Currently viewing the category: "Metrorail"

This is my first post as an official Transit Miami contributor, but this post is actually a follow-up to an earlier piece that I wrote but which was published under Felipe’s name. In that post, which appeared earlier this summer, I made a case for extending Metrorail out to FIU. That case was essentially this: two intertwined, near-term policy priorities announced by Miami leaders are to solve the problem of the region’s brain drain and to establish Miami as a prominent player for technology start-ups. By better integrating FIU into a comprehensive transit system, we’ll be building the physical infrastructure to cultivate greater personal and professional connections between the university community and the broader South Florida region, particularly its business community; these connections, I argue, will be instrumental in reversing Miami’s brain drain and catalyzing the entrepreneurial culture necessary for a start-up scene.

In that piece, I discussed the nearly universal trend in the United States over the past ten years of cities connecting their colleges and universities to their transit systems. That trend is founded upon two crucial propositions of economic development. Those propositions are:

  1. City centers and universities represent two of the most productive hubs of innovation, and by improving the physical connections between them, we can facilitate connections between the people, ideas, and resources of each.
  2.  When people, ideas, and resources are well connected, economies thrive.

It is these propositions that have influenced transit planning and economic development in cities throughout the United States, and which I believe should also influence transit planning and economic development in Miami. The transportation case for mass transit stands on its own; mass transit is unquestionably the most efficient technique for transporting people and any serious transportation policy has mass transit as its backbone. Yet, there is also the economic case for mass transit, represented in part by the propositions outlined above. This post will address some of the data that back up those propositions and the assertion that building transit connections to universities like FIU can foster business start-up activity and mitigate and reverse brain drains.

 

Downtowns and universities represent a disproportionately high share of start-up activity. The days where suburban landscapes, such as Silicon Valley and Route 128, dominate the start-up scene are unsurprisingly over. According to data from the National Association of Venture Capitalists, downtown San Francisco now produces more tech start-ups than Silicon Valley. In the New York metro area, among the ten zip codes that received the highest amounts of venture capital dollars, nine of them were in Midtown or Lower Manhattan. In the Boston area, seven of the ten zip codes receiving the most VC investment are in downtown Boston or downtown Cambridge; only three are in the Route 128 corridor. In all, urban areas received three-fourths of all VC investment in New York, seven-tenths of all VC investment in Boston, and two-thirds of all VC investment in Washington, DC.

In addition to downtowns, universities represent the other major generator of start-up activity. According to data from the Association of University Technology Managers, universities generated 705 spin-off companies in 2012. That number was up from 671 spin-offs in 2011. In 2011 and 2012, 73 percent and 79 percent, respectively, of these spin-offs retained their primary place of business in the university’s home state. This is significant in that is shows that not only to universities generate new businesses, but those businesses tend to stay in that community and remain a long-term contributor to the local economy. Four schools – MIT, Harvard, Tufts, and Boston University – accounted for 35 (or twenty percent) of the 179 start-ups established in Boston last year. In Philadelphia, university spin-offs represented over forty percent of all start-ups.

 

High transit ridership and low car usage correlates with increased start-up activity in metropolitan areas. Using the PricewaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree Report, the most well-known quarterly study on venture capital investment activity in the United States, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, I compiled data on all 123 metropolitan areas in the United States that recorded at least a single dollar of VC investment in 2011.

On the graph below, I plotted the percentage of residents commuting to work by public transit along the X axis and the total value of venture capital investment activity along the Y axis for each of the 123 metropolitan areas. Because the graph gets rather cluttered with 123 data points, for aesthetic reasons I removed the individual data points and just left the trendline. The resulting graph shows that higher transit ridership is correlated with higher VC investment.

TR2VC

Here’s the same graph with the trendline calculated using only those mid-sized metropolitan areas, like Miami, with a population between two million and eight million people. We can see that the correlation is similar even when just looking at similarly size metro areas.

TR2VC2-8

When we compare venture capital investment activity to the percentage of residents commuting to work by automobile, we find the reverse correlation to be true. Here’s the data once again from all 123 metropolitan areas. The resulting graph shows that higher car usage correlates with lower VC investment.

