miami-Dade County, though, these options are either underdeveloped or are just now getting started in earnest.
The Metrorail system, for instance, serves a very limited corridor.
An extensive bus system traverses most major arterial roads moving north-south and east-west, but buses carry a stigma of being either unreliable or unpleasant, or both.
Miamians are increasingly realizing that cycling and walking to their destinations isn’t as hard as our automobile-dominated culture would have us otherwise believe. Still, we’re many years away from realizing the active mobility utopia Miami has the potential to be.
In light of this shortage of viable mobility alternatives, then, one might think that the toll revenues generated by Miami’s highway dystopia would be directed toward investment in better public transportation infrastructure and streetscape amenities (e.g., wider sidewalks, proper bike lanes, etc.).
The problem with MDX, though, is that the toll monies it collects are used for increased highway development and an unwarranted expansion of roadway jurisdiction, not for the sorts of investments that would move greater Miami away from its automobile dependence.
As one of many cases in point: MDX is actively seeking to convert the only bus route in Miami-Dade County even remotely resembling true bus rapid transit, the South Miami-Dade Busway, into a highway falling under its jurisdiction, complete with overpasses and all.
Dumping more money into highways is tantamount to our community collectively signing a 50-100-year contract of servitude to stop-and-go highway hell. And that’s not to mention all of the broader economic and environmental ramifications: subsidizing the air-choking, global warming oil and gas industries; the financial crisis-inducing, and obesity-encouraging single-family real estate sprawl sector; the deforestation-promoting rubber sector in the tropics; the list goes on.
Miamians don’t have to accept this fate, though. We don’t have to sign away our city to this chain of corporate profiteers who refuse to adapt to the innovations in transportation infrastructure and human life demanded by 21st century urbanism.
The very first “Open House: Public Kick-off Meeting” for MDX’s Southwest Highway Expansion “dream” will be held in less than two weeks. This is Miami’s first real opportunity to voice its concerns about the project’s short-, medium-, and long-term impacts.
At the risk of sounding (even more?) cynical, I dare posit that these sorts of meetings are intended primarily to fulfill certain state and federal requirements to maintain minimum transparency levels, as well as to offer just enough opportunity for public input so that any future complaints made when the real impacts of such projects are felt can be expediently dismissed with the standard bureaucratic “We offered the public the chance to speak, and no such concerns were brought up then.” By then, it’s simply too little, too late.
The point is that the time to speak is now — during this preliminary Project Development & Environment (PD&E) Study — not when this study materializes into an actionable plan and the construction crews are out there at the edge of the Everglades laying out a new highway.
Don’t let MDX’s highway dream become Miami’s prolonged highway nightmare. Be there and speak up!
MDX SR 836 / Dolphin Expressway Southwest Extension
Open House Public Kickoff Meeting
Thursday, September 4, 2014
6:00pm - 9:00pm
Miami Baptist Church
14955 SW 88th Street
Miami, FL 33196
It is always one step forward and two steps back for transportation in South Florida. The governing board of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority voted last week to close the Tri-Rail Airport Station for several years to allow construction to continue on the Miami Intermodal Center, scheduled to open in 2013 with a new Tri-Rail station.
Project engineers claim that keeping the service running would lead to cost overruns and delays in opening the Miami- Intermodal Center big parking garage next to Miami International Airport. Users coming south from Broward and Palm Beach will have to take a shuttle from Hialeah station to MIA. No big deal to FDOT district secretary Gus Pego, who said users already have to take a shuttle from the existing station to the airport (which is a bit misleading - a 5 minute shuttle cannot be compared to a 20-30 minute bus ride through Hialeah.) As one commenter on the Miami Herald put it, “Another decision about public service made by those who don’t use the service.”
Ironically, the Miami-Dade contingent of SFRTA is made of many of the same anti-transit leaders on the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority Board. How can we expect these folks to advocate for the best transit options, when they are simultaneously planning to undermine Tri-Rail and the US1 busway with an elevated expressway (not to mention their stated opposition to the regional service on the South Florida East Coast Railway Corridor at recent MPO meetings). Yet another instance of the fox guarding the hen-house in Miami.
The transportation planning and governance model in our region must change. Our leaders have established a highway monopoly where they can set the price for the service at whatever level they choose, while giving people a false choice between transportation options. In referendum happy Miami-Dade County - is it time for us to take control of our transportation future? I think so.
