Currently viewing the category: "Transitography"

As Miami politicians struggle with decisions like whether to fund the area’s second commuter rail line or how to provide adequate bicycle infrastructure, it may be worthwhile to look at how other American cities approach the challenges related to regional transportation planning and decision-making.

The Portland Area Metro has emerged as a model for sustainable regional governance as it pursues aggressive reductions in vehicle miles traveled, by drastically expanding its bikeway network, making investments in mass transit and encouraging transit oriented development. These decisions are made by a regional governing body: Metro, “an elected regional government, serving more than 1.5 million residents in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties and the 25 cities in the Portland region.”

Image Courtesy of Human Transit

Metro is the agency responsible for planning the region’s five light rail lines (52.4 miles), a commuter rail line (14.7 miles), a 651 bus fleet, an aerial tram, and, since 2009, the only American streetcar system with cars made in the USA. The entire system logs an estimated 350,000 weekday rides.

Comparatively, Miami-Dade County has a population of 2.5 million residents, has a heavy rail line (22.4 miles), a downtown people mover (4.4 miles), a strained fleet of 893 buses, and one ailing commuter rail line (70.9 miles) -  representing just over 400,000 daily rides, and run by competing agencies.

Metro’s transit expansion is only part of its successful mode shift. The region has seen the number trips made by bike double since 1997 . Approximately six percent of Portland commuters now take their bikes to work, the highest percentage in America and about 10 times the national average.

While Miami has made preliminary steps to advance  a mode shift toward active transportation, a quick search of the Transit Miami archives testifies to the growing pains Miami has experienced and the work that remains undone. Miami-Dade County can learn from the example set by Metro’s institutional framework  – a model for how regional government can take responsibility for transit expansion and smart growth planning.

Decisions related to transit and regional planning are separate from the other functions of government – allowing County officials to advocate for projects region-wide. In addition, the Metro Auditor is an elected seat that serves as the executive watchdog of Metro’s operation.

The seven members of the Metro Council are directly elected, which makes it the “only directly elected regional government in America,” according to Chris Myers, a policy assistant at the organization. On the other hand, the Miami-Dade MPO is composed of a comparative hodge-podge of county commissioners, municipal representatives, and a representative from the highway building lobby, MDX.

The members of the Metro Council hold no other political office, and while they do consult with elected members of the region’s 25 cities, they are elected by large districts (the three-county area is divided into six total districts), forcing the councilors to focus on regional issues.

The desire for a regional focus was made explicit in Metro’s charter:

We, the people of the Portland area metropolitan service district, in order to establish an elected, visible and accountable regional government that is responsive to the citizens of the region and works cooperatively with our local governments; that undertakes, as its most important service, planning and policy making to preserve and enhance the quality of life and the environment for ourselves and future generations; and that provides regional services needed and desired by the citizens in an efficient and effective manner, do ordain this charter for the Portland area metropolitan service district, to be known as Metro.
preamble of the Metro Charter, November 1992

As the steward of regional land-use decisions, Metro has had a hand in ensuring walkable, urban land use patterns that are another driving factor in the relative success of Portland’s mode shift. More than one-third of the 1.5 million residents in the Metro service area are concentrated around the city of Portland. Metro coordinates planning policies that encourage conservation on the suburban fringe, while accommodating population growth in compact, infill development.

In comparison, as people flocked to South Florida over the past decade, the Miami-Dade County Commission allowed developers to push growth to the north, west and south; expanding suburban sprawl and ignoring the benefits of compact, walkable neighborhoods. These developments simultaneously demand more roads, and make mass transit less effective.

Portland began its shift toward more transportation options in the 1970s when area leaders elected not to build a new eight-lane highway to the suburbs, putting the money toward transit development. Later, the Portland Transit Mall opened downtown, followed by the area’s first light rail line. Now the Portland area ranks 8th in America in transit ridership, even though it ranks 23rd in population. Transit use is growing faster than the area’s population while vehicle miles traveled are steadily declining.

