Currently viewing the tag: "Miami Herald"

The Miami Herald ran a story today regarding the Venetian closure and the effects it will have on pedestrians and bicyclists. Featured in the story is Felipe Azenha, a regular Transit Miami reader and a dedicated bicycle activist. From the article:

But some cycling advocates don’t think that is enough. The MacArthur is dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, they say.

‘I think it’s really an accident waiting to happen” said Felipe Azenha, who used to ride his bike over the Venetian daily to work. Azenha pointed to recent causeway calamities. In March, NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth ran over a pedestrian on the MacArthur, killing him. In August, a cab driver plowed into almost a dozen cyclists out on a leisurely ride on a Sunday morning. None of the bicyclists died.

‘They have to put safety barriers out on the MacArthur and make it more clear that there will be bicycles and pedestrians,’ said Azenha, who also suggested a lower speed limit on the MacArthur during the month of May.

Molins said he could not address the concerns because the causeway is a state road controlled by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Of course, we all know that FDOT has said the County can do something by working with the statewide agency to ensure safe passage between the two cities for bicyclists and pedestrians.  Well, May 1 has come and nearly gone.  There is no telling if action will be taken.  Regardless, life goes on for the intrepid, as I saw four other bicyclists and two runners out on the MacArthur at 8:30 this morning. If the County and FDOT were wise, they would work together to figure out a solution before someone gets hurt.

If you do decide to head out there, please take extreme caution.

This Saturday,  Bike Miami Days is joining forces with the 8th annual antique car Flagler Fest and the 2009 Purina Walk for The Animals. With ever more programs, events, music, and things to do,  and now in conjunction with these two concurrent events and many partnering businesses, organizations and municipalities, this is likely to be the most successful Bike Miami Days to date.  The City of Miami Police Department, Mayor Diaz and staff, the Downtown Development Authority, and all others should be commended for working cooperatively to bring a better urbanism to downtown Miami -and one centered on creating more  livable streets.

Also note that this event is the 4th BMD, which gives Miami the distinction of running the most ciclovias to date in the United States. The Magic City may not be as urbane as New York, or as progressive as Portland, but these monthly events are doing much to raise awareness for livable streets in a city that has so few.

The Miami Herald for provided nice  coverage yesterday and the Bike Miami Days website serves up  all the details.

Spread the word and come out to celebrate your city!

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Miami Beach is already a relatively bicycle-friendly city. It’s dense urban pattern, limited geographic area, mixture of uses, and many well-scaled streets —  prerequisites for urban bicycling — certainly give it a leg up on all other South Florida municipalities.

However, these qualities alone do not a great bicycle city make.

As demonstrated in cities like Portland, Davis and Boulder — the platinum standard in this country — a well-connected, easily identifiable network of bicycle infrastructure must be put in place if any city is to meet latent demands. Otherwise, as a mode of transportation,  bicycling will achieve only a fraction of its potential. It seems this lesson is starting to take hold in Miami Beach, which I believe has the potential to surpass the previously mentioned cities as America’s most bicycle-friendly (I’ll explain how in a future article).

New bicycle racks are being installed on Alton Road.

Within the past few years the city has striped bicycle lanes on portions of 16th Street, Prairie Avenue, the Venetian Causeway, Royal Palm Avenue, and 47th Street.  Attractive and recognizable bicycle racks continue to be installed along the cities commercial corridors, including Alton Road, Lincoln Road, and Washington Avenue. Additionally, attractive way-finding signs have been installed which help bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists alike navigate their way efficiently around the Beach.

Yet, according to the latest edition of Miami Beach Magazine, a quarterly publication distributed to all MB residents,  a bonanza of additional bicycle improvements are on the way.

