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“A hundred years after we are gone and forgotten, those who never heard of us will be living with the results of our actions.”

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

I attended today’s county commission meeting to voice my support for many of the projects, particularly the port of Miami Tunnel and the Streetcar. I sat through all 10 hours of testimony and discussion, at times observing our commissioners running around in circles. Hours of discourse could have likely been saved had all the elected members realized from the very beginning that today’s resolution did not guarantee any of these projects but merely paved a path for all of them to return to the commission for approval at a later point in time. The only time sensitive resolution fully moving forward after today’s vote was the Port of Miami Tunnel, already previously approved by the County. Below is a copy of the speech I presented to the commission:
My name is Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal; I am a transportation engineer, urban planning student, and local sustainable planning advocate from transitmiami.com. I am here today to voice my unconditional support for the plan sitting before you; a plan that will revolutionize the city of Miami and will make urban life a real possibility for more county residents.

Miami Streetcar
The Miami streetcar will serve a vital role in the future development of our city. It will serve as an economic catalyst for the entire county by guaranteeing mobility where it is needed most; our downtown core. Contrary to the suburban sprawl most of this commission voted in favor of a few weeks prior, the streetcar will allow the county and city to continue growing in an ecologically and financially sustainable manner for years to come. I cannot begin to quantify the economic benefits our entire community will experience through this measure. Most importantly, the streetcar provides the means with which to construct some truly affordable housing, located within easy reach and facilitating life not governed by the economic constraint of owning a vehicle for personal independence.

Port Tunnel
The benefits the port of Miami tunnel will provide are twofold: providing direct easy access to and from our second largest economic engine and perhaps more importantly, ridding our newly emerging downtown urban center of the traffic, smog, and noise pollution produced by these vehicles daily. The reduction of these nuisances in our city center will foster a hospitable urban environment.

An unprecedented resolution sits before you today aimed at simultaneously solving some of the transit, infrastructure, and societal needs of this community. As is the case with most plans of this size, it isn’t without its share of flaws; however, the economic and intangible benefits these upgrades will produce should be enough to outweigh any of your reservations. I ask that the commission take the necessary steps today to propel Miami into a new, sustainable future.

We some how bypassed this article last week, but, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez vetoed commission recommendations to approve a number of projects outside of the UDB. The veto will likely stand given that the commission lacks the 2/3 majority to override the mayor, presuming that none of the commissioners switch sides…


“If Miami-Dade moves outside the UDB, it will affect our delivery of services and strain already taxed resources,” Alvarez wrote. “Police and fire rescue services would be spread over a greater area, resulting in longer response times due to greater distances and road congestion.”

Meanwhile, on the losing end of the veto, Lowes’ attorney Juan Mayol laments about not having short drives to buy plywood:


“We are hopeful that the county commissioners will continue to recognize that these hard-working families are tired of overcrowded schools and long drives to buy such simple things as plywood or a garden hose.”

How often are people in Kendall buying plywood or garden hoses? Are these necessary commodities in suburbia? Does anyone else appreciate how he combined critical issues (traffic and education) with such an asinine comment? In any case, I’m glad to see the line will be held till 2009 at the earliest, expanding the UDB, contrary to Mayol’s belief, will further strain our transit infrastructure, water resources, and economy to impermissible levels.

A recent report conducted by Tufts University paints a very grim picture of Florida’s future if we don’t take swift action to fight climate change. According to the report, South Florida will be particularly vulnerable to warming effects.

Throughout the report, the researchers discuss two scenarios; the first, known as “rapid stabilization”, is the most optimistic scenario in which global emissions decrease at least 50% by 2050 and U.S. emissions decline at least 80% by the same period. The second scenario, referred to as “business-as-usual”, is a pessimistic scenario that projects the damages to our state if we continue to take little action.