The question for Miamians and their leaders is, what’s next? More roads? More traffic? Or, is it time to make bold changes in anticipation of a better future?

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Source: Huffingtonpost.com

Kudos to the Germans, they shut down 37-miles of the Autobahn between Duisburg and Dortmund.  The result: 3 million people turned out amid fine weather, one million of them with their bicycles. The highway, which crosses North Rhine-Westphalia state, is normally one of Europe’s busiest. Check out more pictures here.

If the Germans can shut down a major highway for six hours, I don’t see why we can’t close a lane of traffic on the Rickenbacker Causeway on weekend mornings for a few hours.

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For the past couple of weeks I have been eating, drinking, and biking my way through France. My wife and I spent a week honeymooning in Provence and another week in Paris.

Provence

We spent the first week of our honeymoon cycling through the heart of wine country in Provence. Our tour was organized by Headwater and was truly epic. When you travel on a bicycle you get to fully experience your surroundings.  You smell the country side, you feel your environment and you interact with the locals. There is something about traveling on a bicycle; for those that have done it you know what I’m talking about. For those of you that haven’t, you should really consider it. You can find our itinerary here.

Arriving in Cotignac

Elevated crosswalk in Carces used to calm traffic

Bollards used to protect pedestrians and calm traffic. Notice how the street and sidewalk are the same grade

No sidewalk? Not a problem, just create a space for pedestrians by striping

Paris

I can’t say enough about how wonderful this city is. Unlike Miami, most motorists actually yield to pedestrians. All intersections are clearly marked with wide zebra crosswalks.  I also noticed that the pedestrian crosswalk signals are much lower than the pedestrian crosswalk signals here in the United States. Placing the pedestrian crosswalk signal closer to eye level makes it easier for both pedestrians and motorists to notice them.  Also, traffic lights are placed before the crosswalk and not in the middle of intersections.  By placing the traffic lights before the crosswalk it forces motorists to stop before the crosswalk, giving pedestrians the right of way they deserve. Another feature I also observed was the pedestrian fences.  In areas where pedestrians should not cross the street, tasteful pedestrians fences have been erected to corral the pedestrians towards the large zebra crosswalk.  Sidewalks, for the most part, are wide and inviting.

Notice how motorists are forced to stop before the crosswalk when traffic signals are not located in the intersection.

Traffic signals are placed before the crosswalk and not in the intersections.

Sidewalks are wide, making the public realm more inviting to walk

Tasteful fences are used to guide pedestrians to the crosswalks where it is safe to cross.

The Velib bicycle share system in Paris is absolutely spectacular. Because Paris is so walkable, I only used it once, but the system is very easy to use and is well connected to mass transit.  I was amazed to see Parisians from all walks of life using the Velib bicycles. I saw stylish women and men using the bicycles, as well as businessmen, businesswomen and the elderly using the Velib.

A fleet of Velibs

Bicycles lane were clearly marked and in many areas were allowed to share the bus-only lanes. Buses are equipped with an electrical horn that sounds like a bicycle bell.  Bus drivers use this electrical bicycle bell to politely warn cyclists and pedestrians that the bus is coming.

Bike boxes give cyclists priority in the transit queue

Chevron arrows through an intersection

Chevron arrows across an intersection into a protected bicycle path

Bicyclists can share the bus lane

The metro and the bus system are easy to use.  At the metro stations and bus stops there are electrical boards advising transit users when the next train or bus will arrive.

The next bus arrives in 2 minutes

Next train arrives in 3 minutes

Most crosswalks have provisions for the blind and I even found a train station that had a textured path that could be felt with a walking cane.

Textured path to help guide the blind in a train station

Most crosswalks have provisions to help guide the blind

Parks are scattered throughout Paris. The parks I entered were active and drew a wide array of people of different ages.

