Posts by: JM Palacios

Bus blocking bicycle lane

I was spoiled by learning to ride my bicycle on the road in Gainesville, one of Florida’s most bicycle-friendly cities. Bus drivers in that city typically check for bicycles in the bike lane before pulling over into it to stop, or they stop outside of the bicycle lane altogether. This is in obedience with Florida Statute 316.085(2) that requires a driver to check that a lane is clear before changing lanes. In this regard, a bicycle lane is no different than a regular vehicular lane, just as a bicycle is no different than a regular vehicle. There is nothing wrong with the bus changing lanes into the bicycle lane when stopping, but the driver must make sure the bicycle lane is clear before doing so. Anything else is a violation of the law and a threat to cyclists.

Bus drivers down here seem ignorant of that law as it applies to bicycle lanes. At least the one who I ran into yesterday was ignorant, as was the cop who faulted me for the accident without finding me in violation of any law.

A message to all the local transit systems: train your drivers to drive carefully and lawfully as it pertains to cyclists! In this case, they need to check their right mirror before encroaching on any kind of bicycle lane. We are all part of the multimodal transportation system, and bicycles and buses are both good alternatives to cars. We would hate to see one kill off the other.

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Watching fireworks from mass transit

Hope everyone has a happy and safe fourth of July!

As you celebrate Independence Day, don’t forget some of the other things we need to seek independence from. The Sun-Sentinel reminds us to declare independence from cars by accommodating all modes of transportation, while the Miami Herald reminds us to share rides to achieve the same goal. Seems like most media outlets around the country are taking advantage of Independence Day to write a piece on independence from cars and/or energy, thanks to rising fuel prices. I think The Globalist takes the cake with a Declaration of Energy Independence.

Speaking of independence from cars, how are you getting to your celebrations today? I am thinking of cycling to see the Fort Lauderdale fireworks on the beach, though I might take the Water Taxi part of the way. That way I won’t have to hunt for and pay for the rare parking spot. What alternative modes of transportation are you using today?

Photo by Flickr user yatta, watching fireworks from the train in NYC.

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We aren’t endorsing any candidates yet, but this column by David Beard from the Boston Globe offers some interesting insight into John McCain’s history of support for Amtrak. Or should I say, lack of support?

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Alton Rd. Public Hearing comments

On Thursday, Transit Miami attended FDOT’s public hearing on Alton Rd.

FDOT ran a PowerPoint presentation describing the project, and there appears to be nothing new. The parking lane has now been reduced to 8′, and 1′ has been added to the sidewalk in both the preferred alternative and the alternative with bike lanes. So we don’t know what happened to leaving any space for a Baylink streetcar.

Several members of the public got up front and voiced their opinions. 

Continue reading »

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Just a reminder: Tonight at 6:00 is FDOT’s public hearing on Alton Rd. It will be at the Miami Beach City Hall, 1700 Convention Center Drive, in the Commission Chambers on the 3rd floor. The meeting is supposed to include a presentation by the project team and time for public comments.

Read Gabrielle’s two posts on Alton Rd., or hit up the PDF of the powerpoint from April 30. Most importantly, get over there if you want to make your voice heard that you want bike lanes!

I’m heading down from Fort Lauderdale for the occassion. Those of you who live nearby have no excuse…

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Google Transit Ad

Have you checked out Google Transit yet? It sounded good back when it came out: use Google Maps to plan your transit trip. It’s definitely better than the official South Florida Regional Transit Trip Planner, but we didn’t have any local transit systems on there. Until now.

We can’t be certain when that changed, but Broward County Transit is now on the official list of Transit systems that Google searches. A nice feature is that if you search for directions on Google Maps, it offers a “public transit” option as well as a drive option for areas that are on Google Transit. It’s never been easier to compare your public transit alternatives to driving.

If anyone’s keeping score of these high tech transit tools, I’d say that puts Broward: 2 to Miami: 1.

Photo by Flickr user Steve Rhodes.

 

Rethinking Transit

A reconstruction could be brewing for Miami-Dade Transit. Commissioner Javier D. Souto wrote an open letter last week discussing the issues that have arisen with the People’s Transportation Plan. Somehow the Miami Herald has ignored it in their series so far, but the South Florida Business Journal covered the letter. Souto begins by discussing the importance of mass transit in the day of $4/gallon gasoline and the continued difficulty with getting people out of their cars into an inconvenient transit alternative. After going on about the problems we have, he proposes a radical idea: privatize transit.

Souto starts the paragraph by saying, “if the desire is to make a profitable transit system…” This is where I imagine his whole paragraph must be sarcasm. Then I remember that there are still those who are convinced that transit should be funding itself, and those people would desire to make a profit from a transit system. So, Souto (or anyone else), if that is your desire, quench it. Transportation is not profitable. Period. Government subsidizes every aspect of it, from roads to railroads to bus systems to Metrorail. It’s a subject worthy of an entire post, so let’s just make it clear that profit should not be the goal of any transit system. Not unless we have a major paradigm shift to also make a profit with roads…

Regardless of motive, privatizing transit is not unheard of. The original streetcars in the US were all privately owned and operated. Unfortunately, that made it easier for them to fold as the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation in this country. The same thing happened with intercity passenger rail, and only a subsidized Amtrak is left standing. Those systems failed because their goal was to make a profit.

