Under the guise of hosting a discussion about the future of mobility in South Florida, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has brought our leading transportation officials together with anti-transit Libertarian Robert Poole to go over their plans to greatly expand toll roads in Miami-Dade County.
Tapped by our soon-to-be-one-term Governor as one of his transportation advisors, Poole has finished an 18 month ‘study’ of how to improve transportation in South Florida. The reason for the study, according to a press release, is that “[The 2035 Long Range Plan] puts a major emphasis on alternatives to driving—transit, bicycling and walking. In fact, of the $58 billion available for transportation between 2015 and 2035, the plan devotes 62% to improving and operating various forms of transit. Unfortunately, if the plan is implemented as written, by 2035 a smaller fraction of all trips (2.6%) will be made via transit than the 2.9% made via transit today.”
Fair enough. That might be true, but that has more to do with the over reliance on BRT over rail transit. The conclusions made by the report are nothing less than preposterous for transportation and urban planners, pointing to ‘managed lanes’ as the panacea to our mobility challenges. (Insert gag here).From the press release:
The plan includes four key components:
A region-wide network of expressway managed lanes (MLs) like those on I-95, encompassing 302 route-miles and 1,117 lane-miles;
Upgrades for 14 key arterials (107 route-miles) with underpasses at major signalized intersections, an innovation we call “managed arterials” (MAs);
Premium bus rapid transit (BRT) as in the current long-range plan, but operating mostly on the “virtually exclusive busways” made possible by the network of MLs and MAs, rather than on politically dubious bus-only lanes;
A series of system operational improvements, including extensive expressway ramp metering and further expansion of traffic signal coordination.
These four components tell a striking story of the city that Poole (and his cohorts at FDOT and MDX) would have us inhabit. On the one hand Poole contends our current Long Range Transportation plan (with its reliance on BRT) is not going to be successful, yet his plan relies on the exact same BRT system (as stated above). He proposes that MDX and the Governor create tolled highways out of major arterials (like US1 and Flagler), utilizing overpasses and underpasses that will be costly to build and blight the city, to create revenue AND ‘premium bus rapid transit’ corridors. Unfortunately, bus rapid transit does not work on highways where folks cannot easily get on/off. The best BRT systems in the world run at grade, in a dedicated lane, and in the city center. This plan is doomed to fail because it views transit as an afterthought.
The idea of using transit as a way to sweeten an otherwise bad idea is not new. We have been reporting for some time about MDXs plan to run a highway parallel to US1, under the dubious assumption that it will greatly improve transit service. (Meanwhile, low cost transit improvements that would greatly improve service, like signal coordination, go unimplemented because of their impact on local traffic.)
There is so much to dislike about this plan that it is hard to know where to start. First the idea of greatly expanding tolls on what Poole calls “urban toll expressways” (ie. neighborhood streets) will create highways in places where we are trying to lower speeds and increase pedestrian, bicycle and transit use. These highways will be in direct competition with transit, and rather than be subsidized by the government, the costs will be borne by the citizens of South Florida. Already saddled with high tax and few mobility options, the Governor and MDX will double down on a failed transportation system by taxing residents, so that they can in turn build more highways! The Ponzi scheme developed by MDX to build and toll and build some more will be spread all over the land.
I am all for bus rapid transit, but it should not be used as a chaser for the bitter pill MDX and the Governor are trying to push down our throats. We need to continue to build our rail network and then we can start to feed into it with BRT. If officials want to create bus-only lanes, the way that every other city in America is doing, great! Close a lane of Bird Road, Coral Way, 8th street…etc. and have BRT running to the heart of our metropolis in its own dedicated lane; but don’t start building highways all over the city. It’s time for MDX to wake up and realize that mass transit is the future of our region – not highways. If it doesn’t evolve, it might find that there are a great many people, myself included, who don’t see a reason for it to exist anymore. We want transit - not tolls.
Imagine a world where you can breeze down US1 during rush hour without a care in the world. No gridlock. No traffic. You bypass intersections and the suckers stuck in the slow lane because you are on one of Miami-Dade’s numerous newly implemented ‘Managed Lanes.’ From the Palmetto, to LeJeune, to the entire length of US1, transportation officials have rolled out toll lanes across South Florida, and more are to come.
Unfortunately this future is not in some fantasy world - it is the transportation plan being pursued by our Miami-Dade MPO - led by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.
What are managed lanes? The FHA defines managed lanes as, “Highway facilities or a set of lanes where operational strategies are proactively implemented and managed in response to changing conditions.” In most cases this involves variable tolling on the managed lane based on surrounding levels of congestion. Simply put, the lanes are toll roads that run parallel to ‘free’ roads, allowing users to pay a premium to bypass traffic.
