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.
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).
From the Transit Miami inbox, concerned reader Jennifer Garcia writes:
Dear Transit Miami Team,
The direction in which Miami-Dade Transit is heading toward has started to concern me, as it probably concerns several people sharing the interest of seeing this city reaching its potential. I understand that times are tough and that budget cuts are inevitable. I also understand that the American car-oriented mindset does not lend itself to public transit. However, I do NOT understand why with one of the biggest American events of the year held right here in town, why Miami-Dade Transit didn’t jump on this opportunity.
On my way to the Beach to watch the big game, I sat in the back of a very crowded bus. My thoughts were on the amount of people in this bus, but more on the amount of revenue Miami-Dade Transit must have been making this past weekend. I thought, this must be great, both for local businesses AND for MDT’s budget. Unfortunately, these fond and hopeful thoughts of our transit system soon changed course into disappointment, embarrassment, and anger in my journey back home. As an average transit rider, I have had my share of bus/metro “adventures” -but I think this particular bus-waiting experience wasn’t as much of a personal let-down, as much as embarrassment of the city that I love. It took me over three hours to get home; not due to traffic, but simply the lack of respect bus drivers and their management team seem to have toward their patrons. As I waited at one too many bus stops, I couldn’t help but overhear comments from both locals and visitors. As much as I care about my locals, it was the visitors’ comments that concerned me: “This is ridiculous; I’ve been waiting here for over an hour;” and “Shouldn’t this bus be running now, it’s not even 11;” or “Well, I had to wait even longer last night” and “I thought this was the city that never sleeps”…
Obviously, this wasn’t just any ordinary Miami weekend, but a completely MISSED opportunity for a city building itself on tourism. How are we going to invite thousands of people to our city, but not offer them reliable transportation? Its not like Miami-Dade didn’t know about this particular event - it’s practically an official holiday! Even free taxi rides from restaurants/bars were offered, yet simply running more frequent buses or even after 10 PM wasn’t considered. Together, we need to ensure that the next big Miami-hosted event provides for our visitors’ transit needs so they can truly enjoy the city we care about.
It didn’t surprise me that on the same day that I received this letter I also read this headline out of next year’s Superbowl host Arlington, Texas: “Mass Transit to play key role for Super Bowl in Arlington,”
“We were caught in several significant traffic jams there,” he said about his Miami trip, which he took with Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Irving Mayor Herbert Gears. “We are going to have to concentrate on that. It’s a real displeasure if people are stuck in traffic for a long period of time.”
The Miami Superbowl host committe should be strongly advocating mass transit (can anyone say the Orange Line Phase 2???) rather than arguing for a roof as a way of keeping the Superbowl in town. The ironies are obvious. An expensive roof structure for a single game in Miami’s dry season (once every four or five years)…investing in empty parking infrastructure around the stadium rather than in a mas transit project that runs right to your doorstep (a project that is already far into the planning stages, and which will provide a realistic mass transit alternative for people to get to the stadium- all year round!) All this, and the only thing the latest owners of Joe Robbie can think about is getting a public subsidy for improvements to their property. Sigh…what will they ask us next?
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.
Portland just opened their latest light rail line. The ‘Green Line’ is 8.3 miles and cost approximately $575 million. Critics point out that it uses an existing freeway right-of-way that is far from population centers. (Funded by Federal New Starts Dollars and local contributions). This from the Transport Politic:
But the transitway is the crux of the problem with the Green Line. The highway makes an ideal right-of-way for the purpose of increasing speeds and reducing interference with surrounding neighborhoods, but it is the worst when it comes to spurring transit-oriented development. TOD, after all, should be the primary land use goal of any new public transportation investment, and Portland is likely to get very little of it along the Green Line. That’s because the mere presence of I-205, with its traffic, noise, and pollution, will make development adjacent to it unappealing. Worse, because the transit corridor will be located on one the side of the freeway, people will have to cross the very wide road to get to the other side. These are the same problems Dubai faces with its own just-opened rapid transit line.
Many around town have been toying with the idea of using the Dolphin Expressway as a route for the east/west orange line or some BRT alternative. Javier Rodriguez has said that he is open to the idea, but the problem with using the highway is getting people to use it. As anyone who drives on the Dolphin knows, there is plenty of room to include mass transit, but the ample space is also the problem - who is going to walk 20 minutes to get to the station? A line going right down Flagler or 8th Street would be more practical for people to actually use than one on the Dolphin. Check out this great post from the Overhead Wire about the same subject. It seems like the trade off might be to use the freeway ROW, but to bring the rail line into the city fabric at strategic locations. That way you still significantly reduce ROW acquisition costs, but bring transit within a reasonable walking distance to population centers.
PS. Why are cost projections for our 10-13 mile east west line $2.5 billion - parts of which are within an existing ROW - while Portland spent half a billion for 8.3 miles?? I’m not a numbers guy, but that doesn’t add up. Is technology really that big of a factor or is it the result of a corrupt, bloated bureaucracy? I say lets let MDX take a stab at mass transit - not BRT, but light rail or metorail. My guess is that they will build it within budget, and maintain/operate it cheaper than MDT.