Children playing in one of the many park of Paris

Lounging in the warm afternoon Paris sun

Paris recycles; Miami does not.

GOOD Magazine has published an interactive graphic comparing our country’s largest mass transit systems (here). The abbreviated study looks at Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, Boston and Washington, DC. It’s an interesting visual study of what ‘works’ and reminds us that if you build it, maintain it and keep it convenience, the masses will come. What do you think?

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A month ago or so I had the opportunity to visit Dublin an old city that in recent years has reinvented itself as a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis. While I didn’t have the opportunity explore the country by rail (somewhat thankfully considering that a bridge collapsed the week after my visit) I was able to experience Dublin’s new transport system. Some highlights are presented below.

LUAS Red Line

LUAS Red Line

Ireland, like the United States, once boasted a relatively complete rail network. Today, Ireland national rail network is about 1/3 the size it was in its peak in the 1920′s. Like many US cities, Dublin once boasted an extensive tram network, with over 30 routes along 60+ miles of track. The fully electrified system, one of the largest in the world, was dismantled and fully replaced by bus service by 1949. The map below depicts Dublin’s tram system at its peak in 1922.

Dublin Tram Network (c. 1922) - Via Wikipedia

Dublin Tram Network (c. 1922) - Via Wikipedia

Today, Dublin features five suburban rail lines, the most famous of which has been branded the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), and operates with near Metro-like frequency (15-20 minutes off peak.) The first light-rail/Tram line of the system dubbed LUAS, opened in June 2004, providing local service from St. Stephen’s Green to Sandyford (10km). In September of 2004 the second LUAS line, the red line, commenced operation linking Connolly Station to central Tallaght, a 15km route. The two lines operate independent of each other and feature minimal intermodal connectivity with the suburban rail. As such, the tram system still garners 90,000 daily riders while DART attracts approximately 80,000 more.

LUAS Green Line at St. Stephen's Green

LUAS Green Line at St. Stephen's Green

It’s important to note that Dublin’s Transport system is privately operated and fully profitable. The city’s former growth, dense and mixed use, is well suited for public transportation. Meanwhile, the city is working to curb sprawl and the destructive growth that has taken place since the dismantling of the tram network. Highlighted below are some of the new municipal planning initiatives that have been undertaken to revive Dublin. You’ll notice that much of the work is oriented towards reclaiming street space by curtailing the vehicular environment.

Traffic Calming Measures

Traffic Calming Measures

Above, notice the traffic calming measures implemented along this street. The use of chicanes lowers vehicular speeds in pedestrian areas. A truncated street serves dual purposes, opening up street space for pedestrians and as a loading zone in the early morning hours. The painted pavement (under the delivery truck) serves as a reminder to motorists of the pedestrian zone.

Dublin's Temple Bar Neighborhood

Dublin's Temple Bar Neighborhood

Above, a perfect example of how traffic flow should be restricted by truncating streets to divert traffic from a popular pedestrian thoroughfare. The end benefits are twofold: Traffic is slowed in pedestrian spaces and public space are established in neighborhoods without vacant land on which to work with.

A typical Main Avenue

A typical Main Avenue

A typical  avenue in Dublin allots tight space to a number of modes. Dublin’s extensive bus network operates largely along a dedicated bus lane system throughout the city center. While the sidewalk space is narrower than what would be ideal, bollards are utilized to protect pedestrians from motorized activity.

Cyclists at St. Stephen's Green

Cyclists at St. Stephen's Green

Dublin's New Bicycle Sharing Service

Dublin's New Bicycle Sharing Service

Slated to open this month, I was able to get a “sneak peak” at many of the new bicycle sharing facilities popping up all over the city. The city already has a decent bicycle lane network a requisite compliment for any sharing system.