CU2VC

And for just mid-sized metro areas of two million to eight million people as well. Again, the correlation is similar among similarly sized metro areas.

CU2VC2-8

 

High transit ridership and low car usages correlates with higher start-up activity at universities. In addition to looking at the amount of venture capital investment, there are other ways to measure start-up activity. It makes sense to look at these other ways, as well, because venture capital investment does not always tell the whole story. Often times, for example, start-ups are launched in one location, but they move to another location, particularly the Bay Area and New York, once they are ready to begin seeking larger investments. For this reason, it makes sense to look at other metrics, and at the university level, there are a few good ones. We can look at the number of start-ups that a university generates, for example. We can also look at the licensing income that a university receives. Fortunately, the Association of University Technology Managers maintains a robust database of all this information. Comparing data from the AUTM’s annual survey from 2012 with zip-code data from the American Community Survey, we can get a sense of the relationship between commuting habits and the start-up activity at 141 American colleges and universities.

For the first cluster of graphs below, I plotted the percentage of residents in each university’s zip code area who commute to work by public transit along the X axis. Along the Y-axis in the first graph is the total value of licensing income received by each university for each of the 141 universities. Again, I cleared the individual data points and kept just the trendlines. What we see is that as transit ridership rates increase so does university licensing income.

TR2LI

Along the Y-axis in this graph is the number of start-ups generated by each university. Likewise, as transit ridership rates increase, the number of start-ups generated by a university increase as well.

TR2SU

Once again, when we compare the same variables to the share of car commuters, we find a negative correlation. Here’s the share of car commuters to each university’s licensing income. Increased car usage correlates with decreased licensing income.

CU2LI

And here’s car commuters to the number of start-ups generated by each university. Likewise, increased car usage correlates with fewer start-ups generated.

CU2SU

 

The data here are not a grand slam – these are just correlations – but they begin the paint a picture that supports our central premise: that transit can play a role in building the professional and social connections that are essential to a robust, productive entrepreneurial landscape.

Entrepreneurship is as much a culture as it is a single act. Developing policy to facilitate entrepreneurship requires recognition that more is involved than simply the isolated decision to establish an enterprise. It must also consider the multitude of conscious and unconscious factors that make such decisions possible and likely as well as those factors influencing rates of success. Those include, of course, establishing economic incentives such as subsidized incubators, mentoring programs, and tax benefits for business owners. But these are only helpful once a prospective entrepreneur has made a relatively firm commitment to pursue his or her own business. They do not offer much in the way of giving people the ideas and resources that prompt them to make such a commitment in the first place. Entrepreneurs are not created overnight, just as cultures are not fostered overnight. Cultures are layered and complex and sophisticated, and building an entrepreneurial culture requires more than a few well-targeted incentives packages. It necessitates approaching entrepreneurship from a wide array of directions, including immigration policy, education policy, and even transportation policy. The correlations presented in the charts above should not come as a surprise to anyone who understands how the flow of people and ideas bring about economic innovation and opportunity. And they offer evidence in support of the vital propositions that downtowns and universities are key drivers of our economies, and that by connecting downtowns, universities, and entire regions by transit, we foster greater entrepreneurship.

For Miami, this would be a game changer. We are facing a brain drain and we have the opportunity to reverse that trend and create economic growth by building a technology sector in South Florida. We’ve identified the problems and potential solutions, but without a comprehensive, long-term path for reaching those goals, we won’t succeed. We must recognize that while we cannot centrally plan entrepreneurship from a command tower, we can and must put in place the supports that encourage organic entrepreneurship. This includes developing the infrastructure that facilitates connections between people, ideas, and resources, particularly at hubs of innovation, such as city centers and universities. What we see from the data above is evidence that supports that mass transit is a piece of this infrastructure puzzle.

Special thanks to Jodi Talley from the Association of University Technology Managers for providing me with access to AUTM’s robust database without which this piece would not have been possible.

