Archive for the 'HOT lanes' Category

95 Express

Last Wednesday, I had the chance to drive north along I-95 in Miami-Dade County where I snapped the pictures below of the then incomplete sections of 95 Express, the variable priced road pricing scheme program going into full effect by 2010.  Little did I know that just 2 days later, FDOT would be “completing” the first segment of 95 Express and opening the lanes up to the public.  Driving, I actually thought to myself “This should make for some interesting conversation on TM.”  In fact, had I known this, I likely would have driven north to Palm Beach instead of taking tri-rail this past Friday.

95 Express

95 Express’ opening day was a disaster.  I will tell you why.  This is the sort of outcome you should expect when our government blindly throws hundreds of millions of dollars at an unproven concept.  Not congestion pricing.  We are generally in favor of road pricing policies because of their effectiveness in reducing urban congestion and smog.  I am concerned with the urban partnerships program.  Essentially, this program threw $1 Billion dollars at five cities to “relieve congestion” in existing rights of ways while combining public transportation with road pricing.  Or in the preferred government alliteration speak:

The Department sought applicants to aggressively use four complementary and synergistic strategies (referred to as the “4Ts”) to relieve urban congestion: Tolling, Transit, Telecommuting, and Technology.

Now, how a transportation project can go from conception to construction in just over 1-year’s time is beyond me, this process is sure to be riddled with problems.  Note: In August 2007, the Secretary announced five final urban partners: Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle.

I predict that most Miami drivers will have no problem mowing down the delineated candlestick markers, just as they managed to do along Dolphin Mall Blvd (see below), or Kendall Dr. (Note: here they raised the delineated markers onto a concrete curb after they had been plowed a few times, encouraging most Hummer sedan drivers to stray away.)

This is likely an issue which we’ll be writing on frequently and is the subject of much controversy (especially now) in South Florida.  Before I get to the transit aspect of 95 Express, let’s open this up for some conversation…

When FDOT Transportation Funding = More Sprawl

Tri-Rail Commuter Train, originally uploaded by jmdspk.
Due to the volume of e-mails, I know when we are running behind on a given topic (sorry!) but hey, you can always count on us to cover every transit/development related story sometime within the given week.

This week’s topic is how FDOT, like every other DOT across the country (I guess the Feds set the precedent here), is trying to raid the public transit funds for more road expansion projects in the Greater Miami Area (get used to it folks, we don’t fly with the “South Florida” nomenclature around here.)

On one end is the Florida Department of Transportation, or DOT, trying to keep money it uses to build and improve state roads. At the other is Tri-Rail, struggling to find money to fund the commuter train’s operations and pay for new projects.

Let us analyze this statement briefly. The Florida Department of TRANSPORTATION (not too aptly named, eh?) is trying to raid the nation’s fastest growing public transportation system (tri-rail) of hundreds of Millions of Dollars over the next 5 years for various road widening schemes? Jeff Koons of the Palm Beach MPO and Tri-Rail governing board has the right idea:
“I wish we had more dollars, but by [giving Tri-Rail] the $2, I hope they realize this is a crisis,” he said. “The state needs to take a look at adding some funding sources for regional mass transit.”
Without this dedicated funding source, Tri-Rail, like all of the sprawl inducing road projects, would be dead in the water. The Agency would have until October to come up with $17 million or else shut down in the midst of 2 years of solid growth, capacity expansion, and recent train dispatch control.
If Tri-Rail doesn’t get a dedicated funding source and if the three counties cut their funding next year as expected, Tri-Rail officials say they’ll have to drastically reduce service. Under that scenario, Tri-Rail could default on a $334 million federal grant used to construct a second track because the money was awarded based on the agency’s pledge to operate at least 48 trains a day weekdays.

The troubling aspect of this issue is not only how we continue to heavily subsidize our roadways at an uncontrollable rate, but that our state transportation agency is attempting to financially dismantle our commuter rail system in order to expand congestion. The State continues to battle itself, by working on projects that contradict themselves: Tri-Rail, Road expansion, HOT Lanes, etc. The FDOT epitomizes a transportation agency and policy that is anything but; eager to shift resources away from reasonable solutions and further legitimizing the misconceptions often encouraged by people like Gregg Fields:

But is it streetcars we desire? The mass transit message is decidedly mixed. One day earlier this month, Tri-Rail celebrated ridership hitting a whopping 15,000. There are Burger Kings with more traffic at their drive-thru windows — and they serve food.