2010 was an ambitious year for MDX. Open road tolling really took off, and MDX had its planners busy working on ways to turn our County into an expressway wonderland, where everyone is only a block away from smooth rides; all the while, as our friends at rollbacktolls.com report, MDX ran a $2.4 billion debt through 2010. While we at Transit Miami do not think that tolls are the problem, we support others’ efforts to put MDX under a magnifying glass - after all, they act with complete impunity when it comes to planning and operating the expressway system in Miami-Dade County. And it would seem that their long-term strategy is to dismantle the few bits of premium transit we have in this region.
Take for example the plans they released in July (2010) to build a double decker expressway on top of Tri-rail, in an effort to connect all the major expressways in Miami. Insensitive to the fact that building a highway directly on top of a major regional transit system would only compete for riders, sources within MDX even admit that the likelihood of obtaining federal funding for the system is low considering the feds gave SFRTA several hundred million dollars only two years ago for Tri-Rail Upgrades. How backward can these folks be with regard to the true transportation needs of Miami-Dade County?
Now the latest assault on Miami-Dade Transit: the effort to dismantle the South-Dade Busway and create lexus lanes for the wealthy residents of Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, and Pinecrest. MDX planners are meeting with area residents to get buy-in for the project, but what they won’t tell people is that this is part of creating a parallel highway to US1 that reaches South Dade.
The irony is that the busway was conceived as low cost alternative to bring transit to the mainly underprivileged residents of South Miami-Dade County along existing train tracks built by Henry Flagler. The busway was never meant as a limited access highway for the wealthy residents of suburbs that have developed since then. Be that as it may, MDX is moving full speed ahead preparing plans to convert the bus-only transit way into an I-95 style lexus lanes expressway with elevated intersections.
What does MDT get in return for letting MDX rape its only premium transit service to the residents of South Miami-Dade County? A big fat nothing. No shared toll revenue. Faster travel speeds say MDX, but at the expense of accessible and convenient transit. On a line that already runs beyond capacity most peak times, the only transit oriented upgrade to the busway would be to make true BRT improvements, increase frequencies and headway, and eventually to extend the metro-rail south; what they should not take apart a thriving transit service.
It’s time for a change in transportation planning in Dade County. We cannot allow MDX to continue to expand highway capacity at a time when most Miami-Dade residents are clamoring for expanded transportation options that will help them out of their cars. The myopic car-centric decision making at MDX will only continue to degrade transit service until one authority is made responsible for uniting the managerial know-how and Right-of-Way MDX posses with MDT’s transit mandate. Until then, it is open season for MDX, and the drive to expand roadway capacity will continue at the expense of transit ridership.
This is a great blog post from the NY Times about the economic structure of our transportation network.
Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner’s “Fundamental Law of Traffic Congestion: Evidence From the U.S.” states that vehicle-miles-traveled increases roughly one-for-one with miles of roads built. More highways mean more drivers, so we are never going to build our way out of traffic congestion. People will keep on driving until they are made to pay for that privilege.
Privatization, in principle, offers the possibility of working on both the engineering and economics fronts.
Private road operators or airports will charge higher fees during peak periods to cut down on congestion, and they have incentives to innovate technologically to attract customers and cut costs. Mr. Winston notes that capsule, or pod, hotels, “which enable fliers to nap between flights,” happen to be “available in private airports, but none is available in the United States.
Because the public sector controls almost all roads, airports and urban transit, we see the downsides of public control on a daily basis, but we don’t experience the social costs that could accompany privatization. A private airport operator might try to exploit its monopoly power over a particular market or cut costs in a way that increases the probability of very costly, but rare, disaster.
The complexity and risks of switching to private provision means that Mr. Winston is wise to call for experimentation rather than wholesale privatization. An incremental process of trying things out will provide information and build public support.
Yet many of Mr. Winston’s recommendations are incremental and can be done without privatization or much risk.
Private jitney operators could be permitted to compete freely with public bus lines in urban markets (In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is already testing this idea.) New York could also implement a congestion charge (as Mayor Bloomberg has proposed on several occasions, to clamorous opposition). Tolls could be increased on busy commuting highways during peak hours and lowered off-peak. Airports — especially those in the New York area — could raise the landing fees during peak periods.
