Manhattanization is a term we’ve become accustomed to in Miami. It‘s existed since at least the 1960s to describe cities from San Francisco to Santiago, but it became a prominent buzzword in the 2000s to describe the rapid transformation of downtown Miami and Brickell. Now that the building boom is back in full swing, so is the term. And along with it comes the debate about whether what we’re seeing unfold in Miami is actually a step towards a Manhattan-esque urban environment.
Whether downtown Miami is beginning to resemble Manhattan is debatable. Certainly, our skyline is growing. It may not be as tall, as dense, or as diverse as the Manhattan skyline, but it is taking shape as an expanse of skyscrapers that stretches for miles. Our love affair with the skyscraper has built a skyline that is far larger than those of cities twice our size and it has become a point of pride for us. We’re also seeing more amenities typical of other great urban metropolises: more restaurants and cafes, parks and shops, museums and galleries, etc. Granted, the differences between a Brickell streetscape and just about anywhere in Manhattan are still pretty stark, but the increased options and vibrancy are important steps towards a more urban Miami.
But there’s one area where Miami has unequivocally achieved Manhattanization: cost of living. It now costs as much to live in many parts of downtown Miami as it does to live in Manhattan. I’m not referring to Miami’s luxury condo market. In fact, that is one segment where we’re not yet like Manhattan – Miami condo prices can reach $10 million or more; it’s high, but it doesn’t begin to nip at the heels of New York’s $100 million market. Rather, downtown Miami is becoming as expensive as Manhattan is for the everyday citizen. Manhattan still has far higher housing costs than downtown Miami and Brickell, but that gap is closed when factoring in Miami’s much higher transportation costs.
This point is now more clearly made thanks to the new Location Affordability Index (LAI). The LAI, unveiled earlier this month, is the work of a joint venture between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation. It’s a tool that allows the public to calculate what it costs to live where they live, and how they could possibly save money by moving or by changing their transportation habits. The LAI is based on the philosophy known as “Housing + Transportation” or “H+T.” H+T asserts that knowing just the cost of housing isn’t enough to get a full picture of cost of living. You also need to know how much it costs to get from your home to other places, like your workplace and your family and friends. In other words, you need to know the cost of transportation.
Cost of transportation is harder to calculate and harder to keep track of in our heads when we think about how much we spend. For most people, housing expenditures occur in one monthly payment, either a rent check or a mortgage payment. Those amounts may include a variety of costs, like loan principle, interest, taxes, insurance, etc., but it’s still just one payment, one amount. Transportation is different, particularly if you drive a car. There’s the purchase price of a car, which may occur in monthly payments or if you paid up front, would need to be prorated over the life of the car. Insurance is paid separately, either monthly, annually, or biannually. Gas and parking costs are paid sporadically. The result is that most people never think about the full cost of transportation, and when they do, they usually underestimate.
AAA estimated that the average cost of car ownership in the United States in 2012 was roughly $9,000 for all cars and as much as $11,000-$12,000 for larger cars and SUVs. But that’s the average for the entire country. Costs can be far greater in places like Miami where insurance rates and parking costs are higher. The difference between a couple owning two cars and a couple that commutes by train or bicycle can be over $20,000 per year. That’s an additional $1,500-$2,000 per month that can go towards rent or a mortgage. And that’s the reason why living in downtown Miami and Brickell can be as costly as living in Manhattan.
To demonstrate the point, I put some addresses into the LAI:
- A typical household living in West Brickell owns 1.2 cars (average), drives 11,000 miles, and takes 350 transit trips each year. They spend just shy of $23,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 47 percent of their total income. Housing costs account for $17,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to $7,000.
- Meanwhile, a typical household on the Upper West Side in Manhattan owns 0.3 cars, drives 2,000 miles, and takes 2,000 transit trips each year. They spend just over $27,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 43 percent of their total income (the LAI factors in average wage differences between metro areas. On average, wages in NYC are 30 percent higher than in Miami). Housing costs account for $23,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to less than $4,000.