Alton Road, South Pointe Drive, Ocean Drive, and West Avenue are all slated for new bicycle lanes. Additionally, a new “bike path” (not sure if they actually mean lane here) will appear on Dade Boulevard, and hundreds of new racks will continue to be installed along the city’s main corridors and eventually within the neighborhoods. And finally, as we reported earlier this month, a 500 bicycle-sharing system may be implemented as soon as this fall. With the glut of tourists who arrive in Miami Beach every week, and only one other American city with such an amenity, this project may be the most transformative.

Many of the above projects are still in the design stage, and the article did not include a timetable for their completion. Given that I am still waiting for the pilot “sharrows” to be painted along Washington Avenue, I will not hold my breath.

Regardless, these long overdue projects bode will certainly enhance mobility, but most importantly improve accessibility to points and destinations all over Miami Beach. Ultimately, it will also further the city’s reputation as one committed to sustainable transportation.

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Reporter Andres Viglucci wrote a nice piece chronicling the City’s growing commitment to becoming a bicycle friendly city. He writes:

Whether it’s out of fear of getting crushed by two tons of speeding metal, the clueless motorists or the near-total lack of bike lanes, Miamians have long been notoriously bike-averse.

So what’s a car-choked town to do if it wants to join a growing trend and foster safe cycling for recreation and transportation?

You do what the city of Miami — incredibly, perhaps — is starting to do.

First, you draw up a bike plan for the first time ever: identify suitable streets, create bike lanes and signage, provide bike parking and print up ”bike-friendly” maps.

And then, to show that people do want this, pick a day when main streets in the center of town can be closed to cars and turn them over to the citizenry to freely bike, walk, skate, jog, congregate.

Say, Sunday, Nov. 9.

To read more follow the link above, or hey, go old school and pick up a copy of tomorrow’s edition.

We apologize for being slow to comment on the recent Herald series about the People’s Transportation Plan disaster. Everyone at Transit Miami has been extremely busy as of late, but we’ll definitely have several pieces in the coming days and weeks discussing many of the elements referenced by Larry Lebowitz’s multi-part series.

Stay tuned!

Image: Miami-Dade.gov

I know we have already mentioned this topic this week, but considering the Herald continues its negative spin campaign against the zoning rewrite I thought a healthy counterpoint was in order. Herald columnist Ana Mendez writes in her column today that she thinks that the code is a little too complicated for a layperson to understand.

She writes, “Its true zoning codes are difficult to write. And no one wants to minimize the important role that government plays in assessing the public’s needs and translating them into hopelessly complicated, impenetrable legal gobbledygook. But there has to be a better way.”

Now, as an urban planner and architect I agree that the language can be difficult at times, but the fact is that anyone with a high school education can figure it out (not to mention that all of the terms used are defined in the first chapter). Part of the problem is that we have to translate good urban design (which is a field that lends itself to drawing more than writing) into legal ‘gobbledygook’ so that land-use attorneys and developers don’t find loopholes in otherwise straightforward regulations.

Codes (Miami 21 or any other land use code) have to be written in language that is not simplistic, and that will hold up to scrutiny in court. Menendez quotes from the code:


Lots facing streets on more than one (1) side shall have designated Principal Frontage(s) and may have Secondary Frontage(s). Unless otherwise designated by a Special Area Plan, a Principal Frontage shall be that facing the street of higher pedestrian importance or intensity (i.e., traffic volume, number of lanes, etc.)

Which is another way of saying that you define the front of a corner lot as the one that faces the busiest street, but you can’t say that in a legal document because if you did then you would have all sorts of follow-up questions like:

  • How do you define which street is most important?
  • What do you call the other less important front?

Unfortunately, I think that this criticism of Miami 21, along most others, is less about the code than about blaming it for things that are beyond its control.

Here are a few of the arguments against Miami 21 that I have read both on the Miami 21 website and in various articles over the past two years:
-> “Miami 21 is the first urban application of a smart code in the US. It is an experiment that has never been tested.”