 

Written by Peter Smith

Writing in the Pacific Standard, geographer Jim Russell made a claim that would have been unthinkable to most a year ago. “Portland is dying,” he wrote, and “Pittsburgh is thriving.” The economy of Portland, Oregon, the darling of the creative class-fueled urban renaissance, has stagnated from its inability to create jobs and tackle high unemployment. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh, a poster case for Rust Belt decline, even as it hosted the 2009 G-20 Summit, has notched employment records month after month. The difference, Russell notes, essentially boils down to this: Carnegie Mellon University.

It’s a tale of talent attraction versus talent creation. Portland doesn’t create much of its own talent; it has to attract it from elsewhere, and in that regard, it must compete with San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Chicago, and LA. It’s a losing battle. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, home of Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, and Duquesne, pumps out more talent than it can accommodate. Many may not remain in Pittsburgh – a few may even end up in Portland – but many will stay. Their ties to the area are too strong to break, and they’re the ones who are fueling the comeback. The tag line of Russell’s blog, Burgh Diaspora, poses the following challenge, “Since education makes a person more likely to leave your region, how do you justify your investment in human capital?” Asked another way, how do you get your best and brightest to stay? How do you prevent a brain drain? It’s a question Miami is familiar with. Miami is currently fighting a brain drain while simultaneously seeking to cultivate a start-up, entrepreneurial culture.

On the West Coast, San Diego offers an answer. In the 1990s, when city officials set out to expand the city’s light rail network, the Trolley, for the first time in nearly twenty years, they considered a novel approach. None of the city’s major universities were connected to the transit system, so planners sought to remedy that. The blue line, which opened in 2005, has stops at the University of San Diego and San Diego State University. The silver line, which is gearing up to break ground in a year, will link UCSD to the system. In total, nearly 60,000 students from top universities who had no transit access a decade ago will be connected to the Trolley.

One rationale for this approach is that it cultivates transit ridership. College students tend to be flexible and open to trying new things, and experience shows that if we can acclimate students to using transit during their college years, they’ll be much more likely to use transit at other times in their lives.

Perhaps more importantly, and more germane to our purpose here, transit builds and reinforces the bonds that individuals have with their cities. It also connects people and ideas with each other in ways that other forms of transportation struggle to do. The premise underlying San Diego’s planning decisions is that transit links its riders to the city’s residents, its cultural offerings, and its business communities. It creates bonds between individuals and their city, and builds the social capital that encourages students to put down roots and thrive. Pittsburgh is succeeding because life at Carnegie Mellon is so entwined with life at Pitt and Duquesne and the rest of downtown Pittsburgh and its business community that by the time students graduate they’re already so connected to business opportunities and to entrepreneurial peers and to the city itself that it becomes easy and natural to stay put. San Diego is on the way to accomplishing the same phenomenon by building social and professional connections through building physical transportation infrastructure.

Turning to Miami, our city deserves some credit for having the foresight to build Metrorail to UM. Much has changed since 1985, though, and UM is not the only major university in South Florida anymore. FIU is now the seventh largest university in the United States. It enrolls over 50,000 students and is approved to expand to 63,000 in the coming years. It is roughly five times larger than UM by enrollment. It has all the hallmarks of a world-class institute of higher education: a medical school, a law school, a top-ranked business school, and all the traditional liberal arts and sciences that standard fare at the best schools. There’s still one common feature that it does not share with other great universities in major metropolitan areas: a transit connection.

San Diego may have been the first city in recent years to map its transit system around universities, but it’s not alone. Nearly all mass transit system expansions in the United States over the past decade have included new stops serving universities. Here’s a sample:

Phoenix: In 2008, service began on Phoenix’s METRO light rail system. It connects downtown Phoenix with Arizona State University. ASU is the largest university in the United States at 63,000 students and is the model that newer large public research universities, like FIU, follow.

