Posts by: Ryan Sharp

The video below documents the struggles of a suburban Phoenix, AZ family as they try to cope with the high cost of transportation and a lack of alternatives to driving in their autocentric neighborhood. It’s amazing (and sad) to watch this family struggle to get by with just one operable vehicle and no public transit in sight. I have a feeling that a lot of households in the Miami area are experiencing similar difficulties as the Brosso family because they too live in communities that lack the presence of other quality transportation options beside motor vehicles.

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

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Image: John Darkow, The Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri

With gas tax revenue falling fast the federal government fears that it may not be able to meet its commitment to states for road projects currently under way. So what does Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters suggest? Simply “borrow” money from the mass transit fund. According to the New York Times article, such a measure would “balance the accounts as highway travel declines and mass transit increases.”

However, such a transfer of money would require Congress’ approval.

American Public Transportation Association president, William W. Millar added this:

The administration proposal is shortsighted and would mean that the mass transit account would be reduced to the point where there would not be enough money to fund the federal transit program in 2010, even at the current level.

If this doesn’t illustrate how broken our federal transportation funding system is, I don’t know what does. Despite runaway gas prices, climate change, and the prospect of funding petro-dictators, the Bush administration is still desperate to fund highways at a significantly greater clip than transit. The sad thing is that the Bush admin wants to borrow from what is already a scant fund. The transit fund is but a tiny fraction of the highway fund.

We apologize for being slow to comment on the recent Herald series about the People’s Transportation Plan disaster. Everyone at Transit Miami has been extremely busy as of late, but we’ll definitely have several pieces in the coming days and weeks discussing many of the elements referenced by Larry Lebowitz’s multi-part series.

Stay tuned!

Image: Miami-Dade.gov

Photo: New DeKalb Ave bike lane in

When it comes to adding bike lanes, a common roadblock (pun intended) is that the prospective street does not have enough horizontal space to accommodate them. For example, a typical striped bike lane should be at least four feet wide, but five feet is preferable. However, few streets have this kind of space between the parking lane and an adjacent traffic lane to make way for bike lanes without compromising legal lane widths. While taking away a traffic lane OR taking away a parking lane is an option, it can be like running up Everest trying to get the support of the community and its’ officials for this to happen, thanks to our powerful car/oil addiction. However there is one option that could serve as both a compromise and a win for the cycling/livable cities community: take away a traffic lane during off-peak hours.

To illustrate my point, I’m going to use a case from my Brooklyn neighborhood on DeKalb Avenue. As of about a month ago, DeKalb Ave was a one-way street with two traffic lanes and two on-street parking lanes. The avenue moves westbound moving out of Brooklyn toward the Manhattan Bridge, so cars regularly flew at speeds between 40-50 mph. As a result, the street was very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians despite a high number of both being present on the street throughout the much of the day.

Picture: Existing conditions on DeKalb Ave (NYCDOT)

The solution? NYCDOT decided to take away a lane of traffic during off-peak hours and add a five foot bike lane plus a three foot buffer to protect cyclists from traffic, getting doored, and hopefully mitigate maddeningly frustrating bike lane parking. By narrowing the street to one traffic lane during off-peak hours, it serves to calm traffic from the wild, unnecessary speeding and lane changing for much of the day. However, to help accommodate more traffic during rush hours, a parking lane (on the opposite side of the bike lane, of course) becomes a traffic lane. Any car still parked during peak hours gets ticketed.

Graphic: Conceptual plan for DeKalb Ave (NYCDOT)

Some people may ask, what about the businesses on DeKalb getting hurt by the loss of parking, especially during peak periods? The answers are straight forward enough. First, NYCDOT is installing meters to encourage turnover instead of all-day parking squatting. This will actually help businesses by facilitating turnover as well as generate revenue for the usage of valuable urban street space. It will also redefine loading zone hours in order to combat double parking that clogs traffic and creates dangerous conflicts. Lastly, by calming the street and improving access for cyclists and pedestrians, the potential is there to enhance local business activity even further.

Of course this will not be a perfect scenario, but it should certainly make DeKalb Avenue more livable as it functions more like a complete street. For example, I’ve noticed that it’s actually a little more difficult for pedestrians to cross DeKalb at mid-block now, since there is a steady (albeit slower) flow of traffic along the single traffic lane. However, this can be expected in the short term, as drivers adapt to the roadway changes. Over time, studies have shown that such street changes should eventually lead to disappearing traffic, whereas drivers either choose other routes, other schedules, or not to drive. I’ve witnessed idiot drivers double-parking in the bike lane already, but so far the only way to really solve this problem is physically separated bike lanes.

So how does this tie into Miami? There are many streets with parking lanes that could sacrifice a lane of traffic during off peak hours in order to incorporate bike lanes. Some of the streets that come to mind are operated by FDOT, so it’s important that this is taken into consideration when advocating for this type of roadway reconfiguration. Many other streets in more urban areas of Miami, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables have the potential to utilize this configuration.

