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
Our Urban Development Boundary (UDB) constrains the encroachment of real estate development — typically in the form of single-family residential sprawl — into our precious agricultural and other environmentally-sensitive lands, such as the wetland and terrestrial ecosystems of Everglades National Park.
The agriculture sector contributes significantly to the local economy. As recently explained in WLRN’s excellent series “The Sunshine Economy”:
Agriculture generates a direct $700 million dollars a year in Miami-Dade County alone. The economic impact of the plowing, growing and picking of those crops is much larger.
Agricultural land-uses in Miami-Dade County are found primarily in the southwest, in what’s known as the Redland Agricultural Area (often referred to as the “Redlands”).
One can also find plenty of fruit stands selling tropical and sub-tropical delights, fruits and vegetables that are sometimes virtually impossible to grow in any US region outside of South Florida.
Significant horticultural industries can be found out there too, including processing and packaging facilities for orchids and other ornamental plants.
If you haven’t already, visit the agricultural periphery of Miami-Dade County. It’ll change your whole perspective of what “Miami” truly is . . .
We posted a map of residential land-use in Miami-Dade last week. Here’s one illustrating commercial use throughout the county.
What patterns, if any, do you see here? Where would you like to see more commercial development take place?
A recent post that grabbed my attention in the Urbanophile was actually a re-post from another blog: Daniel Hertz’s Chicago-based City Notes. The piece is called “Zoning: Its Just Insane”, and it presents some fascinating maps illustrating the domination of Chicago by land zoned for single-family homes, those most infamous perpetrators of sprawl.
In fact, Hertz’s intention with the maps is to make the point that Chicago’s ‘insane’ zoning laws make it virtually impossible to develop anything but single-family homes in most of the Windy City’s neighborhoods.
The maps inspired me to put something together for our own community. However, instead of mapping zoning (the way land is regulated to be used for in the future), I thought it’d be best to first look at land-use (the present, on-the-ground societal use of space).
I used 2013 county land-use data. Other than explaining that single-family use is depicted in yellow and multi-family in orange, I’ll let the image speak its own thousand or so odd words.
Go ahead . . . let that sink in for a while.
We’ll take a closer look at land zoning — which, with all its nuances and myriad sub-classes, is admittedly trickier to map — later next week. Things always get a bit more complicated when we consider what our county and city planners have prescribed for the future of the land.
Happy Spring Miami!
“To enter out into that silence that was the city at eight o’clock of a misty evening in November, to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to step over grassy seams and make your way, hands in pockets, through the silences…”
In 1951, author Ray Bradbury wrote a short story titled The Pedestrian. Set in 2053, the story’s protagonist is Leonard Mead, a man who walks alone at night, seemingly for the pure joy of it. He never meets anyone else on these nocturnal walks. His neighbors are all inside - watching television. In fact, so few people are ever out in the public realm that the city’s police force had been reduced to a single car. The act of walking in a place where no one else ever walks is viewed as suspicious by the local authorities, who stop, question, and arrest him, incredulous to his explanation that he simply likes to walk. “Walking for air, walking to see,” as Mead puts it.
Bradbury of course is best known for his fantasy stories and science fiction. But as it turns out, Bradbury’s dystopian vision was not so farfetched; imagining a country where something as innocuous as walking someplace could be viewed as suspicious, as it typically is in today’s gated ‘chemlawn hinterlands’ of suburban sprawl. To not have an automobile in such environments is to exist as a societal outcast worthy of suspicion. So what do Trayvon Martin and Leonard Mead have in common? Was the built environment of gated suburbia (and gated mindset) a factor in the tragedy? To me, both Martin and Mead represent the criminalization and stigma of walking; of being a pedestrian.
Roger Steutville from Better Cities and Towns weighed in and pondered the same:
“In all of this agitation, the physical environment that discriminates against, and focuses suspicion on, anyone who doesn’t drive should not be forgotten. It’s hard to imagine this kind of tragedy playing out today in the same way on the block of a walkable city or town.”
In Bradbudy’s Pedestrian, substitute ‘Leonard Mead’ for Trayvon Martin and the year 2012 instead of 2053. The eerie similarities to that fateful evening last February in Sanford are uncanny.
