As Miami politicians struggle with decisions like whether to fund the area’s second commuter rail line or how to provide adequate bicycle infrastructure, it may be worthwhile to look at how other American cities approach the challenges related to regional transportation planning and decision-making.
The Portland Area Metro has emerged as a model for sustainable regional governance as it pursues aggressive reductions in vehicle miles traveled, by drastically expanding its bikeway network, making investments in mass transit and encouraging transit oriented development. These decisions are made by a regional governing body: Metro, “an elected regional government, serving more than 1.5 million residents in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties and the 25 cities in the Portland region.”
Metro is the agency responsible for planning the region’s five light rail lines (52.4 miles), a commuter rail line (14.7 miles), a 651 bus fleet, an aerial tram, and, since 2009, the only American streetcar system with cars made in the USA. The entire system logs an estimated 350,000 weekday rides.
Comparatively, Miami-Dade County has a population of 2.5 million residents, has a heavy rail line (22.4 miles), a downtown people mover (4.4 miles), a strained fleet of 893 buses, and one ailing commuter rail line (70.9 miles) - representing just over 400,000 daily rides, and run by competing agencies.
Metro’s transit expansion is only part of its successful mode shift. The region has seen the number trips made by bike double since 1997 . Approximately six percent of Portland commuters now take their bikes to work, the highest percentage in America and about 10 times the national average.
While Miami has made preliminary steps to advance a mode shift toward active transportation, a quick search of the Transit Miami archives testifies to the growing pains Miami has experienced and the work that remains undone. Miami-Dade County can learn from the example set by Metro’s institutional framework - a model for how regional government can take responsibility for transit expansion and smart growth planning.
Decisions related to transit and regional planning are separate from the other functions of government - allowing County officials to advocate for projects region-wide. In addition, the Metro Auditor is an elected seat that serves as the executive watchdog of Metro’s operation.
The seven members of the Metro Council are directly elected, which makes it the “only directly elected regional government in America,” according to Chris Myers, a policy assistant at the organization. On the other hand, the Miami-Dade MPO is composed of a comparative hodge-podge of county commissioners, municipal representatives, and a representative from the highway building lobby, MDX.
The members of the Metro Council hold no other political office, and while they do consult with elected members of the region’s 25 cities, they are elected by large districts (the three-county area is divided into six total districts), forcing the councilors to focus on regional issues.
The desire for a regional focus was made explicit in Metro’s charter:
We, the people of the Portland area metropolitan service district, in order to establish an elected, visible and accountable regional government that is responsive to the citizens of the region and works cooperatively with our local governments; that undertakes, as its most important service, planning and policy making to preserve and enhance the quality of life and the environment for ourselves and future generations; and that provides regional services needed and desired by the citizens in an efficient and effective manner, do ordain this charter for the Portland area metropolitan service district, to be known as Metro.— preamble of the Metro Charter, November 1992
As the steward of regional land-use decisions, Metro has had a hand in ensuring walkable, urban land use patterns that are another driving factor in the relative success of Portland’s mode shift. More than one-third of the 1.5 million residents in the Metro service area are concentrated around the city of Portland. Metro coordinates planning policies that encourage conservation on the suburban fringe, while accommodating population growth in compact, infill development.
In comparison, as people flocked to South Florida over the past decade, the Miami-Dade County Commission allowed developers to push growth to the north, west and south; expanding suburban sprawl and ignoring the benefits of compact, walkable neighborhoods. These developments simultaneously demand more roads, and make mass transit less effective.
Portland began its shift toward more transportation options in the 1970s when area leaders elected not to build a new eight-lane highway to the suburbs, putting the money toward transit development. Later, the Portland Transit Mall opened downtown, followed by the area’s first light rail line. Now the Portland area ranks 8th in America in transit ridership, even though it ranks 23rd in population. Transit use is growing faster than the area’s population while vehicle miles traveled are steadily declining.
The question for Miamians and their leaders is, what’s next? More roads? More traffic? Or, is it time to make bold changes in anticipation of a better future?
