Posts by: Craig Chester

It’s easy to understand how bike sharing services like Decobike can help reduce congestion, improve air quality and be a fun way to get around town. But data is beginning to reveal that bike sharing provides a significant economic boost to local economies as well.

Lately, the Miami News Times has been on a kick insisting that Miami Beach officials wound up in a rotten deal with Decobike – and taxpayers are getting shafted as a result. The premise of the recent stories is despite an agreement between Decobike and Miami Beach to pay a portion of their profits back to the city government as an ‘operating fee’ of sorts for using public land, Decobike does not share enough of their profits under a revised agreement, especially given the service’s wildly high ridership numbers.

For a few reasons, I did not agree with the premise that Miami Beach taxpayers are getting screwed – even if the revenue sharing figures are less than originally negotiated. Most bike sharing systems around the country operate as a taxpayer-funded service, viewed as a component of a city’s transit network. Decobike however, is privately-operated and funded at no cost to taxpayers aside from the use of public space the kiosks occupy within the city, including 86 formerly metered parking spaces. These spaces are estimated to bring in $258,000 worth of parking revenue each year, while Decobike only shared about $190,000 of their revenue with Miami Beach. That suggests a ‘net loss’ of $67,795 for Miami Beach under the revised agreement, for which taxpayers are on the hook for.

On the surface, it might seem like a bad deal – except for one key point. It completely ignores the observed and proven economic impacts of bike sharing beyond the simple balance sheet.

“The city expected to make money off the service, But that was only half the argument in bringing DecoBike to Miami Beach. The other half — the promise that the city would make money on the deal — has fallen by the wayside.” (DecoBike Currently Costs Miami Beach Money, But City Is on Pace To Break Even)

The New Times argument misses the forest for the trees here. The fact is, Decobike’s sky-high ridership numbers suggest the city is already making plenty of money from the service indirectly – but to understand that requires a deeper level of study than just looking at forgone parking revenues.

Minneapolis NiceRide members spent an additional $150,000 in the city's local economy.

Minneapolis NiceRide members spent an additional $150,000 in the city’s local economy.

Data is beginning to emerge from around the country that bike sharing services have a not-so-insignificant boost on their local economies. While this data isn’t so readily available for Miami Beach, studies from around the world can inform us what popular bike sharing systems do for their cities. A few examples:

  • Respondents to a Capital Bikeshare (DC) study found that nearly two-thirds of respondents would not have made their trips without the bikeshare program because it was too far to walk, bringing in customers who would have otherwise stayed away (2011-2012 Capital Bikeshare Member Survey).
  • A recent study in Melbourne found that bike parking spaces are better at generating revenue than car parking spaces. In part, this is simply because bicycles take up so little space, and parking can provide more opportunities for paying customers to park right at a business’s front door.
  • Minneapolis bike share members spent an extra $150,000 at nearby businesses over the course of one season. A University of Minnesota study found that users of NiceRide in the Twin Cities make more trips to nearby businesses than before bike share was available. Bike share users especially frequent restaurants, coffee shops, bars, nightclubs, and grocery stores.(Catalyst July 2012: Nice Ride spurs spending near stations).
  • One million rides in [DC’s] first year have accrued nearly 890,000 miles. At 39 cents per potential vehicle miles prevented, Capital Bikeshare gave DC taxpayers a maximum net savings of almost $350,000 in its first year.

And regarding the metered street parking spaces, many cities around the country are voluntarily removing some metered-on street parking spaces in favor of bicycle parking because of the positive impact it has on local business – which is the original intent of metered parking in the first place. (Think: Parking for 12 customers in the same space as 1) It is entirely possible that Decobike kiosks generate more tax revenue than a metered parking space, and could be measured by a survey of tax receipts from businesses with kiosks nearby to see the change in sales tax revenue from before vs. after Decobike.

Cites turn more car parking into bike parking because it's good for local business.

Cites turn more metered car parking into bike parking because it’s better for local business.

Facts like these suggest that fiscal profitability should be welcomed, but as a side-benefit. The number one metric in determining bikeshare success for a city should be ridership, e.g. vehicle miles prevented. And by that measure, Decobike is off the charts.

