In posts from long ago, Gabe had mentioned the “ghost station” that can be seen looking west from the southbound platform at Government Center Station. This station platform was built long ago to serve inbound trains from the west, that is, before the original east-west line was canceled as a result of ridership numbers that did not meet illusory ridership estimates.

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Some of you may have read about the recent debacle caused by the FDOT and Biscayne Boulevard preservationists over the removal of nearly all of the Royal Palms along the streetscape. Here’s the abridged version of the recent events:
  • FDOT planned to remove most of the palms on Biscayne Boulevard to replace them with shade trees such as Oaks, in order to enhance the pedestrian experience along the boulevard and to improve “safety” along the corridor in a new ROW acquisition.
  • The FDOT plan was met by stiff activist resistance, opposing the removal of any trees and opposing the plans by the FDOT.
  • To date, 135 palms have been removed, approximately 2/3 of the palms along the corridor which were planted over 80 years ago to commemorate the Veterans of all Wars.
  • Trees continued to fall, as recently as February 6.
  • On February 7th, the FDOT agreed to stop further destruction of the Royal palms, claiming that the trees removed the day before were either sick or part of the ROW acquisition.
  • Today, after the lobbying of Commissioner Sarnoff and Mary Conway, the FDOT has finally agreed to end the destruction. The Biscayne Boulevard corridor will now feature much more foliage than had been previously planned, including more Royal Palms and various other shade trees.

It’s difficult to swallow the “pedestrian enhancement” bull the FDOT is throwing at us when the trees are being removed to further enhance the traffic flow along the corridor. As the herald article noted, Miami’s tree canopy is an abysmal 10% (compared to 30-40% in other denser, pedestrian-minded cities) and yet, the solution to improve our tree canopy dysfunction involved the removal of existing trees. I guess we’re trying to maintain it at 10%, rather than improve upon it.

The bigger picture I’d like to point out is while one local agency works to make our streets more pedestrian friendly, our city commission is out approving a monstrous structure with 1,700 parking spaces in the immediate area. Note above: the pedestrian friendly streets of yesteryear featured not only pedestrian friendly foliage but streetcars as well. The approval of 2222 Biscayne is a dark reminder of how far we still have to go to improve the urban culture of our city. Any structure on an existing or planned public transit route should feature far less parking than the city code currently calls for and certainly far less than the 1 space/250 square feet offered by this eyesore…

All dressed up for the occasion, we can always count on the Bank of America Tower to be shining bright…

Via Unkledan’s Flickr

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Noting that the traditional enclosed shopping mall concept has dwindled within American Culture, we have seen the rapid rise of lifestyle centers modeled around the “Town Center” concept. Aside from various fake streetscapes and generally navigable streets within the complexes, these centers will continue to ravage the urban fabric of our cities in a fashion similar to that of the mall. The “Town Center” concept has taken off over the recent years and is designed with automotive access and developer’s pockets in mind. The recently approved Davie Commons retail and office center is no different. Sprawling out over 150 acres, this complex will certainly do little to centralize Davie and will only compound the traffic problems in the whole South Florida region. If fully approved by the city commission, this will signal a complete reversal of general urban planning principles, placing yet another massive development on the western fringes of the county’s sprawl, abutting the Everglades. Broward County traffic will be further disrupted by reverse commutes for people working in the 800,000+ square feet of office space or the Million+ square feet of retail.
Developers downplayed the potential traffic impact, claiming it would add fewer cars to local roads than a new housing subdivision.

The Davie city commission swallowed this load of crap, recently giving the project an initial first round approval, despite widespread opposition from the community. The complex will continue to exemplify the type of construction we need to stop in our region. Suburban office complexes and expansive shopping centers which are only accessible by vehicle in the western parts of the county equate to an ecological, immoral, and urban planning catastrophe for the whole region. The city commission is likely clouded by the massive tax benefit the city would reap:

In exchange for the town’s approval, developers will ask that the agricultural exemption on the 152-acre property be lifted beginning in 2008. The change would increase the taxable value of the land from less than $100,000 to about $20.1 million, creating a windfall for the town, Siegel said.

