Archive for the 'metrobus' Category

Heard On The Bus

Heard on the C bus from the Beach to Downtown this afternoon, 5 o’clock:

English tourist: “I am trying to get to downtown Miami, will this bus take me there.”

Bus Driver: “Oh honey, there ain’t no reason for you to go there after 5pm. There isn’t anything to see!”

While I slightly disagree with the well-intentioned driver, is this the kind of downtown we want, the one where the bus driver discourages anyone from going?

Brickell has made great improvements in nightlife of late, however downtown still lags behind. What type of nightlife would you like to see in downtown Miami?

Action Alert: Venetian Causeway Bridge To Close In May

Pedestrians, bicyclists, bus riders, and motorists be warned: the easternmost bridge of Venetian Causeway will be closed for construction from May 1 - May 30. While it is understood that maintenance is essential to keeping the bridge safe, the loss of this major east-west link presents several challenges for all of its users, especially  pedestrians, bicyclists, and moped operators who depend daily upon the Venetian for a safe link between the City of Miami and Miami Beach.

According to a Miami-Dade County construction fact sheet I obtained from a toll booth operator, all traffic will be diverted to the MacArthur Causeway for the duration of the bridge closure. While the detour is  inconvenient for all of the above, the detour is potentially life threatening for the aforementioned groups, those who do not depend on enclosed motor vehicles for their daily transportation.  Since the fact sheet mentions obstruction to motor vehicles only, and nothing for all other users, it is extremely unlikely that the County will take any additional steps in ensuring any viable options for pedestrians or bicyclists to travel in a manner to which they are accustomed.

Certain MetroBus lines will likely enjoy some overcrowding as a result, but will likely be the safest alternative for those traveling between  Miami and Miami Beach. However, the monthly cost and inconvenience of traveling by such a mode will further impede many Venetian Causeway users.

Thus, please join Transit Miami in asking the County to protect both shoulders of the MacArthur Causeway with some type of temporary barrier so that bicyclists and pedestrians may proceed without immediately fearing for their lives. While such a provision will surely not appeal to every user, it will do much to alleviate the temporary convenience.  and allow people to travel more safely.

To make this simple request, please contact Delfin Molins, Public Information Officer for Miami-Dade County Public Works, with this simple request. Delfin may be reached at 305-375-1682, or delfin@miamidade.gov. As always, phone calls tend to be more direct and effective.

Miami’s Newest Garage Mahal

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Miami worships parking. Indeed, we can’t seem to build an urban building without smothering it with suburban parking requirements. Usually this comes in the form of parking as base or parking as appendage. The garage under construction above — an appendage if I have ever seen one — is located at Northwest Third Street, directly across the street from the new US Federal Courthouse. Currently at 10 stories, this latest garage is ostensibly being built to serve the needs of Courthouse employees and visitors. There are  three glaring problems with this development.

1) The Courthouse was finished long in advance of the garage, which believe it or not means that employees and visitors are miraculously finding parking, despite the non-existence of this new garage.  What, with the acres of surface parking lots, street parking, and other garages in the immediate vicinity, how could they not?

2) One block to the southwest of this new garage is Government Center, where Metrorail, Metromover, and Metrobus all converge. If there was just one location in downtown Miami able to reduce its parking requirements, this would be it.

3) The garage is being built with ramped floors, meaning that conversion to another use, say  office building or residential with retail on the ground floor, will remain nearly impossible. A better parking garage would have flat floors and floor to ceiling heights that allow for the conversion to a higher and better land use,  as dictated by the market.

By requiring and building so much parking, Miami will continue to develop an auto-oriented downtown,  make development more expensive than it has to be, and keep the transit that we have from reaching its potential. Sure, some parking is needed when building high intensity downtown uses, but implementing a more creative shared parking approach, along with reducing overall parking requirements, especially when in proximity to transit -as proposed in Miami 21-would make a far more efficient, transit-oriented, and walkable downtown. Until we do that, Miamians should expect that their downtown will never reach its full potential.