Now, if you want to make an argument for who is getting screwed, there are other places to look first. You could start with the Decobike riders, who pay the highest user fees of any bicycle sharing service in the USA. An annual membership for the service is would run $180 for a Miami Beach resident (even though memberships are only available in 3-month increments). In comparison, annual memberships in other cities are a comparative bargain:

Miami Beach: $180
NYC: $95
San Francisco Bay Area: $88
Boston: $85
Denver: $80
Chicago: $75
Washington, DC: $75
Minneapolis: $65
Fort Lauderdale: $45

(It’s important to remember Decobike and Citibike in New York City do not receive taxpayer funding which helps keep user fees down in other cities.)

Decobike could also make an argument that they are in fact getting screwed. As the New Times mentions, they only brought in $40,200 from advertising. This is because until recently, the city of Miami Beach tightly restricted how and where advertisements could be displayed, mainly limiting ads to a small basket on the front of the bicycles and forbidding them on the station kiosks themselves. I can imagine this limited their revenue generating potential for a while.

I understand Miami Beach expects to make some money off Decobike given its popularity and how the original deal was negotiated. But suggesting taxpayers are getting ‘stiffed’ while not recognizing the hosts of economic benefits is missing the forest for the trees and fails to recognize the long-term economic advantage of the service to local government, residents, visitors and businesses.

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It’s not often that something leaves me without words in Miami. But this does it.

It's hard to believe, but someone at Miami-Dade County has managed to find a way to make the Rickenbacker Causeway even less safe for cyclists. Photo by Ruben van Hooidonk.

It’s hard to believe, but someone at Miami-Dade County has managed to find a way to make the Rickenbacker Causeway even less safe for cyclists. Photo by Ruben van Hooidonk.

Yes, that’s the Rickenbacker Causeway bike lane. Yes, that’s a giant sign blocking it, forcing bicycle riders into fast moving traffic. This is also located on arguably the most dangerous existing segment of the Powell bridge, where cyclists traveling downhill at higher speeds must be aware of merging traffic on the right (and vice versa).

This picture is all the more appalling considering that in the past few weeks alone, safety concerns along the Causeway have become even more urgent. A number of local media outlets again reported on the issue following an ugly incident earlier this month in which a drunk driver struck multiple cyclists. These reports included editorials in the Miami Herald, a WPLG news segment highlighting the dangerous conditions, and a public response from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez only nine days ago.

How in the world can anyone believe that Miami-Dade County is taking this issue with any grain of seriousness? As one commenter on Transit Miami’s Facebook page said, “You can’t complain about the common sense in this town because there isn’t any.”

Sigh.

Our invitation is still on the table for Mayor Gimenez to come out with us for a ride and see the situation first-hand.

Special thanks to Transit Miami reader Ruben van Hooidonk for the picture. See something we should post? E-mail us or let us know on Facebook.

One year ago, I moved away from Miami to Washington, DC. Just last week, I took my first trip back to the Magic Ciy – and here’s what I saw.

When I arrived at MIA around 5pm on Monday, an Orange line train was already waiting to depart the new Metrorail Station. After an unintelligible announcement over the loudspeaker, the train pulled away from the station with my car completely empty aside from me. A quick glance around confirmed that no 50 State Security guards were on board, so I managed to snap this picture without getting Carlos Miller’d and taken off the train. (Reminder: photography is legal on the Metrorail despite what some security guards think)

From Government Center, I hopped into a nearby Car2Go and was sitting at one of my favorite bars, The Corner, within minutes. The total travel time from the airport to downtown barstool was less than 30 minutes. Pretty terrific considering those options didn’t exist only a few months ago, but where is Decobike for the city of Miami already?

Here’s a makeshift bus station bench downtown I passed. Not sure this qualifies as a tactical urbanist street seat intervention.

The rest of my trip consisted of a smattering of pan con bistec, cortadito, bicycling and walking around. Of course, there were the demeaning reminders of Florida’s auto supremacy. Like at this new mid-block crossing on NW 36th Street dividing Midtown and the Design District, where FDOT reminds us to Thank the Driver.

Thank the driver? For what, exactly? Not running me over? Following the law? Perhaps they should include direction #5: Call 911.

Oh hear ye royal motorists of Miami! Allow me to offer my sincere gratitude for permitting me to cross your streets!

After a few minutes of watching pedestrians try and use this crosswalk, I’ll concede it’s definitely an improvement over nothing. Some drivers actually did stop for the flashing beacon. But it was mid-afternoon and traffic was relatively light. I can imagine it’s a different story during a weekday rush hour where a bonafide traffic signal would work better.

Most people go to the beach on their vacation to Miami. I watched people trying to cross a street. Sad, I know.

Most people go to the beach on their vacation to Miami. I watched people trying to cross a street. Sad, I know.

