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.

For Part 1 of the South Miami Series, Click Here

I was driving west on Sunset recently and was rather pleased to see the addition of a Bike lane to a meager 2 block stretch of Sunset Dr. East of 57th Ave. Although the Bike lane isn’t considerably long, its a decent inroad to getting our local drivers and streets accustomed to sharing the right of way with alternative forms of transportation. The whole South Miami Business district should be repainted to include bike lanes. The inclusion of such alternatives would make the South Miami downtown a more pleasant place for people to navigate.Then I stumbled upon the largest eyesore the South Miami commission could have approved in the heart of its newly found business district: a parking garage. The commission foolishly bypassed the residential requirement for this mixed-use structure, meaning we’ll see one of the oddest combinations in mixed-use structures: Ground-Level Retail with a multi-story parking deck above. When walking around South Miami or Sunset Place, one is always quick to notice the amount of traffic in the area and the little amount of nearby residences. The South Miami business district would be a much more vibrant part of the city and community if some proper dense housing was finally incorporated into one of these projects. Side note: from where I took this picture, I was surrounded by empty parking lots, plenty of on-street parking, and the new HSBC parking Garage, looming in the distance were the also massive Sunset Place Parking Structure and the few hundred spaces incorporated into the whole foods market. Think getting to South Miami is difficult now? Just wait till these two projects come online…

With that, I turned my attention to a plot of land 2 block south of Sunset on 57th ave, originally slated for some dense apartments with some ground level retail but now under construction for some town homes. I could barely contain my excitement! Such a waste for such an integral piece of abandoned land so close to the South Miami Business District, Metrorail, and some newly incorporated Bike Lanes…

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Via ImageMD’s Flickr

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  • Free Dunkin Donuts on Thursday if you participate in the Commuter Challenge Day by riding Tri-Rail…Or, you could just print this voucher and go to your nearest Dunkin Donuts, but I’d still recommend giving the train a try…
  • On that Note, with regards to Ryan’s Post on the absence of a regional farecard system, Larry Lebowitz, the transportation Guru at the Miami Herald, has informed me that MDT, BCT, Palm Tran, and the SFRTA are working together to implement such a system soon. Apparently the hold up is coming from the SFRTA. I’ll be working to obtain more information on the subject…
  • Great Ideas, now just agree to build the darn thing downtown…

For those of you that didn’t know, today was national boycott gas stations day, an ill-conceived plan to deal a financial blow to the oil industry for the steady increase in gas prices. Let me begin by clearly stating why this will not work: America is addicted to oil, if we don’t buy it today we’ll buy it tomorrow; the only truly effective way to enact change and really impact the finances of the oil industry would be to change our lifestyles and dependency on the substance. What am I talking about? Bikes, Buses, Rail Transit, and your own two legs are some of our alternatives. A real blow to the gas industry would be a reversal in the American mindset, a change in our style of planning (or lack thereof,) and an immense amount of money invested in our national infrastructure; all of which I can’t foresee evolving in our immediate future.

National boycott gas stations day was a short-sighted band-aide-like attempt to solve one of our most critical national problems. I say band-aide because like many of our “solutions” if failed to adequately address the real underlying issue (like the solutions for the “property insurance crisis,” but I’ll touch on that subject at a later point), instead the boycott focused on the rising cost of oil and its effect on our economy rather than concentrating on our addiction to a limited natural resource and viable alternatives to keep our economy vibrant and people mobile.

We’re too focused on the rising cost of gas and its effect on our pocketbook to realize that we’ve dug ourselves an enormous suburban grave. Many of our neighborhoods are un-navigable to anything but vehicles, often missing sidewalks in some of the newer communities in west-Dade. Should gas prices rise sharply further beyond the affordable realm for many, the effects of our unchecked, unplanned growth will place a greater economic strain on our lives as we search for yet another quick fix to our mess…Someone better call J&J quick, because we’re going to need some more Band-aides

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We’re Number 1! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a drive along the Palmetto, idle on the dolphin while people use exit lanes as strategic advancement lanes, or try to cross any intersection when your light turns green…
“Miami motorists said they saw other drivers slam on their brakes, run red lights and talk on cell phones, according to AutoVantage, a Connecticut-based automobile membership club offering travel services and roadside assistance.”

Let’s not forget: One finger salutes, driving on the shoulders in heavy traffic, illegal u-turns, cutting off, total disregard for traffic laws, pedestrians, traffic signals, or anything else which attempts to hamper “progress,” nanny-nanny Boo-Boo Faces, drag racing…am I missing anything?

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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.