Portland just opened their latest light rail line. The ‘Green Line’ is 8.3 miles and cost approximately $575 million. Critics point out that it uses an existing freeway right-of-way that is far from population centers. (Funded by Federal New Starts Dollars and local contributions). This from the Transport Politic:
But the transitway is the crux of the problem with the Green Line. The highway makes an ideal right-of-way for the purpose of increasing speeds and reducing interference with surrounding neighborhoods, but it is the worst when it comes to spurring transit-oriented development. TOD, after all, should be the primary land use goal of any new public transportation investment, and Portland is likely to get very little of it along the Green Line. That’s because the mere presence of I-205, with its traffic, noise, and pollution, will make development adjacent to it unappealing. Worse, because the transit corridor will be located on one the side of the freeway, people will have to cross the very wide road to get to the other side. These are the same problems Dubai faces with its own just-opened rapid transit line.
Many around town have been toying with the idea of using the Dolphin Expressway as a route for the east/west orange line or some BRT alternative. Javier Rodriguez has said that he is open to the idea, but the problem with using the highway is getting people to use it. As anyone who drives on the Dolphin knows, there is plenty of room to include mass transit, but the ample space is also the problem - who is going to walk 20 minutes to get to the station? A line going right down Flagler or 8th Street would be more practical for people to actually use than one on the Dolphin. Check out this great post from the Overhead Wire about the same subject. It seems like the trade off might be to use the freeway ROW, but to bring the rail line into the city fabric at strategic locations. That way you still significantly reduce ROW acquisition costs, but bring transit within a reasonable walking distance to population centers.
PS. Why are cost projections for our 10-13 mile east west line $2.5 billion - parts of which are within an existing ROW - while Portland spent half a billion for 8.3 miles?? I’m not a numbers guy, but that doesn’t add up. Is technology really that big of a factor or is it the result of a corrupt, bloated bureaucracy? I say lets let MDX take a stab at mass transit - not BRT, but light rail or metorail. My guess is that they will build it within budget, and maintain/operate it cheaper than MDT.
But they are making a comeback in several American cities, and more have plans in the wings, projects largely development-driven to revitalize sagging urban areas, and to serve a population segment, often baby boomers, choosing to move back to the cities and to simplify their lives when they do.
The streetcar Renaissance stems from planners who see them not only as people-movers but as engines of urban development dealing with, and encouraging, a gradual demographic shift back to cities by people, often older, who like the convenience, miss interaction absent in the suburbs and want to rely less on cars.
Charles Hales, senior vice president of the engineering firm HDR, which works on many streetcar projects, says as many as 60 American cities are in some stage of streetcar planning or development, “depending on how you count it.”
Portland ridership, initially projected to be 3,500 a day, now tops 9,800 and is growing at about 17 percent a year. The city is putting together about $75 million to match federal money to expand the lines from Downtown to the city’s east side, on the other side of the Willamette River.
The new lines no longer are the commuter systems they once were. They are designed to lure people back into cities, keep them there, and perk up decaying, underused and undertaxed, former industrial sites and similar areas. And it seems to be working.
Portland has seen about $2.5 billion in new construction, including 7,248 new housing units within three blocks of the line since the plan was announced in 1997.
In Little Rock, the figure is between $300 million and $400 million.
“It is not the only reason (for the construction) but most developers admit the streetcar is one of the reasons,” said Keith Jones, who helped design the system there.
“The line defines areas where things in the city are happening.” It extends to North Little Rock, which was suffering downtown decay. “It is having a higher impact there than in Little Rock, where things were happening anyway,” he said.
“We got 80 percent federal funding, something that’s virtually impossible to do now with the federal government generally limiting funding to 50 percent,” he said.
The 2.5 mile-line has carried about 400,000 passengers, beyond projections, since it opened in late 2004, and an extension is planned to the Clinton Library.
“Developers see streetcars as an indication of permanence when they make investments,” said Len Brandrup, director of transportation in Kenosha, outside Chicago. That’s not the case with buses, he said.
He said the past century has seen an “unhooking” of land-use decisions and transportation planning.
“Portland is ahead of the country in trying to rehook them,” he said, reducing auto use and parking space demands.