This issue is all the more relevant here in Miami where elected officials struggle to provide even a basic level of public transit. While privatization might bring unknown social costs, a social cost is already being incurred because of our deficient transit system. The lack of convenient and frequent mass transit opportunities exacerbates problems of social inequity. Not owning a car in Miami-Dade County is a barrier to employment, yet Commissioners do nothing to advance premium transit expansion. At the same time MDX is planning a multibillion dollar highway expansion through some of our last remaining natural preserves and pushing through ‘lexus lanes’ on our only physically separated and dedicated bus transit line. Who are these people serving? This type of planning demonstrates that our leaders continue to be poor stewards of public lands, and have little interest in providing the residents of Dade County with a balance of mobility options. I for one would welcome a private enterprise that could help ease the burden on the County as it struggles to ‘right-size’ both its transit system and highway network.
Last night I moderated attended a transportation panel that brought together highway folks with transit folks in the hopes that they would interact and teach each other a thing or two about how we can advance transit in our community. The panel included Alice Bravo (FDOT District 6 Director of Transportation Systems Development), County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez (District 7), Harpal Kapoor (Director of Miami-Dade Transit), and Javier Rodriguez (Director of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority).
My thinking was that there was some secret that the highway planners knew that could enlighten us transit advocates as to why transit consistently fails in our region, but I was wrong. There is no secret, just institutional malaise, lack of vision, and as one member of the audience described it, a ‘bubble’ mentality.
I was disappointed in myself on my way home because I came armed with a series of tough questions about why we don’t have transit, and how the panelists (as the responsible parties) could do something to change the status quot. But I didn’t ask my questions - I was too busy listening to the spin. Don’t get me wrong, I learned an awful lot about how things work, but it wasn’t because of anything that the panelists said. Their insulated and distant positions on the need and demand for transit was more revealing than any of their answers were. It was as if their opinions of what ‘works’ in Miami, after so many years of experience, had been calcified into facts. ‘This is the way it is in Miami-Dade County’ was the idea touted by some , with Commissioner Gimenez sharing with me in conversation that his apparent cynicism came from years of dealing with inept transit management (an understandable feeling considering his efforts to address the management of the PTP).
I abandoned my questions early on because of the enthusiastic and vocal audience of transit professionals, planners and interested citizens who came up with their own questions for the panel. I was happy to see such an interest in the subject, and thought it was a signal to the members of the panel that they need to get moving on providing creative transit solutions.
Funding dominated the conversation (as it will when discussing transit issues), and I was happy that Javier Betancourt (Miami DDA’s Manager for Urban Planning and Transportation) asked the panel why transit doesn’t get the same funding that highways do. No one could give a simple, straight answer, but I think the answer to this question is the key to solving our mobility problems (and no, I don’t think our highways are the solution).
Ysela Llort, Assistant County Manager in charge of transportation was in the audience, and she answered the question by describing the competitive and difficult Federal New Starts process for building transit infrastructure. Commissioner Gimenez described the problem as involving the operations and maintenance side of transit once the infrastructure is up and running. (Ysela also made this point.)
In conversation before and after both Commissioner Gimenez and Javier Rodriguez made interesting points about the funding conundrum. Why do roads and highways get funded over transit? Because government doesn’t have to get involved in the operations and maintenance side of the equation- that is largely the responsibility of the citizenry (you are responsible for maintaining and fueling your car).
Lack of density was also mentioned, but what was not mentioned was lack of demand. I said several times over the evening that we need to get people out of their cars by making driving less convenient, to which the Commissioner and Alice Bravo grimaced. What an un-American thing to force people out of their cars. I disagree. The point of my comment was not that we should make people abandon their cars, but to provide more alternatives. How can we justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars improving flow on the Palmetto - which is within the fiefdom of FDOT - while not providing a convenient alternative to people who don’t want to sit in traffic. We wouldn’t have to improve flow if we gave people an easier choice to make.
I heard many promising things as well, most notably from Javier Rodriguez, who really gets the bigger picture. I’ll write more about him and his thoughts tomorrow. All being said, I came away with the hope that we have things to look forward too.
PS. Harpal is awesome. If anyone wants a free EASY Metro card, send me your email.
- CTAC Joint Subcommittee will meet tomorrow night to discuss including the US1 Express project on the 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan.
- The City Commission gets pow-pow: Uncle Charlie formally rejected the Mercy Hospital/Jorge Perez land-use change approved by the City Commission. Bad city commission. ¡Eso no se hace!
- Sunrail may not be dead after all…
- The City of Miami is implementing a Water Conservation Ordinance. Awesome! (It would be great to also require a certain minimum percentage of native - drought tolerant - plants.)
- US1 Express: Ugghh. ”I would support moving forward,” Gimenez said, alluding to the coming vote on the conversion study. “If it competes with Miami-Dade Transit, so be it.”
- Miami 21…Where are you?
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