Last night my wife and I took the Metromover from the 10th Street Station in Brickell to the Omni Station to check out Mama Mia at the Adrienne Arshet Center. As is usually the case when we ride the Metromover, we had to help several people make sense of the Metromover.
Transit needs to be user-friendly in order for it to work well. Unfortunately we make it difficult on ourselves when we can’t keep the Metromover maps consistent. The maps at Metromover stations are clearly marked with 3 distinct colors (blue, orange, pink); each color distinguishes the three different routes (Omni, Brickell, and Inner loop).
However, once you enter the Metromover car the colors of the map change completely. The easily distinguishable blue, orange, and pink routes become less discernible shades of grayish/blue. I can’t think of a good reason why we have two different maps; we need to have one easily understood map, not two.
One of our readers, TM Reader, suggested identifying each of the Metromover cars more clearly too. I’d like to take this good idea a step further. The Metromover cars should be painted blue, orange, or pink to reflect the color of each route. This would make transit easy to use.
As reported a couple of weeks ago, the bus stop on Brickell and 15th Street was taken out for the 3rd or 4th time in the past year and a half by a speeding vehicle. Apparently the last accident involved a motorcycle which burned the bus stop to a crisp. Last week the bus stop was replaced yet again.
Although we keep replacing the bus stop, the fundamental issue of speeding on Brickell Avenue isn’t being dealt with. How many more times does this bus stop need to be flattened before the City of Miami addresses the underlying cause of these accidents? A short term solution would be to move the bus stop to a less dangerous location; the current location is on a very treacherous curve.
Given the history of the bus stop, it’s only a matter of time before this happens again. Hopefully no one will be injured when it does occur.
For what must be the 3rd or 4th time in the past year and a half the same Brickell bus stop on Brickell and 15th Street has been wiped out by a speeding car. The problem here is that the bus stop is located on a dangerous curve and when cars come barreling down Brickell Avenue at night they head straight for the bus stop. I’m pretty sure drunk driving has something to do with this problem, but speeding is certainly a major factor in these accidents. The way Brickell Avenue is designed encourages speeding; we need to design this road to discourage speeding. Moving the bus stop should also be considered. Sooner or later someone waiting for the bus will get struck. If you are familiar with the area please feel free to suggest other improvements in the comments section below.
As high speed rail progresses through the planning stages special attention will need to be paid to the important issue of local connectivity in ensuring high ridership (and high speed rail’s success). Our major problem with funding transit expansion has been the federal government’s unwillingness to give us money because of the demonstrated lack of local political will in funding transit operations and maintenance. As is the case for most transit systems, funding initial construction is not as big a hurdle as funding ongoing operations and maintenance.
Which is why I wonder why MDT and FIU are putting all of their eggs into the proverbial Bus Rapid Transit ‘basket’. Current plans show a mixture of BRT and BRT light for most major corridors in Dade County. Don’t get me wrong, BRT is not bad, but our goal should be to accommodate the greatest capacity for the same long term cost. When comparing the O&M of Bus Rapid Transit with Light Rapid Transit this crucial cost is the same. While initial construction of BRT infrastructure is lower, the operations and maintenance costs, the burden most placed on our local municipalities, is the same as light rail technology, only at a fraction of the capacity.
Don’t take it from me. The bipartisan Congressional Government Accountability Office did its own analysis comparing the costs of BRT with LRT in 2003:
Communities consider several factors when they select mass transit options. Our 2001 report examined such factors as capital cost and operating costs, system performance, and other advantages and disadvantages of Bus Rapid Transit. We found, for example, that the capital costs of Bus Rapid Transit in the cities we reviewed averaged $13.5 million per mile for busways, $9.0 million per mile for buses on high occupancy vehicle lanes, and $680,000 per mile for buses on city streets, when adjusted to 2000 dollars.4 For comparison, we examined the capital costs of several Light Rail lines and found that they averaged about $34.8 million per mile, ranging from $12.4 million to $118.8 million per mile.5 In addition, in the cities we reviewed that had both types of service, neither Bus Rapid Transit nor Light Rail had a consistent advantage in terms of operating costs.