(Note: I know there will be at least a few haters reading this who will be eager to point out how different New York is from Miami and how this type of street space reallocation would never work in Miami/South Florida. Well let me tell you this — NYC may be quite different in many ways, but this kind of thing isn’t just being done there, it’s being done it cities all over the country, many of which are less densely developed than Miami.)

Photo: DeKalb Ave @ Washington Ave

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Gas Price Equivalents in The Netherlands

New York Times columnist and foreign policy expert Thomas Friedman has written another gem about our oil addiction. He’s long advocated for higher gas and oil prices over the long term to force us to drive less and live more sustainably.

Here are a couple snippets from his most recent column, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety, titled Truth or Consequences:

Cynical ideas, like the McCain-Clinton summertime gas-tax holiday, would only make the problem (America’s oil addiction) worse, and reckless initiatives like the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep offer to subsidize gasoline for three years for people who buy its gas guzzlers are the moral equivalent of tobacco companies offering discounter cigarettes to teenagers

…What our mythical candidate would be proposing, argues the energy economist Phillip J. Verleger Jr., is a “price floor” for gasoline: $4 a gallon for regular unleaded, which is still half the going rate in Europe today. Washington would declare that it would never let the price fall below that level. If it does, it would increase the federal gas tax on a monthly basis to make up the difference between the pump price and the market price.

Photo: Paul Garland’s Flickr

Traffic on 826

There are several reasons why widening highways is usually a futile strategy to combat traffic congestion. For one, highway widening projects are costly and time consuming. It has also been well documented that adding new capacity to highways creates induced demand, which essentially means it will generate more traffic on the road. Consequently, over time the widened highway gradually fills up with additional traffic until it reaches a threshold, and is congested again. Of course, just the principle of widening highways is flawed because it encourages driving, it’s unsustainable, and it raids funds for other major transportation projects that are much more sustainable, such as transit. However, research from the Sightline Institute points out that widening highways also leads to substantial increases in GHG emissions in the mid-to-long term.

Conventional dogma preached by road-widening enthusiasts claims that additional capacity will decrease GHG emissions by easing traffic congestion. According to Sightline, this limited benefit only holds true in the short term, if at all. In the medium-to-long term, however, adding one mile of new highway lane will result in an increase in CO2 emission by more then 100,000 tons over 50 years. To quantify that, at current rates of emissions, 100,000 tons of CO2 equals the 50-year climate footprint of about 100 typical U.S. residents.

Image: Sightline Institute

Bolt Bus

I’m currently blogging live from the Bolt Bus en route to Boston from New York City to watch Game 5 of the Celtics-Cavs series. Bolt Bus has free wireless access on all its regional buses, which makes this blogger’s day. I’ll be reporting more about the service later.

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The following article below is a reprint from NPR.org on April 1, 2008:

Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint

Atlanta resident Malaika Taylor used to live the typical suburban life — the kind that helps make America the world’s top contributor to climate change. But four years ago, fed up with commuting, Taylor and her 11-year old daughter, Maya, moved from the suburbs to the city.

And their “carbon footprint” shrank.

“There are some weekends when I don’t even use my car,” says Taylor.

The Taylors live in Atlantic Station, a new community in mid-town Atlanta designed to put jobs, homes and shopping all in one place, close to public transportation. Developments like Atlantic Station are springing up around the country, and proponents say they help cut car pollution, including the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change.

Atlantic Station: A Climate Change Model

On a typical morning, Taylor walks her daughter to the bus stop and then keeps going 10 minutes to her job as a property manager at an apartment complex.

“I have to admit, if it’s raining or really cold, I drive,” she says.

Her mile-long commute is unusual in Atlanta, where the federal government estimates the average resident drives 32 miles each day. Early surveys show the people who live and work in Atlantic Station drive about a third that much, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We don’t often think of a development as a way to solve environmental problems. But this is really a unique example of kind of growing your way into better environmental quality,” says Geoff Anderson, who helped steer the Atlantic Station project through the regulatory process for the EPA. Anderson now heads Smart Growth America, an environmentally friendly development advocate.

At first, the EPA supported Atlantic Station as a way to help Atlanta fight its unhealthy smog problem. Anderson says now the agency sees the community as a model of how America can fight climate change.

“The two biggest things we do from a carbon perspective are, we heat our houses or cool them, or we drive. And when you combine that, that’s going to add up to a big chunk of your personal carbon footprint,” Anderson says.

A Smaller Impact

Reducing her carbon footprint was not Taylor’s intent when she moved. She just wanted her life back.

But living in the city has cut the small family’s impact on global warming to about half the national average for a family of two.

When they lived in the suburbs, Taylor filled up her gas tank three or four times every two weeks. Now she fills up once in two weeks.

Her other energy bills shrank, too.

In the winter, her gas bill to heat her suburban house was almost $200. Now she uses electricity to heat and cool their compact, two-bedroom loft. That bill tops out around $80, about 20 percent less than the average bill for an Atlanta household.

