Currently viewing the tag: "Metrorail"

Meet the Douglas Road Corridor MetroRail Line.This 4.5 mile project would connect the MIC to Douglas Road Station and US1, with stops at NW 7 Street,  SW 8 Street, and Coral Way. The line would service areas, like downtown Coral Gables, where land use already supports a high level of pedestrian activity. This should be a high priority for our leaders, and some are very supportive. Check out the 5 and ten minute walk sheds  - this line would run through some of the densest parts of Miami and Coral Gables - pluggining thousands of residents who have already chosen apartment living into the ultimate urban amenity - rapid transit.  (Not to mention creating another connection to the airport for those traveling to/from points south.)

 

The Transit Subcommittee of the Miami-Dade County MPO Citizen’s Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC) recently met on Wednesday, January 11, 2012. Among the items on the agenda were updates on pigeon defecation issues at various Metrorail stations, on Miami-Dade Transit’s alternative fuels usage, and on the configuration of the soon-to-be-purchased Metrorail train cars.

Unfortunately, though, virtually no new information was actually provided at the CTAC Transit subcommittee meeting on the new Metrorail cars. Mr. Jerry Blackman, General Superintendent of Rail Maintenance  for Miami-Dade Transit, regretfully explained to the subcommittee that all County officials and employees were prohibited to speak on any details pertaining to the new Metrorail cars due to the imposition of the “Cone of Silence”.

According to a Miami-Dade County Administrative Order promulgated in 2002 and an accompanying memo, the Cone of Silence is a policy “designed to protect the integrity of the procurement process by shielding it from undue influences prior to the recommendation of contract award”. Basically, the Cone of Silence is intended to ensure that no local government officials or staff engage in any sort of funny business deal-making when the local government in question is awarding work contracts.

Indeed, Request for Proposals (RFP) #654 for the “Purchase of New Heavy Rail Vehicles” is listed on page 22 of the most current Cone of Silence Report as of January 9, 2012. However, it seems that Superintendent Blackman may have been overly circumspect by giving the CTAC such limited information on the new cars. According to that 2002 Administrative Order and memo, County personnel are exempted from the provisions of the Cone of Silence during publicly-announced meetings, such as Wednesday’s CTAC Transit subcommittee meeting.

Nevertheless, with some persistent probing by various CTAC members, Superintendent Blackman did suggest that the new train cars would include “the latest technology”, including more reliable vehicles, a better public address (PA) system, and in-train screen monitors indicating the train’s arrival times. Mr. Blackman also confirmed that Transit is looking at the prospect of integrating more advertising into the train cars to help generate revenue.

The issue of bike racks in the train cars also came up, and Superintendent Blackman confirmed that Transit is actively working-out the logistics and other technical practicalities of incorporating bike racks throughout the whole train (not just the last car). He suggested that some sort of bike signs would be included on the exterior of the new train cars designating which cars would accommodate bikes, as is done on the Portland light-rail MAX.

CTAC member Dr. Claudius Carnegie rightly directed the committee’s attention to the inadequacy of the current Metrorail Bike and Ride policies, adding that there needed to be greater “bicycle facilitation system-wide”. His comments echoed the recent Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) resolution #16-2011 requesting that Miami-Dade Transit review and update the existing rules of the Bike and Ride program.

All in all, those in attendance learned more about Miami-Dade Transit’s pigeon roosting and defecation elimination strategies than the configuration of the new Metrorail cars. Given the recent controversy over the purchase of the new train cars, the caution exercised by Superintendent Blackman during the Cone of Silence for this RFP is quite understandable. The Cone of Silence for this contract is expected to be lifted sometime in Spring 2012.

On a very positive final note, Mr. Blackman stressed how he and the rest of the Transit Department are eager to involve more members of the public, including the bicycle community, on optimizing the configuration of the new Metrorail train cars for all!

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It was a pleasant surprise last week to find, not merely one, but two, vertical bike racks on Metrorail train car #141. And, it just so happens that car #141 was the last wagon that day – interesting . . .

You may remember that several months ago, there seemed to be a sort of prototype rack on one of the train cars, yet not the last one (as one would expect since the official rules governing the Metrorail Bike & Ride program currently mandate that all bikes go to the back of the train). The South Florida Bike Coalition posted on this confusing observation in January 2011 and questioned, “This rack was installed on the second car – does this mark a change regulating where people can bring their bikes on the train?” After weeks of multiple sightings of this mysterious single rack on Metrorail, it seemed to have disappeared altogether. The observation last week of these two new racks seems to suggest that we’re getting closer – slowly but surely – to seeing a more permanent presence of bike racks on Metrorail.

