It’s not often that something leaves me without words in Miami. But this does it.
Yes, that’s the Rickenbacker Causeway bike lane. Yes, that’s a giant sign blocking it, forcing bicycle riders into fast moving traffic. This is also located on arguably the most dangerous existing segment of the Powell bridge, where cyclists traveling downhill at higher speeds must be aware of merging traffic on the right (and vice versa).
This picture is all the more appalling considering that in the past few weeks alone, safety concerns along the Causeway have become even more urgent. A number of local media outlets again reported on the issue following an ugly incident earlier this month in which a drunk driver struck multiple cyclists. These reports included editorials in the Miami Herald, a WPLG news segment highlighting the dangerous conditions, and a public response from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez only nine days ago.
How in the world can anyone believe that Miami-Dade County is taking this issue with any grain of seriousness? As one commenter on Transit Miami’s Facebook page said, “You can’t complain about the common sense in this town because there isn’t any.”
Our invitation is still on the table for Mayor Gimenez to come out with us for a ride and see the situation first-hand.
Special thanks to Transit Miami reader Ruben van Hooidonk for the picture. See something we should post? E-mail us or let us know on Facebook.
Transportation advocate, friend of Transit Miami, and recent county Mayoral candidate Gabrielle Redfern posted this thoughtful response to my recent post about the Mayoral race (Lackluster Mayoral Candidates Promise More of the Same on Transportation). I thought it warranted an equally thoughtful response. Gabrielle writes:
I agree that we need a different approach to the oversight and planning of our transit ways, and perhaps going with an independently elected MPO, like we see in Oregon would help. However, with all of the dollars at stake, we would be fools to believe that the dark hand of the Miami Political process would not cast its shadow there as well.
I agree. I’m not trying to ‘solve’ for corruption or graft in our transportation culture - just trying to set transportation modes on steady footing. The key to the TM plan is that the agency would be independent (no commission involvement) AND be chartered with a mandate to provide all forms of transportation - with benchmark modeshare goals to guide policy makers along the way. The dark hand of Miami Politics will be present, but at least it will not mean the end of a worthy transit project.
I have had the honor and priviledge of spending a considerable amount of time in the close company of both mayoral candidates and know who each is getting their transit advice from. I have seen their positions and campaign rhetoric evolve over the days and weeks since the Green Mobility survey was returned. I am supporting Carlos Gimenez because I believe he is the most receptive and open to our views about our urban environment.
Hey, lets face it, Tony. We cannot expect either of them to be the transit geeks we are. But I know that Carlos has made a commitment to me, and to this County, to learning more and doing different. Way different. He realizes the importance to our transit system, of first removing the cloud we have with our partners, the Federal Government. He is committed to not only getting the fiscal house of MDT in order, but removing the political process from the backbone of the system, bus route planning. As a strong mayor, he can and will demand from his new Director a system that maximizes the rolling stock we have now and creates two different types of County bus service: one that is based on our natural grid to connect people to each other and the major County centers and services and one partnered with the municipalities to create circulation systems to reach employment, civic and social destinations inside the cities.
I’m all for learning more and doing different - but what Carlos has planned is more of the same. Lip service to real ridership expansion. He cannot take politics out of the system until both the Mayor and the commission have nothing to do with transportation. Gimenez is not going to fund any system expansion - on the contrary he is probably going to continue to decrease the size of our bus system, and will try to dismantle the few premium transit facilities we have in favor of managed lanes and other similar half measures.
And circulator buses? Really? This sounds like more of Suarez’s plan to implement 2000 trolleys around the County. Ridiculous. These are visible, short term ploys that will take as long to implement as they will be in service. Just long enough for elected officials to claim they are making progress on transit before leaving office, and handing this hot potato to someone else not willing to make the tough choices.
He is the first to tell you he voted himself for the half penny tax because he wanted the expansion of the Metro rail as much as anyone. At one of his first Commission meetings he flashed his now famous fire over the notion of “unification”. You remember that, that wonderful Burgess Buzzword to admit that they had not been putting the money from the tax away but spending the cash to prop up the maintenance and operation of the bloated and redundant system they had rolling? And that left us with what? Exactly two and a half miles of new Metro rail, not seventeen.
Carlos knows MDT must attract riders. He knows from his years of providing fire and rescue services that the service must be efficient and reliable. He will use smart technology to attract riders, enhance the experience and performance of the system. Many things that are out there now and easy to develop and implement quickly. He sees the opportunity to make a big difference in the lives of so many and fix a huge gaping hole in the budget by making transit more cost effective.
Transit is not cost effective. Period. Building transit costs money; transit operations cost even more. Any meaningful expansion of our transit system is going to have to be paid by our tax dollars. To play the, ‘I want to make transit cost effective’ card is more of the same politi-speak. You can’t expand transit service and talk about cost effectiveness in the same breath. (And what gaping hole in the budget? The county only spends $153 million from the general fund on transit - about $180 per year per household)
I hope your readers will realize that we have this opportunity and vote for Carlos Gimenez. Now is the time, and he is the linchpin, in the path we need to take to make our County great. Transit Miami readers know the key to our future is a more rational approach to moving Miami-Dade forward. Because, Tony, no how often you travel to the fabulous Big Apple, there is no place like The Magic City and South Beach.
