4/3/08

Critical Miami Misses the Point

To all our regular readers, the message below is a direct response to the recent criticisms presented by local blog Critical Miami:

We are not anti-car zealots, we strongly believe that the key to creating a sustainable community is a multi-modal transportation policy rather than the uni-modalism that currently overwhelms Miami-Dade. It appears that in the eyes of some, Transit Miami has lost its focus, becoming too obsessed with creating a city that is designed and navigable to humans, rather than the voluminous heaps of metal we all wander around in.

A Message from the Publisher


I started Transit Miami for one reason: because I care about my community. The way I see it, Miami has a potential that no other city does, a vibrancy no other community could dream of achieving. Sadly, in my 22 years of living here, I have witnessed nothing more than its potential crumble, eroded away in congestion, corrupt politics, and square mile after square mile of inauspicious development. In my travels abroad, to Paris, London, San Francisco, Vienna, and New York, among other places, I experienced the nature of true global cities and came back longing for the same characteristics that make those cities successful. Regarding thriving, diverse economies, unparalleled educational opportunities, a pulsating cultural scene, etc, it is often difficult to understand how all of the qualities* we want for our city are tied deeply to the urbanism which defines our landscapes.
After all, we find it alarming that on average Miamians spend 30% of their income on Transportation needs, don’t you? There is a better way to live.
-Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal

Clarity on the Issues

While we appreciate Critical Miami’s kudos and acknowledge their own fine work over the last few years, we definitely feel that it is their site that is out of touch with reality in this case. Perhaps Critical Miami is baffled because they are not likely educated on best practices in contemporary urban planning. Frankly, we find it contradictory that a site that calls for “holding the line” so adamantly would be so misunderstanding when it comes to better land-use policy.

To be clear, Transit Miami never stated that worsening driving conditions was the best way to improve transit. In fact, we stated the opposite, “Additional parking will increase congestion…” The developer, not Transit Miami, originally proposed the position of hampering a vehicle’s ability to access the EWT development. We supported his decision and original plans to reduce parking capacity at EWT due to the direct links his structure would have with the adjacent Metromover structure (just as we supported reductions in parking at the Coconut Grove Metrorail Transit-Oriented Development) and never once suggested making driving more difficult, only parking.

Critical Miami mentions several times that “making driving more difficult” is political suicide and is essentially foolish. What about traffic-calming? Wouldn’t Critical Miami agree that traffic calming makes streets safer and livable for everyone, perhaps at the expense of a little speed for the motorist? If you support traffic calming in any capacity, it makes your statements about making driving appear paradoxical.

The interesting part is, we aren’t even advocating for anything drastic. For example, we promote the Miami Streetcar project, which calls for constructing a streetcar line through one of the densest and fastest-growing urban corridors in the state. This is not very drastic at all, especially in a city with a woefully underdeveloped mass transit system and sizable low-income population. We promote decreases in minimum parking standards. This is not so radical either since it reduces the overall development cost, making housing more affordable. There is a sizable body of scholarly literature available that correlates the underlying message of our letter: increasing parking capacity increases driving demand like dangling a carrot for cars.

Sustainability, Miami’s Growing Problem

Miami-Dade County, as it currently stands, is one of the most unsustainable metros in America. You can analyze this from a variety of angles, but you will always end up reaching the same conclusion: our actions will have devastating economical, environmental, and social costs if we do not change. If you want to look at it from a mobility/accessibility/congestion standpoint, Miami is incredibly unsustainable under a current unimodal paradigm and without change, it will become a less and less viable place to live and conduct business. Traffic congestion and VMTs (vehicle miles traveled) are expected to increase significantly between now and 2025. Contrary to what Critical Miami and most Americans believe, it simply is not economically or spatially feasible to build your way out of congestion (i.e. build more highways/widen roads.)

This means two things: in order to be more sustainable from a transportation perspective we must improve and expand our transit capacity and we must improve our accessibility. The transit component is straight forward enough. However, continuing the auto-centric status quo gives the illusion that we do not have to change our transportation habits and there will always be some fix or policy to make things better for driving. This could not be further from the truth and is flat out irresponsible. This is why we are against excessive minimum parking requirements, because it is like mandating more beer for an alcoholic.