Friday evening, I rode the monthly Miami Critical Mass ride though Little Havana, Downtown and Coral Gables with about 2,500 other bicyclists, tricyclists, skaters and wheeled riders of all sorts. The rain kept the numbers down a bit but the pace was slow and the group stayed together. It was one of the better rides I’ve been a part of.

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The next day, the eastbound car traffic on the Venetian Causeway was so heavy, I must have passed over 200 idling cars on my way to the beach. The bicycle traffic on the other hand, was not an issue.

Whizzing by so many people entombed inside giant climate-controlled SUV’s while it’s a perfect 78 degrees outside with gentle on-shore breeze always makes me feel a bit sad and a bit smug at the same time. The only real downside is having to breathe in the fumes from all of these clumsy machines on what is otherwise a pleasant, scenic and relatively safe route to the beach.

Below is a picture of arguably Miami Beach’s most famous building.

I’ve expressed my disdain for Miami Beach’s ‘starchitect’ parking garage addiction on here before, which serve as narcotics for cars that only encourage more driving and more traffic, degrading the experience on Miami Beach for everyone. Former TM writer and author Mike Lydon adds it’s “another lauded building destined to be reviled.” At least DecoBike is a viable way to simply opt-out of the motordom.

Newsflash: We’ve been trying to build our way out of traffic congestion for almost 100 years now. Guess what? It’s never worked – and it’s time for a different approach.

A visitor from New York that I follow on Twitter, the Newyorkist, also noticed that Miami Beach has their priorities all out of whack when it comes to making space for people over cars.

He even spoke to a few local residents on the street about the issue…

Newyorkist also noticed that we don’t have many parks and suggested some underused parcels be transformed.

It’s a valid observation, considering Miami is losing more parks than it’s gaining. Miami is already ranked #94 out of the top 100 US cities for acres of parkland per resident – and that number is set to fall. A number of city parks have been closed due to toxic contamination and the temporary lease for downtown’s Grand Central Park expired this week as well.

Speaking of Grand Central Park, I rode by this tragic scene on Saturday morning…

Like the band that played on the deck of the Titanic until the ship went down, the skaters stayed until the last remaining pavement was ripped up from under their wheels.

Ah Miami. For all of it’s problems and weirdness, a sublime breakfast at Casablanca along the Miami River is the perfect place to forget about it all and just enjoy the moment.

Until you pull up the news on your iPhone and find out this happened the night before…

I was soon off to the airport, where I deftly avoided taking one of Miami’s infamous taxi cabs in favor of another Car2Go trip.

Soon I was 10,000 feet in the air snapping this picture – thanks to the new American Airlines policy allowing electronic devices at takeoff.

¡Hasta Luego, Miami! Until next time…when hopefully there will be some new bike lanes.

 

“To enter out into that silence that was the city at eight o’clock of a misty evening in November, to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to step over grassy seams and make your way, hands in pockets, through the silences…”

In 1951, author Ray Bradbury wrote a short story titled The Pedestrian. Set in 2053, the story’s protagonist is Leonard Mead, a man who walks alone at night, seemingly for the pure joy of it. He never meets anyone else on these nocturnal walks. His neighbors are all inside – watching television. In fact, so few people are ever out in the public realm that the city’s police force had been reduced to a single car. The act of walking in a place where no one else ever walks is viewed as suspicious by the local authorities, who stop, question, and arrest him, incredulous to his explanation that he simply likes to walk. “Walking for air, walking to see,” as Mead puts it.

Bradbury of course is best known for his fantasy stories and science fiction. But as it turns out, Bradbury’s dystopian vision was not so farfetched; imagining a country where something as innocuous as walking someplace could be viewed as suspicious, as it typically is in today’s gated ‘chemlawn hinterlands’ of suburban sprawl. To not have an automobile in such environments is to exist as a societal outcast worthy of suspicion. So what do Trayvon Martin and Leonard Mead have in common? Was the built environment of gated suburbia (and gated mindset) a factor in the tragedy? To me, both Martin and Mead represent the criminalization and stigma of walking; of being a pedestrian.

Roger Steutville from Better Cities and Towns weighed in and pondered the same:

“In all of this agitation, the physical environment that discriminates against, and focuses suspicion on, anyone who doesn’t drive should not be forgotten. It’s hard to imagine this kind of tragedy playing out today in the same way on the block of a walkable city or town.”