- A typical household in the heart of downtown Miami owns 1.1 cars, drives 11,000 miles, and takes 250 transit trips each year. They spend $19,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 38 percent of their total income. Housing costs account for $12,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to $7,000.
- Meanwhile, a typical household in the East Village in Manhattan owns 0.5 cars, drives 3,500 miles, and takes 1,500 transit trips each year. They spend just shy of $20,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 31 percent of their income. Housing costs account for $16,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to $4,000.
New York City is the embodiment for unaffordable living, but that’s largely based on an incomplete picture. The extra amounts that New Yorkers spend on housing are made up for by cost savings from cheaper transportation options. Miami, on the other hand, has relatively cheaper housing, but getting from place to place means additional costs stemming from car ownership.
There are a lot of implications here. Most obvious is that we can decrease cost of living and improve quality of life for Miamians by investing in better transportation options. One cause for optimism is that housing costs and transportation costs are only indirectly linked. Decreasing transportation costs by building more transit and better bike lanes will not directly increase housing costs (although, countless studies show that such infrastructure increases property values because it makes neighborhoods more desirable), so we can make real reductions in the cost of living.
There are also implications here for the brain drain and the future of our economy. When Miami competes with Manhattan for talent, it cannot make the argument that downtown Miami has a lower cost of living than New York. Lower cost of living has traditionally been the truest arrow in the quiver of cities seeking to steal talent from New York, but when we consider H+T, we see that for many cities, including Miami, that’s actually not the case. There isn’t much money to be saved, if any at all, by choosing downtown Miami over Manhattan. And for those who decide to look outside of New York because Manhattan is just too expensive, they’ll likely find that downtown Miami and Brickell are too expensive as well. Rather, they may end up in cities that offer a true lower cost of living with similar urban amenities, like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. That talent is now revitalizing those cities the way it revitalized Manhattan in the 1990s when lower cost of living – from cheaper housing AND cheaper transportation – allowed thousands of educated young professionals to flood the city.
But all of this changes if we take the automobile out of the equation. If you can manage a car-free life, suddenly Miami becomes really affordable. The difference is that Manhattan is expensive because it has to be (although zoning changes under Bloomberg may help mitigate these high costs by generating more supply). But Miami is expensive because we’ve made it that way. The takeaway should be this: We can fix it and we know how to fix it. The average Miamian need not cough up half of her income on housing and transportation. As housing costs continue to rise, we must make extra efforts to reduce transportation costs by offering better options. We must give Miamians the same options that New Yorkers have: to own a car if we want one, but to live comfortably and with dignity without one.
For more reading, check out this article from last year on Streetsblog, which reviewed data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology and determined Miami to be the least affordable metropolitan area for moderate-income renters and homeowners. The most affordable? Washington, DC.
I arrived at 5 pm on a Sunday at MIA and decided to take the train home in Coconut Grove. This should be a simple proposition. The system is new, so one expects it to be clean. No bonus points for that. Connecting the airport with the rest of the area is a no-brainer and should have been a long time ago.
I tried tracking the train over MDT’s app, but got nowhere (it’s generally good). No exact times to be found. I proceeded to the station at any rate. Once there it would have been good to have a central information point that listed the different departure times for buses and trains. No information to be found.
I decided to check the train platform and paid to do so without knowing when a train would depart. No information to be found
I tried the station personnel of which there were plenty and they had nothing to do. No information to be found and no willingness to seek it.
At some point a train came. No one knew when it would leave.
I like public transit. I grew up with it. But public transit needs to make it easy for users and here is where MDT fails. You could give people information about the available options so that they can choose. But MDT doesn’t. Transportation systems in “world class cities” (which so many Miami politicians like to compare themselves to) do.
If this is how Miami greets it’s visitors then Miami fails epicly.