Regarding the second component, accessibility, this means changing our zoning to allow mixed land uses and creating higher densities. This will enable people to travel shorter distances for their employment, retail, commercial, recreational, and residential purposes (if they so chose.)

Note: the goal of changing our land use policy is to enable people to have a choice when it comes to personal mobility, where walking or driving can be considered equal alternatives. This is a fundamental component of transportation equity.

This increases the viability of walking and cycling, which incidentally is the cheapest way to get around. However, if you continue down the auto-centric policy paradigm, you are not facilitating the type of conditions that make walking, cycling, transit, and higher density a formidable option.

Transit Miami’s Global Comparisons

Regarding the division between the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, of course it is the county that operates the local transit agency. This is likely the root of many of the problems we will face in this region over the coming decades; our inability to work together due to the multiple bureaucratic layers we have created because of perceived political injustices. This fragmented landscape of local municipalities will only serve a divisive role when it comes to regional planning initiatives.

Ryan never said or even implied that Miami was going to have a transit system like Montreal’s - he simply implied that Montreal had a quality transit system and that Miami should strive to improve theirs in order to achieve a higher transit standard and all the external benefits that go along with it. That is tough to misconstrue. In addition, he never mentioned or even remotely implied that Miami needed to “grow a mountain” to have a grand urban park. That is very clear for anyone reading that section, and it seems to me that either you grossly misread it or cherry picked that part and took it out of context to support your own point.

Transit Miami often uses global comparisons to drive home points visually to our readers on the effects of better public transit and land-use policy in other cities.

Bicycle as a means of Transportation, not just a Vacation

We don’t recall any sort of official “challenge,” however Critical Miami is unequivocally wrong about their assertion that such a program cannot work anywhere in Miami. Just because Critical Miami is a bike enthusiast doesn’t mean you understand how bicycling systems operate or can function in an urban setting. South Beach offers the perfect place for a pilot program, at a minimum. Transit Miami is in the process of working closely with our local agencies to see such a plan come to fruition, we invite Critical Miami to attend any of the local Bicycle Action Committees to air their sentiments.

Regarding Critical Miami’s comments about it taking generations to enact the type of changes we advocate, this has been proven otherwise. Enrique Penalosa, the former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, created a thriving bicycle network in his city and within just five years captured 5% of the daily transportation needs. It just so happens that Mr. Penalosa was recently in Miami, meeting with Miami officials to discuss their plans to create a bicycle network in this city, a meeting that this blogger was privileged enough to attend. Looking beyond bicycles, formerly auto-centric cities like Perth, Australia, with guidance from visionaries like Peter Newman, have transformed into legitimate multi-modal communities in just 20 years or so, which is well within the time frame of the county’s current Long Term Plan and the City of Miami’s Comprehensive Neighborhood Development Plan.

The fact of the matter is that changes occur when the funding (and mentality) is there in support. Sure, cities evolve and mature and most changes do not occur overnight, but the mentality Critical Miami presents falls in line with the mentality that has accomplished nothing in Miami over the past several decades.

-This article represents the views of the entire Transit Miami Staff...

7 Comments:

Anonymous said...

The post about Critical Miami puzzled me because I had not read the original Critical Miami blog to which it responds. You could have said what you said in fewer words, but I am completely with you when it comes to your basic message and what Transit Miami is about. The post convinced me I don't need to know anything more about Critical Miami. Never heard of it before. But I am a big fan of Transit Miami.

AI said...

There is a very strong economic argument that refutes your position.

Here is an example that reflects what I mean:

Say you are a middle class resident that lives downtown in an affordable building and work in Miami Lakes. Now assume that as downtown is being increasingly developed, the marginal rate of parking capacity increase diminishes. Supply and demand would dictate that parking would become significantly more expensive. This middle class person would no longer be able to afford parking in the area where he lives. Parking and car ownership would become skewed towards the more affluent. There are no public transportation options for this person. He would be squeezed financially to find a way to get to work.