Apartments often have lower energy costs because of shared walls and smaller spaces. Americans send more than 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, or about a fifth of the nation’s total emissions. If lots of Americans lived like the Taylors, then the nation’s greenhouse-gas pollution could drop by hundreds of millions of tons.

Of course, the move didn’t come without tradeoffs.

“I can’t afford to buy a house in the city. It took me four garage sales to get rid of enough stuff to fit into my apartment. I thought I purged, and it still wasn’t enough, and I had to purge again,” says Taylor.

Gaining a Life

On one recent rainy afternoon, Taylor drives to pick up Maya at the bus stop. It takes them almost no time and hardly any gas or greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s more, when it’s time to take a trip to the grocery store, it takes only two minutes to get there, and she’s is back home within 15 minutes.

“That’s hands down one of the biggest perks about living here. The convenience, convenience, convenience,” Taylor says.

It’s only 4:20 p.m. Maya has already made a big dent in her homework. And Malaika has a few hours to kill.

“Maybe I’ll work out. Maybe we’ll play a game. It makes a huge difference just in the quality of our life,” Taylor says. “We get to spend a lot more time together. I think she’s happier. I’m happier. It makes life a lot better.”

Image: Flickr

Oil Addiction Cartoon

Image: Carfreeusa.blogspot.com

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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.

The Herald is reporting that the county commission overturned Mayor Alvarez’s veto in favor of moving the Urban Development Boundary for a Lowe’s at 8th St and 137th Ave and a retail center at Kendall Drive and (gulp), 167th Avenue (i.e. the Everglades). More sprawl, more self-interests, more incompetence. We’ll have lots more on this later.

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.

Photo: Johnnyjet.com

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Natacha Seijas, Pepe Diaz and crew want more of this…

Photo: Flickr

Some major changes may be coming to the West Grove soon. According to the Herald, The Point Groupe is trying to build a large mixed use development on Grand Avenue between Plaza Street and Hibiscus Street and Florida Avenue and Thomas Avenue (see image below). To be known as “Grand Village”, the development is slated to have 150,000 square feet of retail space including a grocery store, 500,000 square feet of office space, 113 apartment units, 30 houses, 25 “townhomes”, and if a land use change is approved — gulp — an underground parking garage.

Last Wednesday, the City of Miami’s Planning Advisory Board (makes recommendations to the commission) voted 7-1 to defer a vote over land use changes that would allow construction to begin if approved by the city commission. “You’re very close, but you’re not quite there yet and need a little more time”, said PAB member Ernest Martin.

So it appears that Grand Village has a good chance of being approved by the city commission and thus getting built. However, will this be a good or bad thing for the West Grove? The truth is, it will probably be a combination. Though I cannot make an expert judgment because I am without specific project details (i.e. percent of affordable units to own/rent, type of retail being courted, etc.), I can make some general points to guide us in considering the potential impacts.

First of all, when analyzing this project, it’s important to understand that the West Grove is a tiny neighborhood completely surrounded by well-off communities. It’s proximity alone to the Center Grove, Biscayne Bay, and Merrick Park makes the West Grove extremely valuable and sought after land. Thus, I get the feeling that there’s a lot of developers and real estate agents out there that currently view the West Grove as an obstacle to profit, not an opportunity to foster an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse community. You also get the feeling that there’s residents in adjacent neighborhoods who would love to see a project like this get built so that the West Grove can be gentrified. One sure indication? This is the type of development that Grove NIMBYs usually have crucified before it even gets going. However, I haven’t heard a whole lot of anti-development chatter yet.

With that said, it’s obvious to anyone who’s been in that area lately that the West Grove needs help. It’s shameful that neighborhood conditions can be so good just a couple blocks to the east; I’ve said it before, the Center Grove/West Grove demarcation is one of the starkest examples of ethnic and socioeconomic polarization I’ve ever seen.

So with that in mind, a project like this has the potential to boost the West Grove economy and add some stability to the community. If enough of the housing units are affordable (at least 30%), the project could go a long way toward boosting the local economy and fostering a diverse mixed income community. Moreover, the increased density and mixed use will be good for the community as it is in close proximity to the Douglas Road Metrorail station.

However, this project could easily go the other direction and completely gentrify the West Grove, pushing out long time residents and keeping people with moderate incomes from being able to afford moving in. If more than 70% of the housing units are market rate or higher, wholesale gentrification will likely be the result. If the urban design is cold, introverted, and auto-centric, it will turn building occupants away from the street and their community, almost like a compound. If the retail and offices cater primarily to higher end demands, it could alienate lower income families and complete the cycle of gentrification.

These are some issues we need to keep in mind as the Grove Village project moves through the planning stages. This is too significant a project to allow a mediocre final product, especially in a community that has suffered as long as the West Grove.

Photos: Miami Herald (Top), Windows Virtual Earth (Map)

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There will be a “cyclist town hall meeting” next Monday at Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center. The details are below:

-> When: April 14, 2008.

-> Where: Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center
405 University Drive
Coral Gables, FL 33134

-> Time: 7:00PM

-> Host: Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Giminez and City of Coral Gables Commissioner Ralph Cabrera

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