In Bradbudy’s Pedestrian, substitute ‘Leonard Mead’ for Trayvon Martin and the year 2012 instead of 2053. The eerie similarities to that fateful evening last February in Sanford are uncanny.

He turned back on a side street, circling around toward his home. He was within a block of his destination when the lone car turned a corner quite suddenly and flashed a fierce white cone of light upon him. He stood entranced, not unlike a night moth, stunned by the illumination, and then drawn toward it. A metallic voice called to him: “Stand still. Stay where you are! Don’t move!”

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The following is an urgent update by Brickell resident Mark Batey on the crash that killed a pedestrian in Brickell on March 23rd. This crash happened in nearly the same exact spot where a female jogger was seriously injured on the sidewalk by a speeding driver in October.

“Miamians, please share this update. 4 weeks ago Ana Mares was killed in a hit and run in Brickell Bay Drive. I have been in touch with her sister, who is becoming desperate at the lack of progress in this case. Her family is beginning to receive the medical bills, which are huge, and apparently the person whose car hit Ana has no insurance.

Univision 23 released this video with new information. (Spanish)

The owner of the vehicle is named as Joy Terry Lee Clayton. She lives at 21455 87 court SW Miami Dade, and works at the legal department of University of Miami. She has got a lawyer and is saying that although the car that hit Ana is hers, she was not driving it herself!

Ana Mares was hit with such force that she was thrown 65 feet. Her sister is convinced she was already dead at the scene of the crime. Meanwhile, the person who did this is still driving around the streets of Miami.

The black Mazda shown in the video is apparently not the actual one that hit Ana. The one that hit Ana has some lighter colored panels (either for effect, or because work was being done on the car).
If you have any information, the lead detective can be contacted at joseph.kennedy@miami-police.org

Please share and let’s help get justice for Ana, who, by the way, was a cancer survivor.

Editors Note: We’ve been appalled at the lack of media coverage or official police, city, or elected official communication in response to this fatal crash. Brickell is the densest residential neighborhood south of New York City. This senseless death has not been given the attention it deserves. It’s reasonable to believe there were more witnesses that would come forward. Meanwhile, this criminal is still on the lose, driving around Miami. Please contact the Miami detective above if you have any information.

This just reinforces our call for Brickell Bay Drive to be given a ‘road diet’ to reduce the travel lanes to 2, and including a buffered bicycle lane with on-street curbside parking. This would dramatically improve safety conditions for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists while having minimal impact on vehicle traffic flow. In other words, make Brickell Bay Drive a Complete Street to better accommodate all users of this road. Brickell has undergone a transformation but our streets are still stuck in the past, making merely going about your daily business a dangerous endeavor. Our suggested reconfiguration of Brickell Bay Drive can be done with a few cans of paint – seems worth it for a road with such an atrocious safety record lately.

Also, please sign on to the “Stay on the Scene” initiative to strengthen Florida’s hit and run laws in response to the crash that killed cyclist Aaron Cohen on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

UPDATE May 3: The Miami Herald and CBS Miami are now reporting on the latest developments.

 

What do you love or hate about Miami? That’s what The Miami Herald and WLRN want to know, recently announcing a call for Miamians to create a poem about their city – the ‘That’s so Miami’ poetry project.

Poem submissions are published each day on ThatsSoMiami.tumblr.com and some of the best poems will be chosen to be read on the air on WLRN 91.3 FM, South Florida’s NPR news station. They must be under 100 words and begin or end with the phrase ‘That’s so Miami’. You can also submit photos and poems from Instagram and Twitter, respectively, tagged with #ThatsSoMiami to go up on the website as well. Check out all the rules and how to enter your poem here.

Now for my poem…..

A safety crisis hard to ignore
and a part of Miami I really deplore

Is the danger of walking or crossing the street
To merely survive, you must have quick feet.

The pedestrian crisis is very real here
Miami a leader in deaths, year after year.

Because speeding, tailgating and failure to yield
Are normal behaviors behind the windshield.

An embarrassing failure of our local officials
and FDOT, to use their initials

By not providing the streets that are safer for walking
Years of inaction – we only hear talking.

Unhealthy for kids and especially Granny
Our dangerous streets? #ThatsSoMiami.

- Craig Chester

 

This article by Adam Schachner originally appeared in the February issue of The Biscayne Times

A show of pedestrian force in Brickell. Photo by Philip Picaza.

A show of pedestrian force in Brickell. Photo by Philip Picaza.