However, train wagon #141 (the car in which these racks are installed) has not remained the last car, so many reading this may have already seen these racks on #141 as the non-ultimate train car. That’s important to note . . . See, just as different buses are regularly shifted to drive the numerous bus routes throughout the county, Metrorail train cars are regularly alternated to different positions within the chain of wagons. This technical procedure, the constant interchanging of the train cars, is one of the primarily challenges to creating a set of more equitable, enforceable, and sustainable Bike & Ride policies.

As I see it, there are two fundamental options here: (1) make more space exclusively in the last car to accommodate the numerous and increasing bike-train riders while making the last car more of a “standing car”, and/or (2) put an adequate number of bike racks throughout all, or at least most, of the train cars, with conspicuous signage on the outside of the train doors/cabins indicating which cars have bike racks and which do not. I personally favor the latter.

The bike racks seen last week are of a different model than those seen around this time last year. (Perhaps the County has finally made a decision as to which models are most appropriate and cost effective for our community’s trains (?)) To accommodate these newer racks, two separates pairs of seats were removed on each side of the front of the train wagon. That makes four seats lost to two bikes. One less sympathetic to bikes on the train may initially find this trade-off unwarranted: “How could you justify giving up two seats just for one bike?!” It’s a fair question, and the response is simple.

While two seats are lost to a bike safely secured on a rack, it would be at least two seats (and sometimes even four or five, for those despicably inconsiderate bike passengers) lost to a bike on the train not neatly stationed on a rack. Additionally, having these dedicated spaces on the train for riders to safely secure their bicycles will significantly reduce the many intra-train mobility conflicts and safety issues abounding in the absence of such spaces. People will no longer have to play a body-contorting game of Twister with one another through a gauntlet of legs, handlebars, tires, baby strollers, and wheelchairs. An adequate presence of bike racks throughout the entire train – say, four to eight in each car – would do wonders to alleviate the many common conflicts that arise among cyclist and non-cyclist Metrorail riders.

Indeed, let’s hope these racks are here to stay and the County is preparing to expand them throughout the entire train. That would suffice until 2014 – or until Miami-Dade Transit gets cleared by the Federal Transit Administration to proceed with its $300 million deal to procure 136 new trains, originally slated for 2014. Whatever happens with the feds, these two new racks are a welcome addition to the train, and we hope to see more! As recently described on this site, though, even with new bike racks, there remain many challenges and opportunities to a sustainable Bike & Ride program on Metrorail.

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Transit Miami recently sent out a list of questions to City of Miami District 2 Commission candidates to get their views on the issues facing District 2. Representing one of the most important economic and urban centers in our region, the District 2 commission seat plays a central role in supporting regional and local transit, and ensuring walkable, pedestrian friendly streets for city residents. The area included in District 2 includes those parts of the city that are best poised to take advantage of existing premium transit and walkable urbanism. We’ve posted the answers in the order they were received  - so far only Michelle Niemeyer and Marc Sarnoff have responded.

How will you work toward the goal of expanding transit in District

I would determine where we stand, where we have the most urgent needs, and where we should have improvements into the future, and then I would work with private resident and stakeholder organizations, the City, the County, State and Federal agencies together to be sure to get the greatest impact without duplication of effort.

Do you support the South Florida East Coast Corridor project to expand local and express rail service to downtown? Do you support a Tri-Rail option or a Metro-Rail option?

Yes, we badly need public transit that goes into downtown. This should be a priority rather than over spending on public projects that are not needed.

Do you support a MetroRail Baylink connection?

Absolutely. I think its crazy we don’t have a connection from the airport to downtown to Miami Beach.

How will you ensure that upcoming mega developments, like the Genting casino, contribute to pedestrian friendly street frontage?

Special area plans need to be approved by the commission, and the commission needs to strongly negotiate that they are outward facing community oriented properties as oppposed to the inward facing business model which is typical of desitination resorts  and casinos.

The Transit Miami led coalition to improve pedestrian and cyclist conditions on Brickell led to the temporary lowering of the speed limit by the Florida Department of Transportation, but only a change in the design of the street toward a true pedestrian boulevard will impact  driving habits. TM sent the FDOT a list of over 20 missing crosswalks and recommendations for travel lanes that will encourage lower travel speeds, which have been ignored to date. Will you join our coalition and fight with us to ensure that Brickell is reconstructed with narrowed lanes, permanently reduced speeds, and more abundant crosswalks?

Yes. Every community in this district has a road which bisects its neighboood and is treated by the county and the state as a commuter highway. These roads include Main Highway, South Bayshore, Brickell, and Biscayne Boulevard. In order for us to have healthy outdoor environment and pedestrian friendly walking communities we need to place a heavy emphasis on creating public transportation which will decrease the volume of cars beig pushed through our neighborhoods because the existing infrastructure is already overburdened.

In the ongoing planning for the I395 reconstruction, the Florida Department of Transportation is pushing an elevated highway through Overtown that will dwarf the existing expressway that decimated the once vibrant Overtown community. Other alternatives include a tunnel option that will open up over 40 acres of prime downtown land, as well as an at grade boulevard option. Which alternative would you support as District 2 commissioner?