In addition, if the land-use change receives final town approval, developers have agreed to pay $3.5 million per year to guarantee that Davie receives the amount of revenue the project is estimated to generate.

Join the Opposition!

More Pictures:

Main Street! Main to what, the Everglades? (Wow, they got people to walk…)

The Bustling urban Town Fountain (Look at the water flow…)

Mosquito Park

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New Miami-Key West Ferry Service

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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.

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A forum member posted this picture recently depicting the new livery of the Miami Metromover Cars. I’ll try to get some better quality shots as soon as possible…

Update: Lil Pony on public transit, a new blog I discovered today, has the lowdown on the interior

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The streetcar articles have stirred up some great discussion in the comments section, both in favor of and against the proposed route. I would like to address one of the main reasons cited against the streetcar; the proposed and possibly upcoming LRT along the FEC corridor.

The LRT along the FEC corridor appears to be the favored alternative transportation choice of those in favor of and against the Miami streetcar. Although I believe that the FEC corridor would prove to be the most useful alternative due to its dedicated ROW through the largest municipalities, I don’t believe it should be the driving force behind the opposition to the streetcar. We shouldn’t discredit the current effort to provide reasonable alternative means of public transportation within the city limits; after all, this is all the city can do to improve its’ own infrastructure. This is a city of Miami infrastructure solution, funded by city dollars, so we can erase the notions of spending the money instead to run rail lines every which way out of the city. Likewise, the FEC corridor situation is basically out of the hands of city planners and is still currently little more than a pipe dream study, leaving at least several years before we can even begin to witness any sort of real planning or development occur. In the meantime, the streetcar would begin to alleviate the traffic problems the current and future development is going to create and would further bolster the reach of an FEC corridor LRT, eventually giving riders more destinations in easy reach of efficient transit. Many streetcar opponents claim the streetcar simply isn’t a reasonable alternative and cite the FEC as a more realistic option, however, I don’t know if this is because it wouldn’t be funded solely by the city or if it wouldn’t impede on their daily vehicular commute…

Miami-Dade Transit’s own consultants [Not me, however see below] are concluding that a rubber-tired automated people mover that would run from the airport to the Miami Intermodal Center is a better option, according to a draft report obtained Thursday by The Miami Herald.

It appears that my “Airtrain Solution Series” wasn’t such a bad idea to begin with. My main concern regarding this decision is whether it will be designed/built properly to accommodate most of the terminals rather than just one centralized station at the airport (you know, in an effort to cut project costs as usual.)

More info on the vehicle maker, Sumitomo Corp

Public Picks Favorite American Buildings…It shouldn’t come as surprise but only two Miami buildings are mentioned in the top 150, the Delano and the Fountainebleau, which further reinforces the fact that Miami’s architecture is rather bland and lacks a single iconic structure…

However, in looking at the top 10 “buildings” notice that 4 of them aren’t actually buildings but really just structures…

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Count them. Not one, or two, but three independent studies call for increased density along the US-1 rapid transit corridor.

Recent Miami 21 studies, Miami-Dade Watershed Studies, and Coconut Grove planning studies all encourage increased density along US1 and near Metrorail stations.

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing better than some cold hard facts to combat the closed minded NIMBY thought process:

“Rush hour is already a nightmare; this will make things even worse,” said Kenneth Newman at a recent meeting between the developer and Grove Residents. “A lot of people are saying that it’s not going to work because rich people don’t ride the Metrorail…they have nice cars and they want to drive them,” says one Grove activist [Mr. Nimby] who wishes to remain nameless.

Wrong!

However, studies conducted by the transit department reveal a pattern that seems to have less to do with income level and more to do with urban design.

We needed a study to reach that conclusion after 20 years!? You could have looked at just about any other city in the world to see that we were doing things backwards.