Busway-HOT Lane Combo is Smog and Mirrors

This week’s Streetwise Column by Herald Reporter Larry Lebowitz, presented an “innovative” new use for Miami-Dade’s Busway program. We’ve taken some time to mull over the basics of the plan over the past few days (apparently so have a number of you based on the number of emails I received) and have prepared an analysis of the project based on the data Larry provided in the article.

Imagine widening the Busway from two lanes to four and giving buses and carpoolers with at least three passengers a free ride.

It is a stretch of my imagination, that is for sure, but from the looks of it, this does not seem like a promising solution for South-Dade commuters. Granted, the Busway is far from perfect, but adding lanes, albeit managed lanes, is hardly the solution to an ever-growing congestion problem.

Instead of encountering dozens of incredibly looooooong lights at the busy cross streets on today’s Busway, imagine flying over all the major intersections as the government guarantees a reliable 50-mph journey from Dadeland to Florida City or the turnpike interchange near Southwest 112th Avenue.

The sad part about this is that some sort of “benefit” has to be presented for motorists in order to shore up the funds to marginally improve the transit infrastructure. I guess that is one of the major issues we have to deal with when we have a President who in his next financial deficit (that is not a budget) wants to reduce an already anemic transportation fund by $3.2 billion. One major question remains: What is going to happen to all of those cars not going to Dadeland or the Palmetto when they merge back onto a US-1? We cannot honestly expect all these folks to suddenly abandon their cars and hop on Metrorail, can we? Or will the lanes be extended north into downtown, continuing to undermine the reason why Metrorail was constructed along US-1 to begin with - to get people out of their cars.

A similar variably priced tolling plan is about to be introduced on a 24-mile segment of Interstate 95 between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. They are also planned for the expanded Interstate 595 in Broward.

True. However, I do not think drawing comparisons between US-1 and limited access highways is fair. HOT lanes are a novel concept for the highway scenario, but not along a corridor where driveways and intersections all interfere.

Not only could it provide a little relief to the normal wall-to-wall madness on the overburdened South Dixie corridor, but it could also finally fulfill the Busway’s original promise: real rapid transit.

Once again, see our unrelated qualms above on transportation spending as a whole in this country. It’s deplorable!

”Without a strong transit component, this doesn’t work,” said Javier Rodriguez, executive director of the expressway authority.

Amen!

Elevated intersections will incite plenty of sturm und drang from communities along the Busway. The neighbors must be mollified, especially if Transit is forced to relocate its stations away from the intersections to maintain easy street-level access for riders.

Wow, you can say that again. Most of these communities have already reduced the allowable density along US-1 making Mr. Rodriguez’s point listed above extremely difficult to accomplish. Transit needs to treat any further upgrades to this project as a rail project, bringing with that the power to enact land-use changes for the corridor that will continue to prepare it for future rail transit, increase bus ridership, and lay a foundation for preventing future westward and southern sprawl. Without a massive overhaul of the land around the Busway, this corridor will never realize the transit ridership necessary to fund such a project.

Besides noise walls and landscaping, some must-dos:

Whoa, noise walls are a definite must-do-not. This project needs to entwine the Busway (future railway) as much as possible with the surroundings, not create an inhospitable environment for those walking, biking, or using transit.


All plans must leave a pocket for future light rail or Metrorail within the 100-foot corridor as the Busway was originally intended. It might take 30 to 50 years to get trains there, but that’s what the people were promised and the bulk of the growth is already occurring down there.

Definitely! Can’t stress this point enough.


The plan must set aside money to re-time all of the signals for cross-street traffic trying to get onto and across U.S. 1 under the elevated intersections.

This is something MDT/MPO should do now to give the 15,000 daily transit riders a surefire benefit to riding the Busway. Which reminds me, what exactly is MDT up to these days?

