Currently viewing the tag: "Miami-Dade County Commission"

We received some good news from County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa a few minutes ago in response to our email this weekend:

I would like to thank the cycling community for expressing their opinions and concerns about this item that is of importance to all the residents of Miami-Dade, as many of us rely or know of someone who relies on bicycles as a means of transport and/or recreation. My intent in sponsoring this resolution was not to prevent bike lanes from being created. On the contrary, I support and embrace establishing bike lanes Countywide. I acted out of concern for the safety of cyclists, particularly on SW 57 AVE from SW 8 ST to SW 24 ST, where customers of businesses along this stretch of road back their cars directly onto SW 57 AVE. I am concerned that this would create an unsafe environment for cyclists. Additionally, I sought greater cooperation between FDOT, Miami-Dade County, and Municipalities to make sure we create an atmosphere where bike lanes continue to be encouraged while ensuring safety.

In light of your concerns, I am requesting this item be temporarily deferred to ensure nothing in this item will negatively impact the cycling community. Your opinions are always welcome.

Commissioner Rebeca Sosa
Miami-Dade County, District 6

Transit Miami would like to thank Commissioner Sosa for pulling the item from the agenda. We look forward to working with her office to work through some of the issues we raised with regards to item #121569  while fostering a healthy redevelopment of 57th Avenue that both enhances the mobility of all roadway users and supports the needs of local businesses. While we do agree that greater cooperation is needed between FDOT, Miami-Dade County, and the local municipalities, we believe that this discussion should take place in a public manner and in a fashion that affords the communities greater say over FDOT roadway projects.

Miami-Dade’s Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to vote on legislative item 121569 this Thursday.  (The meeting was postponed from September 4 to September 6.)

Four specific bike lanes come under attack in this legislative item. They’re meant to demonstrate examples of “state roads in Miami-Dade County that may not be particularly suitable for bicycle lanes”.

One of those four lanes is that located on the MacArthur Causeway. Its supposed lack of suitability is due to the fact that, on this particular state road, “the speed limit is 50 mph”.

The lane on the MacArthur Causeway can indeed be a dicey one to traverse, especially with all of the on-going Port of Miami Tunnel construction, the South Beach partiers driving back from their nights of inebriation, and the overall speeding automobile traffic.

Nevertheless, even at 50mph, the bike lane on the MacArthur functions.

Even at 50mph, people use the bike lanes on the MacArthur Causeway. Make them better, and even more will ride over this critical connection between the mainland and the islands. Photo: 09/03/2012

Of course, it could function better — by making it wider, buffering it from automobiles, and some other possible retrofits — but it functions, nonetheless.

The people are hungry — not only for more bicycle facilities, but better bicycle facilities too. Please . . . feed us!

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle, Quoted at the funeral of Aaron Cohen by his grand-father Ron Esserman

I have only been a county commissioner for about eight months, but already have a deep scar in my heart from a tragedy that seems, in retrospect, so avoidable.

Aaron Cohen has been wrenched from our lives.  And the sense of loss is overwhelming, despite the wisdom imparted by rabbis and family members.  Because the tragedy happened in my district and because my daughter Annie practices medicine with Jim Esserman (Aaron’s first cousin), the loss hits home in a particularly poignant way.

Was the tragedy avoidable?  I don’t rightly know, but I know we didn’t try hard enough to avoid it.  We know the Rickenbacker Causeway is a narrow, dangerous, treacherous, alluring, spectacularly located and majestic roadway, rising as it does from the shallows abutting the mainland to bring us all (joggers, bikers, motorists) closer to heaven and then quickly deposit us in an island that is mostly unspoiled – as befits a critical wildlife refuge of some 400 acres.

In between the moments of sorrow, my Annie and I discussed the physics of the problem that led to this tragedy or, rather, the unavoidable elements of the circumstance that make this awful accident likely to happen again in the future.

I refer to the simple variable that physicists call “momentum.”  Simply put, a 4,000-pound vehicle, travelling at 45-50 mph, possesses about 100 times the momentum of a biker/bicycle whose combined weight is 150 pounds and who is struggling up the bridge at 12-15 mph.  A collision between two objects, one of which has 100 times the momentum of the other, means that the smaller object will suffer, in displacement and consequent damage, 100 times more than the bigger object.

