The Texas Transportation Institute just released its annual study on National Traffic Congestion - and surprise! congestion is on the rise across the country, and especially here in Miami. Miami ranked 7th in the top 15 cities for longest travel delay and congestion cost (under cities like Chicago and New York).
Important to note in the rankings is the definition of congestion cost, calculated as,
Value of travel delay for 2009 (estimated at $16.01 per hour of person travel and $105.67 per hour of truck time) and excess fuel consumption (estimated using state average cost per gallon).
- highest transit usage occurred in 2008, but 2009 transit ridership remains historically high (due to the bus service expansion following the PTP)
-Congestion cost in Miami-Dade County $3.2 billion dollars in 2009 - at an average cost of $892/car.
Unfortunately, the calculations tend to fall apart when comparing Public Transportation numbers and the benefits derived from continued service. According to the data, public transportation accounts for a reduction of $217 million in congestion costs. The problem with this number is that it’s derived from calculating transit trips and their value. The report compares vehicle miles traveled for cars and places these on equal footing with unlinked public transit trips - a calculation that ignores the benefits of compact urbanism (ie. downtown). One public transit trip equals more than one car trip because the areas around transit nodes contain more density and intensity of activity that one need not take multiple trips for different activities.
In spite of this misleadingly low number, we can still see that congestion has a hidden cost on our economy that we pay for indirectly and that our limited transit network (here in Miami) provides a tangible benefit in reducing these costs. This should be signal to our elected officials that transit has an economic value, and pulls its weight, in spite of the fact that farebox revenues do not pay for the operation of the system. We end up paying for the lack of transit in other ways - car maintenance/insurance/gas, tolls, environmental and social costs, not to mention lost productivity.
The report did have one shining jewel of advice when considering how these numbers should be used by officials in considering transportation projects and their impact on congestion:
Consider the scope of improvement options. Any improvement project in a corridor within most of the regions will only have a modest effect on the regional congestion level. (To have an effect on areawide congestion, there must be significant change in the system or service).
Well said. Transportation planners in Miami-DadeCounty have to stop thinking about ‘congestion’ as a problem that can be fixed with operational gimmicks and highway expansion. Congestion is going to exist with or without projects like MDX’s South Dade lexus lanes. What we need to do is provide people with an expanded array of transportation options that will give them an alternative to congestion. Projects that try to ‘ease’ congestion will only serve to benefit a small number of users, as in the case of the US1 managed lanes; wealthy residents of South Dade will benefit, but the rest of the working class and poor residents of South Dade will continue to use the service that remains on the Busway, or have no other choice than to sit in congestion and wait. Doesn’t sound like an equitable or efficient use of the public righ-of-way to me.
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.
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