An expanded Busway must mesh with the community charettes aimed at future redevelopment of Princeton, Naranja and Goulds into transit-oriented development villages.

Ditto for preserving the existing bike path and enhancing pedestrian access to and from the Busway.

Once again, we cannot stress how important this is. These details will ultimately make or break a project like this. Take Metrorail for example, it is a great transit system but the surroundings are beyond lousy.

The point of this article was not to criticize Streewise or Larry Lebowitz - after all he’s just the messenger - but rather to condemn a plan which is seemingly being hailed as the golden ticket for fixing congestion. The fact of the matter is, for any real change to come of any of these plans (Metrorail, Bay Link, Miami Streetcar, Busway included) we need to push for land use changes more favorable to living lifestyles which are not automatically governed by the necessity of owning a vehicle.

Transitography 9


Athens LRT 2, originally uploaded by qbanaso86.

Today’s Transitography comes from one of our own readers (Join and add your own photos.) The Athens LRT, is one of the city’s more modern transit lines, opened in 2004.

Transit systems like this will become impossible to construct in the US if Federal funding is switched to also include HOT lanes.

News Alert

This information comes direct to us from The Overhead Wire, whose author was kind enough to e-mail us regarding this critical situation. Here is what’s going on with our lawmakers:

The Federal Transit Administration(FTA) has issued a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) for the New and Small Starts program that provides funding for major fixed guide way capital projects such as Light Rail, Heavy Rail, and Bus Rapid Transit. The proposed rules are alarming on a number of levels. Most notably in that they downgrade the importance of land use and economic development despite congressional direction to the contrary, and they propose to redefine the definition of fixed-guide way to include transit funding for highway lanes that use tolling schemes.

The fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill moving through congress is an opportunity to formally weigh in and stop or alter the proposed FTA rule. If finalized, the new rule making policy will hamper the ability to build new transit lines for the next 5 years!!!

Why is this important? Because some of FTA’S proposed rules would entrench policy issues advocated by folks from the libertarian Reason Foundation and the O’Toole/Cox cabal. The proposed rule ignores current transportation law regarding required project justification criteria and adds new Federal intervention into the local decision making process.

More issues With the new rules after the jump:

1. It would allow High Occupancy Toll lanes to qualify for New Starts funding -

This would diminish the ability of cities to get funding from an already crowded grant program. HOT Lanes qualify for funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and we all know there is a lot of funding there. Over 300 New Starts Projects(Light Rail, Heavy Rail, Commuter Rail, Bus Rapid Transit)were authorized by the SAFETEA LU transportation bill and the argument by the FTA as to why they have such an intensive scrutiny of proposals is because of the high demand for limited funding. Adding High Occupancy Toll freeway lanes to the list of eligible projects further strains the ability to fund new transit projects.

2. It would make the dreaded cost effectiveness INDEX the primary factor in deciding the fate of funding for New Starts projects -

This is the same measure that is killing the Tyson’s Corner Metro extension and has killed light rail plans in Columbus Ohio. Almost every city that is looking to build new transit projects is worried about this measure, and now its being made even stronger. This measure is the reason why Minneapolis‘ Central Corridor light rail project might not be able to tunnel under The University of Minn and the reason why locally backed expansion of light rail is now BRT in Houston.

3. The rule making pushes cheap not completely dedicated guide way bus projects -

The irony of the cost effectiveness index is that in reality, it fails to capture the full benefits and cost effectiveness of a project. The index evaluates the cost effectiveness of a light rail project versus corridor improvements such as bus rapid transit or improved local bus service. What this does is force cities to choose bus rapid transit projects over citizen -backed light rail projects that may have greater community benefits but also a higher initial price tag. Also, the measurements for the Very Small Starts program are set using the Southtown rapid bus project in Kansas City and not rail or fixed guide way BRT projects such as the Orange Line.

