Meet the Douglas Road Corridor MetroRail Line.This 4.5 mile project would connect the MIC to Douglas Road Station and US1, with stops at NW 7 Street, SW 8 Street, and Coral Way. The line would service areas, like downtown Coral Gables, where land use already supports a high level of pedestrian activity. This should be a high priority for our leaders, and some are very supportive. Check out the 5 and ten minute walk sheds - this line would run through some of the densest parts of Miami and Coral Gables - pluggining thousands of residents who have already chosen apartment living into the ultimate urban amenity - rapid transit. (Not to mention creating another connection to the airport for those traveling to/from points south.)
Local bicyclists will ride the length of the M-Path on Jan. 14 to cross the new bridge over the Snapper Creek Expressway and celebrate the near-completion of the M-Path Extension. The 12-mile ride will start at Metrorail’s Brickell Station that Saturday at 10 a.m., continuing through Miami, Coral Gables, and South Miami to cross the bridge alongside U.S. 1 below SW 67th Avenue, then on to Continental Park, 10000 SW 82nd Ave.
“Including three cities and a county park in this ride is symbolic of how the M-Path ties our community together,” said Dario Gonzalez of Emerge Miami, one of three groups putting the ride together. The M-Path Extension officially opens sometime in February. That will mark the closure of the Dadeland Gap, the 1.2-mile section that was left out of the M-Path when it was built along with the Metrorail guideway on the former route of the Florida East Coast Railway. “The M-Path is a priceless asset for active, healthy living,” said John Hopkins, executive director of Green Mobility Network, which has made M-Path improvement a key goal of its advocacy program for the past four years. “We are thrilled to see it completed.”
At the Dadeland South Station, the path connects with the South Dade Trail – and from there you can ride beside the Busway all the way to Florida City. They combine to make a 31-mile, offroad route all the way to downtown Miami. Think what that means for walkers, joggers, and cyclists in omestead, in Goulds, in Pinecrest and so on, right up to the Miami River. “May the Snapper expressway bridge show that locally and statewide, we aggresively pursue and improve all types of green mobility which promote walking, biking, and transit,” said Maricé Chael, an architect and co-founder of Bike SoMi.
The M-Path was built 28 years ago as a service road for the Miami Metrorail, the elevated commuter railroad between Dadeland and downtown Miami’s Brickell financial district. Joggers, cyclists and everyday strollers soon adopted it. Today it’s a popular commuter path for cyclists in Coral Gables and points south who enjoy breezing past the rush-hour drivers on South Dixie Highway. While Miami-Dade Transit owns the M-Path, the M-Path Extension was constructed under a contract managed by the Florida Department of Transportation. The project includes new pathway at each end and north of North Kendall Drive, seven signalized crossings, and the 200-foot bridge across the mouth of the Snapper Creek Expressway. There’s also an attractive stretch along the C-2 canal at the Dadeland North Station.
Surveyors started driving stakes to outline the new path in January 2011. The budgeted cost was $4.5 million. Initial financing came through Florida’s share of federal Transportation Enhancement funding, augmented by stimulus money after planners decided that adding a bridge to the initial plan would make for safer travel. The work was carried out in a design-build partnership of C3TS, of Coral Gables, and Community Asphalt, of Hialeah. The steel-truss bridge was fabricated in Alabama and erected by Anzac Contractors, of Miami. For an FDOT fact sheet, visit http://www.fdotmiamidade.com/current-projects/south-miami-dade/m-path-extension-bicycle-andpedestrian-trail-.html The county’s M-Path Master Plan outlines a series of safety enhancements to include lighting, signed and signalized crossings, and some path realignment. Plans for the first of those are underway.
The recently released Miami-Dade Transit Development Plan 2011 Update, (along with the October 2010 MPO Near Term Plan) lays out a vision for the next few years of transit service and expansion. Unfortunately, this year’s TDP (like many before it) still maintains a freeze on premium service expansion (generally described by mode as Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail, or Heavy Rail).
