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In mid-June, Transit Miami published Harry Gottlieb’s community commentary on the dangerous state of some of our bridges in Miami-Dade County for bicyclists. Harry and others had sounded the alarm well before, asking FDOT and Miami Dade County to fix those bridges that lead to a bloodfest should you fall on metal grates that are used on a considerable number of the bridges leading over waterways in Miami Dade County. FDOT’s usual response was at display: putting its head in the sand, claiming that the agency didn’t know that the combination of moisture and metal is not a good fit for cyclists. Miami Dade County has at least tentative plans to fix the bridges it is responsible for, but is also not making aggressive moves to do so. Since FDOT asked for data even in the face of the obvious, we asked our FB page readers and very quickly received responses detailing the sometimes horrendous crashes that this design causes. The Broward and Miami New Times published an article on the issue. The solutions are relatively straightforward although there is some cost involved, including the use of anti-slip metal plates or the filling in of the space with solid material (weight considerations will certainly be an issue).  Here is a picture of Brickell Avenue at the Miami River, with a cheese grater surface. Clipboard01 Within a couple of days last week, we heard from two cyclists that fell and got seriously injured on two different drawbridges, both within the purview of FDOT . We post here Renato’s and Kris’s stories of last week and Jess’s story from half a year ago. Please note that some of the pictures are graphic, but it seems necessary to post them so that those in positions to actually do something will have a realistic picture of the damage and pain that their design causes. Renato’s story is testament not only to the dangers of FDOT design, but also our idiosyncratic health care system (we’ll leave the latter of others to deal with):

Please find attached pictures of my drawbridge cycling accident 09/06/14. This needless and most painful accident resulted from crashing upon the dangerous slippery metal grates on the Miami River Brickell Ave. drawbridge.  On Saturday early morning I started my bike ride to KB. Two miles into it, on top of the Brickell Ave. drawbridge my front tire slipped as a result of the moist, slippery and dangerous metal grates and I fell.  I had to react fast since I knew there were cars coming.  A lady stopped her car and asked me a few time if I was ok.  She wouldn’t leave until she saw me walking down the bridge.  I think I was more worry about my Tri-bike than myself at the beginning.  I didn’t know how bad my injuries were until I got to my car. I went to my house and woke my wife up, she immediately helped me to clean myself a bit and we went out to look for an Urgent Care.  We went around for 30 minutes looking for an open Urgent Care around the midtown area but they all open at 10 am (Urgent Care Insurance copay is $50, ER Insurance copay is $700). At 9:30 am I went to Coral Gables Urgent Care but I was told they couldn’t do anything due to the way my injuries were.  I went to Coral Gables ER and I got 5 stitches on my left knee, scratches and bruises on my left arm and hip. Bike damages probably $400 for a new handlebar, medical expenses so far have been about $1000 with ER and medicine.  I still need to go see the specialist and therapist, although I am lucky I only suffered scratches, bruises and 5 stitches on my left knee. I can’t bend my knee until next week. Still shaken up and in a good deal of pain. I can’t get on my bike for at least 2 to 3 weeks and most likely will miss the most important triathlon in Miami due to this incident. I don’t want other cyclists to go through this.  An ex-fire fighter friend of mine told me that years ago his station received a call of a cyclist being hit by a car on that same bridge.  The cyclist slipped and fell on top of the drawbridge and a van ran over him. He was killed in that accident. How many more accidents do we need to have to get the attention of FDOT and MDC? How many more cyclists have to be injured or even die before they to do something to improve the safety for all?

 

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Half a year before, on the same bridge we were told about the following story by Jess:

I took a pretty bad fall this past February while transiting from work at the Coast Guard Sector, near Miami Beach, to my apartment in Brickell. It had started raining after work, but I had biked in the rain several times before and figured I would be fine for getting home. Right before the bridge, I had to stop at a red light slowing speed immensely before crossing over the grates. That being said, I would estimate my speed to be roughly 18 to 19 mph.  The right side of the Brickell Bridge is already tough for cycling as it has some sort of accumulation of cement or construction material spilled on it, making for a rough ride.  I am very careful to cross this part and have to stay further in traffic to do so. As I crossed the bridge and hit the grates, I felt as though I was driving a car on ice. In slow motion, I watched as my bike started sliding sporadically beneath me. Being clipped in to my pedals, as most serious cyclists are, I was unable to just step off my bike. After a solid 5 feet of sliding I lost all control and had to take the fall. I landed on my left side and my bike flew off to the right. I barely missed being run over by the car behind me, as they too had trouble stopping with how slippery the bridge was from oils brought up during the rain. I quickly got up and walked myself and my bike off the bridge in immense pain. I was bleeding so much that I soon became lightheaded and was very lucky that the man that stopped behind me came back to rush me to the ER. I spent 5 hours there and ended up with 3 stitches in my elbow, several bruises on my left side, and many cuts.  My bike frame, carbon fiber, was also totaled from the fall. As a result, I was set back 2 weeks in ironman training and missed a week of work from the pain and fatigue following trauma. I had noticed that bridge could be challenging with narrow race tires before, but the rain aggravated the situation. I would take the sidewalks as an alternative, but it is equally unsafe to do so with so many pedestrians.  Walking in bike shoes in the rain also poses a problem. If the bridge could be altered to be more bike friendly, that would be wonderful.