4. The importance of Land Use and Economic Development measures are reduced or ignored by the FTA -

Congress elevated land use and added economic development as project justification criteria in SAFETEA-LU. The US Department of Transportation (DOT), however, ignores this and has combined them into one measure with a combined weight of 20% in the overall rating process. The FTA states that it is too costly to implement the economic development measure but the cost and burden to grantees such as cities and transit agencies is not considered when local jurisdictions are required to adopt the FTA’s travel demand models which have many issues. The fact that they use those models to determine the Cost Effectiveness rating which decides who gets funding is a problem in itself as it can’t address all the benefits of fixed guide way transit. Furthermore, FTA argues that is too difficult to separate land use from economic development and that the increase in property values associated with proximity to transit is merely a result of improved time savings alone. I’m sure many zoning offices and developers would be surprised to have it categorized so simplistically.

5. Could lower ratings for cities who are trying to address future rather than current congestion issues -

The FTA would like to measure the New Starts program by the benefits to highway users but ignores the idea of induced demand which means when you build a new transit project, the space from cars that are taken off the road by transit is filled by new cars. The want for transit opponents to push money from the transit program into congestion pricing schemes and not so rapid bus projects would result in less useful transit projects in corridors that might have real future need.

Contact Your Congressman or Senators
-Ask them to stop the proposed rule and give the Department of Transportation a clear directive that the FTA Must:

1. Comparably wight all 6 project justification criteria(including: Environmental Benefits, Land Use, Economic Development, Mobility Improvements, etc) recognizing the importance of transit-supportive land use and economic development to fostering successful and sustainable projects rather than just the cost of the project.
2. Maintain the current definition of Fixed-Guide way transit
3. STOP RAIDING THE TRANSIT PROGRAM FOR ROAD PRICING SCHEMES

I-95 Motor Speedway Update

Here’s a link to Miami’s pitch for federal funding that would go toward I-95’s new Lexus High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes.


Blog/News Updates

Blog Updates
  • For those of you who haven’t visited the site in a while due to the convenience of the automatic daily e-mails, you may not have noticed the addition of James Wilkins to the Transit Miami staff (more to come soon, too.) James will be primarily writing about architecture and Urban Design here on a weekly basis. His first post appeared on Monday and discussed what could/should be Miami’s most prominent waterfront structures at Museum Park. As always, if you have any news, stories, or general feedback for any of us three, please drop us an e-mail: movemiami@gmail.com…
  • The site will be temporarily out of commission for part of the weekend, sorry for any inconvenience which this may cause…
  • New Sidebar Miami Blogs: Hallandale Beach Blog, South Beach Hoosier
News
  • Broward Commissioners approved a new 8,000 ft. south runway for Ft. Lauderdale on Tuesday night before a crowd of over 1,000 (mostly opponents) at the Convention Center. The new runway will allow FLL to meet expected demand over the next few decades and will provide the airport with another runway capable of handling most domestic aircraft. The $600 Million runway will likely require the purchase or soundproofing of 2,500 nearby residences and will be elevated over US-1, similar to Atlanta’s runway, pictured below…
  • Meanwhile, the state denied FPL’s most recent bid to build a “clean” coal power plant in Glades County. “…the company lost its bid to build the coal plant, in part, due to risks the facility would contribute to Everglades and other environmental pollution…” (Via CM)
  • If you build it, they will come…Now, can we just start doing it properly?
Miami Blog Updates
  • I’ve accidentally neglected TM’s Friend Rebbecca Carter of GreenerMiami for too long. Back in May she covered the Commuter Challenge, which this year featured two Mercy Hospital employees “racing” from SW 152 ST. The commuter who used the busway and metrorail won by 19 minutes! Here is her take on the I-95 HOT lanes too…
  • The 836 West extension opens next month and with that, more tolls! Rick says its best: “One More Reason Not To Live In Kendall…” but I find that hard to swallow coming from a Pembroke Pines Suburbanite… In any case, the West extension from the Turnpike to 137th Avenue will be available to SunPass users only…
Headlines From Around the World

