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Recall the post where I had the opportunity to interview Miami Beach chief of Staff AC Weinstein? Good, because here are some thoughts I drew up on the conversation, many of which I commented directly to AC throughout our first of many discussions on the future of Miami Beach…

Now, the first question on development, I fear, may have been interpreted a little bit too literally, but that is what happens when you try to be so precise with the wording of questions. The intention was never to correlate the cranes in Miami ensure economic vitality, but rather insinuate how in such a difficult market would Miami Beach continue to grow in order to ensure a steady tax revenue stream and thus guaranteeing the future economic vitality of Miami Beach industry. I was also hinting that height restrictions and true urban density should not be so interconnected with increased congestion on the Beach and that absurd limitations would only hamper future economic options for Miami Beach.

I was disappointed (not surprised) upon hearing Mr. Weinstein’s reply regarding Baylink, but was utterly dismayed when discussing the reasoning behind it. The basic arguments presented against Baylink (by the Beach) have been: Hurricanes, Washington Avenue, the Flexibility of Buses, and now apparently Historic Character. Hurricanes, we’ve addressed, this is a moot point considering all wires and structures will be built to hurricane standards and underground wires are not out of the realm of possibilities. Coincidentally, the reconstruction of Washington Avenue occurred at time when Miami Beach officials were beginning to object to Baylink (remember the famous quote around then: “Baylink will further enable those people to readily access the beach?“) Baylink would only further enhance the Washington Avenue streetscape, requiring only insertions of tracks while leaving much of the rest alone. My Favorite: “Flexibility of buses.” Miami Beach is like what, 11 blocks wide where most of the streetcar will be traveling? I doubt selecting any of these two streets will pose a problem when the streetcar will be virtually within a 4 block walk of nearly every address South of the Bass Museum. You really can’t go wrong. As for the Historic City comment, please look below at the Miami Beach Streetcar Map in 1928, or click here for some solid video evidence.
My qualm with the whole Baylink discussion was that the office of the mayor has yet to provide a legitimate alternative transit solution to handle the city’s current and upcoming demand. The reports I’ve seen both indicate that congestion will reach unbearable levels by 2011 (the economic vitality I was hinting at earlier would certainly suffer) all but promoting the idea of a longer termed solution. The office mentioned no plans to improve (or green) bus capacity, build transfer stations, or work with MDT to enable better signal prioritization along key corridors.

We’re pretty excited the Mayor’s office created the Green committee, however we’re not quite sure what tasks the committee will be tackling or what the stated goals of the committee are. There aren’t any plans, yet, to push for mandatory LEED certification on new construction or considerations for alternative fuels, car sharing, or other equally progressive programs.

The Bikeways and expanded bike lanes were a breath of fresh air. It’s reassuring to see the city take the necessary steps to move in a bike-oriented direction and even require bicycle parking. I hope the city (and perhaps the green committee) see that the addition of transit will only further enhance the cycling options while creating a much cleaner environment along the beach.

All in all, my conversation with Mr. Weinstein proved to be beneficial to us here at Transit Miami, as well as with many of the Miami Beach constituents. Mr. Weinstein provided us with a glimpse of the mentality issues we’ll have to face in the coming years in order to see real public transportation options come into fruition while providing a fresh, new perspective on the bicycle/pedestrian improvements the Beach hopes to make.

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I had the opportunity recently to sit down an speak with Miami Beach Chief of Staff AC Weinstein, who on Mayor Bowers’ behalf, was kind enough to answer some critical questions for us on the future of Miami Beach. I’ll post the questions/Answers below and follow up with some commentary tomorrow:

TM: The greater Miami area is awash with development, cranes, and construction, a sign of prosperous economic times, without permitting overdevelopment in Miami Beach, what will you do to continue to ensure the economic vitality of one of our strongest engines?

AC: All the development in Miami Beach does not ensure economic vitality; rather the economic vitality will continue to be the proper balance of reasonable development and respect for our residential neighborhoods. Overdevelopment does not ensure economic vitality of Miami Beach.

Referendum questions in height variance above 3 feet must go to the voters.

TM: Recent studies conducted by various planning experts suggests that Miami Beach will be ready (from a congestion standpoint) for an effective public transportation system around 2011. What is your position on improving public transportation on Miami Beach, particularly concerning the Baylink proposal? If you are against the proposal, please share your concerns, reservations, and alternative plans you suggest.

AC: MPO committee member informed the subcommittee will not see baylink in our lifetime. The Mayor has always leaned against the baylink system, because residents want to remove overhead wires. The shuttle buses are more compatible with our historic city and are more reliable than streetcars. The city recently completed a Washington Avenue Streetscape and would not want to tear up the roadway to install tracks.