The Foot Soldiers: Pedestrian Activists Reclaiming Miami’s Crosswalks, One Intersection at a Time
By Adam Schachner

Miamians rarely find common ground on most topics. Even more rare are public demonstrations of any kind. Collectively speaking, we’d much rather spend our time at the mall or the beach. Which makes what recently happened at a Brickell intersection all the more powerful.

Responding to an outcry for proper roadway conduct, on Monday, January 21, no fewer than 25 concerned locals declared the crosswalks at Brickell Avenue and SE 15th Road a “pedestrian safety walk zone.” Marchers occupied the crosswalks and demanded increased civility from motorists. They even distributed booklets on Florida’s traffic laws to drivers, many of whom, because they lack civility, simply flung the booklets back at the activists with a curse and a rude gesture.

Still, the walkers asserted their rights to safety, braved hostile stares and abuse, and celebrated the motorists who gave approving honks and thumbs-up.

The takeaway? Conscientious drivers, concerned about who might be hurt by their carelessness, do exist in Miami, but they are in the minority, spread thin through the ranks of traffic, and pressured to keep moving by honking tailgaters.

Read the rest of the story here via The Biscayne Times.

 

So LeBron James biking to work on the reg is making national news which is terrific. Though while reading through some of the coverage, a particular comment caught my attention, reading, ‘It’s great to see LeBron biking to work just like an average Joe.

@KingJames crossing the Brickell bridge on the way to practice. (Via Kingbarchan on Instagram)

Now wait a second. Since when do ‘average Joes’ bike to work here? That’s exactly the problem. ‘Average Joes’ don’t bike to work. ‘Average Joes’ drive alone, sit in traffic and wonder why they are overweight and unhappy.

Don’t be an ‘average Joe’. Be a LeBron.

LBJ rolling out at November’s Miami Critical Mass. (Photo by Ian Forrester)

The following is a submission by Jennifer Garcia of Garcia Design Studio in Coral Gables.

My wishful thinking and blind admiration of Coral Gables has tricked me again! One would think that with all the hype Coral Gables gets for historical preservation and aesthetics, that new construction could be close-to-perfect. For the most part, I can proudly state that most new developments have been positive and typically change the cityscape for the better – infill of vacant properties; creation of quality public space; improving intersections and leveling the transportation playing field. Unfortunately, even a forward-thinking city doesn’t get everything right all the time. Case in point: the Northern Trust Bank property at the northeast corner of Biltmore Way and Segovia.

The former bank at the northeast corner of Biltmore Way and Segovia.

Another view of the corner previous to new construction.

Not familiar with the intersection? It is a relatively new round-a-bout, now receiving funding for civic monuments; bookended for the Segovia median/bike lane project; and centerpiece for future Biltmore Way Streetscape Project.

The new corner-lot parking where the bank once stood.

Where once stood a modest 1960’s corner building – with parking appropriately in the rear and side – is now an elaborate surface parking lot. I have to admit that when they were constructing the new building in the former parking area, I thought they were infilling the old lot! To my disappointment, once the new building was up, the old building came down to make way for their new parking lot. Now the new bank building sits on the east part of the property. The parking lot at this “major gateway” corner creates several issues:

Corner Gap
This is urban design 101: to create a successful public realm, you need to hold the corner at every intersection. Missing buildings on any street are like missing teeth – a missing corner building is like missing your front teeth!

New parking lot without bicycle parking?
You would think that with the investment of a new parking lot along a newly designated bike corridor on Segovia that a goal would be to provide a suitable amount of bike parking.

Expensive materials don’t cut it
This parking lot is definitely top-of-the-line, with all sorts of pavers; trees; and even a corner fountain at the sidewalk. But we know no matter how much money is spent on materials and landscaping, nothing can hide the fact that its still a parking lot.

Despite the expensive materials and decorations, surface parking lots are like missing teeth in a smile.

I’d like to challenge the city when approving permits to begin with a critical eye of how it may impact the overall neighborhood. Coral Gables residents are proud of our City Beautiful, and don’t like to see mistakes like this.

You can follow Jennifer on Twitter at @Garcia_Design.

If you are interested in contributing to Transit Miami, e-mail Craig@TransitMiami.com or Felipe@TransitMiami.com.

On October 30th, a dramatic crash caused by a careless motorist sent a parked SUV flying 30 feet and onto the sidewalk, seriously injuring the ankle and leg of Monica Larcada, a female jogger that lives in the neighborhood.

Transit Miami has obtained a complete copy of the police report from the Miami Police Department regarding this crash.