PS: To top it all off, while waiting on the train the public announcements were nonsensical and the most unprofessional I have ever witnessed anywhere in the world. It was as if the person on the microphone had a conversation with another person. Visitors on the train rolled their eyes. Locals just assume that this is how we roll in Miami.
Via Andrew Frey from the Townhouse Center:
You are invited to a presentation of free plans for a Miami building prototype on Tue, Nov 19 from 6 to 8 PM at Mansini’s Pizza House in Little Havana. The goal is to help small property owners and builders imagine how they can profit from a small site, and save money on design costs. The plans are by award-winning architecture firm ISA (in collaboration with Townhouse Center and supported by the Knight Foundation) and will be presented by ISA founder Brian Phillips. The brief presentation will be followed by a panel — featuring Fernando Arencibia of RE/MAX, Jeanette Blanch of Continental Bank, Hernando Carrillo of HacArchitects, and Gavin McKenzie of McKenzie Construction – and audience Q&A to discuss the plans and opportunities and challenges of small projects. The plans can be downloaded at http://hiresmiami.tumblr.com/
The free event is open to the public, especially non-developers, but please register in advance by email to LHMAmiami@gmail.com
ETERNITY IS OVERRATED, THE USES OF TIME IN ARCHITECTURE
Date: Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 7:00pm - 8:30pm
Architecture critic, writer, and curator, ROWAN MOORE addresses how buildings are not fixed objects but exist in time, connecting the thoughts and actions of the people who make them to those of the people who inhabit them. All architects, said Philip Johnson, want to be immortal. Look through standard architectural histories, and you’ll see pyramids, temples, tombs and churches -–buildings dedicated to eternity. Yet architecture is always in a state of change. It weathers, ages, decays, and is renewed. It is adapted and extended; how it is perceived is altered, such that the monstrosities of one generation become the cherished heritage of the next. Rowan Moore describes works that are smart in their use of time, from the High Line in New York to the work of the great Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. We talk of “buildings”, he says, because they are part of a continuous process – we don’t call them “builts”. Rowan Moore is architecture critic for the Observer (London), and author of Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture (2013). Free.
Sunday, November 10th
Please arrive no later than 10:45am
Tickets are $25 each
Click HERE for tickets
100 Northeast 11th Street
Miami, FL 33132
BFI invites you to its periodical WEIRD MIAMI bus tour, on Sunday, November 10th from 11 AM to 2 PM. This WEIRD MIAMI installment will visit exemplary (but often overlooked) Miami urban neighborhoods, led by urbanists Jason Chandler and Andrew Frey.
BFI invites you to its periodical WEIRD MIAMI bus tour, on Sunday, November 10th from 11 AM to 2 PM. This WEIRD MIAMI installment will visit exemplary (but often overlooked) Miami urban neighborhoods, led by urbanists Jason Chandler and Andrew Frey.
The tour complements URBAN_VARIANTS, an exhibit at BFI of new designs for Miami urban buildings, which runs from November 1st to November 24th. The exhibit includes new prototype sketches, drawings, renderings, and models, as well as studies of existing prototypes in Miami and Savannah. The exhibit is the result of a studio course at FIU Architecture led by professor Jason Chandler in collaboration with Townhouse Center, a not-for profit that promotes urban neighborhood development, and sponsored by the Knight Foundation.
This past semester, students visited and documented existing small buildings in downtown Miami and Savannah, Georgia. During the visits, students experienced how small-scale infill buildings create resilient urban environments. The Savannah visit took students far out of the studio, to places and buildings most had never seen before. Then each student designed a new, small, adaptable prototype for Miami, resulting in over 100 designs, which have been curated for the BFI exhibit
The course, exhibit, and bus tour are all part of a larger collaboration to raise awareness of the fact that Miami has built to the sky and horizon — towers and subdivisions — but lacks neighborhoods of a middle scale. In other cities such urban neighborhoods are often the most vibrant, like Boston’s North End or New York’s West Village. To help Miami start developing these neighborhoods, FIU Architecture offered a studio course about the urban neighborhood fundamental building block: small, adaptable buildings.