This year’s TDP is specific on the ‘Plan B’ for the Orange Line and other parts of the People’s Transportation Plan that never materialized. The projects are described as ‘enhanced bus service’, which for now doesn’t mean very much. The Near Term Plan described the ultimated goal as Bus Rapid Transit, but more on that later.
Phases 2 and 3 of the Orange Line will now become two separate projects. The Orange Line Phase 2 is now the NW 27 Avenue Max, a 13 mile enhanced bus service, to be implemented in two phases, and Orange Line Phase 3 is now the SR 836 Enhanced Bus. The SR836 Bus will be implemented in collaboration with the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (more on this project later).
The two phase approach for the NW 27 Avenue Max is a pragmatic solution to the transit needs of the area that enhances ridership and sets the stage for more intense transit later on. Phase one will use 5 new 40′ diesel-electric hybrid buses, with transit signal priority, on-board wi-fi , real time tracking information, and 12 minute peak/ 30 minute mid-day headways. This phase is fully funded and scheduled to be online in 2012.
Phase 2 will improve headways to 10 min peak/20 min mid-day by using 11 new 60‘articulated diesel-electric buses, ‘robust’ stations, and branding of buses and stations. The current plan shows a 5 year horizon (2016) and $27 million dollar price-tag, of which $5 million is currently unfunded. This incremental investment in the corridor as it builds ridership is a responsible use of transit dollars, allowing infill development (and increased densities) to take root at important nodes to help ensure a successful route. Many critics of the MetroRail Orange Line North Corridor cited low population densities and poor land use along the corridor as reasons why MetroRail was an inappropriate facility choice for this location. The current proposal seeks measurable, yet incremental growth in ridership along the corridor at a modest expense.
According to the 2012-2015 MPO Near Term Transportation Plan, NW 27 Avenue is currently served by 2 bus routes.
At 9,500 average daily riders Route 27 is the fourth heaviest utilized route in the system. Route 97 performs well within the MAX and the KAT services, as well, at 1,300 boardings. Ridership in this corridor is surpassed by Miami Beach, Flagler, Biscayne, the South Dade Busway and NW 7th Avenue.
Comparatively, the MetroRail ridership projection was 19,000 initial daily rides (about double the current bus ridership) at a yearly expense of $70 million dollars (the Route 27 and 97 combined cost $8.1 million a year). In the case of the Orange Line, and indeed our entire mass transit network, the spending strategy should not be to stretch expensive premium transit facilities to every corner of the county, but to focus investments in those locations where the surrounding land use already supports transit ready development (also known as transit oriented development) AND where those investments will create a complete transit network.
While there are other better candidates for MetroRail funding (like Baylink or Douglas Road), NW 27 Avenue is still a worthy candidate for premium transit investment, as the Near Term Plan points out, few other lines are as utilized. The North Corridor did not happen because of bad land use patterns, but because Miami-Dade Transit has been chronically underfunded by county administrators.
The FTA New Start rankings showed that MDT had a committed source of revenue for the project, receiving a ‘High’ ranking for ‘Committed funds’ (FDOT and PTP dollars), but the overall MDT operating budget (funded by the County Commission) showed a ongoing deficit (in years 2004-2006), thus garnering a ‘low’ ranking for ‘Agency Operational Condition.’ The final nail in the coffin was a ‘low’ ranking in the ‘Operating Cost Estimates and Planning Assumptions’ category because, according to a November 2007 report, “Assumptions on the growth in fare revenues are optimistic compared to historic trends. The financial plan assumes significant, frequent fare increases. In addition, it assumes significant fare revenue increases resulting from installation of automated fare collection systems which reduce fare evasion.”
In spite of the tumultuous history of this project, the Near Term Plan concludes that,
Although the County has decided to officially withdraw from the FTA New Starts Process, the County continues to work on the NW 27th Avenue Corridor. It has chosen to improve service incrementally until such time that the construction of heavy rail in the corridor is deemed feasible.
While it might not have seemed a good business deal to county leaders, this was a project in the PTP, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters - and is exactly what the surtax money was to be used for. Not to mention that transit infrastructure is an investment in our city that can result in clear increases in tax revenue and land value when coordinated with dense, pedestrian-oriented urban fabric and employment centers.