Some of the reports noteworthy conclusions in the “business-as-usual scenario”:

  • Within vulnerable zones:
  • residential real estate now valued at over $130 billion
  • half of Florida’s beaches
  • 99% of Mangroves
  • Sea level could rise by as much as 23” by 2050 and 45” by 2100
  • 70% of Miami-Dade would be under water
  • 99.6% of Monroe would be under water
  • The Everglades would be almost completely inundated by salt water, and effectively destroyed
  • Heat waves will become more severe and more common, with new record temperatures and a gradual decline in nighttime cooling. The average heat index in summer will increase by 15-20% in much of the state. Miami will become several degrees warmer than Bangkok (probably the world’s hottest, most humid major city today) and daily highs in many Florida cities will exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit for nearly 2/3 or the year.
  • Annual statewide economic losses (that’s right…this is per year)
  • $92 billion by 2050
  • $345 billion by 2100
Of course there are those within the rapidly dwindling skeptic community that feel the negative effects of climate change are nothing that good ‘ol human ingenuity can’t solve. Such a reliance on technology to fight nature’s fury is such a dangerous and fleeting philosophy. The Miami-Dade County Climate Change Task Force’s Science and Technology Committee had this to say in the Tufts Report:

“The highly porous limestone and sand substrate of Miami-Dade County (which at present permits excellent drainage) will limit the effectiveness of widespread use of levees and dikes to wall off the encroaching sea.”

However, even if levees and dikes did present a viable option for fighting rising sea levels, it would be inordinately expensive to build such infrastructure in a state with over 1,200 miles of coastline (this doesn’t even factor in Lake Okechobee and other vulnerable watersheds).

This is serious business we’re talking about here. If we don’t start taking swift action to fight climate change, we all lose. Environmentalists lose for obvious reasons, business interests suffer as insurance rates skyrocket, tourism declines, and billions of dollars tied up in real estate become threatened. If you’re indifferent, you’ll still suffer from unprecedented heat and humidity, extremely high costs of living due to insurance and energy price hikes, and more frequent major hurricanes that threaten the lives of us all.

This makes the recent vote to move the UDB line all the more disgraceful. If there is any place that should be leading the fight on climate change, it’s South Florida and Miami-Dade County. Few places are as vulnerable geographically and no other region on Earth can lay claim to an ecosystem like the Everglades. However, this hasn’t stopped self-interest and incompetence from making South Florida one of the most sprawling, unsustainable regions in all of North America.

Click here to download the full report, “Florida and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction”.

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If you read the Herald yesterday, you probably saw this article. It’s not so hard to believe given the bizarre political culture of Miami-Dade, but the proposed North Corridor extension of the Metrorail may be in trouble.

Apparently, the administration of Miami-Dade College North Campus has been working with county transit planners for the last three years to bring not only a station on campus, but a gym/wellness center, a 2000-space parking garage, a conference center, classrooms, and a bookstore. However, all of this would have forced a $26 million relocation of the US Army Reserve Armory at NW 27th Ave and NW 119th St, which the county cannot afford. Furthermore, it appears that these expenses were never even taken into account in the Environmental Impact Statement given to Washington, which means any federal aid allocated to the county for the North Corridor would not include these MDC expenses. From the Lebowitz’s Streetwise column:

And here’s where it gets really strange. All of the letter-writing traffic is one-way, with Vicente (of MDT) memorializing his understanding of what agreements were reached in these meetings.

Nobody from Transit ever responded — even though the agency clearly couldn’t afford to make these ludicrous promises to the college and hope to compete against dozens of other U.S. cities for $700 million to $825 million in matching federal funds for the North Corridor.

Transit’s files are curiously thin on the issue. And three key players from Transit’s side of the talks are no longer with the agency. One retired last year. Bradley was fired in March and one of his top aides a few weeks later.

Yet, records show that Transit was already warning federal regulators in early 2006 that it might not be able to afford the armory relocation, forcing the agency to consider the station closer to the MDC-North main gate.

Why Transit couldn’t brace Vicente with the same candor about the armory site in early ’06 remains a mystery. And someone definitely should have told him, in writing, that the agency couldn’t build that massive conference center-garage without endangering the federal funding.

This is upsetting for several reasons. First, this was supposed to be the next expansion of Metrorail, before the East-West extension or anything in Kendall. MDT is this close to receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to help finance the expensive project. Keep in mind, the transit market is extremely competitive nationwide as cities everywhere are scrambling to make up for lost time and do the right thing by improving their public transportation systems. At the same time, federal funds are shamefully low, which means Miami-Dade is very fortunate to be in the its current position. As Lebowitz says in his column, redrawing the route or ceding to MDC’s demands is totally infeasible right now because of high costs, wasted time, and the potential for jeopardizing federal aid.