Denver: No city in the United States has expanded its transit system in recent years as much as Denver. Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) has opened five new light rail lines since 2002, bringing the total number of lines in operation to six. Under RTD’s $6.5 billion FasTracks initiative, the system will add as many as six new light rail and commuter rail lines, in addition to extensions of existing lines, between 2013 and 2016. Every one of the system’s lines serves the city’s Auraria campus, a multi-school mega-campus that houses the University of Colorado-Denver, Metropolitan State University, and the Community College of Denver. Approximately 60,000 students, nearly one-fifth of all Colorado college students, attend classes on the Auraria campus. In 2006, RTD began service on the E, F, and H lines, which also connects with the University of Denver and its more than 11,000 students. FasTracks will ultimately include a commuter rail line, as well, connecting to the University of Colorado at Boulder and its nearly 30,000 students. Under FasTrack’s highly praised $1.67 billion predecessor, T-REX (Transportation Expansion), RTD succeeded in connecting downtown Denver and its Auraria campus with the Denver Tech Center, the region’s second largest employment center and home to many technology and finance firms.

Minneapolis: In late 2010, Minneapolis’s METRO began work on the system’s second light rail line, the Green Line. The Green Line will connect the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities with downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul. The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is the nation’s sixth-largest university with nearly 52,000 students. The Green Line is currently under construction and service is expected to begin in 2014. It will have two stations on the University of Minnesota campus.

Seattle: In 2009, Seattle opened the first leg of the Central Link light rail system. Before service even began, the city’s Sound Transit started construction on the University Link extension. The University Link will connect the University of Washington with downtown Seattle. The University of Washington is one of the largest universities in the nation with approximately 43,000 students. The University Link will open for service in 2016.

Houston: When Houston’s METRO opened its first light rail line in 2004, it placed the line’s northern terminus at University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) and sent the line straight through Rice University and the Texas Medical Center. UHD is the University of Houston system’s second largest campus with nearly 13,000 students. Rice University is home to over 6,000 students. Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world, is home to academic branches, including three medical schools, from countless universities, including Baylor University, Rice University, the University of Texas, and the University of Houston, among others. In total, approximately 49,000 students study at the Texas Medical Center. METRO broke ground on a second light rail line, the Purple Line, in 2009. The Purple Line, which will begin service in 2014, will have three stations serving the University of Houston’s (UH) main campus and one station serving the campus of Texas Southern University (TSU). The University of Houston is home to over 40,000 students and Texas Southern University enrolls over 10,000 students. In addition to the Purple Line, METRO is also planning the University/Blue Line, which will connect UH and TSU with the southern end of downtown, near Rice University and the Texas Medical Center. The University/Blue Line will have two stations serving TSU and two stations serving UH. In total, in excess of 100,000 students in Houston who did not have transit access a decade ago, will have transit links to the rest of the city.

Charlotte: Construction on Charlotte Area Transit System’s LYNX light rail extension to the Blue Line will begin in January 2014. The extension will connect the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to the Blue Line through Uptown Charlotte. UNC Charlotte enrolls over 26,000 students. The Blue Line extension is expected to begin service in 2017.

These examples do not just show that cities are expanding their transit systems to reach their universities; they show that cities are making it a priority to do so. Nearly every transit expansion of the past decade in the United States has included a link to a college or university. The advantages are substantial. College students are among the most likely to use and benefit from mass transit. Transit also helps in answering the question, how can cities encourage their best and brightest to put down roots and keep their talents at home? It is difficult the overestimate the role that transit can play in cementing bonds between citizens and the places they call home. A survey by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example, found that transit riders were as much as twice as likely as non-transit riders to say that they felt a “strong connection” with their city. Transit is the physical infrastructure that connects citizens with each other, with business opportunities, and with cultural amenities. These things make people more productive and happier, and therefore more likely to stick around.