With the anticipated service improvements along NW 27 Avenue, it would seem that MDT’s current service expansion strategy continues to be one of small scale improvements that bide the time waiting for leaders to deliver on premium transit.
Miami-Dade Transit will be taking comments on their annual recently released their Transit Development Plan 2011 update. You can find the document here. The Transit Development Plan is required by State Law to, “present the operational and capital improvement needs of Miami-Dade Transit (MDT) and also serve as a planning tool to project future MDT needs for the implementation and operation of transit service.”
The Transit Development Plan is an important planning tool as it provides a complete picture of funding sources, revenues, and expenses (on the operations side), while also describing the existing transit network, demographics and planned service changes. It is the closest document we have to a ‘People’s Transportation Plan’.
In the years following the demise of the Orange Line MetroRail extension, the TDP has been focused on reducing the operating budget and squeezing efficiency from the existing system, while not really providing a clear framework for increases in ridership. The October 2009 update described its budgetary strategy as, “an avoidance of any major service expansion except for the MIC-Earlington Heights Metrorail connector service.”
Two years later, the TDP doesn’t paint a rosier picture for premium service expansions; none are envisioned in the near term. But what the document does reveal is a department that is trying to do more with its existing infrastructure, both through increased efficiencies in the network and improved passenger amenities.
Several new ‘enhanced’ bus routes are also discussed, including the North Corridor Enhanced Bus project, and the SR 836 Express Bus Project. We’ll talk more about those later. What we can say now is that the service expansions envisioned by this latest TDP are very modest – and incremental – improvements to service around the county as an alternative to the ambitious and extensive PTP.
Aside from some new routes, MDT has been working on implementing improved passenger amenities, such as real-time bus tracking and WiFi access. MDT began rolling it its popular Wi-Fi service in 2010, and currently provides service in all Metro-Rail trains, and approximately 20% of the bus fleet. The coming year will see the program expanded to the entire fleet of MetroBuses and all station platform areas. Future service expansions, such as the NW 27 Enhanced route, will also come equipped with Wi-Fi as a standard feature.
MDT is also moving forward with implementing a new AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) software system that will replace the current system (which dates from the late 90’s). The new system will provide for real-time tracking, and transit signal prioritization – elements that should help MDT make modest ridership gains using existing infrastructure. The real-time tracking will allow full integration with smart phones, and will also be a standard feature in future service expansions. This improvement will finally give the South Dade Busway the signal priority it was designed for, and shorten commute times along this heavily used transit corridor. MDT plans to issue an RFP for the system this year, with a launch scheduled for mid-2012.
Kudos to MDT for advancing these needed technological improvements - they will pay for themselves and then some. One need only look at the EasyCard system and Automatic Passenger Counters (APCs), implemented in 2009, which MDT has been using its to make targeted improvements to service schedules. The efficiencies created by using this data (adjusting/eliminating empty routes) has allowed MDT planners to use infrastructure more wisely.
This year’s TDP includes numerous service changes that involve adjusting routes using the APC data, along with staff recommendations, according to MDT Planner Maria Battista. Among the data used to make service changes, Battista said, “administrators have held monthly meetings with the drivers and superintendents that let us know what is going on in their routes.” The adjustments in service respond to the current ridership demands. Some routes are being reduced by 15-20 minutes at non-peak hours (prior to the morning rush, or during evening hours) based on data that showed no usage during these times. These surgical adjustments will help ensuring that MDT facilities are being used when and where they are needed most.
The TDP 2011 shows an agency working with what it has. No premium service expansions, but important improvements to existing service. This all comes against the backdrop of an agency - it would seem by the media- in disarray. No Director, serious FTA funding problems, a lackluster commission directive, and a newly installed Mayor whose commitment to transit involves converting a transit corridor into a highway. The changes proposed by the TDP 2011 set the stage for premium expansions sometime in the future. The incremental ramp-up of ridership in new enhanced bus routes, along with the improved passenger amenities, and GPS tracking abilities will allow our elected officials to take hold of the agency and provide the premium service expansion that this community demanded almost a decade ago.
