Archive for the 'Florida' Category

Florida In Running for High Speed, Not Likely To Receive Funding

Alfonso Chardy of the Miami Herald writes that Florida transportation officials are “reviewing interim guidelines issued by the Federal Railroad Administration with a view to applying for a share of $8 billion in federal stimulus money for high speed rail.” However according to Florida Today, the Sunshine State is not a likely candidate. Instead, California and the midwest are cited as front runners. California, remember, has already committed $10 billion of bond money in pursuit of  800 track miles, while the midwest boasts an impressive amount of interstate regional cooperation.

Since giving up on regional high speed rail 10 years ago, thanks Jeb Bush, Florida has done nothing to push the agenda. This will likely not favor the state as the feds decide how to allocate the stimulus cash. As proposed, the line would connect Miami, Orlando and Tampa, with a possible extension to Jacksonville.

Florida Is Nation’s Most Deadly For Bicyclists

Well, the awards just keep rolling in don’t they? What, with Miami’s 2008 ranking as one of three worst cities in America in which to bicycle, and now Florida climbing the ranks from the 2nd most deadliest to the most deadliest. While the City of Miami is working on their end of things, we can’t be so sure about the State.

The author of the linked article quotes Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists, who states, “Because it’s a warm weather southern state, chances are good that more people are riding year-round.” That may be partially true, but it doesn’t explain how California — also a warm weather state and far more densely populated — managed less deaths. One could chalk this up to a chance year and a lot of riders, but one could also make the argument that roadway design in Florida  is not well-tailored to cyclists or pedestrians, no matter the skill or age, and that the ubiquitous suburban land use patterns don’t help either.

Ride safe everyone. This is one #1 ranking we should be willing to quickly relinquish.

Action Alert: Stop Sprawl, Say No To Senate Bill 360

Clean Water Action is rallying the anti-sprawl troops. Click here to quickly tell your senator that you do not support repealing anti-sprawl legislation.

This bill would remove critical growth management authority by the state’s Department of Community Affairs; eliminate transportation concurrency and Development of Regional Impact review in some communities.

Strong growth management laws were established to protect our communities from overdevelopment. In tough economic times, it is smart to manage our tight financial resources in way that encourages long-term regional cooperation and planning. Water is an example of a finite resource we need to protect. Whether it is time wasted in traffic, dropping home values, increasing infrastructure deficits or decreasing quality of our life and water supply, in Florida - sprawl costs us all!

Developer over-speculation and not the regulation of Florida’s growth management process contributed to Florida’s economic collapse. Now those same developers are trying to use the financial crisis to eliminate oversight and limit public participation.

Alligator Alley Stupidity

Anyone else left scratching their heads in disbelief over this:
“Desperate to generate more money for road projects across the state, Florida transportation authorities are moving ahead with a plan to lease Alligator Alley to a company that would have the power to set the tolls it charges.”

March: Florida Bike Month

Critical Mass Miami- Photo by The Universal Dilettante

The past year has been a great year for cycling around the world. High oil prices, an increased interest in the environment and the success of bike sharing programs in Europe have been some of the highlights. Here in Florida, Governor Charlie Crist has proclaimed March as Florida’s Bike Month. This opportunity should not be missed to help increase awareness of biking, not only as a recreational activity, but also as an alternative means of transportation. There are many activities planned throughout all South Florida.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Last Saturday, a 75-mile bike ride took place from Tequesta to Oleta River Park in Miami.
  • Pledge to bike to work, March 24-30.
  • Critical Mass Miami has bike rides planned throughout the month on South Miami, Coral Gables, Florida City.

Many more events planned throughout South Florida. Check out the full calendar here and here

A subprime wake-up call to curb spraw

We received this editorial recently from Alan Farago and after receiving his expressed written consent decided to republish it here for you to read. The original article appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on January 14, 2008

If there is a silver lining in the sharp contraction of housing markets across the nation, it is the impetus to reform a model for economic growth — suburban sprawl — that is fundamentally flawed.

The state investment pool — repository for taxpayer funds of municipalities in the state of Florida — sunk billions of dollars into leveraged financial products tied to suburban sprawl.

In other words, whether we like it or not — whether we are Democrat or Republican, environmentalists or developers — Florida invested in the dream, others profited from it, and now all taxpayers are at risk on the sprawl side of the ledger.