Miami is part of a shrinking ring of cities with transit systems that do not connect with the region’s major universities. FIU is part of a shrinking ring of major urban universities lacking transit connections with their regions’ employment and cultural centers. The revived expansion plans from the early 2000s to extend Metrorail out to FIU once again seem to have fizzled out. As a city struggling to tackle a brain drain while working to build a sustainable economy, Miami must find better ways to leverage its anchor institutions to produce, retain, and cultivate human capital. Arguably, perhaps no institution is more prolific in these respects than FIU. FIU graduates over 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students every year and has over 200,000 alumni, over half of which live in South Florida. Yet FIU’s main campus is geographically isolated just a few miles from downtown. It sits trapped between three highways – 836, 826, and the Turnpike – that cut it off from every major employment and cultural center in South Florida. Students, as weak as the excuse may be, routinely miss class because of traffic and parking difficulties, and students often schedule classes to avoid 8th Street rush hour. We know that long commutes in traffic make us less productive, less creative, less healthy, and less happy. We know that highways have an historical legacy as insurmountable barriers that block the spread of ideas and prosperity. If we’re serious about developing Miami’s twenty-first century economy, we must better connect the city’s economic engines and human capital centers – FIU, UM, downtown, Brickell, Wynwood, etc. One component to this must include improving the physical infrastructure connections that link these sites, which means Metrorail expansion must be returned to the region’s agenda. Without the bonds between people and their city that transit ridership helps build, as it has in places like Pittsburg and San Diego, Miami’s highly skilled residents will continue to be likely to leave for greener pastures. And unless we are able to keep our best and brightest here and leverage their talents, Miami’s vision for a thriving twenty-first century economy will remain off in the distance just down the track.

 

Nearly six months ago, TransitMiami was proud to offer the broader public an exclusive first glimpse of the renderings for some of the potential designs for our new Metrorail train cars.

As we described back in December 2012, the three models are:

  • SPOON
  • RING
  • SHIELD
Vehicle: Spoon  |  Livery: Neon  |  Interior: Blue/Magenta

Vehicle: Spoon | Livery: Neon | Interior: Blue/Magenta

Vehicle: Ring  |  Livery: Shark  |  Interior: Yellow, Grey-Blue

Vehicle: Ring | Livery: Shark | Interior: Yellow, Grey-Blue

Vehicle: Shield  |  Livery: Status  |  Interior: Red, White

Vehicle: Shield | Livery: Status | Interior: Red, White

Each comes with its own distinctive livery. (Note that there’s also a variant, predominantly yellow, livery for the “RING” model that can be seen in the original post.)

We also want to bring your attention to AnsaldoBredo’s spiffy little 3-minute computer-animated video giving a cordial (albeit far from riveting) view of how these potential new train cars might look on the inside.

SHIELD is the train model featured in the video . . . Have a look! Share your thoughts!

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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!

In the blinding brightness of the east-facing morning, trapped in our metallic boxes of rage, impatience, and anxiety, the truth called out to us . . .

It called, not as an answer, but as a question . . . a question whose simplicity made a mockery of all those willing to confront it . . .

Out of the blinding light, for that fleeting moment of honesty concealed by the shadows, the truth taunted all those brave enough to accept it . . .

From the blinding light, the truth dared us to regain our vision . . .

WHY DRIVE?

RIDE . . . METRORAIL

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You can get with THIS, or you can get with THAT . . .


You can get with THIS, or you can get with THAT . . .

I think you’ll get with THIS, for THIS is where it’s at.

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On Saturday, July 28, come down to Government Center in downtown Miami to celebrate the arrival of the new Orange Metrorail Line – a direct link from the Miami International Airport to Downtown Miami, and all of the other new ways to get around Miami’s urban core. The Downtown Development Association is sponsoring the party at 111 NW 1 St. from 1-4pm with live music, free food, pedi-cab races and the chance to get your picture taken with a lemur monkey from Jungle Island.

With the opening of the Orange Line, Miami will (at last!) join a relatively small list of American cities with rail connections to their downtown areas. Though in this recent USA Today report, many more American cities are planning rail connections as planners realize that simply building more parking lots and enlarging roadways aren’t sustainable practices.

This celebration is about more than just the new Metrorail link. In the past few months, Miami has seen a relative explosion in transportation options for people downtown, including Cars2Go, the Miami Trolley, MonkeyShuttle, Tropical Pedicabs and the Miami Water Taxi.

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The signage at the stations and inside the train cars is now almost fully converted.

Airport link is coming . . .

 

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Metrorail riders beware! There seems to be a criminal on the loose targeting unsuspecting passengers! This just in from the University of Miami police department:

CRIME ADVISORY

April 26, 2012

Event Description: Serial Robber Targeting Metrorail Riders

Campus police and security have received information about a serial robber who has targeted Metorail riders. One victim boarded a northbound train from the University Metrorail station.  The offender, whose picture and description appears below, sits next to passengers shortly before a stop, brandishes a firearm and demands property from his victims.  If you see the subject, avoid him and call police immediately.