Suggestions and comments on the annual TDP update can be sent to BPB@miamidade.gov.
Last week I posted on the upcoming plans to convert the South-Dade Busway to a managed lanes expressway with bus service. Since then MDX Public Information Officer Tere Garcia was kind enough to offer this response:
We certainly understand your concerns and many may be unwarranted due to incorrect speculation. We are in fact working together with Miami Dade Transit on this study to improve existing transit service and providing Express lanes maximizing the unused capacity of the busway. Alternatives that are being studied are grade separations at major intersections, among others, that would allow for the buses to ride safely and quickly without having to stop at the intersections as they must do today. This would allow for faster and more efficient bus service and potential increase in ridership. The MPO first took a look at the possibility of using toll money to improve transit specifically on the South Dade Busway. All new transportation corridors that MDX has included in the MPO long range plan have a multimodal component including the potential for transit, bikeways. We welcome the opportunity to brief you on the facts of this project and clear up any misconceptions. Thank you
Ok, MDX - I’m open to getting more information about the project, but I’m not sure I’m missing anything that will change the basic problem here: the ‘capacity’ of the busway should not be used for car service. Period. So before we get together for coffee lets have an honset conversation about what these plans portend for transit in Miami-Dade County.
For all the non-transportation professionals out there, this is a rough translation of what MDX actually said:
We couldn’t go on seeing all that roadway capacity around the buses go unused, so we are going to take whatever capacity is not being used for public transit and give it to the car. Of course, we have to make this a convenient alternative for cars, so we are going to make improvements to the Right-of way that will make it easy for people to speed right past all that congestion on US1 (by building expressway overpasses). Oh, and we are still going to let the bus use this road too. Its a win-win for everyone. We might even put in a bike lane, or something like that.
I have no misconception about this project - it is a highway building project that you are going to allow buses to use. The alternatives are just variations on the theme. Just because you say that this is a transit project does not mean that is the case - it is all a matter of spinning the facts to get buy-in from the community. Let’s let the facts tell the story:
- a transit-only route will be converted to a single occupancy vehicle expressway, with buses sharing the road with cars.
-“the unused capacity of the busway” (your phrase) will be maximized, not by increasing or improving transit service, but by allowing single-occupancy vehicles to share the road with buses. How can this be misconstrued as a benefit to transit riders?
- Transit service will have to compete for riders with a new express alternative to US1. Rather than incite more people to use the because of ‘efficient and faster’ transit service, managed lanes will only provide an express alternative to both the busway and US1 !
-Grade separations at key intersections will allow for faster travel times - for buses and cars. Fair enough, but without true transit stations and BRT infrastructure, the efficiency gained by faster bus service will be lost because of decreased access and safety. Who will want to wait for a bus next to an expressway?? (This is also a problem in the design of transit lines in other MDX projects - how do you expect to increase transit ridership if the stations are mostly accessible by car and not by walking?)
Other regions have Transportation Authorities that are responsible for coordinating capital improvements between different forms of transportation infrastructure. The New York MTA is responsible for all of the regional rail service, bus service, subways, and (some) bridges and tunnels; they maintain a Capital Construction Department that finances transportation projects (partially by sharing toll revenue). With MDT and MDX collaborating on projects now and in the future, a Transportation Authority structure would combine a mandate to provide mass transit with an effective management and capital investment structure (not to mention it would allow the sharing of ROW and toll revenue). MDX isn’t to blame - building highways is what they do!
Ultimately, the goal of this project should be to ‘maximize the capacity of the roadway’ by improving transit service (and thus increasing ridership). As I have repeated on Transit Miami many times, I support a systemic change in the way we plan, construct and operate our transportation network. MDX has a track record of building and operating profitable expressway projects - we need to focus this energy and expertise toward the construction of a premium transit network - not an expressway network with buses.