Said another way, apart from the difference in initial cost, choosing BRT costs as much per year to run as LRT, but with less capacity (light rail cars hold more passengers than bus rapid transit cars). When thinking over the long term, the equation heavily favors LRT, because the lost capacity over time far outweighs the initial savings, especially when one considers latent demand for mass transit.
What this means for the average citizen is that real transit solutions, such as a metro-rail link down the Douglas corridor or an LRT Bay link, are going to lose out to costly BRT lines that will spend our transit dollars without making meaningful strides in increasing ridership, or connectivity.
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.
Today was the first time I used one of the bike racks mounted on the MDT buses, as I did a bike-bus commute from South Beach to FIU Biscayne Bay. I boarded the 93 bus at Omni station and loaded my bike onto the rack closest to the driver. I should note that I ride a steel city bike with a pair of panniers - this is a heavy bike with an even heavier rear wheel area. But I got it on and locked it into place following the instructions on the MDT website. It still felt wobbly so I asked the driver if I’d done it correctly, to which she responded with a non-committal sound I took to mean yes.
Long story short (the longer version was posted to my blog), the locking mechanism slipped off the front wheel and the bike fell off the rack at my stop on 135 St & Biscayne Blvd, being hit by the bus into the next lane. It wasn’t run over, thankfully, but it was damaged so I couldn’t ride it. The driver reported it but did nothing else, shifting the blame entirely onto me and then leaving without even saying sorry. I filed a complaint via the MDT website but I fully expect them to blow their nose with it. I accept it was partly my fault because I may not have locked it properly, but I also asked for confirmation from the driver and received none. The driver also obviously was not paying attention to the bike otherwise she would have noticed when the locking arm slipped off.
I see bikes on the bus racks every day and I assume these reach their destination fine and dandy. But while I realize my case may be out of the ordinary, I cannot be the only person who has used these racks for the first time and did not know if they were used correctly. The buses should have better signage explaining the proper operation of the locking mechanism, and the drivers should be trained (and frankly required) to make sure that bikes are properly secured, especially when people ask them explicitly. While MDT may not make itself responsible for every single bike that goes on one of their bus bike racks, it cannot be good for business (to appeal to the basest denominator) if cases like mine happen more often.
Has anyone else out there had a problem with the MDT bus bike racks?
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.
Funding and bus service were the themes of the night at the second annual Miami-Dade Transit Summit. In attendance were Mayor Alvarez, County Manager Burgess, Assistant County Manager and transit guru Ysela Llort, and Commissioners Barbara Jordon, Chairman Moss, and Carlos Gimenez. The audience was a mix of transit aficionados and transit users (or both) who gave a wide variety of suggestions on proposed route changes, funding mechanisms, and general discontent with the job the Commission and administration are doing to provide transit service to the citizens of Dade County.
The word affordability was repeated several times, and each time it made me cringe. How can we hold a public good like transit up to some artificial standard like affordability? Who determines what is affordable? Are our public schools affordable? Who pays for the O/M of the police and firefighters? We do. We determine what is affordable . Transit costs what it costs, and it needs to be funded whether the commission likes it or not. Affordability is not a factor, because if it was then the most affordable option would be to buy current transit users a car, dismantle MDT and call it a day. Why waste any more time and money on a public good you don’t think we can ‘afford’?
I was impressed by the many speakers who gave solid, common sense suggestions as to how to improve the system and to fund it. Here just a few of the observations I thought were on point:
- Use the surplus of MDX toll revenue to provide premium transit. The MDX representative was proud of the nearly $10 million dollar contribution they had made to MDT, but that doesn’t go far enough. The New York MTA recieves over $400 million of surplus revenue from bridge and tunnel tolls. Why can’t MDX provide a similar service? Not to mention the roads that are not tolled at all, like the Palmetto. Even a modest toll on this road would go a long way to funding the O/M of our transit system.