Busy Bees…

The Miami-Dade County Commission Agenda for March 3 is out and it is full of fun items…here are some that I found interesting:

  • Improvements along Old Cutler based on the Old Cutler Charrette including roundabouts at 87th and 97th avenue, along with pedestrian/bike path upgrades and facilities from Cocoplum Circle to 224 Street.
  • Commissioner Jordon wants to tinker with the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust this time to ensure that the Trust reviews and recommends award contracts within 45 days and that it meet with the Commission at least quarterly. Interesting…
  • Approving $37 Million in additional FDOT funding for MIA’s people mover, connecting the MIC with the Airport (this is the much needed connection between Metrorail and the Airport.)
  • The City of Doral is expanding its free trolley service.
  • This is a biggy (and another Barbara Jordon sponsored item): Officially allowing transit surtax dollars to be spent on the system maintenance and operations, while increasing General Fund contributions by 3.5% every year, and dedicating 10% of the surtax yearly to capital expansion. Wasn’t all of the surtax to be used for expansion?  Sorry, but these numbers are still off….seems like more should be put aside from the General Fund, and for expansion (7% and 25%?)
  • Developing an elderly TOD at the Okeechobee Metrorail site.
  • The County is looking to cut 20% of its energy consumption (estimated at 1.17 million-megawatt-hours..wow)
  • Awesome:  MDT is updating its bus-tracking software to allow for real-time infomation to be sent to wireless devices.  MDT is also deploying a real-time bus tracking system on the new Kendall BRT pilot project, scheduled for May 2012. This line will extend from 166 street and Kendall Drive to Dadeland Station, and include 27 stations that will connect with the GPS based tracking system.
  • A resolution urging the President to rethink Federal transit funding when Congress looks at the surface transportation spending act later this year - specifically allowing for use of the funds for operations.  This would finally move the Orange line forward.
  • Implementation strategy for Miami-Dade Parks Masterplan. Also awesome. (Noted in this item is a growing program me and some collegues started called the Native Carbon Cure - a carbon tax that mitigates our business’ carbon footprint through local habitat restoration projects.)

Transit Fare Hikes Delayed

Larry Lebowitz, Miami Herald Transportation reporter, wrote last night in breaking news that the Miami-Dade Commissioners delayed their vote for a $0.50 hike in bus and train fares for Miami-Dade Transit.  According to Lebowitz, the deferral puts more pressure on the mayor and the transit agency to find solutions to the current cash crunch faced by the agency, as well as to determine what promises can be salvaged from the 2002 People’s Transportation Plan campaign.

Also, in the article, Bruno Barreiro, the chair of the Commission, indicated that he is not against bringing a repeal of the $0.005 surtax, if any plans that would be forthcoming from the mayor and the transit agency were devoid of concrete plans on how to expand Metrorail as indicated in the original ballot initiative.

While the delay may mean a short-term gain for the increasing numbers of consumers of these services, it only puts off the pain of balancing the books into the future – if, in fact, this increase will balance them.

Unfortunately for those of us who do use transit, the demand elasticity just usually isn’t there for us to be able to choose an alternate means of conveyance.  Especially with gasoline and diesel approaching, in some areas, $5.00 per gallon, many of us who use transit will take the fare hike in stride, and continue to use the services.  $2.00 a ride, depending on length, isn’t all that bad, and it is in line with the single-rider fare of other major metropolitain areas.

Where the commission should watch out, however, is with the price of the Metropass.  A fare hike from $75 to $100 will put the price of the pass out of reach of many of those who buy it, and might discourage companies that currently pay for part or all of their employee’s commute from keeping this benefit.  Also of note here is that a $100 monthly pass will put the cost of this pass at or near the top of the list nationwide.

The State of Miami Transit

The County Commission decided to delay its vote Tuesday on the proposed transit hikes. I commend Carlos Jimenez and others for seeing that the issue had to be reconsidered. As Gabe mentioned earlier in the week, the monthly pass really needs to be consistent with the size/reach of our transit system (not higher than NYC). Not to mention that the last thing you want to do when ridership is up is to increase fares, but the fact is that the system needs to be funded. Unfortunately I think that this discussion is just the latest in a series of bad management and planning decisions that keep our holding our transit back.