2010 was an ambitious year for MDX. Open road tolling really took off, and MDX had its planners busy working on ways to turn our County into an expressway wonderland, where everyone is only a block away from smooth rides; all the while, as our friends at rollbacktolls.com report, MDX ran a $2.4 billion debt through 2010. While we at Transit Miami do not think that tolls are the problem, we support others’ efforts to put MDX under a magnifying glass - after all, they act with complete impunity when it comes to planning and operating the expressway system in Miami-Dade County. And it would seem that their long-term strategy is to dismantle the few bits of premium transit we have in this region.
Take for example the plans they released in July (2010) to build a double decker expressway on top of Tri-rail, in an effort to connect all the major expressways in Miami. Insensitive to the fact that building a highway directly on top of a major regional transit system would only compete for riders, sources within MDX even admit that the likelihood of obtaining federal funding for the system is low considering the feds gave SFRTA several hundred million dollars only two years ago for Tri-Rail Upgrades. How backward can these folks be with regard to the true transportation needs of Miami-Dade County?
Now the latest assault on Miami-Dade Transit: the effort to dismantle the South-Dade Busway and create lexus lanes for the wealthy residents of Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, and Pinecrest. MDX planners are meeting with area residents to get buy-in for the project, but what they won’t tell people is that this is part of creating a parallel highway to US1 that reaches South Dade.
The irony is that the busway was conceived as low cost alternative to bring transit to the mainly underprivileged residents of South Miami-Dade County along existing train tracks built by Henry Flagler. The busway was never meant as a limited access highway for the wealthy residents of suburbs that have developed since then. Be that as it may, MDX is moving full speed ahead preparing plans to convert the bus-only transit way into an I-95 style lexus lanes expressway with elevated intersections.
What does MDT get in return for letting MDX rape its only premium transit service to the residents of South Miami-Dade County? A big fat nothing. No shared toll revenue. Faster travel speeds say MDX, but at the expense of accessible and convenient transit. On a line that already runs beyond capacity most peak times, the only transit oriented upgrade to the busway would be to make true BRT improvements, increase frequencies and headway, and eventually to extend the metro-rail south; what they should not take apart a thriving transit service.
It’s time for a change in transportation planning in Dade County. We cannot allow MDX to continue to expand highway capacity at a time when most Miami-Dade residents are clamoring for expanded transportation options that will help them out of their cars. The myopic car-centric decision making at MDX will only continue to degrade transit service until one authority is made responsible for uniting the managerial know-how and Right-of-Way MDX posses with MDT’s transit mandate. Until then, it is open season for MDX, and the drive to expand roadway capacity will continue at the expense of transit ridership.
On Wednesday, the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) and the Florida Public Transportation Association (FPTA) hosted a transit summit in Fort Lauderdale. The event, attended by several hundred transportation professionals, featured short speeches from the directors of all the South Florida transit agencies as well as some words from other transit advocates and “luminaries.”
The FPTA also took the opportunity to highlight their foray into social media, the IM4Transit campaign. Roughly akin to a Facebook “Like” or the too quickly forgotten Facebook groups, their goal is to sign up 100,000 Floridians who support transit. If you care to, sign up at IM4Transit.org or head over to Facebook and spread the like. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) also expressed their support for the IM4Transit campaign, which serves as their pilot program in social media.
This is a great blog post from the NY Times about the economic structure of our transportation network.
Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner’s “Fundamental Law of Traffic Congestion: Evidence From the U.S.” states that vehicle-miles-traveled increases roughly one-for-one with miles of roads built. More highways mean more drivers, so we are never going to build our way out of traffic congestion. People will keep on driving until they are made to pay for that privilege.
Privatization, in principle, offers the possibility of working on both the engineering and economics fronts.
Private road operators or airports will charge higher fees during peak periods to cut down on congestion, and they have incentives to innovate technologically to attract customers and cut costs. Mr. Winston notes that capsule, or pod, hotels, “which enable fliers to nap between flights,” happen to be “available in private airports, but none is available in the United States.