It’s also upsetting because the whole thing is just so juvenile. This is the kind of thing that just cannot happen at this level of government, especially when dealing with billion dollar capital projects and $800 million subsidies, not to mention the future of Miami-Dade County.

Plans are underway across Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to bring automated Red-Light runner camera’s to some local roadways. Due to a state refusal to adopt the cameras, you won’t find them on state maintained roads such as Le Jeune, US-1, or Pines Boulevard.
“A growing body of unbiased research shows that red-light-running accidents and injuries will decrease at intersections with automated enforcement.

But those same studies find an overall increase in accidents, especially rear-end collisions as drivers, suddenly wary of the cameras, slam on the brakes as they approach a yellow or red light.”

Frankly, we’d like to see more evidence that the cameras work or don’t work before we begin to install these systems across the region. What do you think of the cameras? Leave us a comment and take our poll over on the left sidebar… We’ll follow up this post with our thoughts on the subject later on this week…

Preliminary discussion has begun over at County Hall exploring an option to create a large observation wheel somewhere within the county. The Ferris wheel, likely comparable to the London eye, would rotate numerous large enclosed observation pods slowly, providing riders with unobstructed views of the skyline and Bay. The project is the brainchild of Commissioner Carlos Gimenez and is currently undergoing preliminary feasibility studies before any commission decisions are made:
A second study would explore cost projections and begin a discussion of the idea’s public and political support, Gimenez said. If it passes committee today, the full commission would likely vote on Nov. 6 and ask for a report by early February.Your Thoughts?

The last several days, the Herald has released an exclusive piece thoroughly documenting the shady activities of local poverty peddlers, namely the Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust (the website is conspicuously “under construction”). I highly recommend reading these articles, as they illuminate how a few corrupt people have been able to perpetuate poverty in Liberty City the last several years.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s piece, part 4, referring to the trust’s dealings around MLK Blvd and NW 7th Ave:

“A review of hundreds of records and nearly a dozen interviews shows that the trust’s strategy for this historic street corner hurt the very people it was supposed to help while millions in tax dollars earmarked for small businesses went to botched deals that failed to create promised jobs.”

Obviously, corruption isn’t new to the Miami area. However, the nature of it being a frequently recurring theme is very troubling. If you’ve been following it, you’ll see that it cuts across all races and many ethnicities, so citizens should not childishly point their fingers at any one group. It’s critical, however, that as citizens we don’t become so crusted that we lose sight of the positive projects (i.e. Miami 21 and Miami Streetcar) that will help make Greater Miami a better place.

We must also recognize that the current state of affairs is just not acceptable. Our communities continue to become more and more polarized racially, ethnically, and especially socioeconomically. “Sprawliticians” are using their power in many instances to continue making a buck of our great land, while ensuring Miami is an unsustainable, inequitable, traffic congested mess into perpetuity. We need to keep this in mind when we go to the voting booths, and we need to start asking tough questions about the qualifications of officials (do you have ties to Big Construction or are you for Smart Growth?) and administrators that run our government.

Photo courtesy of iceman9294’s flickr

If you picked up the Herald this morning, there’s a good chance you read this article.

I think my jaw literally hit the floor when I read it. It appears the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority is using the Reason Foundation and their misguided, obsolete, and flawed road-based transportation planning schemes to “craft a vision” for 30-year expansion of MDX expressways. For the vast majority of urban planners, particularly those with any understanding of best practice in growth management, transportation planning, and sustainability, this little “road party” is laughable. It’s almost like a bunch of insurance agents, smokers, and Big Tobacco lobbyists in a room together trying to envision a future of less lung disease without any real doctors present in the room. If this is what politics and planning have come to in Miami-Dade County, I see little hope for an improved, sustainable future.

Oh yeah, and $8 billion dollars? Everyone is always talking about how hard it is to fund transit projects, especially with the deplorable amount of federal aid and massive national demand. Yet it’s funny how it always seems like billions are quickly and easily available for the (road) projects that make the least sense. Eight billion would certainly go along way toward improving transit in the county. Instead, it seems like those in power are either still living in the “the vacuum” themselves, completely oblivious to consensus best practice planning and sustainability, or they’re sprawl industry insiders/backers, or they’re NIMBYs in power suits…or perhaps a combination of all three.