Anyone know what happened to the Bayside Hardrock Cafe’s rooftop Guitar?

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Jorge Perez spoke out today at the City of Miami Commission Meeting clearing the names of Miami city officials who purchased condos in his affordable housing projects in downtown. He and city officials were recent targets in a Herald article which criticized the actions of related and city officials alike…

Tri-Rail delays (yet again) the expansion of service from 40 to 50 trains on weekday schedules. This next delay will guarantee that the new schedule will not be fully operational for the Third Annual South Florida Commuter Challenge on May 17th, a great time to show potential new riders the full benefits of the new and revamped Tri-Rail system…

All I have to say is wow! This a step in the right direction…It may be a slight knock off the CCTV building in Asia but this building would add an incredible dynamic to Miami’s Skyline…Its also a Chad Oppenheim Design…
Edit: The Pictures originated from the Chad Oppenheim Design and Architecture website, they were removed and found by TransitMiami on a local forum, originally posted by DGM…

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Alright, I know it’s long overdue but here is my awaited and (hopefully) anticipated part 3 to my most recent walk through downtown:

I continued my walk into the CBD with this view of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. I’ve posted this picture below to not only show the hideous temporary fencing that has been surrounding the courthouse for the better part of the past couple of years, but to also show the actual picture I was taking when the first of two interesting events occurred this afternoon.

As I crossed the street after taking this picture, a subject caught crossing the street in the photograph was patiently waiting for me on the north side of Flagler (Where’s Waldo?) Now, allow me to pause a second to describe this character. I’m no stylist but, I’m conscious enough to realize that she was wearing far too many layers of makeup under Jackie-o sunglasses. She was also wearing dark leggings under open-toed shoes, far out of the ordinary even for the cast of characters which typically roam along our downtown streets. My conversation with the deranged lady (DL) went as follows after she flagged me down and pulled me out of my own tranquil universe:

GJL: Yes, may I help you?

DL: Do you work for the government?

GJL: No…

DL: Do you work for a private company?

GJL: Um, Yeah.

DL: Why did you take a picture of me?

GJL: Excuse me?

DL: Why did you take a picture of me just now as I crossed the street?

GJL: In case you didn’t notice ma’am, you were standing in front of one our downtown’s most prominent and historic structures.

DL: I saw you! You took a picture of me and I want to know why!

GJL: Okay, you’re crazy and I’m walking away now…

I proceeded north further into the courthouse district with my ipod and in search of further urban opportunity. As I glanced back I witnessed my new friend darting from empty police car to empty police car before she decided to follow me. I turned west to get a shot of a “Your Tax Dollars at Waste sign” as she continued following me. Lucky for us, there was an occupied police car between me and her, where she was able to pause and discuss my alleged paparazzi activity (which would have been completely legal, in any case.) Obviously nothing came of her police inquiry as I walked by the squad car and received a wave and almost apologetic smirk from the officer…

I trudged on North towards the courthouse complex and MDC and into the scene of my next extremely odd encounter. Along the way I saw further reminders of the second largest diamond district in the United States. The r&r Jewlery Center is housed in the former downtown post office, was built in 1912 and was the first major federal building to rise in Miami.

You just don’t encounter unique ornamentation like this anymore. There are few buildings which even attempt to add adequate ornamentation, let alone art in public places.

I came across a stunning building in the CBD. I’ve read about it the downtown development authority’s historical walking guide to downtown, but I forgot who it was owned by and when it was built. I’d like to note however, the covered portico, the ground level retail, the sense of some human-oriented planning. The building was obviously designed at a time when pedestrians were still kept in mind and should serve as a model for our future urban infill considering it adequately addressed the pedestrian needs given our hot and often rainy climate.

I continued on towards the federal courthouses and MDC campus. After reading William Whyte’s Project for Public Places, I was anxious to experience the public places established in our federal courthouse complex and major downtown educational facility. The interaction between the federal courthouses and the street is awkward and downright hostile to pedestrians. A large “temporary” concrete barrier keeps cars (and pedestrians) far enough away from the surroundings and the barren concrete plaza of MDC depicts accurately how successful our urban plaza planning has been.