Do you live on the high-water line? You know, those blocks in your neighborhood that’ll soon be underwater.
That’s right, don’t be shy. . . . You know its happening. . . . You’ve known its happening. We’ve all known its happening — forget your politics and denial (and forget your politics of denial).
If it hasn’t already, sea-level rise is coming to a South Florida neighborhood near you, and faster than most of us realize.
Our community is the most at-risk city for sea-level rise in the entire United States, and we’re going to have to start making some serious decisions about the fate of our beloved Miami. We’ll have to embark on some collective South Florida soul-searching as we all face down and come to terms with our coming Water World.
The first three questions that probably come to mind are:
- How much water is rising?
- Where is the water rising?
- When is the water rising?
While the answers to some of these questions are less unclear than for others, uncertainty, confusion, and denial persist.
But just because the bulk of those among our citizenry elected to represent us in office remain for the most part muted on the subject, we, the people on the ground, need not follow their non-existent lead.
Rather, we can embrace head-on the fourth and most important question we’ve got to ask:
- What are we going to do about it?
A good place to start is by coming out to make history at the unprecedented High Water Line (HWL) | Miami’s Bicycle Ride for Resiliency!
Put on the very bluest outfit you’ve got, saddle-up, and head-out
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17
Magic City Bike Collective
1100 N Miami Avenue
729 SW 1st Street
Riders will be physically demarcating the high water lines of mainland Miami so that we can take a good look at ourselves and start asking the big question and all it carries with: How will we adapt to this fundamental shift in our relations at the human-water-land nexus as seas continue to rise?
Go out, ride your bike, and make a statement:
SEA LEVEL RISE IS HAPPENING. WE SEEK A RESILIENT MIAMI. WE ARE A RESILIENT MIAMI
A round of applause and some Miami pride is in order.
The launch of Future Cities 100, a list of the top city innovators and changemakers worldwide, features two local civic heroes: Carol Coletta and Manny Diaz.
Carol Coletta, Vice President for Community and National Initiatives for the Knight Foundation, came to Miami from CEOs for Cities in Chicago, where she was accustomed to the freedom of car-free living. Since her arrival in Miami, she has been a vocal supporter of civic engagement initiatives around transit, including our friends at TrAC. If you have never heard her speak, she is truly inspiring and extraordinarily candid. She is doing great things. A TransitMiami Shout Out to the Knight Foundation in thanks.
Former City of Miami Mayor and President of the US Conference of Mayors, Manny Diaz, is championed for leading Miami’s ongoing transformation from a sprawled suburbia to a sustainable, functioning city where people want to live. His Miami 21 plan is cited as being “well on its way to setting a standard for other cities.”
Watch the UBM video on Manny Diaz here:
FIU & MIT are convening a new think tank representing academic, industry, government and environmental groups to discuss the economic, social, technological, and environmental challenges and strategies that will advance the achievement of sustainability in transportation infrastructure in Florida.
Funded by a block of concrete and asphalt companies, the official purpose suggests they do want to hear from people, too.
It’s absolutely free to take part in this.Transportation Infrastructure Sustainability Summit Tuesday, October 29, 2013 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM Kovens Conference Center FIU Biscayne Bay Campus 3000 N.E. 151 Street, Miami, Fl. 33181-3000
Lead by Franz Ulm of MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub and Irtishad Ahmad of FIU OHL School of Construction, this is great opportunity to engage the people and interests that are literally paving our region’s future. That said, this the photo they use to promote the summit:
If you need any additional information, you can contact: Bernadette Chung at email@example.com or at (305) 348-3537.
Miami-Dade Public Transit “solves” homeless “problem” by removing the seats on the Metromover.