So, while Miami-Dade wastes its time snuggling up with the Reason Foundation and all but ensuring a self-fulfilling prophecy of congestion, pollution and sprawl into perpetuity, New York has recently hired international urban planner extraordinaire Jan Gehl as a consultant. This is a man who is primarily responsible for turning Copenhagen around from a congested, auto-centric city into one of the world’s most livable, pedestrian-oriented, and bike-friendly cities — in just 40 years. In just a short period of time since being hired by the City, plans have already been unveiled for NYC’s first Euro-style physically separated bike lane right on a busy avenue in Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg is touring Europe as of this moment discussing environmentally-friendly solutions to urban traffic, such as Paris’ Velib bike-sharing program and London’s Congestion Pricing.

It’s simple — Miami-Dade can easily choose this path and begin to move in a new and vastly improved direction. However, if we continue down the current path, it will soon be too late.

* Correction: The original posting wrongly mentioned the MPO instead of MDX as the conductor of the 30-year road plan. However, the MDX 30-year road plan will be submitted to the MPO for inclusion in the 2035 Long-Range Plan.

Photo courtesy of http://www.pritchettcartoons.com

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Apparently Turnpike planners have missed the boat on established best practice metropolitan transportation policy. According to the Herald, they will be discussing their preliminary ideas to decongest the Turnpike, including a plan to expand the expressway to 10 lanes between 836 and 874, and possibly all the way to Homestead. I guess they want to do everything in their power to justify sprawl and make South Florida as unsustainable as possible.

When are these people going to learn that a “predict and provide” approach to building highways is both counter-productive and unsustainable? It’s been addressed over and over and over again by researchers that widening highways such as the Turnpike, especially at its current capacity, does little but induce more driving demand while simultaneously justifying the auto-dependent sprawl it serves.

Lest we forget that such a project also takes years to finish and usually costs hundreds-of-millions of dollars — money that could be much better spent on transit improvements and maintenance of existing roadway facilities. Such policy is even more appalling within the context of climate change (especially with South Florida’s geography) and a threatened Everlgades ecosystem.

So, I encourage anyone who would like attend the open house tomorrow to go and voice your displeasure with any plan that will widen the Turnpike. Even better if you bring with you the studies I hyperlinked above to support your claims. Let these planners know that South Floridians are tired of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on futile roadway projects that justify sprawl, do nothing to improve quality of life for Miami-Dade residents, and continue to leave commuters with little alternative to driving. Tell them you want to see sustainable alternatives that are transit-based.

The meeting information:

Thursday, September 27
5:30-7:30pm
Florida Dept. of Transportation District Six Auditorium
1000 NW 111th Ave, Miami

Miami International Airport’s new South Terminal (H & J) is slated to begin opening for travelers tomorrow, beginning what will become a two month transition process for 19 of the airport’s airlines. This terminal is state of the art, a masterfully designed showpiece in an otherwise outdated airport. If there is ever a time to use that ridiculous phrase that seems to be constantly misused, some would say this terminal is “world class.” Yes folks, it could be that impressive. For once, it seems that MIA will no longer sit high among the worst airports in the Nation list. The $1.1 Billion terminal is designed to process 2,000 passengers an hour through 3 security checkpoints and advanced (post 9-11 security measures) baggage handling and receiving stations. It will also feature $9.4 million of art and 49 new retail/dining facilities.

See it for yourself:South Terminal Baggage Claim Area.Art:Everglades floor art (Mysterious how they keep disappearing as we continue to pave over them isn’t it?)

Also, the Iconic MIAMI wall

  • Meanwhile, Aeromexico, one of the South Terminal’s new inhabitants, recently announced it would end its Ft. Lauderdale service…
  • Emirates Airlines will be visiting MIA on September 6th…Miami-Dubai Service coming soon?

Update: Alex’s View, though he clearly hasn’t visited the disaster known as Heathrow or walked the infinite corridors throughout Barajas…Not two of the airport’s we’d use to compare ourselves to…

Click on the image for an enlarged, clearer view

I was recently looking through some old reports I have, when I discovered some depressing data that illustrates just how bad cycling conditions in Miami-Dade are. In the above graphic, the county’s roads were graded A-F based on the presence (or lack thereof) of typical “bike-friendly”conditions. Of course, a grade of “A” indicates high-quality cycling conditions and “F” indicates the least favorable conditions.

