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.



3 Responses to The Transportation Democracy

  1. cycliste says:

    Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.


  2. Mike Arias says:

    Hello Peter,

    I read your article and found that, it contained very useful informative information which I am hoping will be read by all of the local elected public officials, transportation, and all of the roadway entities employees as well as the local residents.

    I wholeheartily concur with your views Miami Dade has thus far not been a transportation democracy for its riders / residents, pedestrians, bicyclists and for some tourists as well that may ocasionally utilize mass public transportation to travel to their destinations.

    Besides the obvious roadway capacity issues, highly congested public roadways which occur daily during rush hours, and deficient mass transportation services unfortunately they have existed for decades in Miami Dade County which have undoubtedly served to compound the mobility issues for the resident / commuters and for the tourists as well.

    Many years ago some residents may remember that school buses ( without a/c) were utilized to provide temporary bus service to the local residents since there was a shortage of servicable buses which was finally corrected.

    I beleive that, Miami Dade is an estimated 10 to 15 years behind in catching up on its much needed roadway and mass transit infrastructure improvements for the local commuting motorists.

    In the last couple of years I beleive that, ALL of the local residents are starting to see to much needed mass transportation improvements occur ( on time and on budget which is a first time) thru the 1/2 penny sales tax funding source and the efforts of Citizens Transportation Advisory Commitee members and some elected officials.

    Now, if the People Mover train could someday be extended from the Bayside loop over to the Port of Miami wouldn’t this be a major mass transportation service improvement not only for the tourists but for the locals as well that often go on vacation cruises?

    Also think about the less traffic congestion that would be occuring on Biscayne Blvd since there would be fewer vehicles entering or leaving from the port the traffic flow in this area should improve.

    If Miami Dade wishes to eventually someday be recognized as a transportation democracy and a first class metropolis city in my estimation the following fundamental mass transportation issues currently occuring for the commuters need to be addressed and resolved such as : (improved frequent service intervals on weekdays during peakload hours for the commuters, providing clean busses and trains on a daily basis with fully operational A/c systems, visible security personnel posted and patroling at the high volume bus stops, train stations and in the parking garages as well, uniform and undecover as well often riding on the trains, bus shelters installed at every bus stop (to protect the riders from the weather elements ( heat, rain, and ocasional cold weather) better timed connectivity between the busses running north and southbound and those running east and westbound to reduce travel times for commuters that need to travel partly in both directions in order to reach their destinations.

    In reference to the public safety issues of concern currently existing in Miami Dade for the pedestrians, lack of mid block crosswalks, inadequate timing issues at the crosswalks for the pedestrains, vehicles turning with the pedestrains in the crosswalks which often result in the pedestrains or the bicyclists being struck by vehicles, the lack of bike paths for bicyclists, and for the motorists, lack of safety guard rails on the public roadways installed at hazardous locations, open bodies of water, in center median dividers, curves, causing vehicles to depart from the roadway often resulting in a rollover whereas serious or fatal injures often occur, lack of proper width emergency shoulders on the roadways for disabled and emergency vehicles to utilize whenever needed that would not impede the flow of oncoming traffic, lighting on the roadways, reflective markers and clear concise roadway signage to guide the motorists not to confuse them and cause them to change lanes at the last moment creating the potential for collisions with injuries to occur etc.

    Please note that Miami Dade County is currently ranked # 1 in the State in all of the motor vehicle related fatality categories.

    The State of Florida is currently 3 rd in the Nation in all of these categories as well. In adiditon, there is the potential of the State eventually moving up in these rankings to either number # 2 or possibly being number ranked # 1 as a result of these safety issues existing on all of the public roadways (local and state) if they are not addressed and corrected by the reponsible roadway entities in a reasonable timeframe.

    In addition, as the local population and throughout the State increases this also causes increases to occur in ALL motor vehicle related categories as well.

    There are numerous hazardous public safety deficiencies currently existing on all of the public roadways locally and throughout the State (some previously aforementioned with additional numerous ones not cited herein) which have been previously submitted and discussed with all of the local roadway entities.

    However, for whatever unknown reason or reasons they do not seem very interested thus far in making the necessary corrections to address and correct these outstanding public safety deficiencies which are currently existing on ALL the public roadways in Miami Dade and throughout the State.

    By being proactive active on these public safety issues currently existing on the public roadways 40 to 60 % are preventable if they were addressed and corrected in a timely manner.

    Many of the safety enhancements needed on the public roadways are not very costly to implement versus having to correct the deficiency after a serious injury or a fatality occured which will also result in incurring substanital legal litigation and settlement costs as well all occuring at the expense of the motorists / taxpayers.

    A substantial award settlement will unfortunately not undo a serious or a permament injury or bring back a deceased for the grieving victims, family members and friends.

    I do not beleive that funding is currently the issue contributing to hazardous and unsafe roadways conditions currently existing in Miami Dade and throughout the State of Florida as well.

    There seems to be plenty of funding available to install landscaping and electronic message signs on unsafe public roadways ?

    Please note that, I support having beautiful landscaped public roadways ( which are funded by motorists / taxpayers thru gasoline sales taxes and a 1/2 penny local sales tax) however NOT AT the expense, sacrifice or compromising the public safety of the resident / pedestrian, bicyclists, or motorists.

    If these public safety issues did not exist on the public roadways I would then support utilizing the motorists / taxpayer funding for this purpose.

    There is no question that, there is much work ahead since these public safety roadway issues have been existing on some on the roadways for over 50 years and unfortunatley they cannot be resolved overnight.

    Lets prioritize public safety (for everyone) by placing it at the top of the Agenda in order to make ALL of public roadways locally and throughout the State as SAFE as humanly possible and then after lets landscape all of the public roadways.

    Hopefully someday Miami Dade can then be ranked LAST for the motor vehicle fatality category and the State of Florida as well which would be in everyones public safety vested interests.

    Perhaps someday Miami Dade and the State of Florida will eventually reach these lofty goals. I truly believe that, they are reasonable, attainable and doable as well.

    If everyone cooperates and works together for the same common cause or goals which is to reduce the number of preventable collisions, injuries and fatalities currently occuring on the public roadways.

    If not Miami Dade and the State of Florida can continue to be proud of their fatality rankings for all motor vehicle related categories which are certainly not in the public safety vested interests of the local residents nor those of the visiting tourists.

    There are several additional drawbacks to consider by being in this category. We will also never become a Transportation Democracy nor a first class metropolis city for its local residents and visiting tourists.

    Prospective Companies considering to relocate to this area could defer due to these mass transportation issues of concern currently existing in South Florida and throughout the State for their employees and / or buissnesses.

    These public safety issues of concern also undoubtedly apply not only to the local resident / motorists but to visiting tourists as well since they can easily opt to vacation elsewhere as well if they do not believe or feel that, they are going to be safe while traveling on the public roadways throughout Miami Dade or the State of Florida.

    Lets All continue to work together to make all of the public roadways in Miami Dade and throughout the State of Florida SAFE in order to SAVE LIVES !
    Always drive safely, defensively, and always wear seat belts so that everyone can hopefully ARRIVE ALIVE to their intended destination each and everytime.


  3. Bravo, Peter! Great article!


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