In the short term, there is only one variable we can change in the above equation – and that is the speed limit for cars.  I consider that reform a no-brainer that should be instituted without delay.  Of course, a reduction in the speed limit needs to be accompanied by traffic management devices (including electronic surveillance) to monitor law-breakers.

The other possible solution is separation.  I think, in that context, that we all agree that a simple painted strip (as exists now) is not enough.  We will have to consider either rubber cones or well-lit corrugated surfaces which alert and deter the motorist from trespassing on the bike lanes.

Beyond the physics of the problem, beyond the traffic engineering and enforcement, there is the human dimension.  And that brings me back to Aaron, whose name technically means, “tower of strength,” but was further interpreted by the rabbi as referring to someone who loves life and who runs for life.  Aaron Cohen loved to run more than we can imagine.  He loved scuba diving and every kind of water sport; he loved ceramic arts and cycling, and – most of all – he loved his wife and two children.

As described by family and friends, he was special because he found something special to love in everyone he met, regardless of their station in life.  He took time, on the way to the airport, to buy M&M’s so that he could pass them out to the flight attendants.

He was, his sister Sabrina told us, like Elijah, the unforeseen guest for whom we keep the door permanently open, with a cup of wine ready, just in case the prophet visits us.

Perhaps the most appropriate analogy was offered by another rabbi who explained that the whole world is like a narrow bridge.  We must do our best to co-exist in the narrow space. 

We must, as another relative said in her eulogy, think “WWAD.”  What Would Aaron Do?

For myself, I will strive to reduce the chances that such a tragedy will happen again on the Rickenbacker Causeway - which just happens to be where I myself jog.

I will do it because it’s my obligation as an elected official and also because of Aaron – in his memory.

I never met him, but I already miss him as if he had been my best friend.

Commissioner Xavier Suarez represents District 7 in Miami-Dade County.  He represents numerous municipalities including the City of Miami, the Village of Key Biscayne, the City of Coral Gables, the City of South Miami, the Village of Pinecrest, as well as areas of unincorporated Miami-Dade County.

Whoever said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” probably had the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners in mind. As if the recent real estate market crash was not enough of a wakeup call for our elected leaders, commissioners recently voted to expand the Urban Development Boundary – the line that separates agricultural and environmentally sensitive land from urbanized areas – for a 9.9 acre commercial development that adds to the existing stock of vacant and undeveloped land in Miami-Dade County. Apparently, some county commissioners didn’t get the memo that their love for suburban sprawl over the past decade led to the real estate market tanking, and to the bloated county government that they now seek to reign-in.

The transportation connection: UDB expansions are being closely coordinated with an upcoming massive highway expansion along the western border of the county being proposed by MDX. The pink box in the middle titled 'Ferro' is the subject of this latest application. Thanks to Genius of Despair for the image.

They must have overlooked the 2010 EPA report, “Growing for a Sustainable Future” that described an inventory of 16,140 acres of undeveloped land within the boundary. That amounts to 6% of the land within the urbanized area of Miami-Dade County - currently vacant. With so much land within the boundary unused why are commissioners adding more land to existing capacity? Is it that they want to further depress land values and our economic recovery?  Some cite the need for jobs – oh jobs! The latest excuse for any project to be shoved down our collective throats is the promise of jobs. Want jobs? Here’s a stadium. Jobs you say? How about a humongous resort casino?

But, when it comes to the UDB amnesia sets in about the 16,140 acres of empty land within the UDB waiting for development.  Let’s put this in perspective– 16,140 acres is approximately 25 square miles. The island of Manhattan – from Battery City Park to 218 street - is only 22.96 square miles. I would say that we have more than enough development capacity to last the next 100 years and beyond without having to touch the UDB – and that’s just with our undeveloped land. Take into account underdeveloped land and we should never expand the UDB again.