A few days after Renato’s crash, Kris fell on the 63rd Street bridge in Miami Beach, another bridge for which FDOT bears responsibility:

It was a Tuesday night 9/9/2014, and I was on my usual commute back from work. That evening it had mildly rained on the Beach, but nothing too heavy. I was riding my bike up the bridge on Alton, to merge onto Indian Creek at approximately 8:50pm. I climbed the first part of the bridge without any incident, but as soon as my tires hit the grates on the bridge, my bike starting to slip. I felt that there was no way I could keep control, but managed to hold on as long as I could, still falling and impacting my left hip, shoulder, and forearm. My hand also slid across the grate, and opened a deep wound like cheese to a grater, and my palm, and left ring finger impacted the grates as well causing bruising. Picking myself up in a matter of seconds, both cars behind me stopped, and one of the vehicles with two passengers asked me “are you okay, can we help you?” & “don’t ride your bike on wet grates”. I told them I was fine, and pulled everything to the side, I took off my shirt, and wrapped it around my hand to stop the bleeding. I was about a mile away from home, so I got back on my bike which had been scratched on my Sram apex shifter, and saddle, and rode the rest of the way home putting my weight only on my right arm, and hand. When I got home I just changed my outfit, and waited for my mom to arrive to take me to the hospital. She took me to Mt. Sinai where I had to get an x-ray, a tetanus shot, and get 4 stitches. I will be doing a police report, and filling a claims form for FDOT to take responsibility. I will hold them accountable of damage to myself, and to my vehicle.

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So, there you have it FDOT. Our facebook posting has more stories, as if that was necessary. Here is a picture of SW 2nd Ave, also crossing the Miami River, which has a non-slippery surface (and which as far as we know is not an FDOT road, but rather belongs to Miami Dade County). SW 2nd AVe While we realize that there may be some serious engineering problems involved in putting concrete onto these bridges, FDOT’s District 4 (responsible for Broward, Indian River, Martin, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties) has at least begun to do what other places around the country have been doing before and has installed a non-slippery surface on Hillsborough Blvd Inlet as it crosses the Intracoastal.

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The solution isn’t rocket science and the script is already in FDOT’s hand. We encourage FDOT and Miami-Dade County to move forward and prioritize retrofitting the bridges quickly. Other cyclists shouldn’t have to go through what Renato, Jess, Kris and so many others have had to endure. There really aren’t any excuses any longer and it is time to for both FDOT and the County to act. We have written to the local FDOT official more than once asking where they are in the process of making the bridges that can easily lead to horrific crashes safer. We have not heard from them so far, but will continue to follow up. We owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Gottlieb for continuing to stay on the case. Further updates to follow.

Update (09/16/2014): We have in the meantime heard from Miami Dade County about upcoming projects and they seem to be moving forward with increasing safety. The Miami Avenue bridge is currently being rebuilt and the County is looking into the feasibility of installing plates similar to those on Hillsborough Blvd, as per the above pictures. The Venetian Causeway is currently undergoing a major renovation, which may include a replacement of the bridges. Even if replacement will not take place, the “chosen option will incorporate a solid deck or plates in order to address the bicyclist concerns”. Because of the projected length of the bridge reconstruction on the Venetian Causeway, the County will ask an engineering consulting firm to evaluate those and the other cheese grater bridges that the County is responsible for with respect to “implementing the installation of the aforementioned plates where applicable”. We applaud the County for actually moving forward with this plan and hope to see a speedy implementation.

Update (09/19/2014): We have heard from FDOT as well. As it turns out we may have good news. We are cautious about this, as we have had FDOT make promises before without however following through. FDOT District 6 will fix the bridges in the Miami area either by way of the plates they have used in the Fort Lauderdale area. The details will have to worked out. In the long run, if a bridge is being replaced or undergoes major construction FDOT will use a concrete deck from what we understand. The original project time line for putting plates on the existing cheese grater bridges was 2018 for a starting date. That was clearly unacceptable though to FDOT’s credit, the person responsible for the bridges thought the same and has promised to fix the first bridges more quickly. Without committing to a fixed date (constructing this appears more complicated than one would have thought), we should see the first bridge (Brickell Avenue) being fixed within the first half of 2015. The project has the support of the district Secretary Gus Pego.

We will keep you posted on what is happening. In the end, such an announcement is very welcome, but the time to celebrate (and thank FDOT for improving the safety for all road users, something we have asked for a long time) comes when the projects are underway.

 

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Last night County Commissioners voted in favor of Vision Zero 305. Much like NYC’s Vision Zero NYC, Vision Zero 305 is a set of comprehensive policies developed in Sweden and aimed at a future in which no one is killed or seriously injured by traffic.

Miami is the 3rd most deadly metropolitan area in the nation for cyclists and pedestrians. Vision Zero 305 will be based on the refusal to accept that human death or lifelong suffering from injury is an acceptable result of road traffic. In order to achieve this vision, our traffic systems must be designed with the understanding that people make mistakes and that traffic crashes cannot be avoided completely. Roads should be designed so that when crashes do occur, they do not result in serious injury or death.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez had this to say:

“My fellow commissioners and I have finally come to recognize that Miami is about 2 decades behind other so-called “world class cities” when it comes to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. We have a public safety crisis unfolding on our streets and we need to make our streets safer for everyone; we need to design our streets for people, not cars. There clearly has been no leadership or vision from anyone on the County Commission when it comes to preventing traffic deaths, but that is about to change. We will no longer strive to become the deadliest metropolitan area in the nation for cyclists and pedestrians.  Instead we will strive to have the safest streets in the country.”

According to Commissioner Xavier Suarez, “the County will implement a complete streets policy and we will hold police accountable when it comes to doing their job; we actually expect them to enforce traffic laws.”

This is a big step in the right direction.  Let’s just hope this is just not the same old political posturing that we’re tired of hearing.

 

Five years after moving to Miami to start working at UM, it is a good time for a quick recap: the good and the bad. And while what happens (and crucially: doesn’t happen) on the Rickenbacker Causeway is important, it is symptomatic of much larger systemic issues in the area.