If we could afford it, I support the tunnel.

 

I could not believe my ears last week at a Chamber of Commerce meeting where a panel, including Miami-Dade County Transit Interim Director Yesla Llort and representatives from the Marlins, paraded around the imaginary transportation options that they were promoting in advance of the ballpark opening.

Lets be clear from the start - there is no safe, convenient or fast way of getting to the park aside from driving your car. The notion that a large portion of the 35,000 visitors to the park will come via transit is not only a joke, but is downright dishonest. From the Miami Today article:

 Although parking built for the ballpark will be limited, says Claude Delorme, the team’s executive vice president of ballpark development, between lawn and driveway parking, biking, walking and public transportation, ample modes are available.

Bullshit.

I’m willing to get over the sleazy way that the ballpark was approved. I might get over the fact that they had to tear down one of the few civic monuments that we could all rally around (ugly though it was) - the Orange Bowl had history. I might even be willing to get over the downright mediocre liner buildings and parking garages the city is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on. But what I will not do is tolerate transit professionals, like Yesla Llort, lying about how people will be able to the stadium via transit. There is no premium transit within a 5, 10 or even 15 minute walk of the stadium. Zilch. The buses that run along Flagler go west (from Downtown) and those that run on NW 7 go in both directions. What about people coming from Broward and points south and west. The parking garages only have 4,700 spaces, with an additional 3,500- 4,000 (stretching it) for folks parking on lawns and on-street around the stadium. Did they just build a luxury stadium and expect folks to take the bus and transfer several times to get there?

 The City of Miami, Miami-Dade County and South Florida Regional Transportation Authority are creating a joint effort to provide safe, reliable transportation to and from the stadium, said Ysela Llort, interim director of the Miami-Dade Transit.   “Mass transit is the best way to get around,” she said.

Really? Not if the trains don’t go there. I have to wonder why these people believe that anyone would go through the trouble of transferring two or three times to get close to the stadium, to then walk a mile from Culmer or Civic station or take a shuttle. Are they nuts? Both of the closest stations are about a mile, without taking into account the treacherous 3′ sidewalks, dangerous intersections, and completely lacking pedestrian amenities along the way. The tone deaf nature of this meeting was nothing short of shocking to someone like me that actually does walk, bike and take transit. If these people used the infrastructure they are claiming thousands of people will use to go to games, they would be more honest about the true state of affairs and make every possible attempt to make the real transit connections possible.

” The city will also offer bicycle-friendly infrastructure and provide bikeways to the ballpark,” she said.

Haha. See my comments from above. I want to take the Marlins folks for a walk from the stadium to civic station at both 5 pm and 9 pm so that they experience what they are promoting as the ‘transit/pedestrian’ experience to the ballpark. At 5pm you will have crazy rush hour along 12 avenue, from Civic center. Then as you make your way under the Dolphin to avoid getting hit (the expressway entrance is a notorious area for pedestrian and cyclist crashes) you make your way over the bridge to NW 7 where there are few crosswalks, narrow sidewalks, numerous obstructions, and speeding motorists trying to get home. On your return at 9 or later from the game, good luck. Poor lighting and sketchy street life (to be polite) will make getting back to the station an even greater challenge. Not only will you have to avoid getting hit by a car, but the area will be a slap in the face for suburban mom, dad and kids trying to get back to Kendall.

We can do better than this. An east/west Metrorail link from the airport that connects to the existing MetroRail right after Culmer where the existing Metrorail veers north ( a mere 3.5 miles) could have a stop at 17 Avenue - less than a quarter mile away (then its another 4.5 miles from the existing Metrorail at Overtown to Miami Beach and you have a direct MIA/ Miami Beach connection). At a mile away, both Civic center and Culmer Station are beyond the 10 min (1/2 mile) walk that is the accepted norm by planners and transportation professionals.  If we start small - increments of transit expansion that use our existing Metrorail line to connect destinations like the stadium/Miami Beach/Airport..etc we will be much better off in the long run than focusing on band-aid projects like trolleys and parking garages.

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Transit Miami recently sent out a list of questions to City of Miami District 2 Commission candidates to get their views on the issues facing District 2. Representing one of the most important economic and urban centers in our region, the District 2 commission seat plays a central role in supporting regional and local transit, and ensuring walkable, pedestrian friendly streets for city residents. The area included in District 2 includes those parts of the city that are best poised to take advantage of existing premium transit and walkable urbanism. We’ll be posting the candidate responses in the order they are received. Our first respondent is sitting District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

How will you work toward the goal of expanding transit in District 2?