It’s time for some plain speaking: The financial system that underpins low-density, scattered development in Florida, most often viewed as platted subdivisions in wetlands or farmland, is bankrupt.

That is a problem because the sprawl model has been a big, if not the biggest, driver of Florida’s economy.

When policies about growth for construction and development are discussed by government, they are organized around rules and regulations for zoning and permitting.

But the true parameters for suburban sprawl aren’t set by rules or regulations or even by public choices on land use and development: They are established by banks and what banks can finance.

Most consumers hear about it in terms of “subprime mortgages.” The reality is different. Those who benefited most from the “ownership society” don’t live on Main Street; they work on Wall Street and made huge fees and commissions on speculative leverage, the underpinning of suburban sprawl.

There are many intermediaries — praetorian guards to the field generals of sprawl, each reaping a host of legal, engineering and lobbying fees. But the end goal of Wall Street’s sprawl arrangement was to persuade distant investors, through the assurances of ratings agencies and insurers, that any particular development — based on demographics, proximity to markets and even architectural and design parameters — would deliver returns with the same reliability as a similar set of box retailers or platted subdivisions in, say, Las Vegas.

Thus, the passion for preserving a local spring, or the Everglades, was blocked out by fractions and formulas claimed to diversify risks while guaranteeing a predictable, high stream of income to investors.

Not only have we lost our springs and much of the Everglades, the banks lost, too.

The banks didn’t lose roseate spoonbills or swallow-tailed kites. Instead, they lost hundreds of billions for investors, many of whom have abandoned the market for leveraged debt related to housing.

In other words, the spoonbills will come back sooner than the markets tied to debt for suburban sprawl. So, it is a good time to consider alternatives to a status quo that lost whatever leverage it had to reality.

Although its advocates claim the contrary, subdivisions far from places of residents’ jobs are not what the markets want; the subdivisions are what Wall Street can finance to its maximum benefit.

Those benefits are defined by the degree of leverage. Conversely, if one puts limits on leverage, attached to particular locations and property, it is possible to choke off sprawl the same way cancer researchers are learning to limit the spread of tumors by cutting off their blood supply.

It is time for a new model for growth that puts brakes to sprawl, matching what investors can expect to earn and what developers can finance to the true cost of protecting aquifers, the environment, and infrastructure that serves existing taxpayers.

For this to happen, Congress has to connect banking regulations, governing the issuance of financial debt such as mortgage-backed securities and such, to land use and the environment.

It is a tall order, but there is no better time than the middle of a crisis to consider new solutions. In the United States, the work of bond ratings, insurance, public and private debt has been deemed off-limits to scrutiny to all but the financially competent who are rewarded, in turn, by tipping the scales of equity to private interests.

During the housing boom, this worked especially well because everyone was a winner (except the poor and the environment). In The New York Times, Floyd Norris captured the formula in part: “It was the greatest credit party in history, made possible by a new financial architecture that moved much of the activities out of regulated institutions and into financial instruments that emphasized leverage over safety.”

The other part of the formula is the one that matters most: So long as leverage fails to account for the safety of our communities, we will be at the mercy of Wall Street and the masters of suburban sprawl. It is time to get smart and put handcuffs on a financial system that has been golden to all but the people who have to pay for them. That would be you and me, Florida taxpayers.

Alan Farago of Coral Gables, who writes about the environment, can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.

People Mover Systems: The Jacksonville Skyway

I had the opportunity this past weekend to finally ride one the nation’s three downtown fully automated people mover systems in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville skyway, is the most recently completed of the three automated systems (the others being in Miami and Detroit) opening up fully to the public in November of 2000. Like the Miami and Detroit people mover systems the Jacksonville mover originated from a congressional movement in the 1970’s aimed to fund and research new urban transit systems.

“…Congressional pressure was increased on UMTA to show some positive results from their research and development expenditures. So, in 1975 UMTA announced its Downtown People Mover Program and sponsored a nationwide competition among the cities, offering them the federal funds needed to design and build such a system. Since UMTA was prepared to pay most of the costs of planning and building these systems as part of its demonstration program, the response from the cities was almost overwhelming…”

Free money to develop an urban transit solution in an age of increasing congestion, if it sounds too good to be true, that’s probably because it was; none of the “top” cities initially considered for people movers built them, leaving millions of dollars available to secondary cities like Miami and Detroit.