The Good

Let’s start with some of the good developments. They are easier to deal with as unfortunately they aren’t that numerous. Miami-Dade Transit has – despite some questionable leadership decisions and pretty awful security contractors – put into place some important projects such as a decent public transit connection from MIA and while the user experience leaves a number of things to be desired, it generally works; so do TriRail and the express buses to Broward and elsewhere; a number of cities have local trolley systems and while not a great solution in some places, it’s a start; Miami Beach has DecoBike and it seems that it is being used widely – and the service is slated to come to the City of Miami some time in 2014; Miami is finally becoming a city, albeit an adolescent one with a core that, while still dominated by car traffic, is more amenable to foot and bike traffic than it was five years ago (and there are plans for improvement); and at least there is now a debate about the value of transportation modes that do not involve cars only.

The Bad

Yet at the same time, it seems like Miami still suffers from a perfect storm of lack of leadership, vision and long-term planning, competing jurisdictions which makes for easy finger-pointing when something goes wrong, civic complacency and the pursuance of self-interest. Add to that a general disregard for cyclists, pedestrians and those taking public transit. All of this leaves the area as one of the most dangerous places to bike and walk in the country. And instead of actively working towards increasing the safety of those – in an area where many drivers are behaving in a dangerous manner – that do not have the protection of the exoskeleton of 4000 lbs of steel or aluminum, infrastructure is being built without regard for the most vulnerable.

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Poor Leadership and Lack of Political Will

At the top of the list is the rampant lack of genuine support for the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians as well as public transit. The area remains mired in car-centric planning and mindset. While other places have grasped the potential for improving the lives of people with walkable urban environments, we live in an area whose civic and political leadership does not appear to even begin to understand this value (and whose leadership likely doesn’t take public transit).

This starts with a mayor and a county commission (with some exceptions) whose mindset continues to be enamored with “development” (i.e. building housing as well as moving further and further west instead of filling in existing space, putting more and more strain on the existing infrastructure). How about building a viable public transit system on the basis of plans that have existed for years, connecting the western suburbs with the downtown core? How about finally linking Miami Beach to the mainland via a light rail system? How about build a similar system up the Biscayne corridor or, since the commission is so enamored with westwards expansion, connect the FIU campus or other areas out west? And while we’re at it, let’s do away with dreamy projects in lieu of achievable ones? Instead of trying to build the greatest this or greatest that (with public money no less), one could aim for solidity. What we get is a long overdue spur (calling it a line is pushing it) to the airport with no chance of westwards expansion.

Few of the cities do much better and indeed Miami consistently ranks among the worst-run cities in the country (easy enough when many city residents are apathetic in the face of dysfunctional city government or only have a domicile in Miami, but don’t actually live here). When the standard answer of the chief of staff of a City of Miami commissioner is that “the people in that street don’t want it” when asked about the installation of traffic calming devices that would benefit many people in the surrounding area, it shows that NIMBYism is alive and kicking, that there is no leadership and little hope that genuine change is coming.

Car-Centric, Not People-Centric, Road Design

One of the most egregious culprits is the local FDOT district, headed by Gus Pego. While the central office in Tallahassee and some of the other districts seem to finally have arrived in the 21st century, FDOT District 6 (Miami-Dade and Monroe counties) has a steep learning curve ahead and behaves like an institution that is responsible for motor vehicles rather than modern transportation. Examples include the blatant disregard of Florida’s legislation concerning the concept of “complete streets” (as is the case in its current SW 1st Street project where parking seems more important to FDOT than the safety of pedestrians or cyclists – it has no mandate for the former, but certainly for the latter) or its continued refusal to lower the speed limits on the roads it is responsible for, especially when they are heavily frequented by cyclists and pedestrians. All of this is embodied in its suggestion that cyclists shouldn’t travel the roads the district constructs. According to their own staff, they are too dangerous.

The county’s public works department – with some notable exceptions – is by and large still stuck in a mindset of car-centricism and does not have the political cover to make real improvements to the infrastructure. Roads are still constructed or reconstructed with wide lanes and with the goal of moving cars at high speeds as opposed to creating a safe environment for all participants. Yes, that may mean a decrease in the “level of service”, but maybe the lives and the well-being of fellow humans is more important than getting to one’s destination a minute more quickly (and if you have decided to move far away from where you work, that’s just a factor to consider). The most well-known example is the Rickenbacker Causeway which still resembles a highway after three people on bicycles were killed in the last five years and where speeding is normal, despite numerous assurances from the political and the administrative levels that safety would actually increase. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make things much better and that is all that has happened so far. But even on a small scale things don’t work out well. When it takes Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami months to simply install a crosswalk in a residential street (and one entity is responsible for the sidewalk construction, while the other does the actual crosswalk) and something is done only after much intervention and many, many meetings, it is little wonder that so little gets done.

(Almost) Zero Traffic Enforcement

It continues with police departments that enforce the rules of the road selectively and haphazardly at best, and at least sometimes one has the very clear impression that pedestrians and cyclists are considered a nuisance rather than an equal participant in traffic. Complaints about drivers are routinely shrugged off, requests for information are rarely fulfilled and in various instances police officers appear unwilling to give citations to drivers who have caused cyclists to crash (and would much rather assist in an exchange of money between driver and victim, as was recently the case).

The above really should be the bare minimum. What is really required – given the dire situation – is for public institutions to be proactive. But short of people kicking and screaming, it does not appear that those in power want to improve the lives and well-being of the people that they technically serve. I view this issue as an atmospheric problem, one that cannot easily be remedied by concrete action, but rather one that requires a mindset change. A good starting point: instead of trying to be “the best” or “the greatest” at whatever new “projects” people dream up (another tall “luxury” tower, nicest parking garage [is that what we should be proud of, really?], let’s just try not to be among the worst. But that would require leadership. The lack thereof on the county and the municipal level (FDOT personnel is not elected and at any rate, is in a league of their own when it comes to being tone-deaf) means that more people need to kick and scream to get something done (in addition to walking and biking more). Whether this is done through existing groups or projects like the Aaron Cohen initiative (full disclosure: I am part of the effort) is immaterial. But if there is to be real improvement, a lot more people need to get involved.