Unlike Paris, however, Washington will initially roll out a “lite” version of bike sharing, offering about 120 bicycles at 10 locations around the city. Details such as costs for usage and membership have not yet been announced. If all goes according to plan, the first phase of the D.C. program could start in March or April of 2008.
As for the bikes themselves, they will be locked into docking stations that will be opened with special cards for members. Washington plans on using a “sturdy” bike, which can be adapted to people of various heights. The bikes will also have some special features including a small front wheel that makes it “more maneuverable, but also quirky enough to discourage theft.” For nighttime safety, all bikes will be equipped with automatic lighting.
Chicago is also in the process of implementing bike sharing. The Windy City is studying two proposals, one from France-based advertising giant JC Decaux — which operates the Paris system — and one from London-based OYBike. The city’s mayor, Richard Daley, has expressed strong interest in a bicycle program, having viewed the Paris system.
“Mayor Daley’s vision is to make Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States,” said Ben Gomberg, bicycle program coordinator for the city.
“In Chicago, almost 60 percent of all trips by city residents are three miles (nearly five kilometers) or less, which are distances very suited for bicycling. That’s why we’re interested.”
Additionally, Gomberg said Chicago is flat and relatively compact compared to many US cities, making cycling easier. He said city officials see many advantages to the program including improving physical fitness and reducing pollution.
Come on Miami, it’s time to act.
Photo: Courtesy www.flickr.com
As for Miami, I think Bicycle Boulevards are a very necessary component of the larger pedestrian/bicycle-oriented system that would make our city(ies) more livable.
Right off the top of my head, three good potential Bicycle Boulevards in Miami could be:
-SW 6th St between SW 4th Ave & SW 27th Ave
-Tigertail Ave between Sw17 Ave & Mary St
-N Federal Hwy/NE 4th Ct between NE 36th St and NE 79th St
SW 6th Street is the classic example of wasted street potential at the expense of maximizing automobile traffic flow. Despite on-street parking on both sides, this street is too wide for a one-way. Combined with traffic synchronization that allows the driver to speed through almost 20 blocks without a red light, traffic calming is definitely in order. However, SW 6th happens to run right through the heart of Little Havana, one of the densest neighborhoods in all of the SE United States and perhaps Miami’s most organic neighborhood. Due in large part to the density of this corridor, it has a fairly high number of pedestrians and cyclists in proportion to most other residential areas of the Greater Miami area. With the necessary traffic calming and addition of bicycle-oriented measures/infrastructure, I think this street has great potential for a Bicycle Boulevard.
Tigertail Avenue, officially holding “Scenic Transportation Corridor” status with the City of Miami, also has great potential as a Bicycle Boulevard. One thing is for sure: it is a lot more scenic by bike or by foot than it is by automobile. Unfortunately, Tigertail currently has no bike infrastructure of any kind, and several portions of the Avenue are even without sidewalks. Moreover, during rush hours Tigertail is turned into a bypass for thru-traffic avoiding US-1 or Bayshore Drive. It wouldn’t take much to make this into a Bicycle Boulevard, though. I don’t have official statistics, but from personal experience I would estimate that Coconut Grove has the greatest number of cyclists per capita in all of Greater Miami. I’m sure residents living along the Tigertail corridor would love to have fewer cars rumbling by their homes and making this historic street hostile to cyclists and pedestrians.
I think N. Federal Highway/NE 4th Ct has good potential as a Bicycle Boulevard for several reasons. First, it runs between NE 2nd Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard, and should not be reserved as another N/S arterial. Secondly, it would integrate very well with the Streetcar, allowing people to efficiently get from downtown to almost the City Line without ever driving. Hopefully, planners would incorporate bicycle infrastructure into proposed make-over projects for 79th Street - even having the vision to connect it over the causeway to North Beach. Also, the NE 4th Ct section is already in pretty good shape physically, having narrower streets, slower speed limits, and shade trees. However, the N. Federal Highway segment from NE 36th Street to NE 55th Street definitely needs a makeover. Designating it a Bicycle Boulevard affords the perfect opportunity for planners to remodel this currently insipid, hostile road into a high quality urban street that is the backbone for several emerging neighborhoods.
- 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%.
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