“…In 1976, after receiving and reviewing 68 letters of interest and 35 full proposals and making on-site inspections of the top 15 cities, UMTA selected proposals from Los Angeles, St. Paul, Minnesota, Cleveland and Houston. It also concluded that Miami, Detroit and Baltimore would be permitted to develop DPMs if they could do so with existing grant commitments…”

Needless to say, the people mover system was a botched, rushed, and half-hearted effort from the US Department of Transportation to fund and research reasonable transit solutions for the ever growing congestion problems of the 1970’s. Unlike Miami, the Jacksonville and Detroit systems have never been connected to larger urban transit systems and all three are largely considered to be failures. Miami and Detroit are currently experiencing urban renaissances which will surely provide the downtown residences and employment necessary to patronize such costly systems. Metrorail, Tri-Rail, BRT, and possible FEC rail transit will provide an even greater number of patrons and will increase the area in our city which is easily accessible without regular vehicular use.

In riding around on two of the three systems, I’ve come to identify their obvious shortcomings and deficiencies. Their failures can be attributed to a lack of supportive regional transit infrastructure as well as absurdly poor integration with their surroundings. The pictures below accurately depict most of these problems, turning the Jacksonville Skyway transit stations into inhospitable, inaccessible urban realms for pedestrians, like much of the rest of the city already is…

This evening picture depicts the surface parking lot (1 of 2) which I had to cross just to access the San Marco Station. This “neighborhood” contains a few of the ritzier hotels in Jacksonville, all of which are surrounded by surface lots, isolating the transit station in a sea of asphalt:

The Central Station was no exception either, bordered on the south side by not only a surface lot but also a free standing parking garage which towered above the station…

The Jefferson Station seen here is a the epitome of urban blight, surrounded by worn out grassy lots and blatant signs of urban neglect and decay…

As if parking were an issue, the space below the problem, highways, finds a new use…

The Prudential plaza is one of the few buildings built up close to the Skyway, its unfortunate that the other side of the station was crowded by a parking garage.

Twisting through the mess of interchanges…

Who rides the skyway when there is more than enough parking at Alltel Stadium?

A beautiful touch added to all the downtown streets, but someone failed to realize how transit, pedestrian access, biking, and urban planning all go hand in hand…

Pawning our roads for cash

Pawning our roads out to the highest bidder, increased gambling statewide, and cuts to police and fire services are just some of the adverse effects of our legislative efforts to reduce the state of Florida’s expenses. Is this really the price we’d like to pay in exchange for some barely noticeable tax decreases? The cuts are already taking its toll on cash strapped bedroom communities (incorporated neighborhoods who lack all the economical qualities of a sustainable city, typically lacking the commercial, agricultural, and industrial taxing districts which keep real municipalities afloat) and will continue to wreak havoc, if not totally bankrupt other municipalities in the coming years (which may not be such a bad thing, given the agglomeration identity crisis also underway.) Point of the matter is, this tax cut will hurt Floridians more than it helps us, instead shifting tax burdens onto sales tax receipts, increased tolls (which the state would only collect a portion of, if we lease them out to businesses,) and gambling.

Any company with the capital to lease a Florida toll road would be stupid to not jump at the opportunity, and we, the Floridians, would be even stupider if we relinquished control of such a powerful asset. See, like most of the US, Florida lacks a venerable option to the toll road given that our rail “network” is close to inexistent (an 11 hour ride on Amtrak to Jacksonville, doesn’t cut it.) The few billion we’ll reap now certainly won’t be used to institute and widespread changes and the company who buys them will be virtually guaranteed business.

Now, we’d like to reiterate that here at Transit Miami we aren’t in favor or against tax cuts; we’re behind more intelligent use of the economic resources we have now, before deciding what can be done to alter the budget (which clearly has not occurred.) We’re all for eliminating government waste in a well thought out manner that will help reduce our expenses while still providing our residents with the police, fire, and educational, and transit services they deserve…

MIC: Regional Transit Hub

This article has been brewing in my mind for quite some time; however, I kept putting off until I saw some sort of definite progress occurring over at the Miami Intermodal Center. With their new website up and running (finally!) we can get some better insight to some of my more pressing concerns, particularly the Florida regional transportation service.