He turned back on a side street, circling around toward his home. He was within a block of his destination when the lone car turned a corner quite suddenly and flashed a fierce white cone of light upon him. He stood entranced, not unlike a night moth, stunned by the illumination, and then drawn toward it. A metallic voice called to him: “Stand still. Stay where you are! Don’t move!”
Forty years since the publication of a visionary transportation planning document, the shortcomings of Miami-Dade County’s transportation reality suggest that we lost our vision somewhere along the highway, literally.
TransitMiami invites you to take brief trip through time . . .
The year is 1973. The Dade County Public Works Department has just released its State Transportation Programs Proposal for Dade County 1973-74.
In it, a chapter titled Mass Transit (pp. 72-98) makes declarations of a new “beginning on development of a true multi-modal transportation system in Dade County”, in which “non-highway elements” are stressed to be at least part of the solution to Dade County’s burgeoning population and economy.
Indeed, there seems to be a fundamentally new consciousness — dare I say, a paradigm shift — reorienting the urban planning and public policy realms away from highways and toward mass transit.The beginning of that Mass Transit chapter reads:
Metropolitan Dade County and the Florida Department of Transportation in recent years have become increasingly active in planning the improvement of mass transit facilities. With less emphasis on highways alone, programming efforts have been broadened to multi-modal transportation facilities, including airports, seaports, rapid transit, terminals for truck, rail and bus companies, as well as the highway and street system that serves them and provides local traffic needs.
There’s a sense that perhaps the mid-20th century notion of highways being the transportation panacea has finally begun to lose potency. A more holistic, more enlightened view has apparently begun to gain traction, one which posits that transportation corridors and corresponding land-uses perform best when designed to serve the myriad means and purposes of mobility, as well as the urban environment’s diversity of functions.
Here are some of the major mass transit proposals from the report:
- 53.7 miles of high-speed transit served by 54 stations,
- bus routes operating on expressways and arterial streets,
- feeder bus routes to complement other bus routes and rapid transit,
- mini-systems at selected transit terminals to provide local circulation and link traffic generating areas with rapid transit.
Fast-forward 40 years into the future. The year is 2013.
FDOT and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) — and the construction, automobile, and petroleum lobbies — actively and aggressively seek to expand highways.
Tax payers are being charged $560,000,000 (that’s right: more than half a billion!) for the highway expansion mega-project at the SR 826 (Palmetto Expressway) and SR 836 (Dolphin Expressway) Interchange.
Real estate developers eager to cash-in on building single-family cookie-cutter homes along the urban periphery in the west and south of the County lobby to transgress the Urban Development Boundary (UDB). Residential sprawl continues to lower the quality of life on the edges of the city.
Eager to keep its agency coffers growing, MDX writes hyperbolic reports emphasizing inflated demographic growth projections on these suburban outskirts, thereby seeking to further justify its southwestward expansion of SR 836 (Dolphin Expressway). MDX advocates for expanding tolled highways in order to generate increased revenues aimed at the perpetual expansion of highways in greater Miami.
Those same city-destroying developers-of-sprawl back MDX — as do all others in the broader network of profiteers — because they perceive as far too lucrative to forego the opportunity to cash-in on pushing the boundary of Miami further into the Everglades and into our fresh water supplies.
Even on roads that have long exhausted their traditional function as “highways”, MDX pursues measures to retrofit them so as to restore their obsolete highway-performing characteristics. This is epitomized by MDX’s “US-1 Express Lanes”, whereby the agency hopes to reduce the dedicated South Dade busways to accommodate new tolled arterial travel lanes for private motorists, as well as, most notoriously, create elevated overpasses (that is, create more “HIGH-ways”).
Meanwhile, our mere 23-station elevated heavy-rail Metrorail system traverses a very linear (and thus limited), virtually-non-networked 25 miles, including the recently added, yet long-overdue, Miami International Airport / Orange Line extension. This is literally less than half the of the 54 stations and 53.7 miles of rail network envisioned in the planning document from 40 years earlier.
Planned expansions to the Metrorail intended to create a true network have been scrapped due to a lack of political will to secure dedicated funding sources, along with an over-abundance of administrative incompetence and corruption.