Click the link in the above paragraph for the full police report.

The driver of the vehicle causing the crash was Dr. Amy Buchman, 60, of Brickell Key. She was cited for careless driving – failure to maintain control of vehicle.

Dr. Amy Buchman, 60, of Brickell Key (pictured on left)

What is bewildering is that the police report says her estimated speed was 25 miles per hour, though multiple witnesses to Transit Miami report she was moving closer to 40-50 mph in the 30mph zone. The parked Nissan Murano SUV that Buchman smashed into traveled about 30 feet, indicating a much higher speed than 25 mph.

Felipe Larcada, Monica’s father, wrote the below note to us in November. If you have any information on this crash, please contact him. The area has been the scene of eerily similar crashes over the past few years.

Monica is doing better every day and hopefully will have her stitches removed this week and a cast placed on her leg. Thank you all for your concern and prayers.

I have a request. The authorities are receiving conflicting stories on how this event happened. If anybody reading this blog actually witnessed the event as it happened or right before it happened, please contact me. We really need your help. My email again is flarcada@me.com. Thank you.

Felipe Larcada

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This piece originally appeared in the December issue of the Biscayne Times.

Unauthorized wayfinding sign courtesy of the Miami Improvement Alliance.

Think Big. It’s a mantra preached by entrepreneurs, politicians, business people, motivational speakers, and coaches. But is that motto really the key to releasing the potential of downtown Miami?

The “think big” catchphrase has played out quite extravagantly before our eyes in Miami over the past 15 years or so. Grandiose projects like the Adrienne Arsht Center, American Airlines Arena, Marlins Park, and mega-condos galore come to mind. The Miami Art Museum and Miami Science Museum are both under construction, and a downtown resort casino could be on the horizon. These projects represent tremendous investments geared toward turning downtown Miami into a cultural and entertainment hub on a par with those of other leading world cities.

When measured individually, the new cultural and entertainment destinations can boast varying degrees of success. But big, expensive projects are not a foolproof formula for urban revitalization. The vitality of a city isn’t measured by the annual revenue or number of visitors to a particular attraction. A city’s dynamism is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s often the smaller, finer grains of the urban experience that enhance the quality of a place and foster affection toward it.

There are a series of questions we should be asking about life in downtown Miami that are emphatically about the small and simple things: Are the sidewalks clean and inviting, or are they caked with old chewing gum and poorly lit? Are there public maps to guide people around? Is the transit system easily navigable? Are there attractive public spaces with places to congregate? Is bicycle parking readily available? Are there places for children? Pets? Adequate crosswalks and crossing times? Does walking feel safe and inviting?

If the answer to some of these questions is no, the solutions are usually simple, relatively inexpensive, and can offer a high return on investment. Their importance must not be dismissed, though it sometimes feels like these basic livability issues are hardly being addressed.

I spend a lot of time downtown and often imagine myself in the shoes of a first-time visitor. What is their experience like? One place new visitors frequently wind up is the Metromover, Miami’s elevated transit system. For a free service with a seemingly simple route network (three “loops,” as they are called), the Metromover can be fraught with potential misadventures. While the maps on the station platforms identify the three loops using distinct colors (blue, pink, and orange), the maps onboard the actual cars inexplicably abandon those colors, instead using three different shades of bluish-gray to demarcate the same exact routes. Confused yet?

As the train approaches, you need to make sure you’re boarding the right loop. A digital display on the platform is supposed to tell you this information, but when the screens are frequently unintelligible or not operational, this poses a real problem. A recurring sight is a confused rider sticking his or her head inside a momentarily stopped train to ask other riders which loop the train is on. The typical reaction is a lot of shoulder shrugging.

The many changing colors of the Metromover route map.

If you are fortunate enough to arrive at your destination without boarding the wrong train, many of the stations lack crosswalks at their exit points to the street. Roaring traffic is hardly an inviting welcome in an unfamiliar place.

Even as a self-identified transit buff, I find navigating the Metromover system maddeningly frustrating. Why must it be so difficult? The negative impression this experience has on visitors must not be underestimated.

Presently, popular destinations like the Arsht Center and American Airlines Arena sit on islands lacking any integration with their surroundings. Are people leaving the Arsht Center or the arena likely to visit the restaurants or shops downtown? Will they walk there? The answer is probably not, if the walking conditions are as uninviting as they currently are.