Point is, before we restrict new parking supply, we must build out the public transportation system so that is actually has value. As it currently stands, it is worthless. After an effective, countywide system has been developed, then you can make the argument to restrict new parkign supply.

Anonymous said...

I support you guys at Transit Miami. There shouldn't be a need to start a war between the two blogs as we're all here to read and support Miami's growth, urbanity and public transit development.

Blind Mind said...

Nice post Gabe, very informative. Like you, I moved to Miami and view this city as one with a HUGE amount of potential. However, it seems like Miami is stuck in 1st gear. Mass transit is a MAJOR problem here and my biggest gripe is that funding for PACs and baseball stadiums that benefit such a small portion of the population take precedent over things like mass transit that benefits everyone. Here's looking forward to seeing whats in store in the years to come.

Ryan Sharp said...

ai,

If you look at a little differently, that economic argument you mention is already skewed. The whole point about supply and demand and the cost of parking is irrelevant because the cost of car ownership is already skewed toward wealthier, more affluent people.

In a city like Miami, where over 1/4 of the population is poor and nearly 65% of renters pay >30% of their median household income on housing (above the threshold for affordability), there is already a severe transportation equity problem if these people still feel the need to take on the additional financial burden of car ownership. When you go a step further and see that about 40% of the population is elderly (65+) or kids (-18), I hope you begin to see the problems with continuing to subsidize unimodalism. It's borderline discriminatory.

Therefore, policies that further subsidize this unimodal transportation imbalance (such as increasing or excessive minimum parking requirements) only continue to skew transportation inequity in favor of the wealthy over the poor.

Of course you are right, however, that expanding and improving our transit system is the other critical component of fixing the transport equity equation to be more egalitarian. Also, changes in land use policy (e.g. Miami 21) are important because they'll help the city become denser and more pedestrian-friendly with more mixed use zoning. This will improve accessibility by proximity, meaning that people will now be able to travel shorter distances (often feasible by foot or bike) to handle their employment, recreational, commercial, retail, and residential business.

Felipe Azenha said...

I also share the same future vision as Transit Miami and truly enjoy reading your blog on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I remain skeptical if Miami and Miami Beach truly want to grow-up and become a world class city. I would like to share a personal experience of mine.
For the past 5 years I have personally lobbied the Mayor(s) and Commissioners of Miami Beach to establish a pedicab business on South Beach. It is intuitively obvious that such a business would serve as an integral part of a larger intermodal transportation strategy. Miami Beach is densely populated, flat, and the distances which are usually travelled are very short; generally less then two miles. In addition, these vehicles produce no CO2.
One would think that the Miami Beach administration would embrace such an efficient and environmentally friendly form of transportation. This is not the case. For some reason or other the city of Miami Beach believes that pedicabs pose a risk to public’s safety.
I sincerely hope that through forms like this, we can get a critical mass of young, visionary, and intelligent residents together to prove to our city administrators that we can do better and create a more livable city that will attract people and businesses alike. Transportation plays central part to the livability of any city. Hopefully we can get our Public Official to see this before our city, which we love so much, comes to a complete standstill.

Steven said...

There is so much fantasy in both the article and many comments here I feel I have to interject. Reducing parking in homes or commercial spaces in the downtown area is a guarentee of more vacant downtown buildings and an utter failure in these areas achieving critical mass.

NO ONE is going to buy an apartment with out parking in downtown Miami. Unlike SoBe where kiddies buy studios without parking because they can work (usually not at all) and party locally. The grown ups who live and work downtown rarely do both and rarely can consider their life's without some amount of travel.

I live downtown and work from home. I have a car and use the metro mover and frequently go whole days without using my car. On the other hand, there are MANY days when I need it since Miami (and the region) is fundamentally not dense outside the corridor.

Downtown is only on the cusp of achieving the critical mass of succeeding as a downtown urban core area. If you have ever been in the Flagler area on a weeknight, you can CLEARLY see that we aren't quite there yet. Eliminating cars would create a huge loss of revenue for the building owners as commercial rents will be lower (less business) and in residents, the market will be much smaller.