The Miami Intermodal Center concept is fairly forward thinking for such an automobile dependent area such as Miami. It will link local transit (MDT, Tri-Rail, Taxi, etc.) with regional transit (Greyhound, Amtrak, etc.) with the international destinations serviced by MIA in a centralized, modern facility. I’ve had a growing concern, however, with regards to the regional transportation service which will be offered at the MIC and the efforts of the state (or county) to unify regional transportation links within Miami-Dade County. Given that Florida currently lacks a dependent and reliable statewide rail network, I have decided to concentrate on the interaction between the MIC and statewide bus service.

(Does anyone else find the amount of surface parking in the above two renderings alarming? There shouldn’t be such a need for surface parking in such a central multi-modal transit facility…)

Intercity buses provide transportation between cities and rural areas, be it short or long distance. They usually offer limited stops making service faster and more efficient.

Greyhound is an example of a national intercity bus line, but regionally, all of South Florida’s transit systems have come together to offer intercity service to all major cities and towns in the area, as well as the smaller communities that do not have accessible rail service via Tri-rail or Metrorail. It is envisioned that the MIC’s Miami Central Station will accommodate intercity buses offering service into Miami-Dade County. Until then, visit the South Florida Regional Transit Trip Planner for more information.

Via Milliped’s Flickr…

The excerpt above comes from the intercity bus page on the MIC website. While the site places great emphasis on bringing Greyhound into the facility, I could only hope (as a regular intercity bus user myself) that provisions were made to include space for competing intercity bus services. La Cubana, providing Miami-NYC and Atlanta service easily comes to mind. The popular bus service currently operates from its strip shopping center headquarters on 11 St and NW 22 Ave.

Florida bus services GMG, Miami Bus Service, and TMT, servicing the colleges in Gainesville, Tallahassee, and Orlando could also benefit from access to the centralized terminal. Currently these bus services transport passengers from a parking lot on the respective college campuses to the parking lot of the Mall of the Americas. This “parking lot transit” is a fitting representation of American culture and Urban Planning, we spend our lives commuting to and from parking lots in our own vehicles so it’s only natural that when a successful “mass transit” operation appears, we lack the infrastructure for it to ferry us to anything other than shopping malls. Hopefully the Key-West Shuttle and Jet-Set bus service, both of which already operate from the airport terminals, will be offered space in the new facility as well.

While touring through Spain I marveled at the efficiency and popularity of the bus network in that country. It goes to show that despite the widespread efficient rail system in Spain, alternatives are needed to offer citizens a greater variety of choices and competitive prices for land-based regional transit. We arrived in the central city bus terminal of Toledo, purchased tickets for any of the buses traveling between the small city and Madrid every half hour and were well on our way within a few minutes of boarding (fully booked too, no doubt.) Spain is entwined in a vast web of rail and bus networks, all of which terminate in the central city stations accessible by public transit, pedestrians, cyclists, etc.

Bottom Picture Via Robert A1’s Flickr…

Regional public transit corridors are imperative to creating sustainable cities across Florida and the United States. The Miami Intermodal Center takes us a few steps closer to unifying our regional and local transit, making both systems accessible to a wider group of people and more importantly, accessible via local modes of public transit. I hope the necessary parties work to bring our regional bus and eventually rail transit into the Miami Intermodal Center to fully realize the potential the center has to offer…

Sorry about the delay folks. I’ve been trying to catch up on all the news I missed last week, while replying to a week’s worth of e-mails, and recovering from some illness I contracted on the way back from Mexico City’s disaster of an airport. Never again will I fly through Mexico City unless it happens to be my final destination. It’s kind of screwy that with all the direct flights between Miami and Cancun that a 2 1/2 hour additional flight through Mexico City would somehow come out a couple of hundred dollars cheaper. Next time, I’ll splurge and save myself the hassle…

In an unprecedented move which will most likely anger most car-commuting suburbanites across the state, a new law aims to tie tolls prices to the cost of living:

The new law requires that all tolls on highways operated by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise must be linked to the Consumer Price Index. This means that tolls on the turnpike and Sawgrass, plus other toll roads in Central Florida and bridges in the Panhandle, will automatically increase with the cost of living.