 

In a city where nearly everyone and everything is from somewhere else, inequality is Miami’s most native son. Like sunshine and sex appeal, inequality is stuffed into every corner of this city. We make little effort to hide it or avoid it, and in the case of one advertising campaign we even flaunt it. Along Southwest 2nd Avenue in Brickell, there’s a bus stop advertisement for Miami’s latest luxury development touting “Unfair Housing,” a play on the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discriminatory housing practices in the United States*.

Photo credit: Jordan Nassar

Photo credit: Jordan Nassar

But this bus stop ad isn’t the only evidence of the gaps dividing our city; there’s the bus stop itself. It can be dirty and overcrowded, just like the buses themselves, which also run late, if they ever come at all. The sidewalks on blocks around the stop are narrow and they’re often obstructed either temporarily by construction or permanently by signage and utilities. It is the typical second-class experience of pedestrians and transit riders around the United States that results from minimal public investment in any form of transportation infrastructure that does not cater to cars.

This is a common condition around the world, and in a few cities it has received the attention that it deserves: as an inequality so flagrant that it offends our notions of democracy. In Bogotá, former mayor Enrique Peñalosa made this idea of transportation as a matter of democracy central to his governing philosophy. “If all citizens are equal before the Law,” Peñalosa is fond of saying, “then a citizen on a $30 bicycle has the same right to safe mobility as one in a $30,000 car, and a bus with 100 passengers has a right to 100 times more road space than a car with one.” Gil Peñalosa, who is Enrique’s brother and former Commissioner of Parks, Sport, and Recreation in Bogotá and is now Executive Director of Toronto-based 8-80 Cities, recently wrote, “Bus lanes are a right and a symbol of equality.” In Copenhagen, Mikael Colville-Andersen, photographer and founder of Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Copenhagenize, has argued that, “we have to re-democratize the bicycle.” In order words, we must recast cycling from a niche subculture for environmentalists and fitness buffs to a viable form of transportation for all citizens who value it because, as Colville-Andersen stresses, “it’s quick and easy.” Since the early 1990s, Vienna has embraced “gender mainstreaming,” the practice of ensuring that public works projects, including transportation, benefit men and women equally.

Carrera 15 in Bogotá before Peñalosa (left) and after Peñalosa (right)

Carrera 15 in Bogotá before Peñalosa (left) and after Peñalosa (right)

At its core, government by representative democracy, our chosen form, demands that our leaders pass laws and set policies based on the wishes, opinions, and needs of the citizens without sacrificing what Edmund Burke called their “enlightened conscience.” In other words, our leaders must govern in accordance with the will of the majority, the rights of the minorities, and their own judgment informed by their position as a representative of all citizens. When we examine the transportation policies under which we live, we can observe simply and clearly that Miami is not a transportation democracy.

In a transportation democracy, governed by notions of equality, resources are allocated so that all citizens no matter their form of transportation have equal access to safe, effective, dignified mobility. How we travel between point A and point B is a question as critical as any other to the functioning of society and how we answer that question speaks volumes about what we value and whose voice is heard.

Transportation resources are not allocated equally in Miami. Federal, state, and local funding for transportation projects in Miami-Dade County, aviation and port activity excluded, totaled roughly $1.7 billion during the 2011-2012 fiscal year**.  Of that amount, over sixty percent went to road, highway, and parking infrastructure. The remaining minority is split between sidewalks, buses, trains, bike lanes and racks, and other pedestrian and intermodal infrastructure.

It’s a grossly unequal distribution in light of how citizens travel in practice. Twenty percent of Miami-Dade residents are not eligible to drive based on age. Another 20 percent of residents age 18 and over live in poverty, making car ownership an impractical financial burden. Of Miami-Dade’s more than one million workers, eleven percent commutes to work by bus, train, bike, or on foot. Still another six percent have ambulatory disabilities that require use of a wheelchair, walker, or other assistive device. Surely there is some overlap among these and still other groups, but the lesson is that in excess of fifty percent of Miami-Dade residents have no or minimal direct need for or access to an automobile; yet the vast majority of our transportation spending at all levels of government goes to automobile infrastructure. Add to these totals the vast numbers of Miamians, both older and younger, who drive out of necessity but who would prefer to travel by transit, bike, or foot, and the balance of transportation spending becomes even more unequally skewed in favor of a privileged minority***.

We may not typically frame it this way, but what we have here in Miami with respect to our transportation is another instance of inequality, a failure of our democracy. This is a concern larger than the cleanliness of our buses or the scarcity of bike lanes. This is an example of a majority facing alienation and segregation to such a degree that they appear the minority; and this manufactured invisibility is used to justify vast, unequal expenditures in favor of a privileged class. If we are to reclaim our transportation democracy, we must begin with an honest discussion about how our citizens travel around our city; we must push back against an approach to transportation that adequately serves so few of us; and we must, as they’ve done in Bogotá, Copenhagen and Vienna, recognize transportation as an issue that extends deep into the heart of our democracy. Only then can we ensure that all voices are heard, all wishes considered, all rights protected, all interests acknowledged. It is a prerequisite to providing safe, effective, dignified transportation options to all and to staying true to our most inherent values of government. Only then can we ensure that Miami becomes a transportation democracy.

*The campaign has been successful, though; the development is nearly sold out before it has even broken ground.

**This is a rough estimate that includes budget figures from USDOT, FDOT, MDX, MDT, and 35 municipal governments, among others. Unsurprisingly, some figures are easier to come by and interpret than others.