After decades of false starts, broken promises, gross mismanagement of public funds, and outright political apathy, the time is now to regain the vision put forth four decades ago. The time is now to withdraw ourselves from our toxic addiction to the 20th century model of single-occupancy vehicles congested on highways. We must stop supporting those who seek to destroy our collective public spaces for personal gain through the incessant construction of highways.
The time of the highway is over. The time for “a true multi-modal transportation system in Dade County” is now.
Has Miami-Dade County lost its vision for public transit over the last 40 years? — most definitely. However, one can find solace in the fact that this is not the Miami of 1973, nor of ’83, ’93, or ’03. We are no longer the Miami of the past.
This is the Miami of 2013. This is our time. It is up to us to set forward — and bring to fruition — the vision for the Miami of 2053 . . . and beyond.
“What this project would also do, is to reinforce exactly the growth pattern that failed Miami-Dade County, wrecked the Everglades, jeopardized thousands of acres of wetlands and farmland. You don’t get out of a ditch by digging the same ditch, deeper. But that is the kind of logic Miami-Dade lobbyists and appointees embraced, in the run-up to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Watch what they do, now.”
-Local blogging powerhouse GeniusofDespair from Eye On Miami on the proposed 5-year work plan of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority which would build expressways in far western parts of the county, exacerbating sprawl and traffic congestion. In the Transit Miami world, this plan has officially entered….the NO BS Zone! Have you sent your email letter requesting that they remove the 836 Extension project from the 5 year plan?
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.
- On October 29, MDT celebrated the one year anniversary of the Easy Card - the automated fare collection system implemented to increase the usability of the transit system by automating payments and reducing the time needed to board MDT vehicles. The agency celebrated by awarding the rider who made the 42 millionth “tap” a full year of free ridership. MDT also awarded the top five most frequent users of the EASY Card with a free month of transit. Not trying to hate on these lucky folks but, the picture released by MDT, above, isn’t particularly filled with joy.
- Two County armed guards, tasked with collecting the cash deposits used to recharge EASY cards at Metrorail stations were robbed early this morning at the Douglas Road station. The stolen vehicle was recovered about a block away from the station. Perhaps the county should review its policy of collecting the fare-box revenues at 2AM.
- Margaret Pace Park, bolstered by the recent development boom has flourished recently thanks to the large influx of new residents. The once dilapidated park and neighborhood is now a shining example of urban life in downtown Miami.
- Weston’s only bus route, #23 was spared from being axed completely last month by County Commissioners. Riders however, will face higher fares, reduced service, and a new route alignment in effort to reduce the cost of operating the underutilized route. Just another debilitating effect of urban sprawl - public transit becomes ineffective and difficult to operate.
- Miami-Dade County public schools saved $6M in energy costs last year by implementing a district-wide campaign to conserve energy.
Across the blogosphere:
- The Transport Politic provides a comprehensive analysis of FL Congressman John Mica’s likely transportation agenda. Mica will likely become the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and as such will have a big impact on the upcoming reauthorization bill and future Federal spending on transportation. Mr. Mica has previously expressed support for HSR in regions where it “makes sense” such as the dense Northeast corridor.
- A recent report from MSNBC notes that younger folks today (those aged 18 - 35) are less likely to hold valid drivers licenses and own cars as compared to their counterparts in 1994. The article attributes the decline to the recent economic depression as well as a growing ambivalence about driving among younger generations. (Via: Streetsblog)
From the Herald:
The 129-page “Jobs for Florida” bill, slated for a Senate vote Thursday after a single committee hearing, also could eliminate local regulations on wetlands protection and drainage, as well as give local and state regulators less time than ever to review development plans. The bill (SB 1752), which also addresses such issues as sales taxes on boats and the purchase of industrial machinery and includes tax breaks that could add up to $187 million for space, high-tech and film industries, was introduced on Feb. 28. It was approved by the Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means last week by a vote of 22-2 and shipped to the full Senate.
State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said those provisions were related to creating jobs in the state’s stagnant construction industry by cutting back government red tape. “A lot of subdivisions and strip shopping centers would fall under that” 40-acre limit, Tschantz said. But bill supporter Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, a contractor, said it just means “the governmental entities are honoring the professionalism of those who submit the plans.”