We (the City) are ordering and implementing the Trolley project scheduled to commence in December for the north/south Brickell - Biscayne Blvd. corridor with an east/west connection down Flagler. There will be a circulator in the Health District. These two districts won grants from FDOT to operate and AARA money to purchase. In addition there will be special service to events Trolley in Downtown i.e. Heat games and the Performing Arts Center that will operate during the scheduling of those events. The fees have not been set - some Commissioners do not want to charge for this service but the Trolley’s will run out of money if we do not charge. I prefer a 6o day no fee trial period, then a $1.00 fee to allow the operation to continue for the next 15 years with Cap X for new trolleys and maintenance.

Do you support the South Florida East Coast Corridor project to expand local and express rail service to downtown? Do you support a Tri-Rail option or a Metro-Rail option?

I support the project but not to the exclusion of the North South link by FEC, as far as we have learned Metro Rail is far too expensive and will not be viable for more then 10 years while we could commence implementing the Tri Rail option.

What are your views on expanding MetroRail along the East/West corridor from western Miami-Dade through the Airport to Downtown?

Metro Rail going to the airport is what we all thought it should be. It now goes somewhere that many users can enjoy that are not commuting to work.

Do you support a MetroRail Baylink connection?

Yes this should have been part of the 5 year plan at MPO 10 years ago. The Beach should have no fear of us.

Critics of Miami21 contend that the parking provisions of the code are excessively high, precluding the sort of neighborhood scale development that the code was meant to support. How would you work to lower the parking requirements of Miami21 so that the benefits of the code are realized?

I continue to support Miami21 and its present parking provisions. Changes to peoples habits is not a light switch - it takes time and we can not burden neighborhoods with people who will park wherever and whenever they can. This must be viewed as a process.

How will you ensure that upcoming mega developments, like the Genting Casino Resort, contribute to pedestrian friendly street frontage?

Through the review process and by ensuring the impact fees are used to create the walkable downtown that we all envision. This process - if Gen Teng commences building - will allow us the opportunity to create not only an east west corridor but a north south connection to BicentennialPark. The Gen Teng process is very amorphous and will present many opportunities for walkability.

The Transit Miami led coalition to improve pedestrian and cyclist conditions on Brickell led to the temporary lowering of the speed limit by the Florida Department of Transportation, but only a change in the design of the street toward a true pedestrian boulevard will impact driving habits. TM sent the FDOT a list of over 20 missing crosswalks and recommendations for travel lanes that will encourage lower travel speeds, which have been ignored to date. Will you join our coalition and fight with us to ensure that Brickell is reconstructed with narrowed lanes, permanently reduced speeds, and more abundant crosswalks?

There is a plan in place for 19 cross walks that we are finalizing with FDOT. The cross walks will be raised to create friction and naturally slow drivers down. We have lowered the speed limit on the residential part of Brickell to 30 MPH with FDOT to review and determine if it goes to 35 MPH (it was 40 MPH). We have written more than 5200 traffic enforcement tickets on Brickell to slow traffic ….so it’s working.

In the ongoing planning for the I395 reconstruction, the Florida Department of Transportation is pushing an elevated highway through Overtown that will dwarf the existing expressway that decimated the once vibrant Overtown community. Other alternatives include a tunnel option that will open up over 40 acres of prime downtown land, as well as an at grade boulevard option. Which alternative would you support as District 2 commissioner?

The second one however FDOT is not listening to local in put into this project. I suspect they are hell bent on the raised highway project a misuse of its power and money.

The recently released Miami-Dade Transit Development Plan 2011 Update,  (along with the October 2010 MPO Near Term Plan) lays out a vision for the next few years of transit service and expansion. Unfortunately, this year’s TDP (like many before it) still maintains a freeze on premium service expansion (generally described by mode as Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail, or Heavy Rail).

We need to return to the core PTP projects - Douglas Avenue, Baylink, FEC

 

This year’s TDP is specific on the ‘Plan B’ for the Orange Line and other parts of the People’s Transportation Plan that never materialized. The projects are described as ‘enhanced bus service’, which for now doesn’t mean very much. The Near Term Plan described the ultimated goal as Bus Rapid Transit, but more on that later.

Phases 2 and 3 of the Orange Line  will now become two separate projects. The Orange Line Phase 2 is now the NW 27 Avenue Max, a 13 mile enhanced bus service, to be implemented in two phases, and Orange Line Phase 3 is now the SR 836 Enhanced Bus. The SR836 Bus will be implemented in collaboration with the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (more on this project later).

The two phase approach for the NW 27 Avenue Max is a pragmatic solution to the transit needs of the area that enhances ridership and sets the stage for more intense transit later on. Phase one will use 5 new 40′ diesel-electric hybrid buses, with transit signal priority, on-board wi-fi , real time tracking information, and 12 minute peak/ 30 minute mid-day headways. This phase is fully funded and scheduled to be online in 2012.