In 2009, Miami’s Downtown Development Authority drafted a master plan for downtown titled, “The Epicenter of the Americas.” It outlines a number of projects intended to “enhance our position as a business and cultural epicenter.” To the DDA’s credit, the plan addresses many of the smaller details that would elevate the downtown experience: improved pedestrian conditions, public art installations, more ways to get around (like trolleys and pedicabs), and enriched public spaces, among others. While the plan is well intentioned, progress has not exactly been transpiring at warp speed.

That is where ordinary citizens like Scott Douglass have stepped in. Douglass is a Miami resident and founder of the Miami Improvement Alliance, a group of Miamians eager to speed up the revitalization of downtown by executing low-cost but impactful projects on their own. Their mission statement is powerful: “We will be the manifestation of positive force downtown. Using both sanctioned and unsanctioned tactics, we will work to improve the safety, beauty, and prosperity of Miami’s core districts. The city must endure and thrive if it is to have a future; we are the agents of that success. Where bureaucracy fails, we will prevail.”

The group’s first project was the creation of “urban wayfinding signs” to encourage visitors to the recent Red Bull Flugtag event at Bayfront Park to venture across Biscayne Boulevard and explore what downtown Miami has to offer. While unsanctioned by any local authorities, the initiative had the blessing of many local business owners. The 11 wayfinding signs featured simple walking directions to things like public transportation stops, ATMs, cultural destinations, local businesses, and also featured a Twitter hashtag (#WalkMIA) so people could interact with the project.

Simple, Low cost and effective.

“People tend to overestimate the amount of time it takes to walk somewhere,” says Douglass. “These signs showed people just how close things actually are.”

These types of interventions — quick, cheap, often temporary projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable — have a new name: tactical urbanism. Guerrilla gardening, converting parking lots into temporary parks, pop-up retail shopping, weed bombing (painting brightly colored “weeds” on forlorn lots) are all examples of tactical urbanism projects that ordinary citizens have recently executed in Miami.

While it’s easy to be seduced by the flashy mega-projects, they are not a cure-all for absent urban vitality. To truly unlock the potential of downtown Miami, collectively we need to take a closer look at the human-scale experience — how we interact with downtown on a daily, street-level basis — and perhaps follow the lead of Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who declared, “We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and planted trees. All our efforts have one objective: happiness.”

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Recently, I accepted a communications fellowship with Smart Growth America in Washington, D.C. and will begin the position in early January, 2013. I will be relocating to D.C over the course of the next few weeks.

Smart Growth America “is the only national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for and leading coalitions to bring smart growth practices to more communities nationwide. From providing more sidewalks so people can walk to their town center to ensuring that more homes are built near public transit or productive farms remain a part of our communities, smart growth helps make sure that people across the nation can live in great neighborhoods.”

Needless to say, I am incredibly excited to begin this new opportunity in our nation’s capital with such a respected and broad-reaching organization in Smart Growth America. However, the decision to leave Miami is not such an easy one to make.

Obviously I’ve been an ardent supporter and advocate for civic improvement in Miami since relocating here three years ago. Even within that brief time period, the forward momentum here is accelerating, the spirit of entrepreneurship thriving and general excitement for the cities’ future plainly evident.

Living in Miami provided me with the (unexpected) opportunity to work with and learn from a variety of incredibly knowledgeable people and groups, including CNU Miami, Emerge Miami, The Miami Bike Scene, the Biscayne Times, Broward B-cycle and Diageo, the beverage company I originally re-located to Miami to work with.

By surrounding myself with positive, intellectual and energized folks like the aforementioned, I developed a richer understanding of all things urbanism and enabled me to become a better writer, thinker and citizen. Without them, I would not have been able to send my career in such a direction. I also have to thank my brother, Steven Chester, who turned me on to this whole realm of study in the first place and whom I continue to be inspired from daily.

A special thank you to the Transit Miami team and readers that embraced my contributions from day one. I look forward to continuing to contribute and promise not to post too many pictures of D.C.’s bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian-oriented retail frontage.

Sincerely,

Craig Chester

On Twitter at @MiamiUrbanist (Still keeping it!)

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For a development that got many things right – including pedestrian-oriented retail frontage, traffic calmed streets and a variety of locally-owned businesses, I can’t help but think that the bicycle-friendly part of Midtown Miami was botched. Anyone that’s tried to lock up a bicycle around Midtown is familiar with the clumsy and infrequent bicycle hitches pictured below. (These types of racks also do not comply with the recommendations in Miami’s own bicycle master plan).

No easy way to lock up your bicycle with these things.

People have to resort to trees.