TM: The environment has become a hot topic both locally and across America. This issue is obviously a concern to Miami Beach due to the possibility of rising seas, extensive beach erosion, and loss of vital fish habitat. What plans do you have to push Miami Beach in a more ecologically friendly direction? (I am specifically referencing LEED certification, reduced vehicle demand, and water conservation.)

AC: The Mayors office has created a green committee to specifically research this issue and looks forward to the recommendations of this committee.

TM: Given the fact that approximately 50% of Miami Beach residents do not rely on a vehicle as a primary means of transportation, what improvements can you foresee evolving to make the city more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists?

AC: The Mayor has established a Bikeway committee to address this question and with commission approval new bike lanes and greenways will be moving forward. Greenway could be possible along Indian Creek, however, we need ROW from property owners.

TM: How do you feel about a Bicycle sharing program similar to the Velib recently installed in Paris

AC: It is an interesting program that I think would work well with our city. New construction will be required to include bicycle racks.

Unfortunately, there are still some opponents of the Miami Streetcar who believe (or at least are arguing) that the overhead catenary wires won’t be able to hold up under hurricane-like conditions. As a result, they claim, the whole streetcar system is volatile to destruction and costly, time-consuming repairs. Some have even gone so far as to claim that the overheard wires would be hazardous during a hurricane. Well, today I’m happy to bust these myths once and for all.
First of all, it’s important to note that unlike historic trolleys and streetcars from the early twentieth century, which had complex webs of catenary wire strung above the streets, modern streetcars only need one, yes one, catenary wire on each street. With that in mind, there are much fewer wires to even consider when addressing hurricane compatibility concerns.

Without further ado, here’s a quote from the Miami Beach-sanctioned report for Bay Link, created by urban planning/engineering consultant firm Henningson, Durham, and Richardson (HDR):

“In places with LRTs and Streetcars that experience hurricanes (e.g., Houston, Tampa, San Juan), there has not been an incident where live catenary wires have injured anyone during high winds. The protocol is to turn the power systems off when winds reach sustained gusts of 50 mph, and the poles holding the wires in place withstand hurricane winds of 110 mph, nearly twice the design standard for most light poles, telephone poles, street poles, etc.”

Keep in mind that HDR was hired by Miami Beach so the city could basically get a second opinion about the Bay Link corridor, since a select group of officials were so upset that world-renowned firm Parsons Brinckerhoff advocated an LRT option in the original Bay Link corridor report.

Now let’s take it a step further; here is a quote from the Miami Streetcar website FAQ section concerning fears about hurricanes and overhead catenary wires:

The streetcar infrastructure is subject to the hurricane code requirements required for roadway utilities. In the event of a hurricane that might impact the overhead catenary system, damaged cables will need to be replaced or repaired. Repairs of isolated breaks in the wire can be made within a couple of hours by splicing the two broken ends. Replacement of damaged hardware or wire can take longer depending on the extent of the damage. The City’s future Operations & Maintenance contractor’s compensation will be linked to streetcar system performance requirements intended to minimize and avoid service outages.

So there you have it. All streetcar infrastructure, including overheard wires, are required by law to be built to hurricane code for roadway utilities. If the streetcar wires go down, it’s a good bet that telephone wires did as well. Moreover, most often repairs can be easily fixed within a few hours. Sure, one could make the case that a category 5 hurricane could cause much more severe damage to the overhead wires, but a storm of that magnitude will also wipe out your home. The threat of catastrophic natural disasters is always present, but instead of succumbing to fear and a fortress-like mentality, we should design our infrastructure to be able to sustain mother nature’s blow and bounce back fast. The threat of an imminent major earthquake has certainly not stopped San Francisco from using trolleys.

Lastly, I want you to think about one more thing. Can you remember the last time that a hurricane squarely hit Miami, and didn’t wreak havoc on auto-oriented infrastructure (i.e. traffic lights, stop signs, road signs, etc - the critical and basic elements to a functional roadway system)?

Photos: HDR

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After introducing Walk Score and Drive Score to you, today we’re announcing a new site which merges the technical ability of Google 3D with a virtual online shopping (and traveling) experience. Available only for select cities across the world (yes, Miami Beach is one of them), Everyscape Beta allows visitors to walk along virtual paths seeing everything as if they were really there. The 3D view is integrated with features that provide restaurant, hotel, and nightlife information and in some cases indoor views.