Friday Headlines

  • The Related Group of Florida is planning the Loft 4 Affordable Housing Condo for downtown Miami. The 404 units in the 35 story tower would be priced starting at $130,000! The best part yet? The building would feature no parking. Truly Urban Living is coming to the heart of the CBD for a change…
    • “If not for this type of concept, you wouldn’t be able to build because you can’t build parking” cost effectively, said Oscar Rodriguez, who heads Related’s affordable division. “That lends itself to more competitive pricing.”
  • Say goodbye to the HOV lanes on I-95. FDOT is working to bring “express” toll lanes to I-95 by 2008. Instead of the one HOV lane, the already gargantuan highway will be repainted to feature narrower 11 foot lanes, two of which will be designated for “express” toll use only. This plan allows users to buy themselves out of the hassles of finding people to carpool with. It’s a total cop out for FDOT and a massive waste of money. Never mind the fact that we wasted $17 Million to install a ramp metering system that was never used, let alone properly analyzed before it was installed. On the plus side, express buses will now run smoother along the corridor, question is, will anyone use them?
  • A US Senate committee rejected Homestead as a possible site for the US Southern Command HQ, currently stationed in Doral. SoCom will remain in Doral in an expanded facility for the next 50 years, at least…
  • Paddy Wagons and Cyclists, you know there is a critical mass happening when you see them together. Despite their best efforts, Miami’s second critical mass, wasn’t exactly too massive: 15 cyclists. Even with the low turnout, Miami Police decided to harass the cyclists, following their every move along the streets of downtown and keeping their beams on them until the group dispersed…
  • Inaccessible Parks. Enough Said. Most local parks are rendered useless to most of us anyway because of their poor designs, maintenance, and integration with their surroundings, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to me to see that they aren’t even ADA accessible…
  • Check out what some properly designed bus benches, news stands, and restrooms do for the public spaces of NYC. Designed by Grimshaw Architects, the same firm hired to design Miami’s new Science Museum, the new citywide structures are built out of 95% recycled material…
  • Congratulations to Alesh for winning the Miami New Times’ best website of 2007 and Rick/Alex for winning Broward/Palm Beaches Best Blog Awards…
  • HSR…Where is the US? Touting an Acela Express that averages less than 60 mph…Pathetic…

Expanding The Miami Mentality Theory

I’ve often defined the “Miami Mentality” on this site as the state of mind prevalent in our region which is generally for transit options, so long as other people use them. The Miami New Times quoted my “Miami Mentality” theory today when discussing the new MDT 7-day pass, which sadly means that my theory is becoming more of a commonly accepted belief. To clarify, through personal account and research, I’ve found that the Miami Mentality is generally against density, non-vehicular modes of transit, in favor of traffic relief measures, and in favor of wider highways and parking- plenty of it too. The Mentality also denounces good urban planning principles often by typically stating, or rather declaring: “That would never work in Miami.” Needless to say, it has taken me quite by surprise to see the latest coverage and reactions in the Sun-Sentinel with regards to the proposed managed lanes on I-95. Their news polls, obtained March 29 and April 4, show an overwhelmingly opposite trend to the Miami Mentality:

March 29 Some state legislators want to start charging tolls to use the car-pool (HOV) lanes on I-95 from I-595 in Broward County to State Road 112 in Miami-Dade County. What’s your opinion?

85.4%
Bad idea. These lanes should be available for free to anyone with 2 or more people in a vehicle. (5917 responses)

14.6%
Good idea. It would raise more funds for transportation and ensure the car-pool lanes don’t get too crowded. (1012 responses)
6929 total responses

April 4 State officials say I-595 could be widened much more quickly and less expensively by making it a privately operated road with tolls on its express lanes. Your opinion?

35.1%
Good idea. (1773 responses)

64.9%
Bad idea. (3278 responses)
5051 total responses

Or do they? Perhaps there are some valid reasons behind this shift in the frame of mind or perhaps the Miami Mentality is a little more convoluted than I originally perceived. I’ll choose the latter. Based on the data obtained through the unofficial polls taken by the Sun-Sentinel and in browsing through some of the comments left on the site, it appears that there is a new dimension to the Miami Mentality that I had not previously considered: Money.