Standing on the sidewalk (public property) from the MDC side of the street (Public School,) I proceeded to take the pictures depicted above. As I happily snapped away, still listening to my ipod, a couple of rent-a-cops from across the street on the federal courthouse began to flail their arms at me frantically. As I removed my earphones they were yelling to stop taking pictures of the federal courthouse. Now, this happened to me once before about two years ago, so I had an eerie feeling that things hadn’t changed since. I was with some visiting family walking around the CBD, snapping pictures of the newly rising federal complex, when we were apprehended by the same rent-a-cop currently yelling at me. That time however, he stepped out of line and reached for my younger cousin’s camera, prompting near chaos because of his inadequate training and general concept of what is truly legal. In any case, knowing I was within my full right to continue photographing the public complex, I continued snapping away, including this picture of the so called security:

I continued my walking tour heading east on the metromover to experience the Biscayne boulevard realignment project.

I continued walking west along NE 5th street, witnessing the absurd amount of shipping container traffic when I was nearly run over by what originally appeared to be an undercover police officer. As I disclosed earlier, it ended up being a US Marshall, apparently sent to find the rogue kid walking around in shorts taking pictures of downtown buildings. Our conversation went something like this, with my thoughts in parenthesis:

GJL: Good Afternoon, I’m Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal of TransitMiami.com, what can I help you with today?

USM: Hey, how’s it going? I’m US Marshall (name omitted out of personal courtesy.) Were you just over by the federal courthouse taking pictures?

GJL: Yes, I was and as far as I know that isn’t a violation of any current or past US laws.

USM: Oh, no, not at all sir. We just like to know who everyone is taking pictures around the federal courthouse.

GJL: Speaking of that, I see your undercover car and gun, but may I see some credentials to verify that you are who you say you are, you can never be too sure in today’s world.

USM: Sure. (Show’s US Marshall Badge and ID Card)

USM: May I see your Drivers’ License to verify your name? What was the name of your website again?

GJL: Sure. (Provide him with my ID) Transitmiami.com… Check it out, the pictures I took will be up there soon…Now, as far as I know, I’m within every right standing on the public sidewalk to photograph my surroundings, correct?

USM: Correct. You just have to understand sir in this new state of security (insecurity) in the United States; we can never be too secure. Just the other day, we had someone taking counter-surveillance shots of our prisoner movements (Buuuuuuuullshit) from the metrorail platform.

GJL: Oh, I understand sir. I guess it may be a matter of national security (insecurity) to chase down people who snap pictures of the federal complex. Is this a common occurrence for the US Marshall to chase down tourists in the CBD for taking pictures?

(I then realized the US Marshall was writing my driver’s license down on a pad of paper, something which I never gave him permission to do considering he never asked to write it down. I was naturally offended because he asked for my ID to write down my name but then violated my confidence in his ability to obtain only the information he had asked for.)

USM: Well it happens often enough…

GJL: Excuse me officer, but I don’t believe it is necessary for you to write down my License number as well as my name, we have both determined that I was within every right to take pictures. I provided you with my ID and granted you permission to jot down my name and would have gladly obliged to give you my license number had you asked…

USM: Oh, don’t worry sir; you aren’t in any trouble…

GJL: I’m fully aware I’m not, we both clarified that no law was broken (you, just plan on running a background check on me…)

USM: Thank you very much for your time sir. Have a nice day and enjoy your stay here in Miami

Lovely. I couldn’t possibly imagine that I would have been apprehended by a US Marshall in the downtown of my own city for taking some innocent pictures with a point and shoot digital camera. I bit my tongue and chose to not point it out to the US Marshall that from the comfort of my own home I or anyone else can obtain aerial images of the complex by navigating through Google Earth or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. Imagine the mayhem that would be caused if such extreme measures were taken around the federal buildings of NYC, Washington DC, or any other major US city. It’s just another example of a mental lapse on the part of the local rent-a-cop authority hired to protect the federal complex from reasonable threats…

Lucky for me my encounter wasn’t with a city of Miami police officer, officers who have been known to violate the first amendment rights of photographers standing on public sidewalks and not obstructing justice. Unlike Carlos Miller, whose trial began today, I was lucky enough to not have been pummeled to the ground for no apparent reason…

Disgruntled enough I continued my tour north into the omni complex, which will appear in the conclusion and part 4 of this series…

Judging by qualitative experience and from comments on this blog and in other local print media, it seems there is some confusion about what it really means to be a “Green City”. Frankly, when people who claim to be pro-green are still referring to Mayor Diaz as “Concrete Manny” with derogatory undertones, it means many of us still don’t get it. Today I was going to wax on about the counter-intuitive nature of the Green City, but instead I strongly recommend reading an essay written in the New Yorker a couple of years ago that does an outstanding job explaining why New York is actually the greenest city in the U.S. Click here to download it.

top photo courtesy of Scott Foy’s Flickr account

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Grimshaw Architects, the British architectural firm has been officially chosen to design the new Miami Museum of Science at Museum Park…

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