Aside from being fun to mess around with, Everyscape appears to be the pioneer in this form of online marketing. The program is functional, easy to use, and creative enough to hopefully lead to a new form of tourism marketing.
EveryScape lets businesses and organizations build engaging, immersive relationships with consumers through three-dimensional, photo-realistic experiences of cities and towns, streets and sidewalks, building exteriors and interiors. Now you can take your business to the next level by bringing visitors into your establishment, allowing them to view, explore, and engage with your offerings like never before.

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Photo: Jacek Gancarz, Miami New Times

A recent article by Isaiah Thompson of the Miami New Times serves as yet another source showcasing cycling and why it should be a major mode of transportation in Miami-Dade. Below I’ve pasted some key points from the article, but if you have the time the entire piece is worth the read.

At first glance, there is nary a place on God’s green Earth better suited to biking than Miami. It’s utterly flat, with weather that lets a cyclist pedal year-round without donning so much as a scarf in January. Its streets are wide and, for the most part, arranged in a tidy, easily navigable grid.

Meanwhile, as Miami totters in place, more cities are looking to bicycles as an answer to everything from traffic congestion and air quality to fitness and green transportation. Paris recently unveiled the most ambitious bike-sharing plan in history, making more than 10,000 bikes available to borrow citywide for anyone with a credit card. American towns like Portland, Denver, San Francisco, and, closer to home, Gainesville, have transformed themselves in a few short years into some of the most bike-friendly places on the planet. New York, already boasting some 200 miles of bike lanes, plans to double that number in the next two years; Chicago proposes that by 2015, every one of its three million residents will live within half a mile of a bike lane.

Despite Miami Mayor Manny Diaz’s grandiose calls for the greening of Miami, the city possesses not a single finished bike lane; the only one under construction, on South Miami Avenue, is less than a mile long. And the county’s plan, adopted in 2001, states no specific targets whatsoever.

“We’re so far behind and in the dark with bikes it’s absurd,” says Chris Marshall, who owns the Broken Spoke bicycle shop at 10451 NW Seventh Ave. Marshall spent years campaigning for bike lanes and “greenways” to connect the beaches to the mainland, before finally throwing in the towel. “I’d say we’re stuck in the Sixties, but it’s worse than the Sixties,” Marshall says bitterly. “In the Sixties you could still get around by bike.”

A county map produced in 2001 grades every major Miami-Dade roadway based on traffic speeds and shoulder widths. Streets that receive an A for bikeability are drawn in black; those that get a D or worse are in red. The map is blanketed in red. From the largest six-lane monstrosities running like swollen rivers through the county, to the crowded, narrow streets of downtown, virtually every roadway is deemed unsuitable for biking. Of the 1.3 percent labeled A streets, the closest one to downtown is more than six miles west, a small forgotten residential byway that dead-ends at the Palmetto Expressway.

In Miami-Dade’s 2001 Bicycle Facilities Plan, 12 projects are deemed “Priority I” — read: “remotely possible.” In the seven years since the plan was drafted, only two of those 12 have been implemented: the first half of the Venetian Causeway and the second half of the Venetian Causeway.

“It’s a question of commitment,” concedes BPAC Chairman Theodore Silver, who presides over meetings with the dry, mechanical patience of a man crossing a vast desert. “And it’s difficult to get governments to commit to a minority that’s not very popular.” BPAC’s monthly minutes read like the drafting of surrender papers. During a presentation on an upcoming resurfacing of Flagler Street, the group asked a Florida Department of Transportation engineer if a three-foot-wide bike lane might be installed along the massive three-lane one-way road. The answer, which lasted more than an hour, was: probably not.

Ricardo Ochoa, who owns the Cuba Bike Shop at 2930 NW Seventh Ave., arrived two decades ago from Colombia. He worked for most of that time as an accountant before taking over the shop five years ago. Working with bikes, he says, showed him a different America.

Ochoa’s theory is that cars have isolated Americans from each other, especially in Miami. “Here people drive all the time, and it makes them lonely,” he says. “It’s like a cloud of loneliness hanging over the city.

I think Ochoa’s theory is quite accurate. It’s just incredible how much more your neighborhood and city feels like home when you’re experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations on foot or bike - not isolated by a couple thousand pounds of glass and steel.

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At approximately 8:35 tonight ground will officially break initiating the construction of the New World Symphony’s new concert hall on Miami Beach designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The 107,000-square-foot ”campus” is Gehry’s first Florida building. And though its simple, rectilinear design doesn’t offer the daring of the titanium-roofed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, or the audacious sail-like curves of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the yet-to-be-named facility will solve logistical problems faced by the New World Symphony in its two decades on Lincoln Road.