Opportunity for what? More of the same? Transportation is one of the biggest challenges facing our community - and there is still no meaningful discussion about how to move us forward to more balanced - and economically sustainable - transportation network. The idea that this election is somehow different or a ‘linchpin’ in some predestined path to greatness is silly. Gabrielle, our county cannot become great when our leaders are mediocre. We will not become anything more than a sprawling suburban town until we invest in our transportation network.
Our leaders must be willing to make difficult choices (do I expand service and raise tax to pay for it?) in the name of better mobility for all. I hope that Carlos Gimenez is elected; but more than that I hope that he awakens to the fact that we need to aggressively invest in our transit infrastructure.
I have been waiting patiently for either of the current mayoral candidates to come forward to champion better transportation choices for the residents of Miami-Dade County, but with election day around the corner it seems that we are going to have to continue to wait to see real leadership come out of County Hall. Neither of the two candidates, Julio Robaina (Hialeah) or Carlos Gimenez have made much of an effort to describe what they plan on doing to improve mobility in the region, apart from general comments on the recent transit scandal, and a promise to “shake things up.”
Gimenez is the favorite amongst the center and left leaning voters of Miami-Dade county, not because of what he says but because he isn’t Hialeah Julio. I for one can’t tell the difference between the two candidates. I had really hoped for a more forward thinking agenda from Gimenez - a statement on how dysfunctional our current system is and a concrete plan to improve it, but after his lackluster performance on transit issues over the past decade, I can’t say I’m surprised. His answers to the recent Green Mobility Network transportation candidate survey revealed nothing more than a continuation of the current highway building culture that perpetuates our transportation problems. On the question of whether to convert the South Dade Busway into an expressway, he said, “The South Dade Busway is currently underutilized and uses should be expanded. We should look to the 95 Express lanes as a model. Those lanes allow for both bus and automobile traffic and have increased commuter speeds in the non-express lanes by giving drivers another option.” Yuck. Too bad.
Let me clarify - I don’t want to give the impression that Hialeah Julio is any better. His statements on transit read like the comments section of the Miami Herald - an emotional plea for more ‘oversight’, but no real substance. “First and foremost, we must urgently reform the Transit Department and ensure that all public dollars are being spent judiciously and that the ½ cent tax that this community voted to tax itself for improved transportation is in fact being used to remedy transportation ills and not for more management or salaries.” Check out his blog to read more.
Suffice it to say that the current mayoral candidates don’t know what active transportation is, or how to improve mobility for the residents of Dade County, nor do they have any reason to care. This election has shown that the problem is not with the candidates, but with our current metropolitan system of government that pits an independent highway agency against a second-class county transit department. One has funding and can expand its system as necessary, while the other is left to the whim of the current director or mayor or Commission puppet master. The debate is framed around questions of better oversight for transit, and expansion of our highway network - not the other way around. Until we reform our system of transportation governance to establish an independent elected transportation director, we will not see a change in our mobility options.
Charter reform: the latest issue du jour. Term limits, easier citizen petitions, new at large districts - these are some of the possible changes facing voters in May, and depending on the details theycould be revolutionary or they could be useless. Mayoral candidates like Commissioner Carlos Gimenez and others on the County Commission are trying to advance sweeping changes to county government. Kudos to them for trying, but without considering sweeping changes to transportation planning and funding, charter reform will not mean much to the residents of Miami-Dade County.
A truly comprehensive charter reform plan must address the inadequacies of our existing system of transportation planning and governance. Multiple overlapping and competing agencies are responsible for planning and financing roads, highways, and transit, with no coordinated, unified vision. Transit capacity is not being expanded, while roadway congestion cost Miami-Dade County residents $3.2 billion in 2009 according to the Texas Transportation Institute “National Congestion Report.”
Among the policy changes advocated by folks like Commissioner Gimenez is a change to county UDB expansion policy - making it more difficult to expand the urban development boundary, as listed in his ‘Blueprint for Charter Reform’. (Gimenez clarified his position at a Latin Builders Association luncheon last week saying he would not rule out moving the line). While Gimenez’ position on the UDB is in flux, one thing is clear: holding the UDB and encouraging infill development must be coordinated with expanded premium transit options within the urban service area. The challenges presented by growth management are intimately tied to local transit options: the two cannot be disconnected.
Voters in 2002 saw the need for the creation of a premium transit network, and passed the visionary People’s Transportation Plan and ½ cent sales tax, mandating the creation of a Citizens Independent Transportation Trust to oversee the tax and act as stewards of the PTP. Though the CITT was created, it was never truly independent, and the plan remains an unfulfilled mandate.