Critics argue that the line was never meant to be a solid boundary – but a flexible delineation between the reach of county services and the agricultural and environmental lands beyond. There may be 16,000 acres of undeveloped land in the city– but what about the residents of this suburban neighborhood? Don’t they deserve access to strip malls and warehouses and outparcels within close proximity? What if they need closer services? This particular property is already surrounded by developed residential land – what is 9 more acres of commercial land? Attorney for the project Miguel Diaz de la Portilla said, “You’re not talking about some land that’s out in the middle of nowhere. It’s contiguous with the UDB.” Of course this argument ignores an undeveloped 40 acre tract designated for commercial development, currently within the UDB, as well as the existing Hammocks mall, both within ½ mile of this site and with enough commercial capacity to serve the surrounding community for the next 30 years.

Commissioners might argue that they shouldn’t dictate where development happens. If a willing developer wants to build a Publix on what is currently farmland – so be it. Except they overlook the fact that in expanding the extent of county services, they put us all on the hook to provide those new areas with infrastructure, police, and life safety services. That single story Publix surrounded by a parking lot uses the same services as the 8-story mixed-use building in the urban core – only it provides a fraction of the tax base forcing commissioners to make a choice between two evils: reduce services for the rest of the county, or raise tax rates.

Last week County Commissioner Xavier Suarez wrote a column for the Huffington Post that critiqued Mayor Gimenez’ latest county budget saying that “absolutely nothing changed in the way the county does business.” The same day that column was published he voted to expand the UDB for an application that has been repeatedly criticized as unnecessary, and for which the County’s own professional planning department recommended denial because of the reasons noted above. Our leaders cannot simultaneously seek to reduce the bloated bureaucracy of county government and at the same time expand the extent of the county services. If Suarez and other commissioners want to break the business as usual attitude in county hall they should start with the UDB.  The application has to come back to the commission for a final vote in the spring – let’s hope commissioners come to their senses and hold the line – indefinitely.

 

 An expensive, unnecessary planned project:  widening 157 Avenue from two to four lanes (with raised median) from SW 152nd St. to SW 184th St. 

This lane-doubling project is an ill-advised use of a further $11 million of CITT funds. Benefits claimed for this project, like the provision of north-south connectivity, are already available now, with no investment at all.  Traffic moves without congestion the whole day, including during morning and afternoon rush hours, as can be verified by site visits. This project is in the 5-year plan presented for CITT approval today. The CITT should amend the plan to remove this project. 

The Public Works Department [PWD] plans to conclude contracts this year for utility relocation and for construction.  The CITT memo accompanying the 5-year plan recommends for this project, “that traffic studies be updated prior to immediate commencement of construction.” This is not a promising step.  It sounds like the decision is already made and the traffic study is window dressing for starting as soon as possible.  In reality, the 2006 traffic study specifically indicated comfortable traffic levels far below capacity, but that did not deter Public Works, the County Administration, and Commissioner Moss from advocating this expensive road expansion. None of the official presentations of this project to the CITT communicated that the whole west side of this road segment is agricultural land outside the Urban Development Boundary [UDB].  This bordering on the UDB makes this segment different from the already improved segments of SW 157th Ave. to the north, which pass through populated areas on both sides of the road.  By omitting this information on the UDB, the presentations withhold information needed for an intelligent decision by the CITT. 

It defies common sense to change now to a super road whose usefulness will depend on moving the UDB further west, a development which this project clearly advances.  Miami-Dade, and especially the far southwest of the county, do not need more unfinished and unsold housing.  If, sometime in the future, the UDB in this area is moved and intensive outlying development is planned, then the County already owns the land for the widening to four lanes.  Also, the County could then negotiate with developers for their contribution to the cost of doubling the lanes.

Traffic counts, valid benefit/cost analysis using a social discount rate, common sense, and site visits all support not going ahead with this project at this time. 

Here is a further word on site visits. In 2003, the first year of the CITT, member Lt. Col. Antonio Colmenares visited proposed project sites.  In District 13, he found a road widening proposal that seemed unneeded.  Commissioner Natacha Sejas, who had included the project in the People’s Transportation Plan [PTP], agreed it was a mistake.  She proposed amending the PTP to remove the project, an action which was approved by the CITT at one of its first meetings. 

Current CITT members and staff would benefit from visiting this project site on SW 157th Ave.   