Actually, Miami 21 is not the first form based code to be applied to a major urban center, Philadelphia is in the process of passing a form based code, and I think we would all agree that as far as successful urbanism is concerned Miami pales in comparison. Form based codes have actually been around for a long time. Think of any good city (Chicago, New York, Philly, Boston) and their downtowns were developed with codes that were form based (as opposed to use based).

-> “Miami 21 is hated by architects and urban planners.”

Actually, having been written by urban planners and architects this one is not really true. The Herald loves to point out that architects dislike the plan, but really only a vocal minority of self-crowned celebrity architects dislike the code as a matter of ego than of substance. One architect in particular (whose name will remain anonymous except to say that it begins with Z and ends with h) says that the code infringes on his creativity by imposing height restrictions. Without going into some lengthy discussion on aesthetics and philosophy, lets just say that where this designer is concerned, creativity is overrated. Miami 21 holds faithful to some pretty basic premises (active street fronts, eyes on the street, etc.) and allows a lot of latitude after that. If you need your building to stand out like a huge phallic symbol, go to Dubai. Never mind that the the latest draft of the code has all but relaxed the height restrictions in certain T-Zones to be what they are in the existing code.

-> “Miami 21 will not allow me to rebuild my house if it gets destroyed.”

First of all, as with any zoning rewrite there will be nonconformities. The whole point of the code is that the existing code is allowing some pretty awful stuff to get built, and the new code will make some of that illegal. That’s the nature of any zoning code. I live in a 1940’s med style house that is illegal by today’s code because its too close to the sidewalk. Go figure. At any rate, the new draft of the code explicitly states that nonconformities in R1 zones will be grandfathered in. Period.

-> “Developers hate Miami 21.”

This one is my favorite. Developers love Miami 21 because it gives them greater development rights than they had before. The code was drafted using the existing regulations as a base. That means that all of the development rights have been preserved or augmented. All the code does is say that you have to meet the street in a way that will promote healthy urbanism. It’s not complicated.

-> “Miami 21 will allow tall buildings next to single family residences along Biscayne in the NE part of town.”

This one is true much to the chagrin of community activists such as Elvis Cruz who have long protected the area. Unfortunately they aren’t entirely using their thinking caps as to what they get in return for this extra height. Along parts of Biscayne you can build a 3 story building that would reach a height of 50’+ that would be adjacent to 30′ homes.

There are two parts to this that people need to understand.

1) We are trying to encourage pedestrian friendly development along in this part of Biscayne and part of that involves defining the street as a public space. With a street as large as Biscayne is, you need something more than two stories to make that happen. I don’t think that 50′ is all that egregious a transition to a single family neighborhood (especially in comparison to what is allowed now).
2) We need to start thinking of our eastern edge as the place where more intense development needs to happen. We cannnot hold the UDB line and be NIMBY’s at the same time. Saving the Everglades means that growth has to be in someone’s backyard. Biscayne Boulevard deserves buildings that are more than 3 stories.

Remember this: Miami 21 is a lot better than the existing code, and if we let this opportunity pass we are the ones who suffer. This is not some abstract concept in a book, this is about the kind of city in which we want to live and raise our families. I for one will not give up.


Source: Miami Herald

An article in the Herald this morning sheds light on crime problems in Liberty City’s recently constructed Habitat for Humanity community.
On Northwest 68th Terrace, a street in the heart of the neighborhood with 17 houses, nine homeowners reported having something stolen from their property or had property vandalized in the last month.

The list of stolen property includes: childrens’ bicycles that had been chained up in the backyard, car stereos, tools, yard equipment, plants and light fixtures. Resident Margaret Brown had her Nissan Altima stolen from her driveway.

As you read the article, you’ll notice a general tone of surprise that a lower density, “suburban-looking place” didn’t inherently diminish criminal activity.

One quote in particular really sums up this myth:

Many of the 50 families living in the subdivision off Northwest 22nd Avenue and 68th Street expected it to be an island of suburbia floating in an area known for its hardscrabble ways.