This information is being provided to help keep our communities informed and safe.

SUBJECT INFORMATION: Black Male, 6’0” to 6’2” tall, about 180 pounds, no facial hair, and has a short haircut.  He has consistently worn dark suit pants and a vest (presumed to conceal a firearm).  He has also worn a light tan sport jacket, as in the picture. If you see the subject at other rail stops call 911 and/or report the subject to on duty security.

Anyone with information regarding this crime or information that may lead to the apprehension of this individual is asked to call:

  • MDT DISPATCH CENTER: 305 375-2700  or
  • CRIMESTOPPERS: 305 471-TIPS (8477)

Callers will remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward.

As regular Metrorail riders know, the train is a safe, efficient, stress-free, and pleasant way to get around town (at least certain parts of town). Don’t be discouraged by this isolated incident by some goon trying to disturb the peace typically found on our Metrorail.

The incident conveyed in the above crime advisory got me thinking about the unnarmed volunteer group founded in New York City, the Guardian Angels.  By the late 1970s, conditions on the NYC subway system had gotten pretty rough, and a group of citizens got together to provide a sense of security for the passengers on the trains. 

Back in the day, the Guardian Angels made their presence known on the NYC subway system.

For the most part, crime on our Miami Metrorail is not common. Furthermore, whatever minimal criminality does manifest on our public transportation system is nowhere near the scale of that in NYC a few decades ago.

In any case, be viligant out there folks. The Metrorail belongs to us, the people, not some thug with a gun.

 

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Meet the Douglas Road Corridor MetroRail Line.This 4.5 mile project would connect the MIC to Douglas Road Station and US1, with stops at NW 7 Street,  SW 8 Street, and Coral Way. The line would service areas, like downtown Coral Gables, where land use already supports a high level of pedestrian activity. This should be a high priority for our leaders, and some are very supportive. Check out the 5 and ten minute walk sheds  – this line would run through some of the densest parts of Miami and Coral Gables – pluggining thousands of residents who have already chosen apartment living into the ultimate urban amenity – rapid transit.  (Not to mention creating another connection to the airport for those traveling to/from points south.)

 

It was a pleasant surprise last week to find, not merely one, but two, vertical bike racks on Metrorail train car #141. And, it just so happens that car #141 was the last wagon that day – interesting . . .

You may remember that several months ago, there seemed to be a sort of prototype rack on one of the train cars, yet not the last one (as one would expect since the official rules governing the Metrorail Bike & Ride program currently mandate that all bikes go to the back of the train). The South Florida Bike Coalition posted on this confusing observation in January 2011 and questioned, “This rack was installed on the second car – does this mark a change regulating where people can bring their bikes on the train?” After weeks of multiple sightings of this mysterious single rack on Metrorail, it seemed to have disappeared altogether. The observation last week of these two new racks seems to suggest that we’re getting closer – slowly but surely – to seeing a more permanent presence of bike racks on Metrorail.

However, train wagon #141 (the car in which these racks are installed) has not remained the last car, so many reading this may have already seen these racks on #141 as the non-ultimate train car. That’s important to note . . . See, just as different buses are regularly shifted to drive the numerous bus routes throughout the county, Metrorail train cars are regularly alternated to different positions within the chain of wagons. This technical procedure, the constant interchanging of the train cars, is one of the primarily challenges to creating a set of more equitable, enforceable, and sustainable Bike & Ride policies.

As I see it, there are two fundamental options here: (1) make more space exclusively in the last car to accommodate the numerous and increasing bike-train riders while making the last car more of a “standing car”, and/or (2) put an adequate number of bike racks throughout all, or at least most, of the train cars, with conspicuous signage on the outside of the train doors/cabins indicating which cars have bike racks and which do not. I personally favor the latter.

The bike racks seen last week are of a different model than those seen around this time last year. (Perhaps the County has finally made a decision as to which models are most appropriate and cost effective for our community’s trains (?)) To accommodate these newer racks, two separates pairs of seats were removed on each side of the front of the train wagon. That makes four seats lost to two bikes. One less sympathetic to bikes on the train may initially find this trade-off unwarranted: “How could you justify giving up two seats just for one bike?!” It’s a fair question, and the response is simple.

