Archive for the 'Miami Commission' Category

The week in transit

A lot happened this week behind the scenes and between the lines. Here is a review:

Kudos to this editorial today from El Nuevo Herald columnist Daniel Shoer Roth. I think he did an excellent job in highlighting how mismanaged our transit system is. Accountability goes out the window when ten different departments and municipalities are ‘responsible’ for certain aspects of mass transit. I’m always talking about how our system is ‘mismanaged’ but that really isn’t the case at all. It’s a question of priorities, and transit has not historically been one of them.

Our planning priorities were on full display this past weekend in an insert produced by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that the Herald included in its Sunday edition. The insert describes work done to date and future projects. If you are not familiar with the MPO, it is a County run organization that is charged with coordinating the various transportation projects around Miami-Dade, as required by Federal Department of Transportation rules. Their mandate is described on their website is:

…to have a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive transportation planning process that results in plans and programs that consider all transportation modes and support metropolitan community development and social goals. These plans and programs shall lead to the development and operation of an integrated, intermodal transportation system that facilitates the efficient, economic movement of people and goods.” (emphasis added)

Many worthy goals, but unfortunately their focus is more on expressway and road building projects than on balancing roads with mass transit. My favorite part of the insert is titled “Miami-Dade: Urban Travel Trends” which utilizes graphs, bright colors, and a lot of traffic engineer lingo (vehicle miles traveled, peak period speeds, etc), with only a brief mention of transit under a graph called ‘Transit Mode Share’. The text accompanying the graph states, “the countywide transit mode share in 2005 was approximately 2.5%” It goes on to say that share will grow, “albeit modestly.” Ok. I find it disillusioning that the organization supposedly responsible for coordinating our transit system is not very optimistic about the future growth of MDT.

Truth be told, after this week’s political farce concerning tranist fares and another half cent tax, I might tend to agree with the MPO. Our future transit does not look so good because the people responsible are alseep at the wheel. Commisioners Bruno and Barbs: wake up!! You have have been reaching in the dark these past few weeks trying to placate your constituents. I know this issue gets heated and personal. Let me be clear: this is not a personal attack. It makes it difficult for those of us who are transit advocates and who supported the first tax increase to justify anything you ask for now because of how the money has been squandered. Surely you can understand that. Next week I am going to work on a series of posts on how the People’s Transportation Tax has been spent to bring to light how that opportunity has been, and continues to be, botched.
If you really care about transit, and Commissioner Jordan I think you care about getting the Orange Line built, here are a few recommendations that can serve as confidence building measures that might make any fare or tax increase palatable:

  • Make the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust the sole entity responsible for deciding what happens to that money. Give it back its teeth, and allow it to do its job.
  • Charge veterans and the elderly. We can’t give away transit that doesn’t exist yet. Until MDT gets its house in order, they should be charged, albeit at a reduced rate that should be revisited when MDT’s finances get better. MDT needs income, and the Trust shouldn’t be responsible for giving it an allowance every month.
  • Charge for the Metromover. Same reasons as above.
  • Have MDT work with the Trust. Recent reports from Miami Today describe how the Trust is having a tough time getting cooperation from MDT with regard to budget issues. How is the Trust supposed to operate if it doesn’t know how much the system costs to maintain?? This is silly.

Note to Mayor Carlos Alvarez: the strong mayor powers you wanted came with responsibilities, ie. get MDT organized. How can they run the business of Miami-Dade Transit without a budget. Helloo?? Not to put all the blame on you though, as you’ve only really been in charge for a short while.

  • Tie the 20% Municipal Transportation Plan funding to transit specifically, not transportation which has become synonymous with roads and expressways. A majority of payments to municipalities have been spent on roads, resurfacing, and other road related infrastructure. The PTP was marketed primarily as a transit plan. Spend money on rail, buses, and the infrastructure related to these much needed systems. Our roads are in fine shape. That way projects like the Coral Gables Trolley continue to get funding, while other money is free to be spent on, oh, I don’t know, maybe a few bus shelters (around International Mall maybe)?
  • Increase fares to be consistent with our how efficient our system is. Don’t over do it. We want to pay for our transit, but we want to get something in return.

You need to rebuild our confidence in your ability to provide us with a functional and growing transit system. Very soon public perception of transit in this community is going to turn from being a nonessential ’social good’ to an indispensable and basic part of the infrastructure of the city. When that happens, when people start to feel like they have no choice but to get in their cars at $8.00 a gallon, watch out Commissioners and company. The mob will be ruthless, and the storming of the Bastille will seem like a trip to Disneyworld in comparison to your worth in the public eye.

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.