- Expand the tax increment districts to beyond go beyond the station areas. As transit is a good that reaches beyond the area surrounding the station, then so too should the tax benefit come from a wider area. Duh.
- Increase the gas tax.
- Stop giving away free rides to the elderly.
- Provide a thorough audit of how the 20% share of the PTP that has been used by municipalities. (I especially like this one as I am pretty sure any audit will uncover how this money has been wasted.)
Some of the best comments came from members of the local Transport Workers Union 291. Intelligent, well thought out, and passionate comments were made by the men and women who are on the ground every day and know exactly how the system works (or doesn’t). They rightfully criticized the plans for BRT expansion, citing Phoenix, Atlanta and other cities that were investing in light rail, rather than BRT. With a similar O/M cost, and higher capacity I agree with them.
I had prepared comments, but by the time my turn came to speak, all of my points had been addressed by the other speakers, save for one. It was a challenge to the administration and Commission to stop blindly throwing money at the transit ‘problem’ without having any goals or benchmarks to measure success. Throughout the night, the common response to audience concerns was “Other cities have the same problems we do.” I agreed, but observed that they did have solutions to the problem, we just were not implementing these solutions. San Fransisco recently set a goal of 30% transit ridership by 2030, why can’t we do the same?
In her closing remarks Commissioner Jordon responded to my comments by saying that they did have goals, but didn’t have the funds to reach them. I don’t know if she understood what I was saying, but as a person who is well versed on the subject, I have yet to see in writing a commitment by Miami-Dade County to increase transit ridership by any amount. How can we guide our investments in all forms of transportation if we don’t lay out a framework to achieve certain goals?
In the mix of transportation options available to people we include cars, transit, and walking/biking. Currently, our transit ridership share is only 2.5%, with walking/biking less than that, which means more than 90% of the trips taken in Dade County are by car. This is not an accident. In the same way we plan for future highway and roadway expansion to accommodate future ‘demand’, so too should we do the same for transit.
My challenge to the Commission and to Mayor Alvarez remains: make a goal of 30% transit ridership by 2030, and fund that goal. That is the only way we are going to get out of our transit black hole.
- Changing the practice of architecture: A group of Scottish scientists have invented a 3-d laser modeling device that produces ultrafine images of structures. “The drawings and computer simulations long cooked up by developers and architects will be replaced by more detailed, easier-to-comprehend, more objective views, in essence democratizing knowledge.” (NY Times)
- Still truckin’: The rally for SunRail is gaining momentum as various civic groups and elected officials back the rail plan. (Winter Park Observer)
- Congratulations Miami, your political landscape has changed dramatically. What will that mean for transit, walkability and cycling? Only time will tell. (Herald)
- Why aren’t we doing this: Check out this great article from the Transport Politic about Tampa’s plans to fund a light rail expansion with a penny sales tax. “The local Metropolitan Planning Organization incorporated the rail project into its long-term plans and has completely reversed course in favor of transit funding; current spending is tilted 83% to highways, while the long-term plan, with almost $12 billion in expenditures earmarked by 2035, provides for a 50-50 split between transit and roads.” This is exactly the sort of shift that needs to happen with our own MPO. It is time to dramatically alter the funding formula of the MPO in favor of mass transit and non-motorized transportation. (Transport Politic)
- Good News/Bad News: The commission adopted a series of bus service cuts/adjustments, increasing headways in most instances. The good news is that they abolished bus to bus transfers. (Miami Dade County)
According to our friends at the Green Mobility Network, work began this week on the Dadeland Gap extension of the M-Path. This is great news. Apparently a portion of the $700k which was allotted to Phase 1 of this project will be used to extend the M-Path.
The Dadeland Gap extension is essential; however, Miami-Dade Transit needs to also focus their attention on improving the existing M-Path. Although I may disagree with the priority of the projects, congratulations are in order for Miami-Dade Transit as this is a sign of progress for the M-Path.
Congratulations also to the Green Mobility Network for making this happen. Without their hard work and perseverance this would not have happened.