While two seats are lost to a bike safely secured on a rack, it would be at least two seats (and sometimes even four or five, for those despicably inconsiderate bike passengers) lost to a bike on the train not neatly stationed on a rack. Additionally, having these dedicated spaces on the train for riders to safely secure their bicycles will significantly reduce the many intra-train mobility conflicts and safety issues abounding in the absence of such spaces. People will no longer have to play a body-contorting game of Twister with one another through a gauntlet of legs, handlebars, tires, baby strollers, and wheelchairs. An adequate presence of bike racks throughout the entire train – say, four to eight in each car – would do wonders to alleviate the many common conflicts that arise among cyclist and non-cyclist Metrorail riders.

Indeed, let’s hope these racks are here to stay and the County is preparing to expand them throughout the entire train. That would suffice until 2014 – or until Miami-Dade Transit gets cleared by the Federal Transit Administration to proceed with its $300 million deal to procure 136 new trains, originally slated for 2014. Whatever happens with the feds, these two new racks are a welcome addition to the train, and we hope to see more! As recently described on this site, though, even with new bike racks, there remain many challenges and opportunities to a sustainable Bike & Ride program on Metrorail.

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The recently released Miami-Dade Transit Development Plan 2011 Update,  (along with the October 2010 MPO Near Term Plan) lays out a vision for the next few years of transit service and expansion. Unfortunately, this year’s TDP (like many before it) still maintains a freeze on premium service expansion (generally described by mode as Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail, or Heavy Rail).

We need to return to the core PTP projects - Douglas Avenue, Baylink, FEC

 

This year’s TDP is specific on the ‘Plan B’ for the Orange Line and other parts of the People’s Transportation Plan that never materialized. The projects are described as ‘enhanced bus service’, which for now doesn’t mean very much. The Near Term Plan described the ultimated goal as Bus Rapid Transit, but more on that later.

Phases 2 and 3 of the Orange Line  will now become two separate projects. The Orange Line Phase 2 is now the NW 27 Avenue Max, a 13 mile enhanced bus service, to be implemented in two phases, and Orange Line Phase 3 is now the SR 836 Enhanced Bus. The SR836 Bus will be implemented in collaboration with the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (more on this project later).

The two phase approach for the NW 27 Avenue Max is a pragmatic solution to the transit needs of the area that enhances ridership and sets the stage for more intense transit later on. Phase one will use 5 new 40′ diesel-electric hybrid buses, with transit signal priority, on-board wi-fi , real time tracking information, and 12 minute peak/ 30 minute mid-day headways. This phase is fully funded and scheduled to be online in 2012.

Phase 2 will improve headways to 10 min peak/20 min mid-day by using 11 new 60‘articulated diesel-electric buses, ‘robust’ stations, and branding of buses and stations. The current plan shows a 5 year horizon (2016) and $27 million dollar price-tag, of which $5 million is currently unfunded. This incremental investment in the corridor as it builds ridership is a responsible use of transit dollars, allowing infill development (and increased densities) to take root at important nodes to help ensure a successful route. Many critics of the MetroRail Orange Line North Corridor cited low population densities and poor land use along the corridor as reasons why MetroRail was an inappropriate facility choice for this location. The current proposal seeks measurable, yet incremental growth in ridership along the corridor at a modest expense.

Near-Term Transportation Plan for Miami-Dade County 2012-2015, NW 27 Ave Enhanced Bus

According to the 2012-2015 MPO Near Term Transportation Plan, NW 27 Avenue is currently served by 2 bus routes.

At 9,500 average daily riders Route 27 is the fourth heaviest utilized route in the system. Route 97 performs well within the MAX and the KAT services, as well, at 1,300 boardings. Ridership in this corridor is surpassed by Miami Beach, Flagler, Biscayne, the South Dade Busway and NW 7th Avenue.