Dublin's Black Gold

Dublin's Black Gold

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Copenhagen Bike Counter

Thanks to Chris Podstawski for this image of the Dronning Louises Bro from his recent trip to Scandanavia. Translated it reads:

You are cyclist number 10124 today of aggregate 976942 cyclists since June 15, 2009 on this stretch.

That’s an average of between 12,000 and 13,000 cyclists per day! Very cool.

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San Fransisco Streetcars, thanks to the San Fransisco Sentinal.

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Miami City Commissioners take notice: Denver is moving toward approving its own form-based code later this year. The new code will replace  1950′s era Euclidean zoning categories (C1, R1, R2..etc) with transect based zoning categories (like Miami 21′s T-zones).  Denver’s code rewrite has been in the works for a couple of years (sound familiar?), but it enjoys the support of community residents and the Denver AIA, which had this to say:

“I think it will allow for more options for architects and their clients,” says Steven Carr, president of AIA Denver, which has endorsed the proposed code. “And it will make residents happier. They’ll have more choices about what they can do in their neighborhoods, but those choices will be based on specific contexts.”

At least the AIA in Denver is not as useless as the Miami AIA.  Lucky for us, local architect and professor at the Univeristy of Miami, Jose Gelabert-Navia, Principal of Perkins and Will (one of the largest architecture firms in the US) came out in support of Miami 21 in an editorial published in the Herald this morning.  He had this to say regarding the Miami AIA position on Miami 21:

The overwhelming majority of my profession had not endorsed the statement by the AIA board and many spoke that evening in support of the ordinance.

Makes you wonder who the Miami AIA represents?

This is a really cool transit system. Leave it to those hip northwesterners to come up with a functional way of building and operating a regional transit system. The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority – or Sound Transit – serves over 3 million people in an area of 3,300 square miles in and around Seattle, Washington. (In comparison, Miami-Dade County has a population of 2.4 million, and an area of 1,900 square miles).

Sound Transit, much like our own MPO and MDX, is a state authorized board that is responsible for connecting King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties using express buses, light rail and commuter rail (among other methods). This regional system is in addition to the local transit options throughtout the three county area (including the Seattle/King County Metro Transit System).

Sound Move: The Plan

I guess they have a similar problem in Washington State as we do in South Florida: accountability. They asked themselves: how can we invest loads of money into public infrastructure projects and not be hampered by political infighting, cost overruns or ineffectual management. Sound Move was their answer.

“In May 1996, the Sound Transit Board adopted Sound Move . The plan includes a mix of transportation improvements: high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane access improvements, ST Express bus routes, Sounder commuter rail and Link light rail. The plan includes new community “gateways” — connections in urban and suburban areas for communities to connect to the rest of the region. Sound Move is a comprehensive regional transit plan made up of almost 100 separate but interrelated capital and service projects. The plan also contains commitments to:

  • Equitable revenue distribution. Local tax revenues will be used to benefit the five subareas of the Sound Transit District (Snohomish County, North King County, South King County, East King County and Pierce County) based on the share of revenues each subarea generates.
  • Simultaneous work on projects in all subareas. Work will begin on projects in each of the subareas so benefits will be realized throughout the region as soon as possible. Projects likely to be implemented in the latter part of the first phase are those requiring extensive engineering and community planning.
  • Coordinated services and integrated fares. Regional and local transit services will be coordinated and an integrated fare structure developed.
  • System expansion or tax rollback. Any second phase capital program that continues using local taxes for financing will require voter approval.  In the absence of voter approval of any plan to expand the system, Sound Transit will roll back the tax rate to a level sufficient to pay off outstanding debt, and operate and maintain the investments made as part of Sound Move.
  • Annexations and extensions of service outside the Sound Transit District. Sound Transit may provide services outside taxing district by contracting with local agencies. Areas that would benefit from Sound Transit services may be annexed into the Sound Transit District if citizens within those areas vote for annexation.
  • Public accountability. Sound Transit will hire independent auditors and appoint a citizen committee to monitor Sound Transit’s performance in carrying out its public commitments. Citizens will be directly involved in the placement, design and implementation of facilities in their communities.”