Today I rode the M-Path for the first time in about a month since my last post about the progress of the M-Path. I was hoping to give our readers a positive update, but unfortunately here we are nearly 4 months into the M-Path project and work seems to have come to a standstill. In all fairness, I only rode the M-Path from Brickell to Bird Road, but did not see any new improvements. This makes me wonder if all we are getting for $700k is a patch job for some potholes, root rot, and a couple of inches of added width to the M-Path in a few locations?
Since there is nothing new to report, please allow me to suggest a few more ideas for improvements that Miami-Dade Transit ought to consider.
For starters, safety should be the #1 priority; not the cosmetic work that is being done. Miami Dade Transit must consider a “no right hand turn on red” from all streets that cross the M-Path on to US-1. Currently, traffic signals such as the one on 22nd (see below) and US-1 encourage vehicles to maintain their speed rather then slow down at pedestrian and M-Path crossings. This is a simple solution which will make the M-Path safer for pedestrians and bicyclists alike.
Miami-Dade Transit should also take this opportunity to extend the path through “desire lines” (see below) which pedestrians and bicyclists created. Why this was not considered during Phase 1 of the project is beyond my understanding. Simply fixing what is already broken does not make the M-Path better.
Below is a M-Path greenway simulation picture that Mike Lydon from The Street Plans Collaborative included in the Miami Bicycle Master Plan. This is what Miami-Dade Transit’s goal should be for the M-Path.
I sincerely hope that Phase 1 of this project is not anywhere near completion. If it is, we have a problem.
This morning I joined our friends from the Green Mobility Network for a bike ride on the M-Path to see the improvements which Miami-Dade Transit has been working on for the past two months. Although some improvements have been made, they have left much to be desired. From what I experienced, the improvements are mostly cosmetic and have no real impact on the real problems of the M-Path. Repairs to the asphalt are being done where there is tree-root damage to the path. In some sections, the path has been widened by a few inches as well. Aside from these improvements, not much else has been done. So why am I not satisfied?
I am unsure that the M-Path merits the designation of a “path”. Usually a “path” has as a main characteristic some level of connectivity, and unfortunately the M-Path does not. There is no clear designation or markings for one to follow the M-Path.
Miami Dade Transit has budgeted $700,000 to make these improvements. From what I have seen, there has not been $700,000 worth of work done to the path so far. Although the improvements certainly help, the more pressing safety issues that the M-Path has have not been given priority.
Rather then looking at the M-Path as a whole, Miami-Dade Transit is fixing the problem with a piecemeal strategy. This strategy is wholly flawed and wasteful, as some of the work that is being completed today, will have to be undone in the future when a more comprehensive project to fix the M-Path is undertaken. Safety should take precedence. Below is a list of priorities for the M-Path.
Intersections: Safety issues at street intersections must be addressed. How can we possibly call a path a path, if we cannot safely cross at intersections? This is baffling to me. Initial funding should have been allocated to the intersections, not fixing potholes.
Path Route and Width: The route of the M-Path dangerously meanders near US 1 at times without any protection for the bicyclists from cars. Several of the curves are hazardously blind which happens to place cyclists riding in opposite directions in a precarious situation. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the path is not wide enough, nor does it have any lane markings. The current path route is not always the safest for bicyclists, and needs to be rerouted in certain areas. Wherever possible, the path should follow the straightest, most direct route.
Lighting and Signage: The M-Path becomes very dangerous after sunset. Currently, there is no lighting whatsoever on the M-Path. In addition, clear path signage and mile markers should be placed along the M-Path. First time users of the M-Path will get lost.
Below are a few pictures I took this morning with some commentary:
- In some zoning trickery Miami-Dade is applying to have horse racing at MIA (but off site) so they install slot machines in the airport? Really? How about we just concentrate on completing the never ending construction before we embark on horse racing and gambling.
- Metrozoo’s waterparks are moving forward… unfortunately. Good bye last remaining pine rocklands in Dade County.