So far, no one has taken up my offer to drive anyone there at the peak morning or afternoon rush hours.  Perhaps members and staff have visited there on their own and will reflect their experiences in tonight’s discussion of the 5-year plan.  Or just check with me after this meeting. On April 5, I drove to the SW 157th Ave. site.  At 5:31. p.m. I drove the northbound 2.3 miles (with two stop signs) in 3.25 minutes.  I then drove the same southbound segment at 5:36 p.m. in 3.37 minutes.  Rush-hour traffic was moving faster than the 40 mph speed limit.

As the proposed 5-year plan indicates, many key PTP promises to the public are now cancelled or delayed for decades because of the federal and local financial crises.  Because of this the CITT and County staff must exercise discernment in setting priorities and in the selection and timing of PTP projects, including those suggested by Commissioners.  Commissioner Dennis Moss and his staff originally wanted to widen SW 147th Ave. instead, but the affected residents objected.  In the rush  to define projects for the PTP, the widening was transferred to this southern portion of SW 157th Ave., but this was not at all an original priority.  The CITT could amend the 5-year plan to remove this low priority project before it is even put out for construction bids.

Newer CITT members should know that in May, 2006, the CITT on a 5-3 vote first rejected the contract for the engineering study for this project.  A month later, after a questionable procedure, the CITT reversed itself and approved the project on a 6-3 vote.  I believe the consternation in the County Government caused by the initial rejection was not because this 157th Ave. project was crucial, but because the County Government was shocked that the CITT would reject a contract.

Please contact your commissioner and let them know this is NOT A GOOD USE OF PTP dollars!

Ted Wilde, CITT member 2003-07, chair of the Budget and Finance Committee & of the Project and Financial Review Committee

The bond sale will be done through the Building Better Communities project, a $2.93 billion capital improvements program approved overwhelmingly by voters back in 2004… Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said that while the projects are laudable, he opposed the measure because it relies on a commission move last September to raise the property-tax rate that goes to pay for county debt, to 44.5 cents per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.

Check out the list of projects and see what you think. The list lacks details, but includes a couple of bike projects, lots of park projects, and an slew of other water/sewer, public service, community, and safety facilities.

County Commissioners are on a mission - a mission to restore some of the ‘power’ that was stripped from them during the 2007 Strong Mayor Referendum. Commissioners have been discussing a ballot measure that would help restore some of the power taken from them nearly three years ago. While the current Mayor has done little with his new power (except build us a useless new baseball stadium), they have not done anything in the last three years to suggests that they deserve their power back.  Not only do they refuse to reform the PTP and implement real transit expansion, they were equally complicit in the “Global Agreement” that led to the Stadium (and Tunnel) as Mayor Alvarez . Their consistent inability to make informed decisions for the long-term well being of this community makes them the last group to give more power to. (We should be taking more responsibilities away from them, not restoring them!)

Case in point: the endless developer funded drama to expand the UDB and ignore smart planning. The latest round of Comprehensive Plan applications are coming around for final approval. Interesting to note is the application to move the UDB to accommodate office space - an application consistently denied by the County’s own professional planning staff (staff which are paid for by taxpayer dollars).

Commissioners: Why should we give you any more power when you don’t even listen to the professional planning staff that you employ to advise you on good policy. Not only is this unwarranted expansion bad planning, it goes against our own comprehensive growth laws. Our CDMP lays out the requirements that govern expansion (setting a very low bar to begin with). This application, by the planning departments recommendation, does not even meet the minimum threshold for appropriate expansion. So why the big push  for expansion? Who are you representing - the citizen’s interests or your own?

I for one will not vote to give any power to the commission until they show themselves to be true public servants. Vote to deny this application.

The Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP) is the guiding document of planning in Miami-Dade County. It sets the regulations governing land development and is the DNA of our urban plan (both within and outside of the UDB). Fixing this document is one of the most important ways that we can realize serious changes in our unsustainable pattern of development. This from the Miami-Dade Planning and Zoning Department:

Every 7 years, the Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP) is reviewed and updated as required per Chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes.  The EAR evaluates the progress in implementing the goals, objectives, policies, maps and text of the CDMP and recommends changes through EAR-based plan amendments, which are to be prepared and adopted within 18 months of a sufficiency review conducted by the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

Microsoft Word - Flyer-Public Participation.doc

Because the CDMP governs what can be built outside the UDB, it is imperative that the regulations governing residential development outside the line be changed. Currently the plan allows for 1 unit per 5 acres, leading to large ranch estate subdivisions. Amending the CDMP is the front line of the UDB battle. Everyone interested in holding the line should make their opinion heard at the Town Hall meetings.