I thought it would be nice to start the week off with some hope - there seems to be a lot of it going around. Last week was a roller coaster ride for transit advocates across the country. From Seattle to the Twin Cities, everyone was asking what transit solutions could be expected from the first wave of stimulus projects (yes - I said first wave), and while the initial draft was not great a piece of shit, I am proud to say that one of our leaders - Mayor Carlos Alvarez - finally put his thinking cap on. Reading the letter and revised stimulus project list, I was filled with hope. After being ignored and mismanaged for so many years, our transit system has an advocate in Mayor Alvarez. His blueprint puts transit front and center, stating that constructing the Orange Line is a priority. Bravo!
By asking for funds to complete the Earlington Heights Connector to the airport, along with $93 million worth of maintenance requests, Mayor Alvarez has made a huge shift in how the County perceives its responsibility toward providing transit alternatives. The Intermodal Center and Earlington Heights connector should never have been funded by the PTP without matching Federal Dollars (rather than funding the entire project with Trust dollars with some state funds). Not only is it shovel ready, but getting funds for this project would free up revenue for Phases 2 and 3 of the Orange line. Similarly, the maintenance projects listed will also help improve MDT’s fiscal future.
Now reality: most transit dollars in the stimulus package (now listed as a meager $10 billion) are to be funneled to cities with existing transit systems (NY, DC, Chicago). In addition, it is still uncertain that money will be sent directly to local municipalities, and not highway hungry DOTs.
Either way: good job Mayor Alvarez! At least here at home, we have something to hope for…
Larry Lebowitz reports that our current level of transit service is in jeopardy. Let us not even talk about the Orange Line expansion. When will our representatives understand that no great city is without a functional regional transit system?
Get off your ass people. Call your commissioners and complain that Miami-Dade needs more transit, not less. After all, you voted to extend transit, not reduce it!
The County Commission was busy recently as it tried to finish up important business before the August recess. Several key votes relevant to our ongoing discussions about transit, planning and the Home Rule Charter were made (or delayed) at the July 17th and 18th meetings. Larry L. hit the nail on the head this morning in his assessment of what is going on. I know there are a precious few of us nerds who actually go to the meetings or watch them on TV, so here is a little more info on what is being discussed.
The Commission was given a budget by the Mayor that outlined the finances of MDT and the Metrorail expansion that included certain assumptions about fare increases and other new revenue streams that the board has not yet approved. The board balked at this and said that they want a basic pro-forma that does not make any assumptions, after which they will choose what they want to do. Most of this is political posturing. The fare increases and other measures are not drastic at all, and help show the FTA that we are working in good faith. I’m going to take the unpopular stance that commissioners Jordon and Barreiro really do care about this issue and are not only thinking about re-election. If this budget had not passed to the FTA then we would have certainly lost any chance of getting Quick Start funding for the Orange Line.
The real issue here, as repeated by Assistant Manager Ysela Llort, is whether the Orange Line is a priority of the Commission. Between Joe Martinez being against more gas tax and Sally Heyman against raising fares, one wonders whether these people understand that their constituents are the ones who lose by not making these decisions. It is disingenuous for these people to continue to posture like they give a damn about their consitituents when in fact all they do is pussyfoot around the issue, and mismanage billions of taxpayer dollars. As Commissioner Javier Souto said, “If this were a private business, everyone would be fired.” I agree Senator Souto, we should start with you.
The most sobering assessment of the situation is laid out in County Manager Burgess’ letter to the board. The one big recommendation that I have been against so far, but am changing my position is regarding the PTP dollars. As you see in the letter, the use of PTP dollars exclusively for new projects is hurting us in the long run. We need to allow the money to be used for our existing system. Whether that is what we intended in the first place or not is no longer the issue. Lets be smart about the money we have so that our system can grow at a strategic pace, and for god’s sake don’t repeal the 1/2 cent tax. If studying this situation has shown us anything it is that repealing the tax would kill our system, and send us back twenty years. Looking at other transit systems across the county, the norm for transit funding is equivalent to a 1 cent sales tax. That is part of the answer. We cannot advocate for more transit without wanting to pay for it. There is no one solution to this problem. As Commissioner Dorin Rolle said at the meeting, “We didn’t get here overnight. We have been asleep while this problem has grown.” I couldn’t agree more. I urge everyone who cares about this issue to write to your Commissioner and let them know what you think.
Below are some of the proposed resolutions currently on the table for discussion. If anyone has any other ideas, post them so that they can be considered. It is clear that the commission is useless and relies on other people to do their work for them. Let’s help them out.