Because the public sector controls almost all roads, airports and urban transit, we see the downsides of public control on a daily basis, but we don’t experience the social costs that could accompany privatization. A private airport operator might try to exploit its monopoly power over a particular market or cut costs in a way that increases the probability of very costly, but rare, disaster.
The complexity and risks of switching to private provision means that Mr. Winston is wise to call for experimentation rather than wholesale privatization. An incremental process of trying things out will provide information and build public support.
Yet many of Mr. Winston’s recommendations are incremental and can be done without privatization or much risk.
Private jitney operators could be permitted to compete freely with public bus lines in urban markets (In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is already testing this idea.) New York could also implement a congestion charge (as Mayor Bloomberg has proposed on several occasions, to clamorous opposition). Tolls could be increased on busy commuting highways during peak hours and lowered off-peak. Airports — especially those in the New York area — could raise the landing fees during peak periods.
This issue is all the more relevant here in Miami where elected officials struggle to provide even a basic level of public transit. While privatization might bring unknown social costs, a social cost is already being incurred because of our deficient transit system. The lack of convenient and frequent mass transit opportunities exacerbates problems of social inequity. Not owning a car in Miami-Dade County is a barrier to employment, yet Commissioners do nothing to advance premium transit expansion. At the same time MDX is planning a multibillion dollar highway expansion through some of our last remaining natural preserves and pushing through ‘lexus lanes’ on our only physically separated and dedicated bus transit line. Who are these people serving? This type of planning demonstrates that our leaders continue to be poor stewards of public lands, and have little interest in providing the residents of Dade County with a balance of mobility options. I for one would welcome a private enterprise that could help ease the burden on the County as it struggles to ‘right-size’ both its transit system and highway network.
Unfortunately, there is no good news coming out of County Hall with the release of a long overdue assessment of the status of both the North and East/West Alignments of the Metro-rail Orange line. The projects, called for in the People’s Transportation Plan, have been on hold for several years because of the lack of long term financial commitment on the part of the administration and County Commission. This lack of long term funding has led the Federal Transportation Agency to consistently give a medium-low rating to Miami-Dade Transit’s New Start application for federal Transit assistance. As a result, MDT plans to finally withdraw its application for federal New Starts funding in order to prevent being penalized in the next application. This should be no surprise to anyone, and considering the lack of ridership projected for these routes, is a blessing in disguise.
Report author and transit guru Ysela Llort lays down the law in pretty clear terms:
My July 17, 2008 report to you on MDT’s Financial Status and subsequent August 28, 2008 report on 30-year financial scenarios for the department clearly laid out policy options for the Board both in the short and long-term that would be needed to arrive at the 9.4 billion in needs beyond existing revenues in order to build, operate and maintain the Metro-rail Orange line, including both the NW 27th avenue corridor and East/West corridors. Among the options to be considered were fare increases, additional General Fund Support (beyond the maintenance of effort level), unification of the transit system, a two cent increase to the local Option Gas Tax, adjustments to the current municipal contributions, and adjustments to fare-free programs.
Llort is a straight talker, and maintains that there can be no premium transit expansion without a greater local financial commitment. As it is, she writes,
If at any time we wish to pursue federal funding for any transit New Starts or Small starts project, the FTA will demand that MDT demonstrate that it can operate and maintain both the existing system and the expanded system.
Read: We will not get premium transit expansion until the BoCC commits to funding the expanded system. Any system improvements we pursue without federal help are just patches that will not ultimately lead to any substantive increase in ridership.
Mayor Alvarez has tenuously supported the Orange Line, but has not gone to bat for the expansion, instead choosing to pursue a strategy of “Affordable, Incremental Transit Improvements” (in light of the fact that the Board will not make the bold move of further strengthening MDT’s financials) I have been a proponent in the past for this incremental pace of improvement, but disagree on what this administration deems to be the correct increment of expansion and level of affordability. Not to mention the many changes (some cited by Llort above and others in my May 2008 post on the subject) that could have been undertaken by now to help MDT’s financial situation, but that still remain unchanged.