Phase 2 will improve headways to 10 min peak/20 min mid-day by using 11 new 60‘articulated diesel-electric buses, ‘robust’ stations, and branding of buses and stations. The current plan shows a 5 year horizon (2016) and $27 million dollar price-tag, of which $5 million is currently unfunded. This incremental investment in the corridor as it builds ridership is a responsible use of transit dollars, allowing infill development (and increased densities) to take root at important nodes to help ensure a successful route. Many critics of the MetroRail Orange Line North Corridor cited low population densities and poor land use along the corridor as reasons why MetroRail was an inappropriate facility choice for this location. The current proposal seeks measurable, yet incremental growth in ridership along the corridor at a modest expense.

Near-Term Transportation Plan for Miami-Dade County 2012-2015, NW 27 Ave Enhanced Bus

According to the 2012-2015 MPO Near Term Transportation Plan, NW 27 Avenue is currently served by 2 bus routes.

At 9,500 average daily riders Route 27 is the fourth heaviest utilized route in the system. Route 97 performs well within the MAX and the KAT services, as well, at 1,300 boardings. Ridership in this corridor is surpassed by Miami Beach, Flagler, Biscayne, the South Dade Busway and NW 7th Avenue.

Comparatively, the MetroRail ridership projection was 19,000 initial daily rides (about double the current bus ridership) at a yearly expense of $70 million dollars (the Route 27 and 97 combined cost $8.1 million a year). In the case of the Orange Line, and indeed our entire mass transit network, the spending strategy should not be to stretch expensive premium transit facilities to every corner of the county, but to focus investments in those locations where the surrounding land use already supports transit ready development (also known as transit oriented development) AND where those investments will create a complete transit network.

While there are other better candidates for MetroRail funding (like Baylink or Douglas Road), NW 27 Avenue is still a worthy candidate for premium transit investment, as the Near Term Plan points out, few other lines are as utilized. The North Corridor did not happen because of bad land use patterns, but because Miami-Dade Transit has been chronically underfunded by county administrators.

The FTA New Start rankings showed that MDT had a committed source of revenue for the project, receiving a ‘High’ ranking for ‘Committed funds’ (FDOT and PTP dollars), but the overall MDT operating budget (funded by the County Commission) showed a ongoing deficit (in years 2004-2006), thus garnering a ‘low’ ranking for ‘Agency Operational Condition.’ The final nail in the coffin was a ‘low’ ranking in the ‘Operating Cost Estimates and Planning Assumptions’ category because, according to a November 2007 report, “Assumptions on the growth in fare revenues are optimistic compared to historic trends.  The financial plan assumes significant, frequent fare increases.  In addition, it assumes significant fare revenue increases resulting from installation of automated fare collection systems which reduce fare evasion.”

In spite of the tumultuous history of this project, the Near Term Plan concludes that,

Although the County has decided to officially withdraw from the FTA New Starts Process, the County continues to work on the NW 27th Avenue Corridor. It has chosen to improve service incrementally until such time that the construction of heavy rail in the corridor is deemed feasible.

While it might not have seemed a good business deal to county leaders, this was a project in the PTP, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters - and is exactly what the surtax money was to be used for. Not to mention that transit infrastructure is an investment in our city that can result in clear increases in tax revenue and land value when coordinated with dense, pedestrian-oriented urban fabric and employment centers.

With the anticipated service improvements along NW 27 Avenue, it would seem that MDT’s current service expansion strategy continues to be one of small scale improvements that bide the time waiting for leaders to deliver on premium transit.

 

  • On October 29, MDT celebrated the one year anniversary of the Easy Card - the automated fare collection system implemented to increase the usability of the transit system by automating payments and reducing the time needed to board MDT vehicles. The agency celebrated by awarding the rider who made the 42 millionth “tap” a full year of free ridership.  MDT also awarded the top five most frequent users of the EASY Card with a free month of transit. Not trying to hate on these lucky folks but, the picture released by MDT, above, isn’t particularly filled with joy.
  • Two  County armed guards, tasked with collecting the cash deposits used to recharge EASY cards at Metrorail stations were robbed early this morning at the Douglas Road station. The stolen vehicle was recovered about a block away from the station. Perhaps the county should review its policy of collecting the fare-box revenues at 2AM.
  • Margaret Pace Park, bolstered by the recent development boom has flourished recently thanks to the large influx of new residents. The once dilapidated park and neighborhood is now a shining example of urban life in downtown Miami.
  • Weston’s only bus route, #23 was spared from being axed completely last month by County Commissioners. Riders however, will face higher fares, reduced service, and a new route alignment in effort to reduce the cost of operating the underutilized route. Just another debilitating effect of urban sprawl - public transit becomes ineffective and difficult to operate.
  • Miami-Dade County public schools saved $6M in energy costs last year by implementing a district-wide campaign to conserve energy.