***It is also worth noting the increases in housing prices that developers must charge to subsidize minimum parking requirements.

 

 
Taxi cabs drivers waiting for a fare at Miami International Airport: Source: Miami Herald

Taxi cabs drivers waiting for a fare at Miami International Airport: Source: Miami Herald

Written by Leah Weston

If you follow local headlines at all, you may have noticed that Miami’s taxi system has been under intense scrutiny for the last few months. The media has cited a litany of complaints from residents and tourists alike about the conditions of cars, poor customer service, and the lack of credit card machines in taxis. At present, the Miami-Dade County Commission has several reform proposals on the table that would significantly change the for-hire transportation market. These changes include among them mandated credit card machines in all cabs servicing Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami, a sweeping reform program called “Ambassador Cabs” for those same two areas supported by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, and an overhaul of the limousine ordinance to make way for digital dispatch services like Uber to operate in Miami. Proponents of these ordinances argue that these are necessary reforms to bring Miami’s taxis into the 21st century.

What has been consistently absent from the coverage on this issue, however, is the voice of taxi drivers. Since the beginning of this summer, I have been a legal intern with the Community Justice Project of Florida Legal Services, which provides legal support to grassroots community organizations in Miami’s low-income communities.  My work here has exposed me to the incredible struggles of Miami’s taxi drivers, who are largely low-income immigrant workers, many of whom have families to support. Without meaningful improvements to the working conditions of taxi drivers, we cannot even begin to contemplate a 21st century taxi system in Miami.

In order to fully grasp the difficulties facing taxi drivers, it is important to understand how the industry actually functions. Our taxi system runs on a “medallion” system. A medallion is a for-hire license, which is required by the county in order to operate a taxi. Miami-Dade County sets a limited number of medallions in order to restrict the number of taxis that are on the streets at a given time. The County issues through a lottery a limited number of medallions based on population size for $25,000 each, though the price at which the County has sold these medallions has differed over the years. In addition, medallions may also be sold on the secondary market, which drives their value up tens of thousands of dollars higher. Due to limited supply, medallions have sold for as high as $400,000 on the secondary market. While some drivers own medallions, the majority are owned by absentee third party investors who have nothing to do with the taxi industry.

Passenger Service Companies (PSCs), or taxi companies—what we all know as Yellow Cab, Super Yellow, etc.—serve as the intermediary between drivers and medallion owners. Drivers are required to contract with PSCs in order to buy insurance. Most drivers must also lease a medallion through PSCs. While Miami-Dade County caps the fare a taxi driver may charge a passenger, state law prevents the County from regulating the amount PSCs can charge drivers to lease the medallions. As a result, drivers pay $500-$700 per week—a whopping $30,000 per year—to PSCs while sometimes making only a few dollars per hour. In addition to paying these exorbitant lease prices, drivers must purchase their cars and pay for gas, repairs and upgrades. Many have to work 16-hour days just to break even. When $30,000 per year goes to a Passenger Service Company, however, there is little left over for even basic necessities.

With that background in mind, it is crucial to consider how proposed changes to the taxi industry will affect drivers, who are already squeezed by Miami-Dade’s unfair regulatory framework. Consider, for example, the proposal to require a credit card machine in all taxis. As written, the proposed ordinance is silent on who bears the cost of installation and maintenance. The proposal also regulates the type of credit card machine all taxis must have—and, of course, it requires one of the most expensive kinds: a back-of-the-seat credit card machine. In addition, drivers will be barred from passing on credit card processing fees to passengers, which effectively lowers the fare they collect whenever passengers use their credit cards.

Mayor Gimenez’s proposal, sponsored by County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, creating the “Ambassador Cabs” program is even more onerous on drivers. In addition to requiring a credit card machine, GPS, a Sun Pass, and a digital security camera, this program would require all taxis serving Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami to comply with strict vehicle requirements. Effectively, every taxi driver who serves the airport or seaport—the most important areas of business for taxis in Miami—would be forced to purchase a new car in order to be eligible for the program. Drivers are concerned that with the large sums they already are paying to taxi companies, they will not be able to afford the vehicle and technology upgrades required by this program, essentially giving an advantage to those individuals or entities who can afford such upgrades—medallion owners and taxi company owners—to operate in the most active hubs of taxicab business in Miami.

In the end, there is nothing wrong with having a more modern fleet of taxicabs. I welcome the convenience that credit card machines and other modern technologies offer. But the conversation about creating a 21st century transportation system must begin by eradicating medieval working conditions for drivers and taking into account the realities of the way the taxi industry works in Miami.

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From the Miami-Dade County Transit Development Plan website:

A 10-Year Vision

The Transit Development Plan represents a 10-year strategic vision for Miami-Dade Transit to promote the operation of an efficient, responsive and financially sustainable transit system. Major components of the Transit Development Plan include:

  • Annual Performance
  • Service Operations
  • Capital Program
  • Funding

Transit Development Plan Facts at a Glance

The Transit Development Plan process provides an opportunity for Miami-Dade County citizens to identify mobility needs and transportation issues.  Your input is valuable and needed to facilitate public concensus and provide direction for the development of the Transit Development Plan.

You can participate by attending one of the many outreach forums throughout the community. Ideas, suggestions and comments related to the Transit Development Plan can also be submitted to Miami-Dade Transit at cartayn@miamidade.gov

Ideas, suggestions and comments will be accepted through August 17, 2013.

NE 2nd Avenue in Buena Vista

NE 2nd Avenue in Buena Vista

The reindeer games continue between the County and City and as usual the taxpayer ends up getting cheated and we are all left with a really dangerous street, which apparently the County and City both find acceptable.

Here’s an email I received from Transit Miami friend Wendy Stephan.