Today we have brought mass transit under government subsidy, and we have developed Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) that maintain governmental control and regulation. The I-595 project is a good example, as a private company will design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the improvements, while FDOT maintains control over things like standards and tolls. FDOT will not be turning a profit from the system, either. The toll FDOT collects will not be sufficient to pay off the concessionaire company for building it, so they will be using other budgeted funds to pay for it. Profit is the motivator for the private company, of course, but not for the government agency. Transit could work the same way. A private company could design, build, and finance Metrorail improvements, while operating and maintaining the existing and future system. The county would still have to control things like fares and basic standards.

That brings us to the biggest problem. Someone responsible would still have to manage a PPP. Until the county takes some major steps in the right direction, we would not have the confidence for them to direct a PPP any better than they have the current state of affairs. Could a PPP have any success in Miami-Dade Transit? Perhaps. Privatization might boost the confidence that transit can be managed properly (or it might not), but alone it is not sufficient to solve the woes of the People’s Transportation Plan. And it most definitely will not solve any financial woes. No profit will come to the government from such a privatization. Do you hear that, all you profit-minded capitalists?

 

Photo by Flickr user ImageMD

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Tired of unreliable buses? Sick of not knowing when the bus is coming, or whether you just missed it and have to wait the full 30 minutes for the next one?

We can’t do anything about the unreliable buses until we get a streetcar, but BCT has begun putting up real-time message signs that tell you when to expect the next bus. The first two started operation Thursday at bus stops on Hwy.  441 near Oakland Park Blvd., and more are ready to be installed in the near future. Broward County’s signs one-up many similar systems across the country by including a voice that audibly tells riders when to expect their bus. It’s a great feature for visually impaired or illiterate people, many of whom are forced to ride the bus as they cannot legally drive a car.

Maybe we need some more visually impaired people. We need some way to get people out of their convenient Lexus Cages. Failing a sudden rise in blindness, perhaps comforts like these message boards will help.

Read more details about the boards in the press release. If anyone’s used the message boards, please let us know how they work. How’s the accuracy of the time?

 

Update 6/11/2008: BCT sent us a picture of one of the message boards. Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

 

 

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Taking the Lane

Everyone’s familiar with the rules for bicyclists riding on the road in Florida, right? OK, check the Florida Statutes section 316.2065 for a quick refresher. I’m especially thinking of part 5(a), which spells out when a bicyclist is allowed to “take the lane.” Commute by Bike and Carectomy had some discussion of this issue recently, and their respective posts are worth checking out. My preference is along the lines of Carectomy’s stance, taking the lane when needed. I’m not going to go into all the benefits of taking the lane that they mention, but I wanted to focus on the legality.

From part 5(a), the third situation where bicyclists are not required to ride “as close as practicable to the right” is:

3.  When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition, including, but not limited to, a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, animal, surface hazard, or substandard-width lane, that makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For the purposes of this subsection, a “substandard-width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

So you can take the lane when you have a narrow lane, right? As a roadway designer, the first thing that comes to mind for a standard lane width is 12 feet. But that last sentence in the law makes the difference. It is not referring to a 12-foot lane, but a lane wide enough for bicycles and cars to share. I used to believe this included 12 foot lanes, as they seem fairly wide; but I have been enlightened.

Last week I attended classes in bicycle and pedestrian facility design taught by Michael Moule, president of the engineering firm Livable Streets, Inc. He clarified that a substandard-width lane for the purposes of this statute meant anything less than 14 feet wide. Agencies only build 14-foot wide lanes when they are specifically trying to accommodate bicycles and the road cannot be widened enough for a 4-foot bicycle lane. FDOT does not really even do that any more, preferring to stripe out a 3-foot “urban shoulder” next to an 11-foot lane if a bicycle lane cannot be built. (Unless it’s District 6 building Alton Road…) Most roads have lanes narrower than 14 feet. So bicyclists are legally entitled to take the entire lane if they so choose.

Think about the reasoning behind the 14 feet. You need at least 8 feet of lane width for a car. (That’s the narrowest parking lane width allowed, so it should be 9 feet for a moving vehicle—but we’ll say 8.) Florida Statute 316.083 states that motorists must pass bicycles at least 3 feet away. It’s safe to assume we need another 3 feet for the bicycle with a rider. Add it up and you need a 14-foot lane for bicyclists and automobiles to safely travel side by side. 

Tell that to the next cop who tries to tell you to ride farther right! Someone even recommended carrying a pocket copy of the Florida statutes to show them. Anyone know where to find those?