As you can see from the map above from the Miami-Dade MPO Near Term Plan, the planners at the MPO have some serious confusion about the relationship between managed lanes and transit. MPO planners are conflating their need for more revenue with their responsibility to provide better mobility throughout Miami-Dade. What follows is what MPO planners have in mind for your transportation future (Disclaimer: I didn’t make this up - it came directly from the MPO Near Term Plan):
Once the SR 836/826 interchange reconstruction is complete the managed lane system can be expanded. A combination of tolling, express lanes and transit services, similar to the operation on I‐95 Express managed lanes represents a greener, cost effective strategy to meet the demand on the transportation system. At a relative minimal cost of implementation this strategy provides a feasible approach that has proven to yield the desired results of mobility improvements that will help transit become more sustainable.
Greenwashing at its worst. To claim that adding capacity to the road will lead to any sustainable benefit is disingenuous at best - and to further claim that this will yield some transit benefit is an insult to the people of Dade county.
The optimal strategy for managed lanes is to convert existing lanes and shoulders , as was done with the I‐95 Express project. Managed lanes in the 2035 LRTP comprise 99 center line miles of improvements. Approximately 27% of those improvements are identified as “Cost Feasible” in the LRTP, 61% are funded only for planning design and right‐of‐way. The remainder of the facilities are unfunded.
FDOT is undertaking a PD&E study for the development of managed lanes on the Palmetto Expressway.
This north‐south corridor is an important link between the Kendall area and the MIC completing a grid of
future managed lanes carrying express transit services.
MDX has initiated a PD&E study for the integration of a managed lane project along the South Dade Busway along US1. If the PD&E study finds that managed lanes are feasible and if the improvements are made to the Busway, it would be operated as a managed lane and the available capacity would be “sold” to auto drivers. The fees paid by private autos would be based upon the demand, in order to preserve free flow conditions. Buses that currently use the exclusive right‐of‐way would operate in mixed flow. Revenues from the tolls would first go to repay the bonds then secondly would go to pay for the operation of the facility. The level of revenues dedicated to transit would still need to be determined and the FTA, who paid for a portion of the Busway, will need to approve the planned project. FTA has stated that the approval of the project would be based upon the level of benefit provided to transit.
Thank goodness for the FTA. We have written extensively on the conversion of the busway to an expressway, but this is the clearest indication yet that MDX is up to no good. They acknowledge that toll revenue would go to other needs before even being considered for transit, and that the FTA is not yet on-board with their plans because there is no benefit to transit riders. The citizens of Miami-Dade County are being fleeced of their right to convenient and easy mass transit so that county leaders can build ‘lexus lanes’ from one end of Miami to the other.
Different from progressive congestion management policies, like London’s now famous congestion pricing plan, managed lanes are not intended for urban, transit served areas.They provide a fast alternative to both non-tolled streets AND transit, and are described by the FHA as a ‘highway facility.’ While congestion pricing is meant to control/reduce car demand in urban and transit served areas, managed lanes are simply extra capacity and another revenue source for cash strapped transportation agencies.
Regarding London’s congestion pricing plan, Next American City had this to say,
London’s congestion charge system charges private car users who enter the zone £10 ($16) per day between 7am and 6pm, Monday to Friday. The scheme has been a huge success, resulting in a 20% drop in car use, £120 million ($197 million) annual net-revenues, and the fastest growth rate for the city’s bus system since the 1940s. …
As a result of the congestion charge, CO2 emissions fell by 16% within the charging zone, with nitrogen oxides and particulate emissions dropping too. Functional benefits also exist. Average traffic speeds have increased by 37%, with delays to private journeys decreasing by 30% and bus journeys by 50%. Speedier journeys have also reduced average taxi fares.
Congestion pricing is an important part of urban mobility management - but the managed lanes plan proposed by the Miami-Dade MPO is nothing more than a veiled ploy to undermine transit service, and expand highway capacity. There are plenty of ways to expand transit ridership, but managed lanes is not one of them. We need strong and vocal support of transit reform and expansion - NOT the slow dismantling of transit service to the benefit of Miami-Dade’s Mercedes driving population.
FDOT’s I-95 Express Lanes were recently awarded the People’s Choice Award of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Read the release on the America’s Transportation Award site. Say what you want about the project, but the numbers are in and have shown a definite increase in speed on northbound I-95 where the High Occupancy Toll lanes were installed.
It’s not all about the automobile, either. Articulated express buses should be running on these lanes in January. According to the 95 Express website, the intent is to extend the existing Broward County Transit service running on 441/SR-7 to the Golden Glades interchange to reach downtown Miami. We’ll keep you posted on this new service.
(video courtesy of the Miami Herald)
Reactions seem mixed, but mostly frustrated to date.
Might the frustration lead more to consider public transportation?
Let us know what you think, and if you have experienced the lights thus far.
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