Hi Felipe

I’m writing to you about a problem here in Buena Vista East/Design District.  I’ve attached a letter I sent below about the problem.  After residents sent about 100 letters, the City of Miami (particularly the Mayor’s office) was responsive, but our understanding is that the County is in charge of the project.  The latest twist is that the County says they handed the project off to the City at some point (?!).  It seems the project just stalled out halfway done.  I am sure you’ve noticed how dangerous NE 2nd Avenue is these days – potholes, angled light poles, and no street markings!!  This seems to be a good issue for your blog. Thanks.

Wendy

Here’s the email sent to city, county neighbors, etc., on June 10:

 

Dear Commissioner Edmonson,

I would like to add my voice to the chorus of District 3 residents and business owners concerned about the unsafe situation and lack of progress on the street improvements on NE 2nd Avenue in the Buena Vista/Design District area.  Because the street improvement project seems to be stalled with work halfway done — old lighting removed, street surface damaged, striping not visible — the situation that currently exists is very dangerous, and one young woman was killed crossing the street on a dark night in March.

This area has recently seen the wonderful development of several businesses, some owned by residents, that cater to our broader community.  These businesses have generated both car and pedestrian traffic along this corridor.  County buses pick up passengers along this road.  Students have been crossing this street daily on their way to DASH, Miami Arts Charter and Archbishop Curley Notre Dame schools.  We need the long-promised improvements to the street completed to improve safety, functionality and the appearance of this street.  The project, already funded and initiated, includes multiple safety features, including:· Adequate sidewalks
· Curbs
· Drainage
· Parking lanes
· Bike lanes
· Clear street striping
· Functional street lighting
· Maintenance for the large swale trees, additional trees/green where possible.

What happened to this project?  We demand answers and a clear timeline for its completion.  Residents and patrons of our businesses should not be placed at such high risk.  Thank you for your prompt response.

Wendy

What a disgrace.

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Transit Miami is honored to have been named the best blog in Miami for 2013 by the Miami New Times. We’re privileged to be recognized by our peers and the community as a leading voice on urban development and transportation issues in South Florida. This distinction provides us with a natural opportunity to reflect upon how far this site has progressed since its inception in 2006:

Initially conceived as an outlet to incite and encourage discussion concerning the challenging problems facing South Florida, Transit Miami has evolved into a loosely knit organization of individuals who strongly advocate for a balanced transportation system. Today, our vision includes one where all members of our community will have the opportunity to choose the mode of transportation that is optimal for their needs, lifestyle, or preferences. To achieve this vision we’ve taken it upon ourselves to expose the potential for intelligent growth in a community that has been consumed by urban sprawl; a community where imprudent development around key transit nodes has evolved into an unfortunate standard; and a community where congestion persistently erodes the quality of life. To us, the status quo is no longer acceptable; we know Miami can do better. As practicing transportation engineers, urban planners, and real estate advisors, we hope that our opinions serve as a starting point for discussion and present alternative views based on our professional experiences.

I wish to extend my gratitude to Transit Miami’s dedicated editors and contributors (both past and present) who volunteer their time in the interest of enhancing the mobility of our community. I have never met a more passionate and talented group of individuals working together to achieve a common goal: to foster a livable, accessible, and sustainable Miami for generations to come.

In addition to the support we receive locally, we’re also grateful for the recognition we receive from our partners across the nation, particularly our friends at the Streetsblog Network. Our national partners are also working tirelessly to transform our cities by reducing dependence on private automobiles and advocating for improved conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders.

Above all, we are grateful for our readers who so often provide us with meaningful and insightful discussions on what most would consider rather pedestrian topics. We pledge to continue our advocacy and to continue to hold our elected officials accountable.

-Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal
Founder & Editor-in-Chief, TransitMiami.com

 

Water Sewer Notice-March 20

 

The article comes to us via the South Florida Bike Coalition and was written by Markus Wagner.

 

Miami-Dade County is facing a tricky situation on Bear Cut Bridge. Predictably and sadly, it is choosing to prioritize motorized traffic at the expense of the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. This much became clear at the January 2013 BPAC meeting. Given current plans, it will almost be inevitable that the bridge be close to pedestrian and cycling traffic during construction (except for those cyclists going with traffic, which they are allowed to do).

As many may have heard, parts of the Bear Cut Bridge have become so dilapidated that they have to be replaced. This is not the time or place to go into details why it is that such a situation suddenly springs upon the County – blame is already being passed around. More news reports herehere and here.

The County Public Works and Waste Management Department has gone through several iterations of planning. The latest approach – and the most detrimental to safety for pedestrians and cyclists wishing to enjoy Crandon Park or other destinations on the Key – is to take away the pedestrian and bike path heading east to create more throughput for cars and trucks. The current plans call for re-routing pedestrians and cyclists to the north side of the bridge via a signalized crosswalk by UM’s Rostenstiel campus,  where cyclists and pedestrians going both ways are supposed to share the space. Then, should you desire to return to the south side, you would use the marked crosswalk where pedestrians and cyclists have been constantly ignored by drivers in the past.

 

bearcutbridge

 

If you are now scratching your head, you are not alone. The reaction of BPAC members appeared to be rather unanimous: it was negative. The entire operation does not appear to be well thought out regarding the treatment of pedestrians and cyclists. And that is an understatement. There are so many things wrong with the current plans that it is difficult to figure out where to start. It is unclear how separation between fast and slow cyclists, runners and walkers going in two directions is supposed to be managed. According to the Miami Herald, the County even considers closing the roadway for cyclists and pedestrians entirely. According to Interim County Engineer Antonio Cotarelo the county “would have to figure out if there’s any impact, and how bad it is with traffic, and take whatever necessary action to adjust it or close it if necessary — meaning closing the bridge to all pedestrians and cyclists.” It is apparently perfectly fine for the County to close down the only access for pedestrians and recreational cyclists to Crandon Park entirely while vehicle traffic to and from Key Biscayne is allowed to flow through four lanes, just as before.