It has been a tumultuous time for Miami-Dade transit recently. The result of poor vision, bad management, and professional incompitance, the transit system is currently on life support. (This all with record high transit ridership on Tri-Rail reported today!).

The recent allocation of PTP tax dollars for the refurbishment of existing cars (and purchase of new ones) is indicative of the state of our transit. If the Trust hadn’t stepped in and bailed out MDT there would not have been anywhere to get the money from. In other words once the metro cars reached their lifespan they would have been tossed and we would have a really expensive piece of civic art. By not rehab-ing the cars some time back (as Baltimore did with its metro cars) the Commission basically put itself in a position where they had to buy new cars or close up shop. Not to mention the message it sends to Washington: that we aren’t serious about competing for transit dollars.  As if the Orange Line didn’t have enough funding problems, this just adds to how disorganized the MDT is. When the feds look at our existing system and see that it is mismanaged, what incentive do they have to give us money when there are plenty of other cities out there that are serious about mass transit.

The Orange Line debacle is yet another indication of how flawed our system is. We are eligible for lots of free money to help build this line, and we are at risk of losing it because we don’t know if we can maintain the line for the next 30 years? Really?? Lets not even mention that the Feds are already miffed that we are going to downgrade our Tri-Rail service after giving us nearly half a billion dollars for track upgrades.

Whew. Where does that leave us with oil closing in on $150/barrel (and soon thereafter $200, and $250. and $300…)? We need our transit system more than ever. We need a successful transit system now, not under the 50 year plan, but the five year plan.

Truth is if our planners and elected officials were as serious about transit as they were about highway and road building we would already have a really great transit system. I think it would be a surprise to many here in our car-centered culture that plenty of other post-war suburban cities have developed amazing transit systems over the past fifteen years.

Incidentally, I had lunch with a buddy of mine named Dave who happily takes the bus everyday from his house in Kendall to work in Coral Gables. He tried to explain to me why transit works for him but not for his dad (who won’t take the bus to save his life). “Its really easy for me. It’s mostly a straight shot with one transfer. But my dad works five minutes away from his house. It’s easier for him to just get in the car and go. Transit can’t take us everywhere.” Now Dave is my friend so I didn’t reach over the table and smack him around, but that’s exactly the attitude that pervades our culture and is bred from policy decisions made at the top.

Our elected officials need to understand:

We NEED transit alternatives to the car.

We DESERVE multiple forms of transit that are safe, frequent, and far reaching without having to get into the car.

We need transit NOW.

What GPS Tracking for Buses Could Look Like

First, I want to thank everyone who has shared their thoughts regarding the Metrorail Train Tracker. It is precisely this kind of input/involvement that is so critical to helping improve mass transit and livability in Miami-Dade County.
Judging by comments and emails, it sounds like many Miamian choice-riders would opt for riding Metrobus at least once in a while if the schedule was much more predictable. I very much agree and feel strongly that GPS tracking for buses is the future in coach transit. Just to get an idea of how a system in Miami-Dade might function, check out this link that shows a live map of GPS-tracked buses in Boulder, CO (it even shows the live speed of each bus!).

Kapoor in Charge

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez has concluded his nationwide search for a venerable replacement for Roosevelt Bradley by selecting none other than interim director Harpal Kapoor. Harpal Kapoor, who first began working for MDT in 1985, was appointed by Bradly in 2006 as the deputy director of operations.