The Lincoln Theatre ”has acoustical deficiencies and technological limitations,” said Howard Herring, New World president and CEO. The new building, he said, will allow significant expansion and outreach “in how we train our fellows and how we bring music to the public.”

To be completed in 2010, the new building will house a 700-seat, state-of-the-art performance space with capacity for recording and webcasts and 360-degree projections. There will be a rooftop music library and conductor’s studio, 26 individual rehearsal rooms and six ensemble rehearsal rooms. Expanded Internet2 technology will allow greater international partnership and interaction with musicians, composers and learning institutions around the world. Of the $200 million cost, $150 million will pay for construction. The rest will go to the orchestra’s endowment. Its interest will cover the increased cost of operating the facility and expanding programs, Herring said.

Images Via: PlaybillArts

Add Rome to the growing number of international cities implementing bike sharing programs. Details are currently sparse, but the Roman version will kick off with a pilot program, which will include 250 bikes at 22 stations throughout the city’s historic center. If (when) fully implemented, the Roman program will boast approximately 20,000 bikes citywide, similar to Paris’ Velib program. Also like Paris, Rome has hired an advertising giant, Cemusa, to set up the system.

Miami, the writing is on the wall. I still challenge the City of Miami Beach to at least pursue a pilot bike sharing program for a few months, even if it’s just confined to South Beach. I am so confident the program would prove to be wildly successful, even without a high level of bicycle infrastructure (bike lanes, bike parking, traffic calming, etc) installed yet. This is the time of year to introduce such a program as well, given the phenomenal weather and massive influx of tourists (see: traffic).

Photo: Walter Parenteau’s Flickr

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The South Florida International Auto Show kicked off this past Friday. GM unveiled a Hybrid Cadillac Escalade with much fanfare and was showered with awards from Sobre Ruedas (including “Best Vehicle of the Year” for the 2008 Chevy Malibu, which has a hybrid option). We won’t trouble you with too many car details, but the important thing was the chance to have a few words with Troy Clarke, president of GM North America. He outlined the goal of GM’s hybrid strategy: to electrify the car (presumably with plug-in hybrids) in order to allow a distribution network to be put in place before another all-electric vehicle is released. Quite the turnaround from their previous electric car exploits.
Since GM sponsored the winning vehicle of the DARPA Urban Challenge, we asked whether they would incorporate any technology from the race into future cars. Clarke said the point of sponsoring Carnegie Mellon was indeed to look at the technology. He then focused on connected vehicles that communicate with each other for safety and network to the driver’s home to deliver things like music. He steered away from the subject of communicating with infrastructure like the road itself and focused on cars communicating with cars. GM is a car manufacturer, not a road builder, so vehicle infrastructure integration may have to be pushed by someone else.

Clarke also highlighted the current connectivity option that is supposed to become standard in all GM products: On-Star. With features like the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, the system is already controlling many basic operations of the car. He touted the On-Star system as their current offering of a connected vehicle. Surprisingly, he made no mention of adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, or other active safety features available in luxury GM models. He did remind us that most such technology begins life in luxury cars and filters down to the others once it has been proven good on the market.

It will be a long time before production vehicles achieve full automation. Until that time, On-Star and active safety systems are computerizing things and leaving in the human interaction ingredient. Looking at the theft slowdown feature, it seems like cars would be able to slowdown and stop at red lights if a few more controls were added; but stolen vehicles are only getting stopped at the command of an On-Star operator. That’s nothing more than remote control—the automation is yet to come. We have to have the computer before we have the artificial intelligence, so their progress with On-Star is at least a step in the right direction. Hopefully, just as with the hybrid strategy, they can get the network and the technology in place and then throw in full automation.

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Congratulations, Miami Beach. The American Planning Association (APA) recently recognized Ocean Drive on South Beach as one of America’s Top 10 Great Streets of 2007. This is quite an honor, as Ocean Drive is in the company of other nationally famous streets such as Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue, Richmond’s Monument Avenue, and 125th Street in NYC.

According to the APA,

Great Places in America
celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard of communities. The designated streets and neighborhoods are defined by several characteristics, including good design, functionality, sustainability, and community involvement.

Specifically, Ocean Drive was recognized for its unique architectural legacy, citizen-led historic protection and planning efforts, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented restoration and redevelopment, and ongoing public support.

Not really any surprises, there. I give credit where credit is due, and the planners and citizens of Miami Beach have done a heck of a job (excuse the Bushism) the last twenty years turning Ocean Drive and South Beach around by utilizing its natural resources (density, historic architecture) and engaging the public realm for people instead of cars. It’s really a great local case study that I wish more planners and citizens in neighboring municipalities would research.