Dadeland South and Dadeland North, the two southernmost Metrorail stations recorded the seconded highest weekly ridership averages of more than 6,500 boardings each. These two stations are not located in high poverty areas.

I wonder, perhaps, by how much the daily use of metrorail is going to increase once the units at Downtown Dadeland, Toscano, Colonnade, and Metropolis come fully onto the market. Let’s not forget about the upcoming Town Center project (lame name, I know) and final Datran building which are slated to include up to six additional office high-rises in and around the Dadeland area.

As Ryan showed below, the city is planning on investing millions of dollars to transform the area along 27th avenue from the metrorail station to the CBD of the grove. The plan includes better urban planning than what we’ve seen in most Miami neighborhoods and is a great way to integrate metrorail with the coconut grove district. Grove Residents are always citing parking/traffic concerns, but, if only they would get out of their cars then perhaps they’d begin to understand what a better place the grove could be…

All is silent over at CGG

Fortunately for Grove residents as well as other Miamians, 27th Avenue between US-1 and Bayshore Drive will soon be getting a long overdue makeover. This important stretch of avenue that links the neighborhood center with Coconut Grove Station has long been in shameful condition for pedestrians.

The plan to beautify 27th Avenue is to include expanded sidewalks, tree landscaping, and a mini traffic circle at the intersection of Tigertail, Day, and 27th. Predictably, some Grove NIMBYs are voicing concerns about parking. Apparently, they’re worried that the project right-of-way on both sides of the avenue will eliminate hideous lagoon parking in front of buildings in favor of widening sidewalks. God forbid anyone takes away “reserved” parking spots to add/widen sidewalks.

Below are some pictures showing what it looks like to take a walk from the southern part of the avenue to US-1:

The first leg of the walk does not even have a sidewalk, just a series of ugly, windswept sand and gravel parking lagoons for several apartment buildings.

The sidewalk first appears awkwardly (I’m not sure that word does justice here) about 20-25 yards from the street behind another parking lagoon. If this doesn’t symbolize walking as an afterthought in this community I don’t know what does.
More discontinuity that ruins the street. The sidewalk reappears in the middle of this parking lagoon flanked by what else, cars.
Another awkward stretch of sidewalk flanked by a gas station and huge swath of asphalt, which serves one main function: allows cars an excessively wide turning radius from Bird Rd.
This enormous chunk of asphalt adjacent to EZ Kwik is such an eyesore it makes me sick to look at. The city recently put in a speed bump on the corner of Bird just keep cars from using this space to evade traffic at the light. Talk about putting a band-aid on a stab wound.
Just past EZ Kwik, the sidewalk suddenly disappears again, forcing pedestrians to walk across a sand and gravel wasteland.
After getting back on the sidewalk again, one comes to this mini office park that warns pedestrians to watch for cars. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
More discontinuity. After being steered into a jungle-like setting, the sidewalk is again fragmented by a parking strip – far from the street by the way.
After reappearing, the walk finally terminates at US-1. The trash isn’t always there, but a greater pedestrian presence would require sidewalk cleaning to be more consistent.

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Well, you might question the economic impact that the Super Bowl had on Miami last weekend, but, here is an image of the corporate aircraft traffic departing Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Opa Locka on February 5th at 10 am. Simply unbelievable…

Via Ministry of Tech

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My lengthy reply to Mr. Frank Rollason:

Frank,

It’s great to finally get some discussion going on this critical issue with some of Miami’s more prominent individuals such as yourself. I followed the election closely and was hoping that your campaign would have taken you a bit further.

The streetcar issue is a difficult situation to address. I’ve given this idea much thought and have tried to analyze its’ impact from all different angles. In the end, I concede that I am a bit of a realist when it comes to this sort of development but I find it difficult to think otherwise especially when I’ve witnessed and studied similar projects rise flawlessly around the United States and the World.

Placing cost the cost of the streetcar aside for a second, I’d like to first discuss the impact that the streetcar would have on the city, its residents, and the future of both.