- Miami-Dade Transit gets a boost from investors with A+ rating: “The ‘A+’ rating on the bonds reflects solid coverage of debt service from a voter-approved one-half cent sales tax despite some recent softening, sound historical growth in both sales tax revenues and transit ridership, and Miami-Dade County’s broad, diverse economic base, which is a significant factor in the county’s ‘AA-‘ general obligation bond rating.”
- Congrats Mayor Manny: The Southwest Florida AIA invited Mayor Diaz to give the keynote address at their annual dinner for his Miami 21 efforts.
- A new use for abandoned railways in Dade: “GROW is a nonprofit, urban garden that operates on an abandoned railway track near the Miami International Airport. It is a grass-root, public education initiative. After nearly two years, it finally gets the blessing of the county to operate.”
Last night I moderated attended a transportation panel that brought together highway folks with transit folks in the hopes that they would interact and teach each other a thing or two about how we can advance transit in our community. The panel included Alice Bravo (FDOT District 6 Director of Transportation Systems Development), County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez (District 7), Harpal Kapoor (Director of Miami-Dade Transit), and Javier Rodriguez (Director of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority).
My thinking was that there was some secret that the highway planners knew that could enlighten us transit advocates as to why transit consistently fails in our region, but I was wrong. There is no secret, just institutional malaise, lack of vision, and as one member of the audience described it, a ‘bubble’ mentality.
I was disappointed in myself on my way home because I came armed with a series of tough questions about why we don’t have transit, and how the panelists (as the responsible parties) could do something to change the status quot. But I didn’t ask my questions - I was too busy listening to the spin. Don’t get me wrong, I learned an awful lot about how things work, but it wasn’t because of anything that the panelists said. Their insulated and distant positions on the need and demand for transit was more revealing than any of their answers were. It was as if their opinions of what ‘works’ in Miami, after so many years of experience, had been calcified into facts. ‘This is the way it is in Miami-Dade County’ was the idea touted by some , with Commissioner Gimenez sharing with me in conversation that his apparent cynicism came from years of dealing with inept transit management (an understandable feeling considering his efforts to address the management of the PTP).
I abandoned my questions early on because of the enthusiastic and vocal audience of transit professionals, planners and interested citizens who came up with their own questions for the panel. I was happy to see such an interest in the subject, and thought it was a signal to the members of the panel that they need to get moving on providing creative transit solutions.
Funding dominated the conversation (as it will when discussing transit issues), and I was happy that Javier Betancourt (Miami DDA’s Manager for Urban Planning and Transportation) asked the panel why transit doesn’t get the same funding that highways do. No one could give a simple, straight answer, but I think the answer to this question is the key to solving our mobility problems (and no, I don’t think our highways are the solution).
Ysela Llort, Assistant County Manager in charge of transportation was in the audience, and she answered the question by describing the competitive and difficult Federal New Starts process for building transit infrastructure. Commissioner Gimenez described the problem as involving the operations and maintenance side of transit once the infrastructure is up and running. (Ysela also made this point.)
In conversation before and after both Commissioner Gimenez and Javier Rodriguez made interesting points about the funding conundrum. Why do roads and highways get funded over transit? Because government doesn’t have to get involved in the operations and maintenance side of the equation- that is largely the responsibility of the citizenry (you are responsible for maintaining and fueling your car).
Lack of density was also mentioned, but what was not mentioned was lack of demand. I said several times over the evening that we need to get people out of their cars by making driving less convenient, to which the Commissioner and Alice Bravo grimaced. What an un-American thing to force people out of their cars. I disagree. The point of my comment was not that we should make people abandon their cars, but to provide more alternatives. How can we justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars improving flow on the Palmetto - which is within the fiefdom of FDOT - while not providing a convenient alternative to people who don’t want to sit in traffic. We wouldn’t have to improve flow if we gave people an easier choice to make.
I heard many promising things as well, most notably from Javier Rodriguez, who really gets the bigger picture. I’ll write more about him and his thoughts tomorrow. All being said, I came away with the hope that we have things to look forward too.
PS. Harpal is awesome. If anyone wants a free EASY Metro card, send me your email.
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