As with every opportunity to engage on local transit issues, TrAC Miami is urging the public to come to the CTAC meeting on Wednesday, October 23 at 5:30pm to let them know what you think. (Government Center, 18th floor)
Is MDT is cutting off their nose to spite their face? One 2-person seat remains on each car for ADA compliance, but what if there are three people who actually need to be able to sit down? Like your mom, your grandpa or a pregnant woman and her children. An employee attempted to explain the new policy as follows: MDT has “struggled” to reduce use of the free public MetroMover by people who take up excessive space with their personal belongings. A number of users have complained about the mess and odor that some, likely homeless, people bring to our public transit. So what if said problem person takes the whole seat? What does MDT consider “struggling” to resolve this and improve the quality of our transit. Are the not concerned this could reduce ridership?
So…why not enforce a restriction of seats to one per person? There’s already funded security in the MetroMover cars.
One alternative that has been considered and rejected includes charging something minimal to ride the MetroMover – something that would be financially impossible. Time will tell if no seating becomes politically impossible.
PAC is a dirty word for most, particularly when attached to the prefix “Super.” PAC stands for ‘political action committee’ and they are a fixture on the political landscape at the local, state, and national levels. They’re also easy targets for both sides of the aisle. The Conservative Political Action Committee Conference (CPAC) is known as the annual coming out party for the right-wing’s craziest ideas. Organizing for Action (OFA) is known as the sock drawer where the President stashes his campaign’s unrivaled war chest and is a legacy of his broken promise to run a campaign on public funds and to reject donations from corporate interests.
But PACs are not inherently evil, and of course, they’ve no doubt proven useful. At the most basic level, a PAC is a mechanism for promoting chosen interests. It does this by pooling resources to finance candidates, proposed legislation, or ballot initiatives. They’re also complex legal entities, though, which means that typically only the most mature interests make use of them. This can often make for an unfair fight. For this reason, it’s particularly encouraging to see PACs sprouting up around the U.S. that are dedicated to advancing interests like livable cities, complete streets, and smart growth. It’s a sign that support for improved pedestrian, biking, and transit infrastructure has grown up and ripened to a point where it can potentially influence elections and legislative sessions in its favor. That’s not something we’re used to seeing in the livable cities supporters camp.
In Miami, this is one livable cities trend where we’re out in front. Last month, Transit Miami posted the press release announcing the launch of TrAC, the city’s first transit-oriented PAC. Miami is among the earliest adopters of the livable cities PAC approach. But we’re not the first, and the experiences of those that have gone before are worth looking at. They can be a guide for TrAC and an illustration of what it could mean for Miami.
The oldest and most significant livable cities PAC at the national level is the Committee for a Livable Future, or LivPAC. LivPAC was established in 1996 by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who can lay claim to being Capitol Hill’s foremost supporter of transit, biking, and pedestrian issues. Based in Portland, LivPAC enjoys support from heavy-hitter advocates in DC and in major cities throughout the country, including Smart Growth America, the American Planning Association, and the Congress for New Urbanism. In its nearly twenty-year history, it has been active in close to 250 congressional races and made $1.2 million in campaign contributions. In 2012, LivPAC endorsed and funded 19 candidates, including two in Florida.
At the local level, Alexandrians for a Livable City, from Alexandria, Virginia, has demonstrated great success in electing candidates and shown how quickly PACs can tilt the plane in favor of the livable cities agenda. Founded only several months before Alexandria’s City Council Primaries, ALC endorsed Allison Silberberg, who went on to win a seat on the Alexandria City Council and now serves as Vice Mayor.
Most attention to the livable cities PAC trend, however, goes to StreetsPAC, New York City’s transit and pedestrian PAC. StreetsPAC was formed to continue pushing a livable cities agenda in NYC and to prevent new leaders from reversing the progress made under Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. This progress saw the city make great strides toward more egalitarian treatment of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders with approaches that prompted much visible public debate but which were supported by the vast majority of New Yorkers. StreetsPAC polled candidates to determine which had the strongest commitments to complete streets values. They then solicited these candidates for endorsement interviews, an opportunity to question candidates about their stances on livability issues and get them to commit on the record to policies and positions before contributing to their campaigns. In total, StreetsPAC endorsed 18 candidates in New York’s City Council races; thirteen of them won.