Is an Increase in Waterfront Property on the Horizon?

HRMiami-125M

The Miami Herald is reporting that County Commissioners, today, will hear a report from the “Miami-Dade County Climate Change Task Force,” in which data point to nothing less than a dramatic rise in sea levels on the horizon.

What does this have to do with transportation in Miami? Some of the suggestions for improvement from the task force are interesting:

  • Phasing out “gas-guzzler” taxis by 2008
  • Burning bio-fuels in county fleet vehicles

While the article points out that there are zoning changes that are also part of the recommendations, the article does not point out the impact the daily commute has on our atmosphere here, and worldwide. It seems to take a bleak look overall at the scenario, without the proper focus on anything except pie-in-the-sky suggestions such as the aforementioned, which suggestions are all-but-certain to be obliterated by lobbyists before they see even a pilot implementation.

What is clear (and this is also presented by the article) is that Everglades restoration needs to be the first and foremost on everyone’s mind right now, as this will at least delay the salt water invasion some of our water well fields are already experiencing. Next, since this looks like it will happen sooner, rather than later, perhaps it’s time to start looking at some of the flood protection that has been implemented in coastal areas of mainland Europe, and on the British Isles.

Finally, while the county had the forethought to actually implement this sort of task force, bringing their ideas to fruition may take a lot longer than we have. What incentive is there to implement? The water isn’t lapping at our feet yet.

Miami Needs Your Help!

Transit Miami is asking all readers to please actively participate in saving Miami 21 and Tri-Rail funding.

Miami 21: Our sources over in city hall have informed us that Miami 21 is literally on life support. The city commissioners are completely oblivious to the true benefits this new zoning policy will bring to the city, helping to create a sustainable, walkable, and accessible community. Miami 21 will create a cohesive and well organized map for future growth in the city, bringing density to the corridors and areas which would benefit from it most while preserving the qualities of every neighborhood.

We urge all of our readers to email/call the city commissioners to voice your support for Miami 21.

Commissioner Angel Gonzalez: agonzalez@ci.miami.fl.us (305) 250-5430
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff: msarnoff@miamigov.com (305) 250-5333
Commissioner Joe Sanchez: jsanchez@ci.miami.fl.us (305) 250-5380
Commissioner Thomas Regalado: tregalado@ci.miami.fl.us (305) 250-5420
Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones: MSpence@ci.miami.fl.us (305) 250-5390

Tri-Rail: In the wake of rising oil prices, our logical friends over in the FDOT are looking to strip Tri-Rail funding for a handful of road expansion projects in the tri-county area. Tri-Rail has launched the save my train initiative to prevent the budget cutbacks which would essentially cripple the agency. We should add that last year Tri-Rail was the second fastest growing transit agency in the country and the fastest growing agency in 2006.

If you have any further questions feel free to contact us (movemiami@gmail.com)

Commission’s View of Parking is Misguided

This is a joint letter Ryan and I submitted to the Miami Herald’s Op Ed section and to the city of Miami Commission regarding last Thursday’s vote on the Empire World Towers proposal:

Commission’s View of Parking is Misguided
By: Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal & Ryan Sharp
www.TransitMiami.com

As transportation engineers and urban planners, we feel that City of Miami’s plans to increase the total number of parking spaces in the Empire World Towers development will have a detrimental effect on both the people and City of Miami.

An Increase in Parking Supply Increases Driving Demand

An increase of net parking spaces – to one per unit, as the city commission proposed – will only worsen the traffic conditions along Biscayne Boulevard and the surrounding streets. The aim of the city administration and all downtown development should be to reduce automobile dependency, not enhance it, especially in one of the few areas well served by public rail transit. Any increases in available parking will only serve as a means with which our residents will continue to neglect and undermine the intended purpose of public transportation.

More Parking = More Traffic Congestion Downtown

It is in our opinion, that the city commission should fully embrace reductions in parking space requirements for all downtown buildings within a 3-block radius of any fixed rail transit station. To do this, the city should unequivocally support Empire World Towers‘ proposed station link to Metromover, not an increase in parking spaces. Supporting both would be contradictory – essentially taking one-step forward and one-step backward. An Empire World Towers station linkage to Metromover will facilitate transit use resulting in a net reduction of vehicular trips, while more parking will do just the opposite.

Miamians possess no innate preference for car use; land use policy in this region has never presented residents with a clear alternative option. Increasing the number of parking spaces in this development will only exacerbate this problem, while doing nothing to make our transportation infrastructure more sustainable.