Transit Miami strongly recommends that Midtown Miami management at least replace the ridiculous hitches already in place with simple ones like the City of Miami has been installing across the city, as well as increasing the frequency of bicycle parking hitches in front of more businesses and otherwise underutilized areas. Or why not strive for excellence for a marginal cost and install a public bike-repair stand?

One thing is certain – no one that rides a bicycle regularly would ever consider installing these things.

At many of the local business along Buena Vista Ave and SE 1st Avenue, trees inside planted beds are unfortunately the most common anchors for bicycles. We can do better than that. The problem is exacerbated here because Midtown is a new development, lacking the usual fruit salad of ornamentation like street signs, parking meters and utility poles that can work in a pinch if you need a place to lock up.

Decent and secure bicycle parking is an important component of encouraging active transportation. If Midtown management is serious about reducing the burden of automobile traffic, congestion and exhaust, improving their bike parking situation is an easy, low-cost and high-reward opportunity.

See our past Transit Miami post on best practices in bicycle parking from around the USA.

Going to visit a friend in Midtown? Good luck finding a place to lock your bike, even in a desolate, inactive paved plaza.

 

Armando Garcia, a Transit Miami reader from Oakland, CA took the time to write this excellent response following the Wynwood Arts District Association rejection of the idea for a ‘open streets’ event during Second Saturday’s ArtWalk.

I’m glad you guys are making progress. I want to write a detailed comment in your support.

The suggestion made by Mr. Lujambio that closing off the street for Art Walk will cause confusion for motorists is questionable. I admit to being native but not local to Miami, and I have not attended Art Walk. But in my new home of Oakland, CA, we have a similar event called Art Murmur.

Art Murmur has grown astoundingly from a night for neighborhood gallery openings, to a humongous monthly event closing several city blocks, hosting over twenty mobile food vendors and several DJs and bands performing. The fact is that before streets were closed, the sidewalks were becoming VERY overcrowded. Walking up the sidewalk felt like pushing your way through the crowd at a Crystal Castles show. Pedestrians sporadically spilling onto the major avenue that flanked the event created accident risks for themselves and motorists, and major confusion was caused for any motorists trying to make their way through the smaller downtown streets. The swarm of pedestrians jaywalking was very difficult to navigate.

I believe the initial response was to close off one block or two, but I know as the event grew, their response was to close several streets to motorists, and provide temporary traffic controls (police officers, flaggers, parking attendants, cones, clear signage, etc) to appropriately guide motor traffic through and around the event and control the flow of pedestrians.

A typical Art Walk experience.

My point is that as attendance grew, closing streets and controlling motor traffic helped PREVENT confusion and provide clear traffic routes, not the opposite. It was before they closed streets that driving through this event was a confusing nightmare. The WADA needs to watch their event closely as attendance grows, and recognize that if attendance continues to grow, they will be forced to eventually consider closing streets. It will be the only way to provide maximum safety for Art Walkers on foot, and minimum frustration for motorists.

The benefits of open street space shouldn’t be ignored, either. Our event in Oakland now hosts large art projects and art cars in the streets, as well as many more local merchants and mobile food vendors. Closing the streets allowed the event to grow into a diverse and intense representation of Oakland’s culture. You can imagine that the economic benefits of managing and stimulating the event’s growth haven’t been condemned by anyone.

Miami is a city that needs more outlets for its rich culture and I want to see it one day. I hope that the vision for Art Walk is as big and exciting as Miami’s true potential is.

Armando Garcia

Thanks Armando for your letter.

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Felipe Larcada, the father of Monica Larcada, the jogger injured while on the sidewalk after a dramatic crash sent a parked SUV flying 30 feet and onto the sidewalk, is seeking witnnesses from the incident on October 30th.

Monica is doing better every day and hopefully will have her stitches removed this week and a cast placed on her leg. Thank you all for your concern and prayers.

I have a request. The authorities are receiving conflicting stories on how this event happened. If anybody reading this blog actually witnessed the event as it happened or right before it happened, please contact me. We really need your help. My email again is flarcada@me.com. Thank you.

Felipe Larcada

I’ve spoken with Felipe and we are in the process of obtaining the police report from the crash. Monica has a serious ankle injury from the tire of the parked SUV that hurtled onto the sidewalk. We have some information about the driver of the vehicle that caused the crash, but will wait until we have the police report to post about it.

Stay tuned for more updates and we wish Monica a quick recovery.

Scene of the crash on Brickell Bay Drive on October 30th.

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