Last week I posted on the upcoming plans to convert the South-Dade Busway to a managed lanes expressway with bus service. Since then MDX Public Information Officer Tere Garcia was kind enough to offer this response:
We certainly understand your concerns and many may be unwarranted due to incorrect speculation. We are in fact working together with Miami Dade Transit on this study to improve existing transit service and providing Express lanes maximizing the unused capacity of the busway. Alternatives that are being studied are grade separations at major intersections, among others, that would allow for the buses to ride safely and quickly without having to stop at the intersections as they must do today. This would allow for faster and more efficient bus service and potential increase in ridership. The MPO first took a look at the possibility of using toll money to improve transit specifically on the South Dade Busway. All new transportation corridors that MDX has included in the MPO long range plan have a multimodal component including the potential for transit, bikeways. We welcome the opportunity to brief you on the facts of this project and clear up any misconceptions. Thank you
Ok, MDX - I’m open to getting more information about the project, but I’m not sure I’m missing anything that will change the basic problem here: the ‘capacity’ of the busway should not be used for car service. Period. So before we get together for coffee lets have an honset conversation about what these plans portend for transit in Miami-Dade County.
For all the non-transportation professionals out there, this is a rough translation of what MDX actually said:
We couldn’t go on seeing all that roadway capacity around the buses go unused, so we are going to take whatever capacity is not being used for public transit and give it to the car. Of course, we have to make this a convenient alternative for cars, so we are going to make improvements to the Right-of way that will make it easy for people to speed right past all that congestion on US1 (by building expressway overpasses). Oh, and we are still going to let the bus use this road too. Its a win-win for everyone. We might even put in a bike lane, or something like that.
I have no misconception about this project - it is a highway building project that you are going to allow buses to use. The alternatives are just variations on the theme. Just because you say that this is a transit project does not mean that is the case - it is all a matter of spinning the facts to get buy-in from the community. Let’s let the facts tell the story:
- a transit-only route will be converted to a single occupancy vehicle expressway, with buses sharing the road with cars.
-“the unused capacity of the busway” (your phrase) will be maximized, not by increasing or improving transit service, but by allowing single-occupancy vehicles to share the road with buses. How can this be misconstrued as a benefit to transit riders?
- Transit service will have to compete for riders with a new express alternative to US1. Rather than incite more people to use the because of ‘efficient and faster’ transit service, managed lanes will only provide an express alternative to both the busway and US1 !
-Grade separations at key intersections will allow for faster travel times - for buses and cars. Fair enough, but without true transit stations and BRT infrastructure, the efficiency gained by faster bus service will be lost because of decreased access and safety. Who will want to wait for a bus next to an expressway?? (This is also a problem in the design of transit lines in other MDX projects - how do you expect to increase transit ridership if the stations are mostly accessible by car and not by walking?)
Other regions have Transportation Authorities that are responsible for coordinating capital improvements between different forms of transportation infrastructure. The New York MTA is responsible for all of the regional rail service, bus service, subways, and (some) bridges and tunnels; they maintain a Capital Construction Department that finances transportation projects (partially by sharing toll revenue). With MDT and MDX collaborating on projects now and in the future, a Transportation Authority structure would combine a mandate to provide mass transit with an effective management and capital investment structure (not to mention it would allow the sharing of ROW and toll revenue). MDX isn’t to blame - building highways is what they do!
Ultimately, the goal of this project should be to ‘maximize the capacity of the roadway’ by improving transit service (and thus increasing ridership). As I have repeated on Transit Miami many times, I support a systemic change in the way we plan, construct and operate our transportation network. MDX has a track record of building and operating profitable expressway projects - we need to focus this energy and expertise toward the construction of a premium transit network - not an expressway network with buses.
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.
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