While there have been notable and important advances made by MDT in the last few years (the EASY cards, MIC/ Earlington Heights, system restructuring), the current pace of improvements is simply unacceptable. The Board was presented with a report earlier this year that showed revenue, service and ridership for the different alternatives of premium transit for the Orange Line (heavy rail, light rail (LRT), bus rapid transit (BRT), and BRT-lite). In each instance a funding gap exists without an increased financial commitment by the BoCC (regardless of the type of technology). Striking the balance between increasing ridership and spending prudently is the name of the game, so the current plans, described by Llort in the report, call for a BRT-lite along both the NW 27th Ave line and the East/West Dolphin Expressway alignment. In my view, this will attract the least amount of potential riders, and will not contribute to critical system wide expansion, but is an alternative to spending money on routes that are not yet ready for higher levels of service.
Our leaders need to change how they think about planning transit expansion in a way that takes into account total system connectivity - not just how to accommodate random corridors around the County. Maybe now that the albatross of the Orange Line is being cast aside, our leaders can focus on expanding Metro-rail to places that will increase ridership (like Miami Beach), and that will lead to greater network connectivity (like the Douglas Road corridor).
You will remember that back in January, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the changes to the guidelines that govern federal investments in transit. While not as comprehensive as the anticipated changes to the 2005 SAFETEA-LU Bill, the new rules were a welcomed and long overdue change to transit funding rules.
“Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it,” said Secretary LaHood. “We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live.”
The change will apply to how the Federal Transit Administration evaluates major transit projects going forward. In making funding decisions, the FTA will now evaluate the environmental, community and economic development benefits provided by transit projects, as well as the congestion relief benefits from such projects. (FTA)
Locally we hoped for the best, but on Monday the President released his list of projects that are moving forward with federal funding. While other cities are big winners, our own beleaguered Orange Line Phase 2 remains a weak funding candidate. The projects are all rated based on a variety of criteria, and for a project to receive funding it needs to be at least Medium rated. Previously, the rating was based on cost effectiveness, but the new rules give other criteria greater weight. You can read the report here (look for information on Miami on page 14).
For us the changes would be great news, if not for the continued lack of political will to provide permanent sources of operation and maintenance funding. The overall project is rated Medium-low in the Preliminary Engineering phase. We score medium-high and medium on the majority of categories, except for our Local Financing Commitment for Operations and Maintenance. In other words, the feds know we can build the system (partially using our PTP dollars) but we still do not have a permanent way of paying for the O & M that will result from the construction of the line.
Until the County Commission steps up and identifies how they intend to fund the future operations of Orange Line , we will not receive FTA New Starts funding.
Unfortunately, this is not a problem that is specific to the Orange Line or with the cost heavy rail technology. The cost of O & M is going to be a problem for whatever technology is used to expand the transit system, whether it be BRT, LRT or Metrorail. Running mass transit is expensive. Our current ‘go it alone’ attitude in pursuing BRT lite is only going to cost us more in the long term without actually increasing ridership.
Today was the first time I used one of the bike racks mounted on the MDT buses, as I did a bike-bus commute from South Beach to FIU Biscayne Bay. I boarded the 93 bus at Omni station and loaded my bike onto the rack closest to the driver. I should note that I ride a steel city bike with a pair of panniers - this is a heavy bike with an even heavier rear wheel area. But I got it on and locked it into place following the instructions on the MDT website. It still felt wobbly so I asked the driver if I’d done it correctly, to which she responded with a non-committal sound I took to mean yes.
Long story short (the longer version was posted to my blog), the locking mechanism slipped off the front wheel and the bike fell off the rack at my stop on 135 St & Biscayne Blvd, being hit by the bus into the next lane. It wasn’t run over, thankfully, but it was damaged so I couldn’t ride it. The driver reported it but did nothing else, shifting the blame entirely onto me and then leaving without even saying sorry. I filed a complaint via the MDT website but I fully expect them to blow their nose with it. I accept it was partly my fault because I may not have locked it properly, but I also asked for confirmation from the driver and received none. The driver also obviously was not paying attention to the bike otherwise she would have noticed when the locking arm slipped off.