Development:

As I mentioned previously, the streetcar would serve as an economic engine for the city, steering development along its corridor. You informed me that residents are against further development, a fact which I have come to understand from their perspective, seeing that all upcoming development within their neighborhoods is likely being improperly constructed to suit the needs of urban living elements such as the streetcar (see: New Urbanism.) Their stance isn’t unwarranted, seeing how terribly these buildings were designed and then approved by the hapless commission. Growth, however, is inevitable in every city. A stagnant growth stance by any municipality will in the long run lead to further economic strife for both the city and residents. I get the feeling that much of the anti-growth sentiment can be attributed to the lack of reasonable transportation options to offset the increase in traffic, general regulatory abuse by the city commission to approve every building, and overall disregard by the developers. Not building the streetcar, the area we’ll continue to witness truly devastating projects (ie. 2222 Biscayne, Bayview Market) rise throughout the district. A streetcar combined with the appropriate rezoning would severely alter the type and context of the development which will inevitably continue in the area. By placing better constraints on development within a close boundary of the corridor, I feel that the area citizens will fully benefit from the streetcar, truly creating an environment (detailed in this herald article from 2002) where people can live without the burden of owning an automobile. (Note: the constraints that I speak of are used in various municipalities and include: minimal parking requirements for buildings within a stated distance of the transit corridor, required building/street interaction elements like covered porticos and ground level retail, on street municipal parking, pedestrian-only zones, etc.) I would not endorse the streetcar if such constraints were not enacted simultaneously in order to guarantee its success.

The streetcar is much more than simply another form of transportation; it’s a critical piece of Miami 21 and a vital method of reconstructing our city in manner which caters to humans rather than vehicles.

Economically:

Going along with the constraints I mentioned above, the economic benefit that the streetcar would provide the city is well worth more than its initial costs. Placing constrictions on developments within the corridor such as requirements for affordable housing in the form of rental units would not be unreasonable. Using principles outlined in Miami 21, the city can rezone the corridor to include areas which would favor the construction of mid-density and lower priced rental units or condominiums. The affordable housing units would be cheaper to develop given the lower parking constraints and thus construction costs while eliminating the burden of relying on a vehicle for some of the city’s neediest constituents.

The $200 Million price tag is certain to go up, a fact we can both easily agree upon. However, the state (according to recent reports) would front half the costs leaving the rest to be divided among the city and the county. The city has received $42 Million thus far from its’ share of the PTP, money which must be used for city transit options. MDT could also be sought to fund part of the streetcar. Given that a significant sum of the initial cost of streetcars nationwide is attributed to finding a facility to house and maintain the vehicles, the city could look to partner with MDT to build a joint facility which could accommodate the Miami streetcars as well as the upcoming Baylink cars, saving both agencies large sums of money in the long term. All in all, I’m not saying or thinking that any of this will be easy to accomplish, considering the limited discussion which regularly occurs between the city and county, but, it is definitely a reasonable project which in reality would not require such a grave commitment on the part of the city.

Traffic Concerns:

Traffic will only continue to get worse within the city, plain and simple. With the new developments rising and the plethora of interest remaining in the neighborhood, developers are going to continue to exploit the neighborhood. We’re going to continue to see buildings situated on massive parking pedestals and we will soon witness gridlock bring many streets to a grinding halt.

Running the streetcar in a lane of traffic would actually improve traffic flows along the corridors. Through improved signal timing and using technology pioneered in Toronto back in 1991 with signal priority timing, the corridor would feature advanced ITS which is endorsed by the USDOT. The Toronto study found that total corridor delay was reduced by 35% (better than with bus signal priority timing) and there were no significant impacts on side street queue delays.