They worked together to plant the trees, paint the houses and popcorn the ceilings. When the neighborhood opened, it was heralded as a ray of hope for the hundreds who were lied to and displaced by the county’s oft-troubled HOPE VI housing program.

Maybe it’s just me, but “an area known for its hardscrabble ways” in the above context sounds like a euphemism for “inner city”, which of course implies “urban”.

However, the fact that suburban-style housing does not magically stop crime should not be a new revelation. This myth that social problems found in urban environments can be solved or mitigated by improved architecture or suburban-style design dates back to the housing reform movements of the early twentieth century.

One of the most popularized examples of this myth actually is the story of a more urban model — the Pruitt-Igoe public housing projects in St. Louis, Missouri. Pruitt-Igoe opened in 1954 as 33 eleven-story apartment buildings somewhat emulating New York City’s public housing. At the time, it was thought that the design of Pruitt-Igoe — impressive modern high-rises surrounded by large open spaces — would on its own merit be a prescriptive solution to poverty and crime. However, within a decade after opening, Pruitt-Igoe’s tower-in-the-park design had done little to curb crime or poverty, as both raged on throughout the neighborhood. As Katharine Bristol wrote in “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”, published in the Journal of Architectural Education in 1991,

“By placing the responsibility for the failure of public housing on designers, the myth shifts attention from the institutional or structural forces of public housing problems.”

Then in 1972, just 18 years after being built, Pruitt-Igoe was demolished. Dramatic images capturing the demolition were framed to symbolize the destruction of an inhumane place and the failure of urban housing (among other things).

Though the scale and design of Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis and and the Scott Carver Projects in Miami (the public housing demolished to make room for Habitat Homes) are certainly different, the same faulty message has come from the razing of both communities: urban-style public housing is inherently bad and therefore facilitates crime. Of course this leads to the terribly flawed logic that suburban-style housing will somehow make everything all better. Talk about putting a cheap band-aid on a gaping wound.

(Note: I think Habitat for Humanity has a wonderful core philanthropic goal to provide housing for the needy, but its methods regarding architectural and landscape design need to be reevaluated to include better urban design).

Clearly, the suburban-style design of the Habitat Homes have not done much to eliminate crime. The article continues,

Crime data from the Miami-Dade Police Department confirms the Habitat neighborhood is not crime-free: In January, when half the homes were still under construction, the police received complaints about vandalism, burglary and car theft.

Police said updated records of crime in the neighborhood are not currently available. However, an informal Herald survey showed more than half the residents in the community had been victimized.

Whether it’s Habitat for Humanity, Miami-Dade County, or even private developers, the message is clear: suburban-style housing is “benign” and offers “hope”, and therefore should serve as an oasis to the inherent evils of true urban environments.

Judging from this article, however, it doesn’t seem like the major players understand this suburban design myth.

But the nonprofit home-building group has learned something about crime prevention from its experience at Habitat Homes, she said: Habitat leaders will look into putting security cages around air-conditioning units in the future.

Every house in the neighborhood will also get a white picket fence, courtesy of Habitat.

Well that must be the problem, they forgot the white picket fence!


That’s the message of DPZ planner Mike Lydon, who recently had this nice letter printed in the Miami Herald. Here’s a reprint:

An increasing number of cities, large and small, welcome bicycling as an energy efficient, healthy and economically sustainable means of alternative transportation. Chicago, for example, is currently implementing its Bike 2015 Plan, which makes bicycling an integral part of the city’s daily life through infrastructure projects, programs and policies. Likewise, a bicycle master plan underway in Portland is upholding and expanding its reputation as the most bicycle-friendly city in America.