What county personnel did not state clearly and were rather guarded about is the following: if current lane usage is to be maintained (two lanes in each direction) and with the existing ped / bike path removed, it will be impossible to maintain the ped / bike path on the northern side once construction begins. It is hardly conceivable that the county – having decided to close down the footpath at this point – will restrict motorized vehicle access once construction begins for purposes of reinstating the foot path.

There was talk of more law enforcement, but when pressed on whether the Miami-Dade Police Department would actually enforce the rules on the unsignalized cross-walk on the east side of the Bear Cut Bridge, the officer present seemed to be taken aback.

It comes down – as is the case so often – to a question of prioritization. If the County wants to go beyond the usual lip service, it is time to step up to the plate. Over the last years, we have seen people get killed on the Causeway and numerous people getting injured. The County under the leadership of Mayor Gimenez has done little to nothing to improve the situation. Along comes a tennis tournament and it appears that the County snaps to attention rather quickly. The bridge is in dire need of repair from everything we can ascertain. There is no doubt about that.

The question is whether the County should prioritize the needs of car drivers at the almost complete disadvantage for families and individuals that want to be pedestrians, runners or cyclists. This episode shows how little the County – and its mayor – support non-motorized traffic. Not only is the situation made more difficult, but rather it is also made more dangerous. And it does not seem to matter to decision-makers. Those decision-makers sometimes take part in bicycle rides when it suits their needs of being elected. When it comes to having to make decisions over whether find a suitable balance that interest seems to wane entirely.

While the county plans are still in flux, the removal of the foot path seems to be the option that the county has chosen. It is also the only way from what we can tell (and we are happy to stand corrected) to not have to close pedestrian and a lot of bicycle traffic. Yet again, the county and its leadership has chosen motorized traffic over the interest of other users. While touting bicycling in other forums and using such opportunities to create the image of being supportive for bicyclists, county leadership on this and many other projects is sorely lacking.

You should let Mayor Gimenez know that you are against current plans(mayor@miamidade.gov). Our attempts to reach out to his office so far have been futile. More voices may be necessary.

 

Earlier this week, the Vero Beach City Council joined Indian River County’s decision to exclude themselves from the Southeast Florida regional plan initiative, Seven50 (Seven counties, 50 years). The reason being: fears of a correlation to the 20-year-old “Agenda 21.” Local groups like the Taxpayers Association of Indian River County and the Indian River Tea Party conveyed their concerns in the council chambers that this is a federal government plan that would eventually force undesired regulations, with ideas from the UN. While some of their concerns may be valid, the solution is not to pull out of the plan, but to engage with it. Growth will happen whether we plan for it or not, but by planning and communication we can influence how and where that growth takes place.

Seven50 Roadshow

Local citizens working together to plan for their community’s future at a Seven50 Roadshow event

The Second Summit for Seven50 is being held in Miami on January 24. What should we expect? Why should we attend? How should we feel about such an event happening in our neck of the woods?

Let Our Voice be Heard. With citizen engagement as a key factor in this regional plan, we should jump at the opportunity to give our input. Who else should know more about our communities? Lets take advantage of this regional planning process and voice our opinions.

On the Local Level. The people best equipped to plan for the future of our region is a motivated group of locals and community individuals that both know the area intimately and want the best for future growth.

Less Waste. Lets face it, regional investments happen with or without our input. By compiling a cohesive plan together with our neighboring cities and counties, we can decide together. Determining our future investments out in the open will lead to smarter decisions and less waste of funds.

The Second Summit is quickly approaching to give each of us the opportunity to share our ideas, opinions, and plans for a better Miami. We know we have plenty to say about our communities and the county. Make sure to register and even bring some friends. This is our regional plan, and this is our time show it!

 

As we prepare to commence a new year, let us never forget, friends: our city is the Magic City.

Let us always remember to treat it as such.

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TransitMiami is excited to share the latest images of the possible Metrorail train car fleet! We should be seeing one or more of these proposed machines in operation by the first quarter of 2015.

We were provided with exterior and interior renderings for three (3) fundamentally new Metrorail vehicle models:

  1. SPOON
  2. RING
  3. SHIELD

Each of these models bears a distinctive livery (design scheme / insignia):

  1. SPOON – “Neon”
  2. RING – “Shark” & “Shark Y”
  3. SHIELD – “Status”
 Take a look. . . .

SPOON — “Neon”

RING – “Shark” & “Shark Y”

SHIELD – “Status”

 

Share your thoughts. . . . Any favorites? Any design(s) you particularly love/hate? . . . Speak up, Miami!

 

Transit Miamians — It’s an extremely important time to make your voices heard to your elected officials and community planners!

As many of you already know, Miami-Dade County seems to have concluded its negotiations with the firms bidding to construct and install the new Metrorail train cars, slated for delivery in the last quarter of 2014.

The Miami Herald reported early last week on Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s endorsement of the Italian company, AnsaldoBreda, to win the $313,000,000 contract to replace 136 Metrorail vehicles.

Putting aside the politics of the decision in favor of the Italian firm AnsaldoBreda over the Spanish firm CAF, TransitMiami was interested in learning more about the actual designs of the new train cars themselves, and how they would impact our daily commute.

We got in touch with the energetic and eager-to-help Acting Assistant Director of Miami-Dade Transit Rail Services, Mr. Jerry Blackman. If you recall, Transit Miami reported on Mr. Blackman’s January 2012 presentation at the Citizen’s Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC) regarding the acquisition of the new Metrorail train cars.

At that time, unfortunately, the contract was still under bid and thus remained under the Cone of Silence. Exercising an abundance of caution, Blackman was rather tight-lipped about the contract.