Photo by Flickr user richardmasoner.

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I’m feeling the bicycle love right about now. Not only did we have a local and state bicycle month with a bike to work week, but we also have a national bicycle month with a national bike-to-work week. That’s this week, May 12-16. Friday the 16th is bike to work day for those who can’t do it every day. The League of American Bicyclists promotes this event, so check out their site here. But most important of all, get on your bicycle this week and rest easy about the near $4/gallon gas prices because you won’t need to fill up as soon. Take that, Big Oil!

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Transportation Secretary Mary Peters

Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters entered the blogosphere on April 29 with a blog called the Fast Lane. Looks like FHWA, FTA, and other DOT officials will also contribute to the blog. Comments are allowed on the blog, so they are interested in a two-way conversation.

It is good to see transportation officials embracing modern communication methods. Let us hope Stephanie Kopelousus, Florida’s Transportation Secretary, follows the example and begins an official Florida DOT blog. Or it would be nice to see the District Secretaries blogging and taking comments from the public on local projects. Perhaps we could suggest it. Email the Secretary at fdot@dot.state.fl.us if you want to suggest the idea.

Photo by Flickr user jimfrazier
We already pointed out the resurgence of freight rail in this post in February, but now the rail boom is in the news again. This time a Harvard professor, John R. Stilgoe, is predicting the revival of rail for both freight and passengers. He points to indicators such as Warren Buffet buying stock in a freight railroad company, high gas prices driving people away from cars, and success of commuter rail systems.

We can point to our own indicators of a boom. The Florida House of Representatives’ budget includes $700,000 for a feasibility study for a freight rail corridor from South Bay to West Miami, which the Miami Herald referred to as the “Sugar Train“; the House also gave their support for a commuter rail system in Orlando. This is at a time when the state is cutting the budget everywhere else. The number of Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) being proposed around Tri-Rail stations seems to be increasing weekly. Sheridan Stationside Village, Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, and Delray Beach TODs are all pushing forward at a time when the housing market is dismal and even general development is being pulled down with it. Fort Lauderdale is funding their new streetcar system despite the property tax amendment cutting their revenues.

Overall, rail is looking up while the economy looks down. The argument that you cannot get Americans out of their cars is no longer valid. Now is the time to get people out of their cars and onto the rails. Wake up or miss the train.

Believe it or not, transit is a reality in the greater Miami area. The Fort Lauderdale city commission just voted to pay for 25% of the downtown streetcar project known as the Wave. That means they will provide $37.5 million of the estimated $150 million needed for the project. The next step for the Downtown Development Authority is to secure $75 million in federal and $37.5 million in state funding. It seems like a challenge, but the important thing is that this was a unanimous vote of support for the project to proceed.
A little more information on the project: The map shown above, from page 2 of this PDF flyer, is not necessarily the most current plan; but it provides a general layout of the proposed route. The streetcar, shown in yellow, will connect to future FEC corridor transit (purple on the map) and East-West transit on Broward Blvd. (green) at the location of the current Broward Central Bus Terminal. The terminal will turn into a multimodal transit hub for all these systems. Also on the PDF map is existing Tri-Rail in dashed red, the FEC corridor in purple, and the Sunport people mover (Airport to Seaport) in orange. The likely deviation from the route on the map is that the streetcar will probably detour down NW 1st Ave. before crossing Broward Blvd. so it can stop at the Central Terminal.

Contrary to what bloggers like Len Degroot or Alesh Houdek might be inclined to believe, Fort Lauderdale is neither dreaming nor out of touch with reality. With gas prices skyrocketing, people want alternatives to cars. Transit has never looked better.

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Photo by Flickr User ImageMD.

If you haven’t heard the news, head over to the Miami Herald and read about the Citizen’s Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) vote to reject the planned use of sales tax money to purchase new Metrorail cars. At least they are protecting the tax money that’s supposed to go towards new service.

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.

Imagine a drive-thru church? It’s not far from reality. Last Christmas, I heard of a church that was having a drive-thru nativity scene. The ostensible reason was that people didn’t have to get out of their cars in cold weather. Some churches, however, like this one in Orlando, do it when they don’t have cold weather. One of the main purposes of a church is fellowship, and it’s easy with a crowd of people in a building. It’s rather difficult, on the other hand, to carry on a conversation with someone in another car.

While I came close to riding my bike to my church’s sunrise service today at the beach, churches in Ohio and Virginia offered drive-thru Easter pageants. It should come as no surprise, since they only reflect our greater car-centric culture—but it’s still frustrating. Why can’t churches be more pedestrian friendly?

One church in Texas has walk-thru scenes of Stations of the Cross on permanent display. Has anyone seen similar walkable displays or pageants, or have you seen any local churches touting drive-thru dramas? Please voice your thoughts. We want to see examples, whether good, bad, or ugly.

Also, any thoughts for improvements? I would like to see a bus shelter and a bike rack in front of my church. What about your neighborhood churches?

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