Comparatively, the MetroRail ridership projection was 19,000 initial daily rides (about double the current bus ridership) at a yearly expense of $70 million dollars (the Route 27 and 97 combined cost $8.1 million a year). In the case of the Orange Line, and indeed our entire mass transit network, the spending strategy should not be to stretch expensive premium transit facilities to every corner of the county, but to focus investments in those locations where the surrounding land use already supports transit ready development (also known as transit oriented development) AND where those investments will create a complete transit network.

While there are other better candidates for MetroRail funding (like Baylink or Douglas Road), NW 27 Avenue is still a worthy candidate for premium transit investment, as the Near Term Plan points out, few other lines are as utilized. The North Corridor did not happen because of bad land use patterns, but because Miami-Dade Transit has been chronically underfunded by county administrators.

The FTA New Start rankings showed that MDT had a committed source of revenue for the project, receiving a ‘High’ ranking for ‘Committed funds’ (FDOT and PTP dollars), but the overall MDT operating budget (funded by the County Commission) showed a ongoing deficit (in years 2004-2006), thus garnering a ‘low’ ranking for ‘Agency Operational Condition.’ The final nail in the coffin was a ‘low’ ranking in the ‘Operating Cost Estimates and Planning Assumptions’ category because, according to a November 2007 report, “Assumptions on the growth in fare revenues are optimistic compared to historic trends.  The financial plan assumes significant, frequent fare increases.  In addition, it assumes significant fare revenue increases resulting from installation of automated fare collection systems which reduce fare evasion.”

In spite of the tumultuous history of this project, the Near Term Plan concludes that,

Although the County has decided to officially withdraw from the FTA New Starts Process, the County continues to work on the NW 27th Avenue Corridor. It has chosen to improve service incrementally until such time that the construction of heavy rail in the corridor is deemed feasible.

While it might not have seemed a good business deal to county leaders, this was a project in the PTP, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters – and is exactly what the surtax money was to be used for. Not to mention that transit infrastructure is an investment in our city that can result in clear increases in tax revenue and land value when coordinated with dense, pedestrian-oriented urban fabric and employment centers.

With the anticipated service improvements along NW 27 Avenue, it would seem that MDT’s current service expansion strategy continues to be one of small scale improvements that bide the time waiting for leaders to deliver on premium transit.

 

  • On October 29, MDT celebrated the one year anniversary of the Easy Card – the automated fare collection system implemented to increase the usability of the transit system by automating payments and reducing the time needed to board MDT vehicles. The agency celebrated by awarding the rider who made the 42 millionth “tap” a full year of free ridership.  MDT also awarded the top five most frequent users of the EASY Card with a free month of transit. Not trying to hate on these lucky folks but, the picture released by MDT, above, isn’t particularly filled with joy.
  • Two  County armed guards, tasked with collecting the cash deposits used to recharge EASY cards at Metrorail stations were robbed early this morning at the Douglas Road station. The stolen vehicle was recovered about a block away from the station. Perhaps the county should review its policy of collecting the fare-box revenues at 2AM.
  • Margaret Pace Park, bolstered by the recent development boom has flourished recently thanks to the large influx of new residents. The once dilapidated park and neighborhood is now a shining example of urban life in downtown Miami.
  • Weston’s only bus route, #23 was spared from being axed completely last month by County Commissioners. Riders however, will face higher fares, reduced service, and a new route alignment in effort to reduce the cost of operating the underutilized route. Just another debilitating effect of urban sprawl – public transit becomes ineffective and difficult to operate.
  • Miami-Dade County public schools saved $6M in energy costs last year by implementing a district-wide campaign to conserve energy.

Across the blogosphere:

  • The Transport Politic provides a comprehensive analysis of FL Congressman John Mica’s likely transportation agenda. Mica will likely become the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and as such will have a big impact on the upcoming reauthorization bill and future Federal spending on transportation. Mr. Mica has previously expressed support for HSR in regions where it “makes sense” such as the dense Northeast corridor.
  • A recent report from MSNBC notes that younger folks today (those aged 18 – 35) are less likely to hold valid drivers licenses and own cars as compared to their counterparts in 1994. The article attributes the decline to the recent economic depression as well as a growing ambivalence about driving among younger generations.  (Via: Streetsblog)

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