The benefit of livable cities PACs has been not only to elect candidates sympathetic to the cause but also to elevate livable cities to a subject worthy of discussion on the campaign trail. StreetsPAC’s endorsement of mayoral primary winner Bill de Blasio came alongside de Blasio’s promise to aim for zero pedestrian deaths in the city. Even with several million fewer pedestrians in Miami than NYC, that’s a promise that most politicians here wouldn’t go anywhere near. At least not yet. But the promise of TrAC could change that.
Like the livable cities movement at the national level, the desire in Miami for equal access to safe, effective, dignified transportation has been growing with increased momentum. That momentum has brought us to a milestone moment where the movement evolves into a sophisticated machine capable of laying the groundwork that will inch forward the cause. The United States, Miami included, is moving towards a more livable future. That much appears now to be certain. What we’re witnessing here is that the mechanisms of policymaking are now beginning to catch up to the public. In a decade or two, when we look backwards to examine how we arrived at a more livable society, we could very well identify the developments taking place now as the moment that the political machinery ceased working against us and became an instrument for effecting the change that the public has been asking for. PAC doesn’t need to be a dirty word. It needs to be a tool in the toolbox of the livable cities agenda; it needs to be a symbol for how far the movement has come and of our potential for how far we still can go.
Disclaimer: I am not formally involved with TrAC. However, I do support their efforts and encourage you to check them out at www.tracmiami.org.
Please click here to register:
From The Atlantic:
The Atlantic, The Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies will host the upcoming summit “CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges,” taking place October 6-8, 2013, in New York City. The event will bring together 300 global city leaders—more than 30 mayors, plus urban theorists, city planners, scholars, architects, and artists—for a series of conversations about urban ideas that are shaping the world’s metro centers.
The summit will feature conversations on economic development; the environment and sustainability; cultural investment; big data; and the intersection of public safety, privacy, and technology; as well as smaller breakout sessions exploring topics like redevelopment, urban infrastructure, transportation, urban expansion, and the creation of the next tech city.
Please select the player below to watch all main stage programming and select breakout session (see below for an agenda of live sessions). And join the conversation on Twitter by using #CityLab and following @Atlantic_LIVE,@AspenInstitute, and @BloombergDotOrg.
In a city where nearly everyone and everything is from somewhere else, inequality is Miami’s most native son. Like sunshine and sex appeal, inequality is stuffed into every corner of this city. We make little effort to hide it or avoid it, and in the case of one advertising campaign we even flaunt it. Along Southwest 2nd Avenue in Brickell, there’s a bus stop advertisement for Miami’s latest luxury development touting “Unfair Housing,” a play on the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discriminatory housing practices in the United States*.
But this bus stop ad isn’t the only evidence of the gaps dividing our city; there’s the bus stop itself. It can be dirty and overcrowded, just like the buses themselves, which also run late, if they ever come at all. The sidewalks on blocks around the stop are narrow and they’re often obstructed either temporarily by construction or permanently by signage and utilities. It is the typical second-class experience of pedestrians and transit riders around the United States that results from minimal public investment in any form of transportation infrastructure that does not cater to cars.