This is an sleazy attempt by several politicians to try to help their developer friends. It is more of the same bad government that led us to a near economic meltdown. When are these fools going to stop trying to revive the sprawl machine???
Call or write your local Senator- SAY NO TO SPRAWL PRODUCING UNPLANNED GROWTH!
Also, be sure to contact the Tallahassee office of Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton:
322 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Senate VOIP: 5078
Back in July we alerted TM readers to Dwell Magazine’s ReBurbia competition. Well, the submissions are in, and unsurprisingly, the 20 finalists are filled with super creative, but fantastical, totally outrageous proposals.
We know suburbia needs retrofitting. The 20th century was about building the damn thing, but seeing the results, we have to use the 21st century to correct all of the ills proffered by such an untenable way of organizing the built environment. Indeed, retrofitting suburbia is likely to be the biggest collective project for 21st century urban planners.
With that in mind, please considering visiting the Reburbia finalist site and voting for the Sprawl Repair Kit, designed by Galina Tahchieva and others at DPZ. Simply click on the little red house in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Voting closes tomorrow night.
Your vote is important, as it will send the message to all Dwell readers and beyond that as fun as flying airships and treehouses are, we need practical and realistic solutions for a very serious 21st century problem. As a side note, the techniques outlined in the preferred proposal above encompass those very same principles embodied by Miami 21.
Dwell Magazine, a publication obsessed with the uber now, is holding a design competition called Re-Burbia, which encourages designers to take a fresh approach to suburbia. Ironically, this is coming from a Magazine that has long supported the very school of thought that helped create sprawl in the first place. It seems the growing trend (read necessity) to retrofit suburbia into a more sustainable-and one hopes-more attractive environment has proven to strong for even Dwell to resist.
Have at it!
I had to post the complete text of this great editorial by DDA Urban Planning Manager Javier Betancourt:
Last month’s court ruling halting the planned development of a Lowes superstore outside Miami-Dade County’s Urban Development Boundary was an important victory in the ongoing battle against westward sprawl in our community. But the more pressing issue going forward is whether residential development outside the boundary should proceed.
The answer to this question is a resounding “No.”
Now that new commercial development on the fringe of the Everglades has been rejected, urban planners along with developers and business and civic leaders should turn their attention to the chief challenge facing Miami-Dade: how to create a sustainable community without expanding our geographic footprint.
By focusing our collective efforts on revitalizing and expanding existing communities through infill development, we will make better use of our land supply, reduce congestion and preserve our region’s valuable natural resources. At the same time, we will realize a number of economic and urban planning benefits, including better connectivity between businesses and the labor force, more efficient use of our existing infrastructure and across-the-board increases in property values.
Miami was planned and developed after the advent of the automobile, so sprawl became a way of life in South Florida. Only now we are witnessing a reversal of this trend, as residents and businesses inject new life into urban centers that were long overlooked.
Some of the most desirable neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County — Downtown Miami, Coral Gables, South Miami, Miami Lakes and Downtown Dadeland, to name a few — have been home to condensed growth that combines residential, commercial and retail development. Each of these communities offers opportunities for continued investment, and each is taking shape within the confines of the UDB.
Nowhere have the benefits of infill development been more evident than in Downtown Miami, home to our state’s largest employment center, an existing public transit system and commercial base, and a population that has grown by more than 50 percent since 2000.
The mixed-use development that has taken shape in our urban core has accelerated Downtown Miami’s evolution as a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly district. New businesses are opening, people are moving in, cultural and entertainment institutions are thriving, and street activity is picking up after hours. These trends speak to a growing demand for the convenience and lifestyle offered by urban communities and to a dramatic shift away from sprawl.
The court’s decision in May supported the need for sustainable growth. Now the business and civic communities need to act by advocating against expanding the UDB and evaluating how to maximize our investments in the emerging urban centers within the boundary.
PS. This was posted in the business section.
Or so asserts this excellent new video-polemic from the Congress for the New Urbanism. One has to agree, that in the least, that we should worry less about the single punctuated events, like swine flu, and pay a hell of a lot more attention to the sum of all the small-scale decisions we make on a day-to-day, town-to-town, city-to-city basis. After all, they all add up to this thing we call Global Warming.
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