Currently viewing the tag: "Automobile Dependence"

Turnout at MDX’s highway open house last Thursday night was generally healthy.

I’d estimate a solid 80-100 people came through the doors of the West Kendall Baptist Church, eager to learn more about the big new highway project MDX is seeking to sell them on. (I didn’t stick around for the whole three hour event, so my count is unofficial at best. Let’s hope the numbers were more around 150-200 people.)

Turnout to MDX's first public "open house" on its desire to create a vast new section of the 836 highway through far southwest Miami-Dade was healthy. More public opposition will be needed to stop this monstrosity from coming to life.

Turnout to MDX’s first public “open house” on the 836 expansion project was healthy. More public opposition will be needed to stop this monstrosity from coming to life.

The layout of the public meeting was informal, and MDX should be commended for conducting the event in a way that maximized the people’s interaction with project staff: Good job on facilitating some community face-time, MDX — sincerely.

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MDX staff attempt to sell their plans to the inquiring public.

Four loosely-grouped information stations were set-up.

  • Station 1: “Purpose & Need”
  • Station 2: “Process & Schedule”
  • Station 3: “Natural Environment”
  • Station 4: “Physical & Socio-cultural Environment
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MDX presented a lot of interesting maps to suggest that a comprehensive socio-environmental, socio-economic, and socio-cultural evaluation of the project would be undertaken.

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Is MDX really looking at ways to leverage and improve public transit in the area? With all the existing (and planned) park and ride bus stations in the study area, why not study a true bus rapid transit (BRT) system for the county?

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All of MDX’s highway alternatives run through the west wellfield area, one of the sites from which Miamians extract their water from the aquifer below. It’s the source of our drinking water.

Each station had two or three MDX staff members (or staff from one of MDX’s contracted consultant firms, e.g., Stantec) on-hand to solicit residents’ thoughts and provide (typically diversionary) responses to their questions.

Staff were generally friendly. All good salespeople are.

MDX staff attempt to sell their plans to the inquiring public.

MDX staff attempt to sell their plans to the inquiring public.

MDX staff attempt to sell their plan to the  inquiring public.

MDX staff attempt to sell their plans to the inquiring public.

My underlying concern is that when I asked even the simplest of questions, or when my questions were apparently perceived as not ‘softball’ enough, I persistently got some variant of the following response: “Oh, this project is just in the planning stage. It’s way too early to be making those considerations.”

A couple of basic questions to which I received no real response.

  • Considering all alternatives, from the least to the most expansive, what is MDX estimating the costs of this highway expansion to be?
  • Considering all alternatives, how much does MDX consider the total cost of the tolls to be from the southwest to downtown Miami?

Any response that wasn’t overly deflective still didn’t register as sufficient justification for a new highway. For example:

  • Me: If the underlying problem is that nearly all of Miami’s suburbanites commute from the west to the east, why would people want to lengthen their commute by driving farther west, just to ultimately go east again?
  • MDX (paraphrased): Well . . . some people already go west onto Krome [SW 177th] Avenue to go back east again.
  • Me: Yes, a handful do, but Krome Avenue is currently set to be widened by FDOT, and that will accommodate the relatively few who do.
  • MDX (paraphrased): Yes, that’s true; Krome is to be widened; but we need to look into whether widening Krome will be enough.
  • Me: . . . 

MDX was clearly more concerned with selling its message than informing the people of that highway’s impact on their quality of life.

That message is clear: “Miami: You need another highway at the far edge of the city, either along, or somewhere beyond, the Urban Development Boundary.”

While MDX staff weren’t eager to give out any information that could jeopardize their chances of advancing their highway “dream”, they were eager to give out free Sunpass receptors (electronic toll collection devices). The way MDX sees it, we’ll be needing them.

MDX is eager to distribute as many free Sunpass electronic toll collection devices as possible. For MDX, more tolls = more highway expansion = more need to exist.

MDX is eager to distribute as many free Sunpasses. For MDX, more tolls = more highway expansion = more need to exist.

Many attendees, myself included, made their opposition to the project known via the comment cards distributed by the agency.

More public commentary will be needed to stop MDX from realizing its highway dream.

More public commentary will be needed to stop MDX from realizing its highway dream.

More public commentary will be needed to stop MDX from realizing its highway dream.

Be sure to have your voice heard while the project is still in the study stage.

Still, more voices will be needed to stop MDX from moving forward with its plans to build more highways in Miami, further constraining our city’s ability to liberate itself from its dependence on automobiles.

The American Public Transportation Association released figures Monday on third quarter growth in public transportation. Tri-Rail ranked as the second fastest growing commuter rail system in the country with a whopping 32.9%. Public transit use overall jumped 6.5% between July and September across the country, while automobile use shrunk by a much larger 4.6%. More people reduced their driving because the actual number of vehicle-miles is much higher to begin with than the passenger-miles for public transit. So these 4.6% who reduced driving are not all switching to public transit, but also carpooling and combining or eliminating trips. Few bothered to point out that aspect of our new transportation habits, as the released figures don’t include those changes. Personally, I know many coworkers who have started carpooling this year.

Read the Miami Herald article on the subject here. One phrase in the article that nearly makes me shiver with delight is that “meanwhile, the U.S. auto industry is on the verge of collapse…” While I wish it were the case, the statement is rather sensationalist. If they declare bankruptcy they will not be collapsing, just restructuring.

Meanwhile, gas prices continue to drop, so we can only hope these changes last.