Some main criteria:

  • Presence of a bike lane or paved shoulder
  • Proximity of the cyclist to vehicular traffic
  • Characteristics of the vehicular traffic
  • Pavement condition
According to the report:

“Of the over 1,500 miles analyzed, only 8.6 percent of roadway miles received an acceptable level of service score of “C” or better. Over 90 percent of the roadway miles received an unnacceptable LOS score of “D” or worse, with approximately 58 percent of all segments receiveing an LOS score of “E” and 5.7 percent an LOS of “F”.”


Within the defined bicycle network, the County currently has less than 12 miles of on-road bicycle lanes meeting FDOT criteria for a bicycle lane. While there have been minor improvements in the overall number of county bike lane miles since 2001, they haven’t even cracked the surface regarding necessary improvements.

I gathered this information from the Miami-Dade Bicycle Facilities Plan 2001. While there is some encouraging language in the document implying cycling is a legitimate, important form of urban transportation, little has come out of the report, as evidenced by similar cycling conditions six years later. If Charlie Crist is serious about being a “green” governor, he would mandate that by law all Florida municipalities must create bicycle master plans, as well as language requiring at least 40 percent of roadway miles to score an acceptable “C” grade or better within a specified time-frame. A measure like this would ensure cycling catapults to the forefront of transportation planning in every town and city in Florida, which is long overdue.

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PBS has been investigating the endemic corruption and incompetence that has plagued the Miami-Dade Housing Agency. Now you can watch the new online video, “Money for Nothing”, a three-part series reporting the recent history and actions of the Agency, detailing how everything went wrong. I highly recommend watching these videos.

The funny (and sad) thing is, this doesn’t even mention the recent scandals regarding the unbuilt Biotech facility in Liberty City or the corruption at the City of Miami Community Development Department.

Miami-Dade County Approved the funding for the Port of Miami Tunnel…

The 9-3 vote of approval wasn’t without some misdirected and unwarranted criticism due to French construction giant Bouygues Travaux Publics’ ties to Cuba. Of course, some of our elected officials had their priorities out of order, instead voting for what was best for Cuba than Miami:

”This project is morally wrong,” said Miami attorney Nicolas Gutierrez, who represents the descendants of a Cuban family whose property was expropriated by the Castro regime. One of the resorts that the Bouygues affiliate helped construct is on the family property in eastern Cuba.

But in the end, only Commissioner Javier Souto, a Bay of Pigs veteran, specifically mentioned the firm’s ties to Cuba in casting his vote against the deal. Also voting against the deal were Commissioners Natacha Seijas and Rebeca Sosa.

Last time I checked we elected our officials to do what was best for Miami-Dade, not Cuba, the US embargo is only applicable to US corporations, none of which were the low bidders for the port tunnel project to begin with. (Side note: last time I was in Europe, I drank from a Pepsi can which offering chances to win a “voyage for 2 to Cuba…” Where is the sense in that?) Their reservations about Bouygues Travaux are unwarranted when its a foreign company operating under foreign jurisdictions and policies and is further evidence that our commissioners tend to vote without knowing the pertinent facts…

A recent CBS4 “investigation” supports our claims that road expansion simply isn’t the solution to the traffic woes in our region. The report puts the new 836 west extension to the “test,” with two vehicles racing to a central meeting point on Bird Rd and SW 137th ave. The results were disappointing to those hoping that the extension would provide western suburbanites with a speedier alternative to the turnpike (you know, because of that exorbitant toll.) What the CBS4 report and many natives fail to understand is just how traffic, roadway expansions, and arterials interact with each other.

To simplify, think of traffic as a fluid (water) and roadways as pipes. The obvious is that when there is a clogged pipe (accident) no water can pass through. Easy enough, right? Now, many people assume that by creating a new path for the water (836 extension) water will be able to flow quickly along this new path. But, given the existing saturated nature of the current western routes (Tamiami Trail, Bird, Flagler, etc.) the new extension alleviates a certain amount of traffic from each corridor, providing no specific time difference impact to any single corridor. If too many cars choose to use the extension, then it too becomes saturated and proves to be just as ineffective as the alternate street routes. In then end, the whole system balances out and our overall personal gain is negligible. Plus don’t forget that any gains will be rendered useless once western expansion continues (you know, because of all that extra “capacity” we created) and more cars are found to fill in the gaps along each of the corridors… Good Luck!

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