Sound Move Phase 1 planned for 80 miles of Commuter rail, and 25 miles of electric light rail, along with necessary park and ride facilities. They allowed the plan to change over time, but always aggressively pushed the development of the transit system. They followed through on these commitments and came back to voters in 2005 to establish a second phase of projects, called Sound Move Phase 2. This plan was sent to voters in 2007 bundled with a road building measure and was defeated. It has since been put back on the ballot for voters this November, and promises to build 53 new miles of light rail within 15 years at a cost of $13 billion. All using Federal DOT money and local sales tax.

In three weeks our commissioners will meet once again to make decisions on the future of our transit system. They will be considering funding for the Orange Line, fare increases, and the viability of the People’s Transportation Plan. They need to study the way that other cities and regions around the country are dealing with the challenges posed by mass transit (funding, management, operations…etc.) Look at Sound Transit: it serves a population comparable to our own, but in twice the area!

Sounds like a lesson our commissioners need to hear.

The Boston (MBTA) Silver line illustrates the proper way transportation should be integrated into up and coming areas, not yet ready to be serviced by regular rail transit.  The Silver line will eventually create an “Urban Transit Ring” connecting much of the transit in the city of Boston and establishing a BRT to service areas which could sorely benefit from regular fixed transit.  The Buses used on the silver line operate using engines on regular streets, but operate under electrical power (transferred by overhead wires) when operating in tunnels or streets with existing electrical infrastructure (similar to streetcars and LRT.)  The eventual objective of the silverline is to serve as a placeholder for future rail expansion while cultivating proper transit oriented development and ridership along the route…

For the last month or so, we’ve been posting videos showing how Bogota, Colombia has made remarkable strides becoming less car dependent and more transit-oriented. Our friends over at StreetFilms (Streetsblog) have just finish their final video in the series about Bogota, which highlights the city’s recent efforts creating cycle paths, pedestrian plazas, and other livable streets improvements. It’s really amazing — it just goes to show that if a city like Bogota without a lot of money can accomplish this much, imagine what Miami could do!

To view the video, click here.

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Today’s quote comes from a phenomenal short video put together by our friends over at Street Films and the Project for Public Spaces on the vibrancy and quality of life of the streets of Havana. Although we agree Havana is not the ideal city to emulate, we could learn a lot from the beautiful urban streets, clearly designed for social interaction rather than vehicular dominance. Each narrow street of Old Havana is bustling with life as every ground level structure is opened up to the pedestrian realm. Meanwhile, the wide boulevards provide ample park space, recreational space, and plenty of foliage. The film clearly shows how this type of construction, for people rather than vehicles, promotes neighborhood and societal values, something we should be certainly promoting across Miami. To watch the whole film, click here

“If children playing in the streets is an indicator of the success of a city, then Havana’s streets may be some of the most successful in the world.”
-Ethan Kent

In 1911, an innovative tunnel opened in Hamburg, Germany beneath the Elbe River which featured very unconventional (and impractical) car elevators to access the passageway. The tunnel is still fully operating today, but mostly serves as a pedestrian passageway and tourist attraction. Check it out:

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Former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, is internationally renowned for his progressive transit and bike-oriented urban planning policies that have helped transform the Colombia capital from a congested car-centric nightmare to a much more livable city in less than decade. Earlier this week, Penalosa came to New York to speak in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal that holds the power to make NYC an even more livable city by forcing cars to pay $8 to enter Manhattan anywhere below 60th St from 6am-6pm. Thanks to our friends over at Streetsblog, who created this video, we can see that from Copenhagen to New York, Vancouver to Bogota, the livable cities movement is in full gear.

To see the video above in its entirety, click here.

To see the video of Penalosa’s recent NYC speech supporting congestion pricing and transport equity, click here.

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