Across the blogosphere:

  • The Transport Politic provides a comprehensive analysis of FL Congressman John Mica’s likely transportation agenda. Mica will likely become the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and as such will have a big impact on the upcoming reauthorization bill and future Federal spending on transportation. Mr. Mica has previously expressed support for HSR in regions where it “makes sense” such as the dense Northeast corridor.
  • A recent report from MSNBC notes that younger folks today (those aged 18 - 35) are less likely to hold valid drivers licenses and own cars as compared to their counterparts in 1994. The article attributes the decline to the recent economic depression as well as a growing ambivalence about driving among younger generations.  (Via: Streetsblog)

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This week, the US DOT released the FY11 Budget, a $79 Billion package best summarized by three key agency priorities: improving transportation safety, investing for the future, and promoting livable communities (this last point is significant, we’ll come back to it in a minute). $10.8 billion (7.3%) of the budget is dedicated to transit projects alone. Some cities, particularly Denver, Honolulu, Hartford, San Francisco, and St. Paul-Minneapolis came out as the big winners with new full funding grant agreements, a pivotal step in the FTA’s New Starts funding process.

While this is all great news - if you take some time to look through the budget you’ll notice our very own, Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension stuck in federal funding limbo. This September, MDT will have their final chance to prove their financial aptitude to the FTA.  As our colleagues over at Streetsblog pointed out, Miami, Boston, and Sacramento face an uphill battle over the coming year in achieving FTA approval.

Now, the important question here is: Why haven’t our local leaders figured out how the federal funding process works? While the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension is a noble project, serving a community that could certainly use some improved transit connectivity, the ugly truth is that it won’t garner the ridership necessary to warrant a $1.3 billion investment. Perhaps our local leaders don’t have the political courage to suggest such a notion. Perhaps it would be far more convenient (politically speaking) if the project dies as a result of the FTA rather than our own missteps. While our local leaders continue to advocate for projects that will never stand a chance in the federal appropriations process, we, the constituents, are affected by the ineffective transportation alternatives available. We all suffer. Our economy suffers. The longterm economic viability and sustainability of our community suffers.

Onto the livability objectives - the USDOT, partnering with the EPA and HUD, have embarked upon an ambitious livable community initiative aimed at integrating efficient transportation with healthy, affordable housing solutions. The livable communities initiative will emphasize integrated development around public transportation and will provide greater funding to communities that enhance accessibility, particularly through non-motorized means.

Since metrorail’s inception in the mid 80’s, what have we accomplished? Most recently, the opening of the I-95 HOT lanes has allowed for expanded BRT-like service between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. However this project is partially marred by the fact that (vehicular) capacity was expanded on the corridor to begin with, leading to overall improved travel times (initially) due to the added capacity. The South Miami-Dade Busway, our only other major transportation capital improvement project, has shown some promising success. However, recent attempts at bringing HOT lanes to this corridor, in an effort to “alleviate” congestion along US-1 would prove disastrous and would certainly undermine the new federal goals of encouraging livability.

We’ll leave you with a few points for discussion before we continue this series next week. We invite our readers to use the comment section to continue this important discussion:

  • When Miami-Dade’s bid for the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension inevitably fails later this year, what position should the county ultimately take? What alternative makes the most sense?
  • The County has admitted that it will not be unable to deliver on the promises made in the PTP - what should be done?
  • If the county proposed a new, viable alternative to the PTP with reduced service but actually achievable objectives, would you support it? What routes would be critical in such a plan?

You will remember that back in January, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the changes to the  guidelines that govern federal investments in transit. While not as comprehensive as the anticipated changes to the 2005 SAFETEA-LU Bill, the new rules were a welcomed and long overdue change to transit funding rules.

“Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it,” said Secretary LaHood.  “We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live.”

The change will apply to how the Federal Transit Administration evaluates major transit projects going forward.  In making funding decisions, the FTA will now evaluate the environmental, community and economic development benefits provided by transit projects, as well as the congestion relief benefits from such projects. (FTA)

Locally we hoped for the best, but on Monday the President released his list of projects that are moving forward with federal funding.  While other cities are big winners, our own beleaguered Orange Line Phase 2 remains a weak funding candidate. The projects are all rated based on a variety of criteria, and for a project to receive funding it needs to be at least Medium rated. Previously, the rating was based on cost effectiveness, but the new rules give other criteria greater weight. You can read the report here (look for information on Miami on page 14).

For us the changes would be great news, if not for the continued lack of political will to provide permanent sources of operation and maintenance funding.  The overall project is rated Medium-low in the Preliminary Engineering phase. We score medium-high and medium on the majority of categories, except for our Local Financing Commitment for Operations and Maintenance. In other words, the feds know we can build the system (partially using our PTP dollars) but we still do not have a permanent way of paying for the O & M that will result from the construction of the line.