“Forgive me for not being able to attend this oh-so important waste of time meeting, but here’s my vote by proxy- NO!!! What a $hitty idea- charge us for what we’ve already paid for? Screw these crooked politicians and their handouts to the contractors- enough is enough!”
-Count me Out, Hialeah, Fl

“The article is at least truthful. The public is invited to discuss the issue. The decision has already been made based soley upon financial reasons. Luxury car lanes have been discussed for years, now they will be a reality. Only in Florida. Guess the Republicans will call it no Lexus left behind.”
-Mike Woods, Boynton Beach, Fl

The views presented outline a general displeasure for paying for expanded highway service, it is expected that the government provide endless capacity and expansions to our already crowded highways. This belief stems from the precedent that the government set throughout the past decades, expanding and creating highway infrastructure “as needed.” The distrust in local policies and “leaders” further exacerbates the situation, casting shadows of doubt across any project where higher costs will be waged on motorists. Contrary to the logic behind congestion pricing, the opinions conveyed show that the new local mentality aims to provide highway and parking access to anyone (which falls in line with the reaction to rising gas prices.) (For more on Congestion Pricing, click here.)

I must also note that the subject matter does not pit public transit against highway capacity expansion. Surely, had that been the case, the results would have shown a desire for rail, provided that others use the system and now apparently that money allocated to the project did not come from highway funding sources (it’s ok folks, there are statutes against that anyway.)

Of course some classic Miami Mentality always finds its way into the picture:

“Maximum use of all lanes is the most efficient use of roads. Car pool lanes do not do that. The “Pay Pool” lanes are only a way for the politicians to get more money without representation. Another non-tax tax. On top of all this Interstate roads are supposed to be free. This is not a state road it is a federal road.”
-just say no, Miami, Fl

“Forget the tolls. Eliminate the HOV lane by opening it up to all drivers. That will increse the available road space by 20 - 25 percent. As an added benefit …no more slow downs caused by drivers gawking at the flashing lights while FHP writes tickets (they have better things to do). It’s a win win deal for both tax payers and drivers, costs nothing and can be put into effect at any time.”
-David, Pompano Beach, Fl

I’m so glad David took the time to do the math for us, he neglected to include how many minutes it would take for for traffic to fill up the additional lane and bring traffic back to a grinding halt (Induced Travel.) Miami Mentality obviously fails to take into account general highway planning principles, is shortsighted, does not recognize the limitations of an autocentric infrastructure, and never considers perhaps that the current method of personal travel and lifestyle are the true problems at hand.

Reassuringly, every so often, a voice of reason chimes in:

“the reason for the carpool lane is to encourage drivers to carpool and take cars off the roads. what they should be doing is expanding the number of car pool lanes to 2 or 3 each way and then maybe more people would carpool.”
-John, Santa Maria, Ca

But, then again, let the few voices of reason come from a city clear across the country

News and Updates

Well, it’s been a busy last couple of days with planning news…
  • Three bills proposing to give the Marlins a $60 million dollar subsidy to bridge the funding gap for the new stadium easily made it through the state Senate and House committees on Thursday. While the baseball fans in Miami-Dade and Marlin stakeholders should be excited by early popularity of the proposed bills with the state House and Senate, it appears Broward legislators have a bad case of sour grapes over the stadium location. Broward senators are leading the charge against the stadium funding because they’re upset the proposed stadium sites are not located in the suburbs near county line. Speaking of the stadium site, there still has been no settlement; however, it appears the Orange Bowl plan is unfortunately still gaining steam.
  • FDOT is planning on making major “improvements” to I-95 between Ft. Lauderdale and downtown Miami. The proposal calls for the replacing the current HOV lanes with two HOT lanes (High Occupancy Toll) in each direction. Newly installed computer sensors on the highway would measure traffic volume and average speed, which would allow the system to increase or decrease the toll fees in the HOT lanes based on how much congestion there is. Drivers wishing to use HOT lanes would use a prepaid toll card like the SunPass. I’ve never been much of a fan of these “Lexus Lanes”, but I’ll let Gabe elaborate on the issue as he is the resident transportation engineer of the group.
  • Miami-Dade Transit director Roosevelt Bradley was forced to resign last night. Apparently, Bradley is one of the first casualties of Mayor Alvarez’s new powers to hire and fire administrators at County Hall. According to the Herald, Bradley, who took over Miami-Dade Transit in 2002, was inefficient as a boss and oversaw massive deficits under his rule. We’ll keep posting any updates as soon as we hear who might be the next director.