I see bikes on the bus racks every day and I assume these reach their destination fine and dandy. But while I realize my case may be out of the ordinary, I cannot be the only person who has used these racks for the first time and did not know if they were used correctly. The buses should have better signage explaining the proper operation of the locking mechanism, and the drivers should be trained (and frankly required) to make sure that bikes are properly secured, especially when people ask them explicitly. While MDT may not make itself responsible for every single bike that goes on one of their bus bike racks, it cannot be good for business (to appeal to the basest denominator) if cases like mine happen more often.
Has anyone else out there had a problem with the MDT bus bike racks?
Sorry for the hiatus folks, lots goin’ on. Hope everyone is having a happy and relaxing Easter weekend. Some interesting bits of news flying around, thought I would share…
The County Manager’s office has released its grant application for 2009 Federal Transit dollars (not stimulus related). MDT is requesting approximately $87 Million dollars for a variety of projects including metrorail maintenance ($80 Million) and bus-related improvements ($7 Million). I’m happy to see that they are not just raiding the CITT again, although it doesn’t address the basic funding problem MDT has which is that it doesn’t get its fair share of General Fund dollars.
The Transit Committee and the full Commission get these silly monthly Orange Line reports that don’t say anything substantive. Not to mention that a new plan for using the CITT dollars still hasn’t been created, and the only thing we taxpayers have to show for our half-cent contribution is a proposal for monthly or quarterly transit ‘summits’. Greaaaaat. Now they can tell remind us on a regular basis how they are mismanaging the transit system and wasting our money. I can’t wait.
I was happy to read that the County Manager is not going to renew Wackenhut’s contract to patrol transit stations (ahem, what ever happened to the police?) I was also happy to read that some of our criticisms of MDT, the MPO and the commission are finally being recognised:
Some critics have called for creation of a transit authority, removing the county government’s control of the transportation system.
The outer loop of the downtown Metromover stopped dead in its tracks early this morning, according to this article. Apparently, the service halt is due to a problematic switch.
Let’s hope MDT engineers can twist the right lug nut, or what have you, and fix it.
This news is a few days old, but we wanted to post it in case anyone didn’t see the article in the Miami Herald. A bus driver hit a bicyclist and didn’t even bother to stop, ignoring the cries of his passengers.
The bicyclist escaped with some scrapes as an early Christmas present. Fortunately for him and the rest of us, the driver has been suspended, so we have one less bus driver out there trying to maim bicyclists. He’s still getting paid, though. MDT wouldn’t want to let him miss that hefty salary paid by your sales tax.
If you’ve been too distracted by elections and Vice Presidential nominations this week, maybe you haven’t heard yet that Miami Dade Transit may be cutting bus routes. Larry Lebowitz at the Miami Herald has the details on the routes that could be cut. These are routes with plenty of ridership, so nothing to be taken lightly.
We are sorry we didn’t get this news out before Mayor Carlos Alvarez won reelection by a landslide. It seems these cuts are being proposed by him and County Manager George Burgess. Lebowitz says that they would be returning the total miles of bus service “close to the pre-sales tax levels of 2002.” That would just prove that the sales tax initiative has failed. I believe that Miller-McCune magazine was justified in putting the Metrorail expansion and the sales tax inititiative on their list of “The World’s Biggest Boondoggles.”
The county commission will be voting on this issue Sept. 2., along with the vote on the proposed fare increase. We urge them to clean up this mess by seeking new sources of income for existing transit service, and coming up with a solid plan to expand Metrorail and bus transit—not by cutting existing service or putting extreme burden on the riders. The Herald offered some suggestions in a follow-up editorial, and we agree with most of their points. Especially the one suggesting to stop handing out free rides before raising fares or cutting service.
MDT is underfunded, and the county has been using this expansion sales tax to make up the difference. Commissioners need to find another dedicated funding source to keep the trains and buses moving, and then get the expansion back on track with the originally committed funding source. How about raising property taxes to fund the budget deficit? If you have a better idea, let us know.
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