When Transit Miami got in touch with Mr. Blackman just a few weeks ago, it seemed that the Cone of Silence was still in effect. Just a few days later, however, the Miami-Herald brought the public’s attention to Mayor Gimenez’s recommendation that AnsaldoBreda be awarded the multi-million dollar contract that will dictate our Metrorail experience for the next 30-plus years or so.

We were then able to convince Mr. Blackman to give us some insider information on the design of the prospective Metrorail train cars.

We didn’t get too much, but what we did get should make a good start to a deeper public dialogue on how our city’s Metrorail can best serve its people . . .

With regard to “Passenger Seating / Bicycle Rack”, we got the following excerpt from a presentation made by an unspecified bidding firm (assumedly AnsaldoBreda):

  • Color schemes, materials and designs will be finalized during the Vehicle Final Engineering Design Reviews
  • The seating layout shall provide for two ADA compliant wheelchair areas per car
  • Seat cushions shall be designed to fit on the seat frame in a clean, well designed appearance, and shall include cushion foam and upholstery
  • Seat upholstery shall be a material resistant to graffiti, vandalism, and liquid pentration
  • The seating arrangement shall include an area in the R-end of the vehicle with center facing flip-up seating to allow for passengers with either baggage or bicycles
  • Bicycle racks shall be installed with provisions to support a minimum of two (2) bicycles per car to secure bicycles

We also acquired a single rendering of the interior of one of the proposed Metrorail train car designs — it’s no Rosetta Stone of Miami Transit, but it’s a start to a more transparent public discussion:

This conceptual rendering of one of the proposed designs of the new Metrorail train cars should get us thinking: Is this the type of train that will best serve our community for the next 30-plus years?

Now that we’ve finally emerged from the secretive Cone of Silence, it’s time to speak-up! Transit Miami will be keeping a close eye on how our collective $313 million is going to be spent.

This is our city; let’s make sure it evolves the way we want – the way we need – it to . . .

 

This won’t come as news to many of you, but for several months now, the experience on Metrorail has been improved tremendously.

The transition from 6- to 4-car trains since the grand opening of the Orange Line to the brand new Miami International Airport Station (a.k.a., Central Station) in late July 2012 has certainly been a welcome change.

The grand opening of the Metrorail’s new Orange Line and the Miami International Airport station has run parallel to, and even initiated, some positive changes to Miami’s Metrorail experience.

The MIA station grand opening marks the beginning of an exciting renaissance for our Metrorail system.

The trains now come much more frequently, reducing:

  • 7-8-minute rush hour wait times to 5-6-minute rush hour wait times,
  • 15-minute off-peak hour wait times to 7-8-minute off-peak hour wait times, and
  • 30-minute weekend wait times to 15-20-minute weekend wait times.

Apart from that indispensable improvement to the system, you’ve almost certainly also noticed the improvements to the physical layouts to the inside of the train cars themselves. In nearly every Metrorail train car, one now finds that two sets of seats have been removed and, from the resultant additional space, there is now a much-needed area for standing passengers and bike and luggage storage.

This sign may now seem a trivial commonplace, but it represents a hugely positive change in thinking on how our Metrorail trains should be occupied.

Below are some pictures of the new Metrorail space in action. It’s great to see people regularly using the space, especially during rush hour, when there simply aren’t enough seats for everybody (not to mention that many people, myself included, actually prefer standing over sitting).

Five comfortably standing Metrorail riders. Even more passengers could fit in the new standing space during times of higher volumes (albeit a bit less comfortably).

The most important cargo of all: one’s children. Where else would this man have put that huge, twin child stroller (and his two young children inside it) if not for the Metrorail’s new standing/storage space?

Without this new bicycle storage area, that bike would be either obstructing the center isle, blocking seats from passengers, and/or simply creating a hazard.

These four gentlemen have much more leg room and space standing than they would sitting squished together, especially with their bags and other carry-on items.

The additional standing room is an improvement of which I’ve personally been a long-time advocate. In November 2011, I presented a set of possible policy changes to the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee pertaining to the many issues surrounding the Metrorail Bike & Ride Policy. The removal of seats to create more standing and storage area was the primary proposal of the presentation. It’s great to know that Miami-Dade Transit is listening to its riders! Now we just need more people speaking-up!

One of the overarching problems with the Bike & Ride policy (notwithstanding the utterly ineffective Bike & Ride permit system) has always been that bicycles were relegated to the back of the train. This created lots of confusion and often overcapacitated the rear train car with bikes.

Finally, bikes have a space on Metrorail. Things are hopefully going to get even better when the new train cars with hanging bike racks come into fruition.

The new Miami-Dade Transit Bike & Ride policy (last updated July 24, 2012) permits bikes in any train car containing the sign depicted above. That’s a huge improvement! The only problem is that Miami-Dade Transit has yet to install signs on the exterior of the train cars so that riders can identify which cars are appropriate to enter with their bicycles.

Another positive change is that the new Bike & Ride policy doesn’t explicitly specify a maximum number of bikes permitted in each train car. The previous number of bikes allowed on the train was a mere four. As you can imagine, that policy was ridiculously impossible to enforce, and completely undermined the point of having a policy in the first place. If you’re going to make rules, make sure they make sense and can be enforced, otherwise the entire system is delegitimized. Fortunately for us, limits are no longer specified.

There are still problems, of course.  Miami-Dade Transit still hasn’t improved the system for distributing and enforcing its Bike & Ride permits — that’s a whole other issue!

Still, it’s undeniable that, with regard to the overall Metrorail system, layout, and policies, things are evolving for the better. Until the new Metrorail train cars are acquired in the last quarter of 2014 (for installation and usage estimated for the first quarter of 2015), we’re going to have to appreciate what we’ve got and continue making our voices heard to make it better!

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