Miami transit/livable city advocates may be interested in attending The Miami-Dade Urban Environment League’s  “Hold the Line” (as in Urban Growth Boundary line) picnic Sunday at Crandon Park.

image001142383

If you’ve been too distracted by elections and Vice Presidential nominations this week, maybe you haven’t heard yet that Miami Dade Transit may be cutting bus routes. Larry Lebowitz at the Miami Herald has the details on the routes that could be cut. These are routes with plenty of ridership, so nothing to be taken lightly.

We are sorry we didn’t get this news out before Mayor Carlos Alvarez won reelection by a landslide. It seems these cuts are being proposed by him and County Manager George Burgess. Lebowitz says that they would be returning the total miles of bus service “close to the pre-sales tax levels of 2002.” That would just prove that the sales tax initiative has failed. I believe that Miller-McCune magazine was justified in putting the Metrorail expansion and the sales tax inititiative on their list of “The World’s Biggest Boondoggles.”

The county commission will be voting on this issue Sept. 2., along with the vote on the proposed fare increase. We urge them to clean up this mess by seeking new sources of income for existing transit service, and coming up with a solid plan to expand Metrorail and bus transit—not by cutting existing service or putting extreme burden on the riders. The Herald offered some suggestions in a follow-up editorial, and we agree with most of their points. Especially the one suggesting to stop handing out free rides before raising fares or cutting service.

MDT is underfunded, and the county has been using this expansion sales tax to make up the difference. Commissioners need to find another dedicated funding source to keep the trains and buses moving, and then get the expansion back on track with the originally committed funding source. How about raising property taxes to fund the budget deficit? If you have a better idea, let us know.

It’s not often that our local politics gets featured in National news media (unless of course it has something to do with Cuba or an international custody battle), but Time Magazine featured an article this week on the UDB fight.

“One of the Lowe’s project’s biggest backers on the commission is Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who is under federal investigation for allegedly receiving gifts from developers whose plans he’d voted for. (He denies any wrongdoing.) Another, Natacha Seijas, who at one commission meeting voiced her dislike of manatees, one of Florida’s most beloved and endangered sea mammals, faced a recall vote in 2006 (which she defeated) due to public complaints that she also was too cozy with developers.”

Wow. ‘Nuff said…You can’t buy publicity like this. Maybe now when the Mayor vetoes this decision, some of the other commissioners will come to their senses and realize that this is a bad idea. The UDB line does not need to move for a long long time. We need to take advantage of the infrastructure that we already have rather than expand. Its very simple math: the more people living in one area the less it costs on a per person basis to provide public services. The same roads and sewers service sprawl neighborhoods at a density of 4 units per acre as they do at 200 units per acre. In a very direct way, our tax dollars go to subsidize neighborhoods whose tax base doesn’t break even.

Ana Menendez wrote a column today about this. She takes the argument a step further and describes the other hidden costs of living in a McMansion out in the sticks. The social costs of living in disconnected suburbs and the environmental costs of paving over the Everglades are never figured into the calculus of expansion.

Even the shortsighted politicians of the area should sympathize with this argument: it doesn’t make financial sense to develop this land. The further west you go, the lower real estate prices are per square foot. This is a trend you see in every major city across the country. Suburbs do not hold their value and end up costing municipalities more because their tax base doesn’t grow.

We need to worry about density and intensity in the parts of town that are served by transit. We need to develop our urban centers, and the mass transit necessary to support them, and we need to stop building so far west and south that we kill any chance we have of having a successful transit system. At a certain point, which we might have already passed, we become so far behind the ball and the city gets so big, that good projects get caught up in NIMBYism and political baggage (read: Baylink and the Orange Line).

Coincidentally, I found myself this weekend at my brother-in-law’s house off of 8th street and 152nd avenue. As I sat in the backyard, which fronts the Everglades, I realized that between the back of his house and the begging of Everglades National Park was only about 20 blocks. Eventually, by default, there will be no where else to expand to. We will have backed ourselves into a corner that no amount of good planning can undo.

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