Looking internationally, in just a few years Bogotá has implemented a highly integrated citywide bicycle system, and every Sunday it hosts Ciclovia, an event that closes 70 miles of the city’s streets to traffic, allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to celebrate a car-free public realm. Perhaps more dramatically, Paris executed a citywide bicycle sharing system that transformed it into one of Europe’s most bicycle-friendly cities. Indeed, with well over one million rides logged on 20,000 low cost bicycles available at high-tech stations, the City of Light has repositioned itself to also become the city of bikes.

In contrast, Miami is choosing not to compete. To date, locating a sidewalk bike rack is more difficult than securing a Saturday night parking spot near Lincoln Road. On-street bike lanes simply do not exist. Nor do street signs directing motorists to share the road with their two-wheel “subordinates.”

Cyclists do not have a bicycle sharing program to look forward to, or even a simple bike map showing them the friendliest streets on which to travel. What’s worse, there seems to be surprisingly little commitment by the city to improve the situation on any level. This runs counter to America’s most vibrant cities like Chicago, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and even our own Miami Beach, where an official citywide bicycle master plan is currently adding signage, bicycle racks and bicycle lanes with great success.

Yet the city of Miami could become a great bicycling city. We have fantastic weather, bicycle friendly flat terrain and a population that seems to enjoy the abundance of outdoor activities that South Florida provides. It’s not as if Miami does not have a fair share of cyclists. I see them on my daily commute from the beach, through downtown and into Little Havana. I also bicycle with them in the monthly critical mass ride over the Rickenbacker Causeway to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.

We just need to better accommodate them, and we can. The city’s ubiquitous grid features many wide street right-of-ways that, where appropriate, easily could include bicycle-related infrastructure. Such a system should connect some of the city’s up-and-coming urban destinations, too far to reach by foot, but too frustrating to reach by car — the Biscayne Corridor, Design District, Wynwood, Downtown, Brickell, Little Havana, Little Haiti and Coconut Grove, as well as the city’s outlying neighborhoods.

If Miami is to unlock its great bicycling potential, it must consider hiring a bicycle planner (yes, they do exist) to create an ambitious bicycle master plan, and one that supplements the provisions of the Miami 21 plan. The bicycle plan must be city-wide and address everything from safety and education to actual policy and infrastructure implementation. Moreover, the plan should set realistic benchmarks that are able to be realized in both the short and long term.

So what gives, Miami? Why don’t we have an official bicycle planner on staff aiding the supposed urban renaissance proclaimed by DWNTWN billboards? Why not be bold and make Miami a year-round cycling destination? The benefit received from creating a bicycle plan would do much to change the perception of the city, internally and externally. It would also improve the city’s livability. Why should we settle as a perpetually pedestrian and bike unfriendly city? We know that sinking more money into auto-oriented infrastructure only makes congestion and pollution worse. We know our current modes of automobile transport are inadequate, frustrating and contribute to global warming, an issue that all South Floridians must take seriously.

It’s time for the city to move in a new direction — one relying upon more pedestrian and bike-friendly urban forms as a means to achieving a vibrant, sustainable city for the 21st century. However, without recognition from city officials, Miami’s great potential has little chance of becoming a reality. A bike planner might just be the best place to start.

Note: All links were provided by the author of this post and did not appear in the original Miami Herald print.

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If you read the Herald yesterday, you probably saw this article. It’s not so hard to believe given the bizarre political culture of Miami-Dade, but the proposed North Corridor extension of the Metrorail may be in trouble.

Apparently, the administration of Miami-Dade College North Campus has been working with county transit planners for the last three years to bring not only a station on campus, but a gym/wellness center, a 2000-space parking garage, a conference center, classrooms, and a bookstore. However, all of this would have forced a $26 million relocation of the US Army Reserve Armory at NW 27th Ave and NW 119th St, which the county cannot afford. Furthermore, it appears that these expenses were never even taken into account in the Environmental Impact Statement given to Washington, which means any federal aid allocated to the county for the North Corridor would not include these MDC expenses. From the Lebowitz’s Streetwise column:

And here’s where it gets really strange. All of the letter-writing traffic is one-way, with Vicente (of MDT) memorializing his understanding of what agreements were reached in these meetings.