Although I wished that Alvarez had tapped an outside source to lead the agency, I sincerely hope that Kapoor can begin steer (pun intended) the agency in the right direction. MDT is in dire need of some proper guidance to end the squandering of PTP money which has occurred for the past five years. I have composed a short list of issues we would like to see MDT take up over the next few beginning months of Kapoor’s Tenure (not including the obvious expansion of transit options):
  • Expansion and Improvement of TOD- Transit Oriented Development is critical in such an auto-centric city such as Miami. By placing a greater developmental emphasis on our existing transit line and actively expanding the amenities within easy walking distance of existing stations, our area transit will become more accessible to a greater portion of our population. It is imperative that MDT works together with surrounding developments to ensure safe, easy pedestrian access as well as higher density multi-use projects.
  • System wide Farecards- MDT has to modernize our transit system- Quick. Token machines are outdated and the cash system is primitive. Users must be able to quickly and easily purchase flexible farecards at convenient locations using credit cards. Farecards should be integrated with the surrounding tri-county area transit systems and should facilitate the use of transit for locals, not just visitors.
  • GPS Integration- MDT is currently working to install a system along metrorail which would provide users with upcoming train statuses and times. We need to move this technology along to every station platform, major bus transfer station, and most heavily used bus stops. Nearly every London Municipal stand alerts passengers of the wait time for the next bus, why can’t we? Plus, the new system would allow users to track transit using mobile or hand held devices.
  • Car/Bicycle Sharing Program- This should certainly be higher on the list. We can’t expect citizens to fully abandon car use, that’s unreasonable and absurd. Therefore a reliable and reasonable car sharing program such as Flexcar should be sought to partner with MDT to provide service to the greater Miami area. Flexcar could park cars at every Metrorail station or major transfer facility providing more flexibility for Miami residents. The car program would allow residents who can solely rely on public transit for daily needs to do so, but will provide them with flexibility of regular car use (without the burden of ownership, of course.) A bike rental/sharing program could similarly be instituted along every station, allowing resident and tourist rental of bicycles from electronic stands. The idea here being that MDT needs to expand from a system of buses and trains, it should encompass all forms of local transit. Bike rental facilities could one day be found along the river walk, Museum Park, or Midtown, giving residents greater choices of mobility…
  • Better Transit Facilities/Amenities- Take a ride along the NYC, Boston, or any other major cities subway system and each station will feature a newsstand, coffee shop, or lunch stand. MDT’s stations are barren and hostile by comparison. NYC is currently working on a citywide plan to update and standardize all newsstands and public toilets. MDT needs to work to bring such amenities to our local users. Some cities even feature buses and trains which display news, weather, and transit updates to users on televisions…
Kapoor has suddenly adopted the enormous responsibility of managing the 14th largest transit system in the country. We hope that the enthusiasm and energy he has displayed thus far to Burgess continues and continues to propel our blighted transit agency in new directions. Transit Miami looks forward to working with Mr. Kapoor to provide him with an outside point of view and to continue to spread the voice of transit in Miami-Dade County…

Miami Needs a Parking Intervention

Miami…it’s time to admit that you have a problem, and you need to get some help.

In my opinion, a recent Zoning Board meeting exemplified a) just how obsessed the City is with parking requirements; and b) how the City just flat out does not understand the connection between parking requirements, urban land use, induced vehicular demand, or how these elements factor into building a sustainable city.

This last Monday, the Miami Zoning Board oversaw a resolution on its agenda calling for a reduction in parking requirements for a proposed affordable housing building in the Lummus Park/South Overtown area. The resolution sought a special exemption from an already excessive parking requirement to allow 58 spaces instead of 103 for a building to be located on NW 4th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues. So, what’s the big deal, other than the fact that this building is located a block outside of downtown and is a 6-7 minute walk from Government Center Station? It’s a “very” affordable housing project courtesy of Camillus House designed to house the ex-homeless.

So in review, this proposed building will be 1) located one block from downtown; 2) short walk to City’s transit hub; 3) very affordable housing for the recently-homeless. Despite these characteristics, there was still substantial deliberation over whether or not to exempt this project from already excessive parking requirements. Never mind the fact that recently homeless folks likely will not (and shouldn’t feel obliged to) own a car, given their financial situations.