The Bus “Alternative”

From the American Public Transportation Association:

The Transportation Research Board Special Report No. 1221, “Impact on Transit Patronage of Cessation or Inauguration of Rail Service” dated 1989, and authored by transportation researcher Edson L. Tennsyson concluded the following:

“Because transit use is a function of travel time, fare, frequency of service, population, and density, increased transit use can not be attributed to rail transit when these other factors are improved. When these service conditions are equal, it is evident that rail transit is likely to attract from 34 to 43 percent more riders than will equivalent bus service. The data do not provide explanations for this phenomenon, but other studies and reports suggest that the clearly identifiable rail route; delineated stops that are often protected; more stable, safer, and more comfortable vehicles; freedom from fumes and excessive noise; and more generous vehicle dimensions may all be factors.”

Click on this link, Transportation Research Record 1221, for the full text of this research report.

Additional Facts:

  • Currently there are 26 existing streetcar/trolley lines operating in the United States and Canada with a whopping 61 other cities actively planning streetcar initiatives. There are over 200 municipalities vying for federal funding leaving funds scarce and competition fierce (Source APTA.)
  • Since 1995, public transit ridership has expanded 25 percent (to 9.7 billion trips in 2005). From 25 in 2000, the country’s fixed-guideway (rail or bus) transit systems are likely to grow to 42 by 2030, adding 720 stations to today’s total of 3,349.
  • Streetcars are experiencing a revival worldwide with new lines opening in Washington DC, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Bilbao, just to name a few…
  • Streetcars were not dismantled due to a lack of ridership, many were dismantled by GM to push for the expansion of roads and highways…

Like I stated at the beginning, I may suffer from viewing things in an idealized fashion but the facts to support streetcars in Miami abound. I realize it will take a large amount of municipal responsibility and government oversight (something we have been known to skimp on in the past) to fully realize the maximum potential this project has to offer the city and constituents. The current arguments against the streetcar are weak, to place it as mildly as possible. Hurricane concerns can be overcome, development can (and should) be better controlled, and construction costs should not run amuck with city’s treasury. The time has come for the city to take transportation initiatives into its own hands to better provide for the upcoming growth we will continue to experience. Thank you for your time, I hope we can continue to discuss this topic further. I have many more reasons why you should support the streetcar including environmental concerns, job opportunities, and tourism…

Let me know if I may share this discourse with the readers of TransitMiami.com…

Regards,
Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal

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Sorry about the delay, I have been addressing the streetcar issue with several individuals via e-mail. With the permission of Frank Rollason, I will share my discussions with him over the issue here on the website. Here were his initial thoughts on the streetcar initiative, my thoughts will follow later today:

Gabriel,

I am contacting you just to give another perspective on the proposed streetcar project. I was an unsuccessful candidate for the commission office that Marc Sarnoff now occupies. We both opposed the streetcar project as part of our campaign platforms. My position has not changed. Previous to running for office, I was the Executive Director for two City CRAs through which a large portion of the system would run and from which the City was looking for funding. There is a huge anti-development mentality presently existing in the residential communities of Miami especially in the Upper Eastside. The proposed streetcar project would do exactly what you speak of – encourage additional development along the streetcar corridor. It’s not an issue of whether the streetcar is needed or not; it is an issue of future development and the community has said enough is enough. On top of this, one must recognize that more and more the CRAs’ funds are being siphoned off for projects deemed for the well-to-do and having no benefit for the affordable housing group. One cannot take this project out of context from the other projects for which CRA funds are being sought – increasing commitment to the new Performing Arts Center, a seaport tunnel, improvements to a park slated to house two museums, and a new baseball stadium. All of these cause huge community opposition for the use of CRA funds when affordable housing goes largely ignored. You speak in the pure scheme of planning for development and here, in the City of Miami, the development has already run amuck with little or no planning and no concern for traffic and infrastructure needs. Now, to suggest a streetcar project that mostly serves underdeveloped areas instead of already existing hi-rise residential units is looked at as another example of poor planning and will cause only what you suggest – more hi-rises along the streetcar corridor.

Nothing is as simple as you lay it out because there are always other issues which are impacted, Frank.

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