Photo courtesy of CTPEKO3A’s Flickr photostream

US Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters needs to take a retreat to Paris. Peters, who was quoted back in August saying that bicycling “is not really transportation”, would be faced with a rude awakening. Cyclists using Paris’s highly successful Velib bike-sharing program, which was only introduced this summer, have already logged more than 7.5 million miles.

From NYT columnist Eric Rayman:

The French have embraced communal bike ownership, according to my informal survey of my fellow Vélibiens, as have other Europeans. A culture of Vélibistes is emerging. The camaraderie — a French word that seems to have been invented in anticipation of this new cult — among the riders is entrancing. Riders advise one another on where to find the nearest Vélib docking station, where to park if one is full, and how to find the best routes around the city. When they speak of Vélibs, Parisians smile, even those like a waiter who admitted not having ridden one.

Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, has just declared his intention to run for re-election, and the French newspapers, which are known to mix their opinions with their news to a degree that The New York Post would envy, have already pronounced him unbeatable.

Mayors Diaz/Alvarez/Dermer, and any other official in Miami-Dade, take note.

Paris has clearly shown that people are more than willing to use alternative forms of transportation such as bicycles when given the opportunity. Bike-sharing would reduce congestion, calm traffic, and ease parking pressure, which should all be high priorities for any Mayor or elected official. And, it’s great because bikes allow us to be so much more intimate with our cities while still moving at moderate speeds. Imagine how nice it would be for tourists to visit Miami and not feel obliged to rent a car.

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ART, the Alliance for Reliable Transport holds its monthly meeting Monday, October 8, 2007 at 6:00 pm. Meetings are free and open to the public, and hosted by the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation in the Community Room of the Seymour 945 Pennsylvania Avenue, Miami Beach. This months meeting will focus on political remedies to the transportation crisis on Miami Beach by inviting candidates for public office to share their visions for short, mid and long term solutions for improving our public transportation options and enhancing the non-motorized network that so many in our community rely on as their primary form of transportation.

In addition, representatives of FDOT and Kimley Horn will be on hand to present the latest alternatives out of the Alton Road PD&E. The public is invited to weigh in on the future configuration of Alton Road from 5th Street north to Michigan Avenue.

ART is also a co-sponsor, with the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association, the Miami Design Preservation League and the Community Development Committee of the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation of a formal Candidates Forum, to be held on Wednesday, October 10, 2007 beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Community Room of the Miami Beach Police Department, located at 1100 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida. The public is invited to attend.

The Alliance for Reliable Transport is a nonprofit group formed in 2003 by Miami Beach residents who share an interest in improving public transportation.

Transit and transportation are almost never issues that come stress free. Public art is one remedy to alleviate that stress. Check out this somewhat representational and yet somewhat abstract large scale outdoor sculpture to be erected at the intersection of two main highway arteries in Missouri. The selection is based on a visibility issue as well as any therapeutic value, however, art, anywhere, is always a good thing. We shouldn’t forget the visually soothing phenomenon of water, so abundant in Miami. How could it be further capitalized upon?

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Last night I was perusing through various planning news sources, when I came across an excellent Planetizen blog entry by Mike Lydon, a planner at Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ). In the blog entry, Lydon uses photographs and captions to describe his bike commute from his South Beach apartment to the DPZ office in Little Havana.
Mike is spot-on with his commentary and captions. The pictures do a nice job illustrating the duality of Miami. Almost the whole time I was navigating Mike’s column, I was nodding my head and thinking, “this sounds exactly like how I would’ve described it”.

I highly recommend checking it out here.

Photo courtesy of Mike Lydon via Planetizen

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Anyone interested in improving cycling conditions on Miami Beach, mark your calendars for Thursday, August 30th. From 6-8pm at the Miami Beach Police Department, there will be an excellent opportunity to learn about the Atlantic Greenway Network (AGN) and the Dade Boulevard Bike Path Project. From the press release:
The AGN Master Plan is being developed to promote alternative transportation and community enhancement in the North, Middle and South Beach neighborhoods of Miami Beach. The objectives are to increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, diminish gaps while improving network connectivity, and establish future bikeways.

The Dade Boulevard Bike Path project will run adjacent to Dade Boulevard from Bay Road to 23rd Street and will be designed to extend the existing Venetian Causeway bikeway to destination points within Miami Beach.

Again, this workshop will be held Thursday, August 30th, from 6-8pm at the Miami Beach Police Department. The MBPD is located at 1100 Washington Ave (11th & Washington).

For more information, check out Spokes n’ Folks, this nice SunPost editorial, or contact Christine Leduc @ 305-673-7080 or via email at

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