In particular, one Board member Ron Cordon, questioned the likelihood of recent homeless folks getting executive office jobs downtown, saying “Jobs in downtown are not typically offered to these people…instead, they will seek out small shops to gain employment…and for that, they will need a car because the transportation is inadequate”. In fairness, one Board member, Brett Berlin, did state that this location is “perfect for someone without a car”.

With the first statement above, I’m guessing Mr. Cordon drives from his house to a parking garage, rarely setting foot on the downtown streets. If he did, he would notice that downtown actually has a high concentration of “small shops”. Also, there are countless job opportunities all along the Metrorail line, which residents of this building would have easy access to without a car. Moreover, this location is just blocks from Little Havana, which may have the highest concentration of “small shops” in the whole metropolitan area. This is easily accessible by multiple Metrobus lines. Also, what about all of the low-skilled service jobs offered by hotels and restaurants, which are highly concentrated nearby in downtown, Brickell, and South Beach? This sounds to me like another example of City Board/Commission members using gut instinct and intuition rather than supporting facts and research. Sadly, these are the same people who make critical decisions that will affect our quality of life now and for the distant future.

Bottom line: Even with multiple reasons to justify a reduction in required parking spaces, the resolution only passed by a 5-4 vote.

Perhaps it’s time to bring in parking guru Donald Shoup to lead an intervention.

Miami Needs a Comprehensive Farecard System

On my way to work recently, I encountered something that aggravates me to no end: out-of- order token machines. And it’s not like just one of them is out-of-order - ALL OF THEM. This pretty much causes chaos at the particular station, making life hell for security guards (as well as shifting their focus from what they should be doing). Sometimes they will try to give you change, but most times they are stuck letting people through without paying a fare.

This level of service is completely unacceptable, yet it seems to happen much too frequently. The bottom line: we need a legitimate farecard system. It’s such a pain in the arse to walk around with pockets full of change or having to break larger bills to get tokens. This is a big money loser for MDT as well; I wonder how many people are allowed through without paying their full fare (or any fare) because of a system breakdown like this?

I know one thing for sure, I would ride Metrorail more often during months I am without a Metropass if I wasn’t hassled by the payment options of the current system. If I don’t have any tokens left, or no $1 or $5 bills, I’m stuck either breaking a larger bill at a store for a pack of gum, or finding an ATM, taking out $20 (plus $2.00 service fee), then finding a store to break my $20 on a pack of gum so I can ride the Metrorail. I’m sure thousands of other people go through similar ordeals so they can ride. Perhaps thousands of choice riders stay away because of such inefficiency.

For example, let’s use New York’s MetroCard. If I don’t own a car and I plan on using subways and/or buses for most trips, I’ll buy a monthly card (similar to Miami’s Metropass) for about $76 dollars, which allows for an unlimited number of rides that month. However, unlike Miami’s Metropass, if I ride my bike to work sometimes I may not need to spend $76 for an unlimited monthly card. I could then buy a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard (from automated kiosks, by the way), and pay only half as much as a monthly unlimited card. Moreover, I can refill the card as needed, and can use it to pay for up to four people at a time. This would make life easy when family visited, because instead of renting a car or dealing with the hassle of change/tokens for each member, the host could use their farecard to pay for family/friends. Or, depending on how long your family/friends are staying and how much transit you intend to use, they could each purchase unlimited day ($7) or unlimited week ($24) cards. This would give us total transit freedom and eliminate payment hassles. Transfers between transit lines/modes would be free under most circumstances mentioned above. Even for non-transit riders, this means fewer cars on the road because tourists and visitors would feel less obliged to rent cars (thousands of cars on Miami roads each day are rentals).

For anyone who wants to voice their displeasure with our inefficient, antiquated fare system, click here.

15 Seconds of Transit Fame

Go Miami-Dade, the People’s Transportation Plan newsletter, is offering the opportunity for transit riders to be profiled in the next issue of the newsletter. This month’s newsletter states:

“How would you like to be profiled in the next issue of Go Miami-Dade? If you’re a regular transit rider, we’d like to share your story about why you take the bus or train. Passenger profiles will feature a photo and brief interview. To find out how to be the subject of a passenger profile, please contact us at Gomiamidade@miamidade.gov or 305-375-1278″.