The law signed by Governor Christ last month allows for changes to be made automatically every five years or once a year by the state.

It’s about time Floridian motorists started paying reasonable prices for their very unreasonable driving habits. We have to understand that our current growth model (sprawl) and dependence on the automobile simply isn’t part of a sustainable lifestyle. By increasing taxes on motorists, we can further discourage vehicular dependent growth and likewise begin to levy a reasonable fee on the destruction caused by our automobile dependency. We have subsidized this destructive uncanny way of life for far too long, it’s about time motorists began to pay their fair share…

See what the nuts have to say already on the Miami Herald’s Comment section

Dump The Pump!

The day is dedicated to raising awareness that public transportation helps improve the environment and conserve fuel. It also offers the opportunity for people to beat the high price of gasoline and support public transportation as an important travel option that helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
-Via APTA

Locally:

In Search of the "American Dream"

In an article today in the Herald, Flagler County (emphasis on City of Palm Coast), is touted as the fastest growing county in the United States. Whenever I hear “fastest growing city/county” in the United States, as if that implies a fantastic place to live, I am always skeptical, especially given the deplorable planning history of fast-growing places in this country. Upon hearing that, I usually think of places like Las Vegas, Southwest Florida, and the Atlanta exurbs.

What I found interesting, is that the author (and inevitably the hostile commenters) took an angle that emphasized the emigration of South Floridians to the Palm Coast area, even stating:

“Driving a chunk of Flagler’s growth: a couple thousand South Floridians. Some say they left to escape congested roads, confining cookie-cutter developments, and skyrocketing home prices”.

Yeah, yeah. I hear it all the time - “I can’t wait to leave Miami (usually lumping it with all of Dade/South Florida)”. Jeer the overdevelopment, traffic congestion, high home prices, high insurance, overcrowded schools, blase blase. So let’s move upstate to this smaller county where everything is just peachy? Not so fast my friend.

Let’s break Palm Coast down for what it really is/will be:

If you examine it from satellite (above), you’ll notice that nearly every subdivision neighborhood is comprised of scatter grids with poor connectivity. This means almost all traffic from each subdivision neighborhood will be dumped onto a handful of collector roads (e.g. Palm Coast Pkwy, Belle Terre Pkwy, etc). As this city grows, these roads will quickly become overwhelmed with traffic. Inevitably, officials will move to widen the arterials into de-facto highways, with at least three lanes each direction along with 40-45 MPH speed limits, long traffic light headways, and huge intersections. Due to the auto-centric nature of these roads, sidewalks will be small (if they even exist), awkward, and useless because pedestrians will have to cross large surface parking lots to get to cookie-cutter shopping centers.

They probably wouldn’t walk in the first place, because even though their home may be in close proximity to where they want to go, the lack of thru-streets and presence of tangible subdivision boundaries will force the pedestrian to go way out of their way just to reach the arterial (as seen above). Biking wouldn’t be much of an option, either, because of the same reasons above plus the fact that riding on these arterials will be very dangerous (if not illegal).

To add fuel to the fire, Palm Coast has an extremely low average population density of only 862/square mile. This, in conjunction with single-use zoning, creates very large distances between places, making driving everywhere (even for the most basic trips) practically a necessity. Subsequently, officials write into the city code massive parking requirements for all land uses, further inducing trips by automobiles and justifying driving everywhere. At this point, most people become much more concerned with their private property then the lifeless public spaces afforded by such an environment, so things like golf courses get built instead of public parks.

Soon enough, this area will run out of land to accommodate population growth because for years unnecessarily large building footprints have been used during the current boom. Combined with the geographic location, property values will shoot up fast (already have, to some degree), traffic congestion will increase, commute times will increase, and people will really be screwed as gas prices inevitably continue to rise. Schools will probably be overcrowded (already mentioned in the article), crime will probably increase due to a variety of reasons, property insurance will be sky high, and soon people will be citing all the same reasons they left South Florida (insert other sprawl town here) in the first place.

Sorry, there’s no chance in hell I would endorse this place, let alone move there. It is about as unsustainable as any city I’ve ever seen, and a classic example very poor urban planning.

I think it’s funny that people are already complaining about problems stemming from the area’s recent growth. If growth there continues along this paradigm, the problems will only get worse.