Until the County Commission steps up and identifies how they intend to fund the future operations of Orange Line , we will not receive FTA New Starts funding.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that is specific to the Orange Line or with the cost heavy rail technology. The cost of O & M is going to be a problem for whatever technology is used to expand the transit system, whether it be BRT, LRT or Metrorail. Running mass transit is expensive. Our current ‘go it alone’ attitude in pursuing BRT lite is only going to cost us more in the long term without actually increasing ridership.

We are currently in the phase “Preliminary Engineering”,

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Miami Dade Transit allows bicycles in the last train car, but there isn’t a safe place on the train to store the bicycles. On Sunday there were 10 bicycles in the last car. It was impossible for people to get in and out of the train because the bicycles were littered throughout the entire car; blocking the aisle and the doorways. Passengers had to navigate around the bicycles parked in the aisle, and then the bicyclists had to back their bicycles out of the train to allow people to get off.  There is no reason why we can’t retrofit bicycle racks like the ones below.  Having bicycles parked in the aisle and in the doorways is not safe or convenient for anyone.

Photo: http://www.trekbikes.com

Photo: http://www.trekbikes.com

Photo: http://fubicy.org

Photo: http://fubicy.org

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Miami-Dade County via their Miami-Dade Transit Department puts out government contracts to improve our public transportation.  I work for a construction company that was invited to bid on one of these projects and this is my story. On September 28, 2009, along with a business partner, I visited five Metro-Rail Stations to photograph potential job sites.  These public sites are “guarded” by the private security company Wackenhut (whose contract has not been renewed). The treatment I received from these taxpayer funded  goons was so shocking that I had to share my experience with you.

At the first station I had no problem doing my work, I took my photographs and moved on. As I walked up to the second station I was greeted by two power-tripping guards that quickly welcomed me into the reality of the horrors of governmental and private company unions and their inane bureaucracies. To be clear, at all times I had in my possession the plans and contract book from Miami-Dade County stating the job description, locations, and purpose. I also identified myself and my intentions at every stop. It was at this stop where the debate and discussion on one’s constitutional right to photograph in public blossomed.  I spent about one hour trying to get into the station to photograph the area, which I was not allowed to do.  Out of constitutional principal, I decided to challenge their claim that I needed permission and could not photograph the facilities.  As I waited in front of these Wackenhut guards, I called Miami-Dade Transit and was on the phone being transferred from department to department until I was finally transferred to Eric Muntan, Chief of the Office of Safety and Security at Miami-Dade Transit.  To be fair, he was very helpful and solved the issue at that particular station.

I spoke to Mr. Muntan for several minutes explaining the situation and heard his take on the matter.  I was upset and quickly stated my constitutional right to photograph in a public place, which I had repeated to the guards, to which they robotically replied that  I had no right to film in a “private place.”  I did not know that Miami-Dade Public Transportation Stations were PRIVATE!

Mr. Muntan was very respectful on the phone and contacted the necessary parties to inform the guards in front of me to let me in.  Unfortunately, his order to the other stations never went through.

At subsequent stations I already knew what to expect.  Once again, I approached the station and introduced myself and explained myself. This guard appeared to be calm and wise, at least I thought based on his calm, non-emotional, respectful tone of voice.  All that changed after he began talking about his “interpretations” on the law.

At this point, I was just so amazed and shocked that I wanted to hear more on his rationale.  This guard had some of the best quotes of the day.  Some of them are: “Miami-Dade Transit is not Public,” “The Constitution does not apply on Miami-Dade Transit grounds,” “The County Ordinances supersede the Constitution,” and the best justification for those lovers of the expansion of the police state…”9/11,” yes he said, “Now, after 9/11 your constitutional rights are different.” At this point, I was in shock that a Wackenhut Security Guard was stating this was the policy of the county and Wackenhut.  He spoke with so much confidence and belief in the absurdities he was uttering that I said to myself, “This country is doomed.” This was a nice older man repeating unconstitutional, unfounded, non-statutory propaganda and made up law…Welcome to America.

The last stop:  I am Ricky Rodriguez and I am going to take pictures now.  Period. After having put my business partner through torture as we rode around the MetroRail I told him, “do not worry, I will just photograph from the public entrance with my zoom…I can’t take any more stupidity.” So thus, I went into the final station. I went directly up to the guards and started talking to them.  I told them who I was, what I was doing, showed them my county contract bid book, and told them I was going to photograph from the public area.  I did not wait for an answer at this point.  I was fast and aggressive but calm and respectful in my tone.  My presence was fast and did not seem to interrupt their group discussion.  I did not give them a chance to offend our constitutional liberties with their comments.  I quickly thanked them and waived goodbye.

The unfortunate experience I had with Wackenhut underpins the bloated, inefficient, and disgraceful state of our transit system. The County should be aware that its mismanagement and abandonment of the transit system could have legal consequences, especially when their hired representatives violate the Constitution of the United States. As Benjamin Franklyn said, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” I for one will not be returning to the MetroRail.