Remember the debacle which erupted in Palm Beach when attempting to identify a location for the massive Scripps Institute? Mecca Farms and Boca Raton were all suggested as alternative sites for the massive Bioresearch center, however in the end, a location in Jupiter near FAU’s campus was selected. In the end, here is why the Mecca Farms site fell apart:

The plan came to a halt two years later when a federal judge sided with environmentalists and ruled that the project’s potential environmental impacts hadn’t been adequately studied. Under deadline pressure, commissioners moved the Scripps Florida headquarters to a smaller, urban site at Florida Atlantic University‘s MacArthur campus in Jupiter.

Somehow, the voice of reason prevails over absurd westward development, even if it was for a monumental institution; this project had absolutely no reason to pave over thousands of acres of farmland. Palm Beach County paid $60 million for the Mecca Farms complex and is now trying to figure out what to do with the rural designated land. Considering the reasons why the institution was blocked from building here, their “ideas” may surprise you:

More than four years after the county bought the 1,919-acre property with a sprawling Scripps Florida science campus in mind, commissioners are taking steps to usher in a new reality: suburban home development.

Suburban home development? How is this environmentally friendly? Well, it isn’t but they have some ideas which are actually worse:

County administrators want to use about 100 acres for a landfill, set aside land for water marshes and environmental improvements and package the rest for home builders.

Palm Beach County has the unique opportunity to conserve thousands of acres as farmland, able of producing enough goods to satisfy the needs of much of the South Florida area. This is a pristine opportunity to make our region sustainable, by actually producing food locally and Palm Beach County commissioners are looking to throw it away on yet another ridiculous sprawled out single family home compound. With oil recently reaching $100 a barrel, I am shocked to see still autocentric development mindset…

The trolley above once ran down the streets of Miami, from 1925 to 1931. Anyone recognize which street? Automakers killed streetcars like this by buying up the transit companies and shutting them down. That was before my time, but it seems sensible to say that the streetcar died because of the automobile. The last thing we would want to see is the same mistake made again. Recent criticism of Miami’s votes to fund the streetcar point to the same phantom raising its ugly head again. Norman Braman, owner of Braman Management and its car dealerships, has come forward with sharp criticism of the plan to fund the port tunnel, Marlins stadium, and streetcar.
One could point to the port tunnel and stadium as Braman’s main beef, but his past actions indicate the possibility that he is chiefly against the streetcar. According to this Miami Herald article, he was behind an ad campaign 8 years ago against the penny sales tax to fund transit. So this is not the first time this car dealership owner has come out against public transit. We cannot pretend to know his motives, but the fact is, we have someone with vested interest in getting more people to buy cars trying to shoot down a system that will reduce people’s dependence on the automobile. One of his dealerships is in downtown Miami, where it could sell cars easily to the new residents that will be pouring into all the condo towers. The Miami Streetcar, when added to the existing transit options, will only make it easier for these residents to live without a car. So it is in Norman’s best interest to sue the county to keep it from getting funded. Even if Miami-Dade County eventually wins the suit, taxpayers will still be stuck with the legal fees and all these projects will likely get delayed while the suit is pending.

Braman also plans to launch an ad campaign against the latest resolution about these projects. Short of launching our own ad campaign, one thing we can do is be prepared to counter the ads whenever friends or family see them. If you want to take it a step further, I’m sure you can suggest some good ideas. If someone wants to keep Miami in the dark ages of car centered design, then we must fight back.

I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us but the list of “Best Tailgating Cities” came out recently and was topped mostly by the worst autocentric cities across America. Among the top ten were Miami at number 6 with Tampa right behind us at Number 7. Although parking availability wasn’t the only criteria, it was one of the key factors examined by Joe Cahn, a “Tailgating Expert.”

We turn our attention once again today to the East Kendall Homeowners (Association? Organization? Federation? Coalition of the willing?) to discuss the initial purpose of the group’s existence. The EKHO was formed in June 2005 in opposition to the former Dadeland Breezes development, slated for N Kendall Dr. and 77th Ave. An excerpt from their site:

“A massive development called “Dadeland Breeze” is being proposed for our neighborhood. This development will demolish the 3 story apartment buildings at N. Kendall Drive & S.W. 77 Ave. in order to construct a complex of 8 condominium towers up to 8 stories high with nearly a 100% increase in the density of the existing buildings. This proposed construction project is clearly incompatible with the low-rise scale of our “East Kendall” residential neighborhood…”

I’d like to speak to the person who reasoned that an 8 story building was “out of character” with the neighborhood, but the Palmetto expressway, expansive parking lots of Dadeland Mall, or the gargantuan 6 lanes of Kendall drive just blended in seamlessly with the surroundings. The fact that most East Kendall residents don’t likely walk to their local Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, or Mall is the most alarming part of this discussion. Furthermore, I find it kind of hypocritical when a group speaks out against a project of greater density because of “increased traffic” but yet also goes against measures to bring public transit to their neighborhood. Is it the development that East Kendall fears or is it a change in the way of life?

“…It will worsen our already bad traffic, further burden our over-capacity schools, and have a negative impact on the quality of life of our families.”

Yahtzee! “Impact on the quality of life” Now, what impact precisely is anyones guess, but a change that will have us living a more vertical, sustainable, and likely healthier life doesn’t sound so bad, that is, unless you like idling in traffic along US-1 or Kendall bouncing around from parking lots to fast-food drive-throughs.

What many Miami residents, organizations, etc. fail to realize is that change and progress are a way of life. Had such powerful opposition existed in the early 1900’s, much of our prized downtown Brickell land could still look much like it did in 1915:

Imagine that? The Four Seasons was once a 2 story bungalow. By now we surely would have paved clear across the everglades and into Naples had someone not decided to build vertical…

Try explaining that and the benefits of sustainable growth to these folks, the EKHO, a group of citizens obviously set in their ways and accustomed to the lousy quality of suburban life:

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.

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