This is a common condition around the world, and in a few cities it has received the attention that it deserves: as an inequality so flagrant that it offends our notions of democracy. In Bogotá, former mayor Enrique Peñalosa made this idea of transportation as a matter of democracy central to his governing philosophy. “If all citizens are equal before the Law,” Peñalosa is fond of saying, “then a citizen on a $30 bicycle has the same right to safe mobility as one in a $30,000 car, and a bus with 100 passengers has a right to 100 times more road space than a car with one.” Gil Peñalosa, who is Enrique’s brother and former Commissioner of Parks, Sport, and Recreation in Bogotá and is now Executive Director of Toronto-based 8-80 Cities, recently wrote, “Bus lanes are a right and a symbol of equality.” In Copenhagen, Mikael Colville-Andersen, photographer and founder of Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Copenhagenize, has argued that, “we have to re-democratize the bicycle.” In order words, we must recast cycling from a niche subculture for environmentalists and fitness buffs to a viable form of transportation for all citizens who value it because, as Colville-Andersen stresses, “it’s quick and easy.” Since the early 1990s, Vienna has embraced “gender mainstreaming,” the practice of ensuring that public works projects, including transportation, benefit men and women equally.
At its core, government by representative democracy, our chosen form, demands that our leaders pass laws and set policies based on the wishes, opinions, and needs of the citizens without sacrificing what Edmund Burke called their “enlightened conscience.” In other words, our leaders must govern in accordance with the will of the majority, the rights of the minorities, and their own judgment informed by their position as a representative of all citizens. When we examine the transportation policies under which we live, we can observe simply and clearly that Miami is not a transportation democracy.
In a transportation democracy, governed by notions of equality, resources are allocated so that all citizens no matter their form of transportation have equal access to safe, effective, dignified mobility. How we travel between point A and point B is a question as critical as any other to the functioning of society and how we answer that question speaks volumes about what we value and whose voice is heard.
Transportation resources are not allocated equally in Miami. Federal, state, and local funding for transportation projects in Miami-Dade County, aviation and port activity excluded, totaled roughly $1.7 billion during the 2011-2012 fiscal year**. Of that amount, over sixty percent went to road, highway, and parking infrastructure. The remaining minority is split between sidewalks, buses, trains, bike lanes and racks, and other pedestrian and intermodal infrastructure.
It’s a grossly unequal distribution in light of how citizens travel in practice. Twenty percent of Miami-Dade residents are not eligible to drive based on age. Another 20 percent of residents age 18 and over live in poverty, making car ownership an impractical financial burden. Of Miami-Dade’s more than one million workers, eleven percent commutes to work by bus, train, bike, or on foot. Still another six percent have ambulatory disabilities that require use of a wheelchair, walker, or other assistive device. Surely there is some overlap among these and still other groups, but the lesson is that in excess of fifty percent of Miami-Dade residents have no or minimal direct need for or access to an automobile; yet the vast majority of our transportation spending at all levels of government goes to automobile infrastructure. Add to these totals the vast numbers of Miamians, both older and younger, who drive out of necessity but who would prefer to travel by transit, bike, or foot, and the balance of transportation spending becomes even more unequally skewed in favor of a privileged minority***.
We may not typically frame it this way, but what we have here in Miami with respect to our transportation is another instance of inequality, a failure of our democracy. This is a concern larger than the cleanliness of our buses or the scarcity of bike lanes. This is an example of a majority facing alienation and segregation to such a degree that they appear the minority; and this manufactured invisibility is used to justify vast, unequal expenditures in favor of a privileged class. If we are to reclaim our transportation democracy, we must begin with an honest discussion about how our citizens travel around our city; we must push back against an approach to transportation that adequately serves so few of us; and we must, as they’ve done in Bogotá, Copenhagen and Vienna, recognize transportation as an issue that extends deep into the heart of our democracy. Only then can we ensure that all voices are heard, all wishes considered, all rights protected, all interests acknowledged. It is a prerequisite to providing safe, effective, dignified transportation options to all and to staying true to our most inherent values of government. Only then can we ensure that Miami becomes a transportation democracy.
*The campaign has been successful, though; the development is nearly sold out before it has even broken ground.
**This is a rough estimate that includes budget figures from USDOT, FDOT, MDX, MDT, and 35 municipal governments, among others. Unsurprisingly, some figures are easier to come by and interpret than others.
***It is also worth noting the increases in housing prices that developers must charge to subsidize minimum parking requirements.
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