Report: Transit Ridership at Highest Level Since 1957

APTA (American Public Transportation Association) just came out with a report citing 2006 ridership figures. Among the findings:
  • More than 10 billion trips taken on bus and rails in 2006 nationwide
  • 2.9% increase over 2005
  • Highest levels of ridership since 1957
  • Ridership nationally has increased by 28% over the last decade
This is great news and again proves that even without first-class transit systems in every city, people still are willing to ride transit. Just imagine the ridership gains if all of our major cities did have first-class transit systems.

APTA president William Millar stated in the article, “Certainly a lot of the growth last year was with the high gas prices”. This offers more support to raise our gas taxes. This may be especially necessary for the future of South Florida transit, given cutbacks in funds the region could see if the proposed property tax rollback bill is passed. Raising gas taxes will better represent the true cost of oil, encourage more people to ride transit, and generate millions of dollars to improve transit.

The Metrobus Blues

Here’s another reason why rail transit expansion should take precedent over bus-favored alternatives. This afternoon I hopped on the #11 bus FIU-bound from Government Center via Flagler St at approximately 4:20pm; at 6:53pm, I arrived at FIU. It took the bus two and a half hours to go about 12 miles. If you’re counting at home, that’s an average speed around 5MPH. To put that into perspective, the average human walking speed is about 3.5MPH, meaning at a fairly brisk pace I could have rivaled the bus on foot. Furthermore, Metrorail travels its entire 22 miles in roughly 45 minutes, for an average speed of about 30MPH, or 600% faster than the bus. You would think Sweetwater would be begging for a Metrorail station (or two).

People talk about buses being advantageous to rail because of “flexible” routes, but nearly all routes are placed along arterial and connector roads that are the most susceptible to congestion (which, as we all should know, is expected to get much worse than it already is). Moreover, as we’ve mentioned a hundred times before, buses do relatively nothing to enhance the pedestrian realm, which is a major goal of the City of Miami, as well as Transit Miami. As Gabe said earlier, streetcars may not be guaranteed to significantly lessen traffic congestion, at least not immediately, but they are much more likely to do so than buses and they facilitate pedestrian-oriented surroundings so people have alternatives to driving everywhere.

Manhattan has the most comprehensive subway system in the world, but if you’ve ever driven there, you know that doesn’t preclude the borough from heavy congestion. The point is, they have many alternatives and we don’t - which is partly why NYC is a world-class city and Miami is still a far cry away.

Once upon a MIC

Just found these above photos on a forum that I frequent. They are of the Miami Intermodal Center, which is so far, just a fairytale. What’s an intermodal center? It’s going to be Miami’s Grand Central Station connecting the new airport people mover, metrorail, tri-rail, Amtrak, metrobus, taxi, and rental cars under one roof. Amazing? Well, yes, if it had been built on time (like the PAC, Airport North Terminal, etc.) Construction “progress” photos on the MIC site date back to October 2001, since then they’ve moved lots of dirt around, tied up the traffic on LeJeune daily, and wasted plenty of taxpayer money in the process. Meanwhile, we suffer the consequences of the current disorganized system and still do not have a rail link to the airport. Recently, the MIC was even downscaled from its original scale due to 9/11 passenger traffic decreases, however, in a sudden stroke of genius intelligence, the redesign was done in a manner which would be easy to expand the facility later if need be. However, If you look at the first picture, someone forgot to adequately shade some of the metrobus stops of the MIC. I fear this building will be riddled with defects.

There’s nothing too revolutionary about the building’s design. Similar buildings are rising in other parts of the world which will not only feature cutting edge technology, but will also be visually stimulating. Considering the hundred of millions of dollars that will be poured into this structure, I honestly expected something a little bit more grandiose. But hey, this is Miami, I’ve grown used to the lackluster designs, ridiculous cost overruns, and most importantly, the complete negligence of the construction schedules initially stated…

Click here for the complete PDF