Nobody from Transit ever responded — even though the agency clearly couldn’t afford to make these ludicrous promises to the college and hope to compete against dozens of other U.S. cities for $700 million to $825 million in matching federal funds for the North Corridor.

Transit’s files are curiously thin on the issue. And three key players from Transit’s side of the talks are no longer with the agency. One retired last year. Bradley was fired in March and one of his top aides a few weeks later.

Yet, records show that Transit was already warning federal regulators in early 2006 that it might not be able to afford the armory relocation, forcing the agency to consider the station closer to the MDC-North main gate.

Why Transit couldn’t brace Vicente with the same candor about the armory site in early ’06 remains a mystery. And someone definitely should have told him, in writing, that the agency couldn’t build that massive conference center-garage without endangering the federal funding.

This is upsetting for several reasons. First, this was supposed to be the next expansion of Metrorail, before the East-West extension or anything in Kendall. MDT is this close to receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to help finance the expensive project. Keep in mind, the transit market is extremely competitive nationwide as cities everywhere are scrambling to make up for lost time and do the right thing by improving their public transportation systems. At the same time, federal funds are shamefully low, which means Miami-Dade is very fortunate to be in the its current position. As Lebowitz says in his column, redrawing the route or ceding to MDC’s demands is totally infeasible right now because of high costs, wasted time, and the potential for jeopardizing federal aid.

It’s also upsetting because the whole thing is just so juvenile. This is the kind of thing that just cannot happen at this level of government, especially when dealing with billion dollar capital projects and $800 million subsidies, not to mention the future of Miami-Dade County.

In response to recent editorials by the East Kendall Homeowners Organization and Ed Levine, I decided to submit my own editorial to the Herald, let’s hope they publish it…

An open letter reply to the East Kendall Homeowners Organization (EKHO):

It is disheartening to see such a motivated and presumably progressive group of individuals that comprise the East Kendall Homeowners Organization speak out so adamantly against a plan that would provide better access to most of the Kendall community. If we are to remain an economically viable community, we must embrace transit growth and the urban living that comes with it, rather than shun it with half-baked objections and trepidation towards drastic lifestyle changes.

The inability to embrace alternative forms of effective transit is disconcerting, particularly in a region currently choking on the congestion induced by its own unchecked growth and sprawl. It is typical of the mentality fostered in this particular region and has been cultivated by our addiction to the automobile. The mentality is further compounded by the opposition to the CSX corridor alternative, presented by Ed Levinson (Community Council 12) last week, which declared that transit along the corridor would only hamper vehicular traffic. This mentality will soon become our prime obstacle in creating a truly urban and sustainable metropolis.

Miami has to sever its addiction to the automobile. Public transit has failed in Miami not because a lack of effort, but because of a widespread opposition to change in community planning efforts and lifestyle changes on the part of our citizens. With regards to concerns on property value, studies conducted by the APTA (particularly in Miami) showed an “assertion that rail transit imparts value to residential property in districts where the population values the access provided by that transit service the most, regardless of the income of the district.”

A less troubling notion is that MDT continues to push costly suburban commuter rail lines, further justifying our city’s unremitting sprawl. MDT should scrap these plans to spread Metrorail across the county to citizens who obviously won’t even use it and should instead work to bring less costly Streetcars and LRT to our urban core. How can we justify suburban commuter trains when we lack the necessary mobile infrastructure in our densest regions?

It is of paramount importance that our citizens educate themselves on the benefits of proper public infrastructure and urban planning before they take up such a bold position against reasonable measures which would help steer the future growth of our community. It is with all due respect that I therefore ask the members of the East Kendall Homeowners Organization to think about what is best for the future of our community rather than themselves.

Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal
www.TransitMiami.com

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