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Miami Today reports that Metrorail will install “free” wireless internet service at all stations in 2010 and then eventually on all trains by 2011. The Wi-Fi hotspots will cost about $2 million. Susanna Guzman-Arean, who handles Miami Dade Transit’s strategic planning and performance management, makes an interesting argument for the wireless service:

It’s a lot better to sit on the train and be productive than be sitting in traffic, we think that it would motivate people to get out of their cars.”

Unfortunately, Wi-Fi alone will not motivate people to get out of their cars. If Metrorail is serious about adding riders, they should begin by lowering their prices. A one way ticket costs $2; the same price as the subway in NYC. According to U.S. Census Bureau, 2003 American Community Survey, the median annual household income in Miami is $23,774, compared to $39,937 in NYC. Not only is the Metrorail considerably more expensive relative to wages, but we get a lot less “bang for our buck”. The level of service which Metrorail provides is inferior. For $2 in NYC you are provided access to a more extensive transportation system. Lowering prices is the first step.

Improving the quality of the existing service is the second step to increase ridership. I mentioned to a coworker who commutes daily on the Metrorail that Wi-Fi would be available on all trains. Julio was not impressed. He told me he would rather see the air conditioning work and the trash on the trains picked-up. Valid point. This should be a priority, not Wi-Fi. This is not to say that commuters won’t use this service. Some will, but in the new era of smart phones, fewer people will find the need to use their laptops.

Ridership will increase if two conditions are present:

1) If there is a financial incentive (i.e. cheaper then commuting by car)

2) If the quality of service is reliable and improved (i.e. commuting
time should be comparable if not faster then driving a car and trains should be on time, clean and the air conditioning should work)

Even with the “free” wireless internet service, Metrorail commuters are paying too much for the service which is provided to them. The $2million would be better allocated to the daily maintenance of the trains. There are certain factors that encourage ridership; Wi-Fi alone is not one of them.

Today on recovery.gov:

President Obama and Transportation Secretary LaHood have announced that $27 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds are headed to states to provide critical repairs to our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges.

rebuilding_chart

Remember this is just for highways  - there is an additional amount for mass transit/high speed rail.  As Mike pointed out the devil is in the details of how local governments are spend this money - some prefer expansion projects, others overdue maintenance. Miami’s share of the highway funds totals about $124 Million, but we still don’t know how these funds will be used because the process has been less than transparent (some would say opaque). (FYI:  “Transportation Enhancement is a legally defined term for projects such as sidewalk repairs, bicycle paths, and beautification projects.” We have between $5-6 Million coming in for this - check out list 5 for possible projects.)

In other news, the FTA has posted preliminary allocations for the transit portion of ARRA. Miami should receive $5 Million for fixed guide-way infrastructure investment, and $139,733,611 for transit capital assistance (for expansion or preventive maintenance). There are other grants that are up for grabs, but with MDT’s abysmal track record attracting federal dollars, I don’t think they are capable of bringing home the pork. This year Section 5309 New Starts Federal allocation for MDT will be $0.00 out of a possible $430 Million. (To be fair there is a $42 Million for transit capital assistance in FY’09 under a separate program.)

Then there’s this:

…only projects that have received acceptable project ratings in the New or Small Starts process are eligible for the funding.

Well, there goes any possibility for funding phases II and III of the Orange Line.

picture-045

Miami worships parking. Indeed, we can’t seem to build an urban building without smothering it with suburban parking requirements. Usually this comes in the form of parking as base or parking as appendage. The garage under construction above — an appendage if I have ever seen one — is located at Northwest Third Street, directly across the street from the new US Federal Courthouse. Currently at 10 stories, this latest garage is ostensibly being built to serve the needs of Courthouse employees and visitors. There are  three glaring problems with this development.

1) The Courthouse was finished long in advance of the garage, which believe it or not means that employees and visitors are miraculously finding parking, despite the non-existence of this new garage.  What, with the acres of surface parking lots, street parking, and other garages in the immediate vicinity, how could they not?

2) One block to the southwest of this new garage is Government Center, where Metrorail, Metromover, and Metrobus all converge. If there was just one location in downtown Miami able to reduce its parking requirements, this would be it.

3) The garage is being built with ramped floors, meaning that conversion to another use, say  office building or residential with retail on the ground floor, will remain nearly impossible. A better parking garage would have flat floors and floor to ceiling heights that allow for the conversion to a higher and better land use,  as dictated by the market.

By requiring and building so much parking, Miami will continue to develop an auto-oriented downtown,  make development more expensive than it has to be, and keep the transit that we have from reaching its potential. Sure, some parking is needed when building high intensity downtown uses, but implementing a more creative shared parking approach, along with reducing overall parking requirements, especially when in proximity to transit -as proposed in Miami 21-would make a far more efficient, transit-oriented, and walkable downtown. Until we do that, Miamians should expect that their downtown will never reach its full potential.

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