Charter reform is one of our best opportunities to finally take control of our transportation future - through the creation of an independent authority responsible for all transportation planning and expansion in Miami-Dade County. Led by an elected executive transportation professional, the authority would be responsible for setting policy and implementing a plan that works for allcitizens of Miami-Dade County – transit users, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike.
With gas prices certain to continue their upward rise, Mayoral candidates like Commissioner Gimenez need to be bold in addressing the imbalance of transportation options in this community. They may want to start by looking at charter reform as part of the answer.
The below email was forwarded to Transit Miami this afternoon:
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez and I are hosting a cycling community meeting concerning the 25 cents set aside for safety improvements on the Rickenbacker Causeway. The meeting will be held on Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 6:30 PM at the Coral Gables Youth Center auditorium located at 400 Anastasia Avenue. Please pass this message along to members of the cycling community. Hope to see you there.
City of Coral Gables
Commissioners Ralph Cabrera and Carlos Gimenez have a long track record of being very supportive of the cycling community. I have personally seen Commissioner Ralph Carbrera on a bicycle wearing spandex. I believe Commissioner Gimenez used to be a roadie, but currently does not ride (we need to convince him to come out of retirement!).
Please tell, bring, and drag fellow cyclists to this meeting. The cycling constituency is getting stronger, but conditions for cyclists will only improve if meetings like these are well attended. Let’s make it happen.
Funding and bus service were the themes of the night at the second annual Miami-Dade Transit Summit. In attendance were Mayor Alvarez, County Manager Burgess, Assistant County Manager and transit guru Ysela Llort, and Commissioners Barbara Jordon, Chairman Moss, and Carlos Gimenez. The audience was a mix of transit aficionados and transit users (or both) who gave a wide variety of suggestions on proposed route changes, funding mechanisms, and general discontent with the job the Commission and administration are doing to provide transit service to the citizens of Dade County.
The word affordability was repeated several times, and each time it made me cringe. How can we hold a public good like transit up to some artificial standard like affordability? Who determines what is affordable? Are our public schools affordable? Who pays for the O/M of the police and firefighters? We do. We determine what is affordable . Transit costs what it costs, and it needs to be funded whether the commission likes it or not. Affordability is not a factor, because if it was then the most affordable option would be to buy current transit users a car, dismantle MDT and call it a day. Why waste any more time and money on a public good you don’t think we can ‘afford’?
I was impressed by the many speakers who gave solid, common sense suggestions as to how to improve the system and to fund it. Here just a few of the observations I thought were on point:
- Use the surplus of MDX toll revenue to provide premium transit. The MDX representative was proud of the nearly $10 million dollar contribution they had made to MDT, but that doesn’t go far enough. The New York MTA recieves over $400 million of surplus revenue from bridge and tunnel tolls. Why can’t MDX provide a similar service? Not to mention the roads that are not tolled at all, like the Palmetto. Even a modest toll on this road would go a long way to funding the O/M of our transit system.
- Expand the tax increment districts to beyond go beyond the station areas. As transit is a good that reaches beyond the area surrounding the station, then so too should the tax benefit come from a wider area. Duh.
- Increase the gas tax.
- Stop giving away free rides to the elderly.
- Provide a thorough audit of how the 20% share of the PTP that has been used by municipalities. (I especially like this one as I am pretty sure any audit will uncover how this money has been wasted.)
Some of the best comments came from members of the local Transport Workers Union 291. Intelligent, well thought out, and passionate comments were made by the men and women who are on the ground every day and know exactly how the system works (or doesn’t). They rightfully criticized the plans for BRT expansion, citing Phoenix, Atlanta and other cities that were investing in light rail, rather than BRT. With a similar O/M cost, and higher capacity I agree with them.
I had prepared comments, but by the time my turn came to speak, all of my points had been addressed by the other speakers, save for one. It was a challenge to the administration and Commission to stop blindly throwing money at the transit ‘problem’ without having any goals or benchmarks to measure success. Throughout the night, the common response to audience concerns was “Other cities have the same problems we do.” I agreed, but observed that they did have solutions to the problem, we just were not implementing these solutions. San Fransisco recently set a goal of 30% transit ridership by 2030, why can’t we do the same?
In her closing remarks Commissioner Jordon responded to my comments by saying that they did have goals, but didn’t have the funds to reach them. I don’t know if she understood what I was saying, but as a person who is well versed on the subject, I have yet to see in writing a commitment by Miami-Dade County to increase transit ridership by any amount. How can we guide our investments in all forms of transportation if we don’t lay out a framework to achieve certain goals?
In the mix of transportation options available to people we include cars, transit, and walking/biking. Currently, our transit ridership share is only 2.5%, with walking/biking less than that, which means more than 90% of the trips taken in Dade County are by car. This is not an accident. In the same way we plan for future highway and roadway expansion to accommodate future ‘demand’, so too should we do the same for transit.
My challenge to the Commission and to Mayor Alvarez remains: make a goal of 30% transit ridership by 2030, and fund that goal. That is the only way we are going to get out of our transit black hole.
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