Car-Related Infrastructure has contributed significantly to Downtown Miami’s Ills

Every time we allow a policy that favors cars over transit, such as increasing parking mandates, our entire region becomes less sustainable and we all lose. Drivers who are supposed to benefit from more parking actually suffer because traffic congestion worsens. Those who do not or cannot drive suffer because they feel all the externalities of car-dominated spaces, including noisy, polluted, and unsafe streets. Anyone who sets foot downtown suffers because they are forced to walk by so many unpleasant spaces, such as surface parking lots and the blank walls and curb cuts of parking garages. Businesses suffer because fewer people will pass by on foot, while employees will have worse commutes. This vicious cycle has been the status quo downtown for too long, which has left the streets unpleasant and thus a vacuum to be filled by the undesirable elements that people complain about.

Do the Right Thing and Support a Livable, Sustainable Future for Miamians

The inefficiency of the parking system proposed by Maclee is proposed to force EWT residents and visitors to seek alternative means of transit when accessing the development (a direct point made by Enrique Peñalosa to the city, was that in order for public transportation to be successful it would have to be at least equally attractive as the alternatives.) Mobility in Miami will only continue to be governed by the automobile if we continue utilizing land use policies that favor vehicles over people. Transit Miami asks the city commission, with all due respect, to reduce the parking requirements this Thursday for the Empire World Towers proposal.

Mid-Week Miami News

Image Credit: John Vanbeekum
  • The obvious headline story today is Miami-Dade County’s decision to purchase 136 new rail cars for metrorail due to MDT’s prior negligence in maintaining the existing fleet (WTG Roosevelt! I’m so proud of that name clearing hearing the County held in your honor.) Larry Lebowitz wrote a phenomenal Herald watchdog report covering nearly every aspect of this story. Aside from the obvious maintenance issues, we’re disappointed to see that the PTP will be raided again to fix issues which should have been resolved with other funds. The County commissioners have repeatedly abused the intended purpose of the PTP and have all but rendered the CITT useless. At the current rate, the PTP will be milked to fix past screw ups, provide free transit use for veterans, and various other road (vehicular) projects which have passed under the radar. Doesn’t anyone care?
  • Meanwhile, the metromover will be receiving its own new vehicles sometime over the next year at a cost of $26 Million PTP dollars. That’s another $26 Million less for new rail projects in case you are wondering. Bombardier will be building the 12 new cars and is slated to be asked to build an additional 17 cars for another $34 Million. Note: should the county back out of the additional 17 cars by July, taxpayers will pay Bombardier $1 million. Who negotiates these contracts? This must be like taking candy from a baby for the Bombardier Sales team.
  • The “plan” to continue fragmenting the County into more bureaucratic layers of fat is progressing nicely with Palmetto Bay’s desire to annex the Falls neighborhood.
  • We’re #1! Forbes magazine has named Miami America’s cleanest City. I highly doubt the achievement is a result of any of our own doing but rather the result of Florida’s flat geography. In any case, our air is clean, whatever that means.
  • New Bike Lockers are appearing on Tri-Rail, making eco-commuting an easy alternative…
  • Miami-Forum covers the Downtown Foam fest caused by a Sony production commercial shoot…

Today’s Bike Proclamation

Sorry about the slow activity this week. We’ll be back to normal soon. Here is a scanned copy of the proclamation issued by Mayor Manuel Diaz today commemorating Miami’s Bike Month. I captured the whole presentation on video but am having trouble uploading it. I’ll have it up as soon as soon as possible.

Miami Advertising Eyesores

Let us get something straight; the advertisements all over the city of Miami aren’t murals, they’re big ass ugly tarps. With their abundance and apparent ability to lobby to soften our elected officials, the big ass ugly tarp industry is apparently a lucrative one. Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has the right idea, attempting to restrict these banners to a smaller area, levy heavier fines on non-compliant ads, and reducing the number of legal advertisements. The other option, crafted by city administrators, would levy smaller fines and allow more banners in a larger area. The plans have been in the works since July and after 8 months of deliberation will finally soon come to a vote by the city commission.

“I’m disappointed after spending so much time with the administration,” Mr. Sarnoff said, calling today’s face-off the “first time the administration has really challenged me like this.”

Mr. Sarnoff blamed the influence of mural lobbyists for city staffers’ apparent change of heart, saying outdoor advertising proponents have their “hooks deeply in the administration.”

It is unfortunate that the city of Miami is bowing to special interests. This particular form of advertising contributes little substantial value to the city, degrades the view of much of the city, and undermines any efforts to create a legitimate outdoor advertising industry. Banners, such as the one pictured above (1 of 3 on this particular building), are placed without any regard for building use. This particular “hotel” is fully blanketed with a Budweiser tarp obstructing every window on the eastern façade, facing I-95 motorists…