- RESOLUTION MODIFYING THE SCHEDULE OF TRANSIT FARES, RATES AND CHARGES TO INCREASE THE METRORAIL PARKING PERMIT FEE FROM $6.25 TO $10.00, PER MONTH
- RESOLUTION SUPPORTING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF DISTANCE BASED AND/OR PEAK/NON-PEAK TRANSIT FARE RATES
- RESOLUTION DIRECTING THE MAYOR TO STUDY THE FEASIBILITY OF RESTORING TWO CENTS TO THE 1993 FIVE CENTS CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS LOCAL OPTION GAS TAX LEVIED ON MOTOR FUEL
- RESOLUTION DIRECTING THE COUNTY MAYOR TO STUDY AND TO SUBMIT A WRITTEN REPORT AS TO THE ADDITIONAL REVENUES TO BE EARNED BY INCREASING THE FARES FOR THE DADE-MONROE EXPRESS BUS ROUTE
- MODIFYING THE SCHEDULE OF TRANSIT FARES, RATES AND CHARGES BY INCREASING THE FARES BY FIFTY CENTS FOR METROBUS AND METRORAIL AND BY ESTABLISHING AUTOMATIC FARE ADJUSTMENT EVERY THREE YEARS CONSISTENT WITH MIAMI-DADE TRANSIT’S OPERATING COST INDEX (OCI) [SEE ORIGINAL ITEM UNDER FILE NO. 081541]
My big idea is to float GOB type bonds for individual Metrorail projects. We could put four proposed Metrorail lines on the ballot, each with a different cost and schedule. Let the people vote on where they want their money to go. That way the line that would get voted for would have a dedicated source of funding (without having to go to the FTA), and our system would grow. After three years, if we see that this is working, we could float another bond, and so on. (Keep in mind that the Commission is sending another GOB type bond to the ballot this November for more capital improvement projects. If they can do this for capital improvements, they can do it for transit!)
What do you think?
Meanwhile, Miami Gardens is asking Miami-Dade to bump the North Corridor Expansion to Phase 1, presumably making it priority over the Miami Intermodal Center (MIC) connector. I’m not sure what benefit they expect to see out of that, as the MIC connection is not using federal funds and is currently the only piece of the Orange Line that looks like it might get built.
The feds pointed out when they downgraded the rating that they didn’t trust Miami-Dade to fund Metrorail properly. This whole failure to refurbish the cars in a timely manner merely proves them right. The CITT is trying to get the point across that band-aid fixes won’t work anymore. MDT needs a solid funding plan to get out of the current hole it’s in, and an equally solid plan to fund expansion. Without that, the feds won’t give Metrorail a dime.
Several items of interest regarding this particular segment of Metrorail:
- It will be the first extension of the train since the extension to Palmetto station;
- This segment will not be constructed with federal funds, but solely from the half-cent transportation tax implemented in Miami-Dade county, along with state funding;
- Once opened, this segment will provide a much-needed alternative for transport into the airport both by tourists using the airport’s facilities, and for workers providing services.
Further information can be found at this link to Miami-Dade Transit’s website.
In case you’ve spent the past couple of days living in a cave (or more likely, not paying attention to local transit news) there is trouble brewing on the horizon (by horizon I clearly mean this week) over at
Last week, the FTA dealt a serious blow to the next major phase of metrorail expansion, the north corridor, by downgrading the once favorable rating of the project. The new Medium-low status doesn’t quite kill the project yet, but it places some serious funding hurdles in the way, which, if overcome, will set the project back by 6 months to a year (in
Apparently, the administration of Miami-Dade College North Campus has been working with county transit planners for the last three years to bring not only a station on campus, but a gym/wellness center, a 2000-space parking garage, a conference center, classrooms, and a bookstore. However, all of this would have forced a $26 million relocation of the US Army Reserve Armory at NW 27th Ave and NW 119th St, which the county cannot afford. Furthermore, it appears that these expenses were never even taken into account in the Environmental Impact Statement given to Washington, which means any federal aid allocated to the county for the North Corridor would not include these MDC expenses. From the Lebowitz’s Streetwise column:
And here’s where it gets really strange. All of the letter-writing traffic is one-way, with Vicente (of MDT) memorializing his understanding of what agreements were reached in these meetings.
Nobody from Transit ever responded — even though the agency clearly couldn’t afford to make these ludicrous promises to the college and hope to compete against dozens of other U.S. cities for $700 million to $825 million in matching federal funds for the North Corridor.
Transit’s files are curiously thin on the issue. And three key players from Transit’s side of the talks are no longer with the agency. One retired last year. Bradley was fired in March and one of his top aides a few weeks later.
Yet, records show that Transit was already warning federal regulators in early 2006 that it might not be able to afford the armory relocation, forcing the agency to consider the station closer to the MDC-North main gate.
Why Transit couldn’t brace Vicente with the same candor about the armory site in early ’06 remains a mystery. And someone definitely should have told him, in writing, that the agency couldn’t build that massive conference center-garage without endangering the federal funding.
It’s also upsetting because the whole thing is just so juvenile. This is the kind of thing that just cannot happen at this level of government, especially when dealing with billion dollar capital projects and $800 million subsidies, not to mention the future of Miami-Dade County.
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