Currently viewing the tag: "Miami"
  • Today: June 3, 2008 from 6-8pm there will be a Miami-Dade Bicycle/Pedestrian Action Committee Meeting in Miami’s City Hall…
  • Tomorrow: June 4, 2008 there will be a Miami River Commission meeting at 10 AM in the Miami River Inn (118 South River Drive.)

This video provides us with a glimpse of Miami’s first Transit Oriented Development, conceived in the 80s at the Kendall Station of the southern terminus of the metrorail system. This video kicks off a series of articles which will be aimed at discussing TOD…

  • A Judge has thrown out part of Norman Braman’s lawsuit against the inter-local agreement which among other things enabled the construction of the Marlins’ Ballpark, funded the Port of Miami Tunnel, and expanded the Omni/Overtown CRA district.  Hopefully now the Sunpost will stop touting Braman as a local hero…  It’s no surprise that a car salesman would be against a plan that would enable urban life and create viable public transportation.
  • What goes up, must come down: The Miami Skylift has filed for bankruptcy.  Really?  Now can we please stop turning Bayfront Park into a cheap carnival?  What’s wrong with some usable green space?
  • Michael Lewis hits this one dead on:

But out past Northwest 22nd Avenue, the Miami River is far different — it’s a fast-paced economic engine that carries ships from 26 international terminals out to the Caribbean and back again, floating $4 billion worth of goods a year on its narrow, twisting back.
Much of that river, which handles as much shipping as the busy Port of Tampa and is Florida’s fourth largest seaport, lies within the district of Miami Commissioner Angel Gonzalez.
“That river is dead,” Mr. Gonzalez told the commission last week as he voted to remove marine industry protections along the river from the city’s land-use plan. He’d rather develop condos and mixed-use projects there to help the area’s economy.
What is it about $4 billion a year that Mr. Gonzalez doesn’t understand?
Does he think developers will pump that much into condo towers and dump enough jobs into his district to replace all those that river shipping supports?
Does he think banks will scramble to finance towers while tens of thousands of condo units are still rising and planned projects near the river are handing their land over to lenders because they can’t repay their loans?
Does he think that removing the “Port of Miami River” designation from city plans won’t push marine terminals to sell out to future high-rises that might never get built, killing river shipping in the process?
Does he care? Do his fellow commissioners?
Anyone paying attention knows that the Miami River is a working river — even though the commission refused to allow that phrase in its plans.

As some of you might know, Mike and I serve advisory roles in Miami’s newly created Bicycle Action Committee (BAC).  The BAC is working on drafting a city of Miami Bicycle Master plan and is looking for any input our citizens wish to provide.  You can download this city map, draw on it, and send back your ideas to us (movemiami@gmail.com) for committee review.  You can also leave us comments or email us lists of potential bicycle routes, needed improvements, or any other suggestions.  Here is your chance to shape a masterplan which will guide all bicycle related planning for years to come.  I’m currently working on my version, which I will publish when complete and will finally get around to creating the Bicycle Rental plan I suggested to Alesh a while ago…

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.

Miami may be one of “America’s cleanest cities,” but it certainly is not one of the most bicycle-friendly. This fact was recently recognized in the June 2008 issue of Bicycle Magazine, which bestowed Miami with the dubious distinction of joining Dallas and Memphis as one of the three worst cities in America for bicycling. The excerpt, linked above states the following:

In Miami, the terrain lies pancake-flat and the sun shines bright nearly every day-perfect conditions for cycling. But Miami-Dade County has done little to foster safer streets for bikes, despite the fact that Florida ranks second in the nation in bicycle fatalities and that much of Miami’s poorer population relies on bikes for transportation. The county enacted the Bicycle Facilities Plan in 2001, but it failed to state any specific goals. The city of Miami has no finished lanes, and the only one under construction is less than a mile long. The rest of the county’s lanes are just as short, appearing randomly and disappearing a few blocks later. “We’re so far behind and in the dark with bikes it’s absurd,” bike-shop owner Chris Marshall told the Miami New Times in January. “I’d say we’re stuck in the ’60s, but it’s worse than the ’60s. In the ’60s you could still get around by bike.”

I agree that we are far behind, but the article fails to mention Mayor Diaz’s new Bicycle Advisory Committee, which is working under the umbrella of the Office of Sustainable Initiatives to create a bicycle master plan that dovetails with Miami 21. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Interestingly, the City of Boston, another cycling-poor city in which I have lived, repeatedly received similar honors from Bicycling Magazine. However, thanks to an aggressive agenda to improve cycling conditions the city is quickly altering its reputation. Let’s hope Miami is not too far behind.

This is the first of our new Guest articles section on Transit Miami…

Docklands LRT

London’s Docklands Light Rail System
by TransitDave

Riding a transit system does more than give you a feel for the city you’re in; If you’re a transit buff, you also notice things about the system itself, and compare it to other systems you’ve ridden in other cities, and, naturally, to the one in your hometown. Sometimes, one even gets to compare 2 very different modes of Transit operating in tandem.

Miami’s Metrorail and metro mover systems provide such an opportunity for Transit buffs, but London’s Underground and the Docklands light rail system provide another, more intense comparison, for while Miami’s transit systems are arguably under-utilized, London’s are anything but.

London’s Underground and DLR also represent perhaps the 2 most innovative transit systems in the world, operating with great connectivity with one another,  Yet it’s important to note the distinctions between the two systems, because they so closely reflect the different environments in which they operate, and it’s a reminder of why it’s a good thing to see such systems in action, rather than simply read specifications and surf the web looking at pictures and route maps.

The London Underground, a workhorse (mostly) underground heavy rail rapid transit system, is built for speed and moving massive amounts of people across a sprawling, densely populated metropolitan area. When the underground was built in the 1870’s, it was the world’s first urban rapid transit system, and London was already the world’s largest and most densely populated city. Then as today, investment in public infrastructure tended to lag behind population growth.

The Docklands Light Rail, or DLR as it is referred to, was a major investment conceived in the 1980’s to help stimulate the re-development of the Docklands region, the centerpiece of which was, and is the Canary Wharf financial district, which has grown to one of Europe’s finest and most modern business districts. The DLR provides a direct link to Central London from The Docklands region, which straddles the River Thames, and curves southeast of City of London, the oldest and most historic part of Central London.

The Docklands is a world away from the fashionable west end and stately neighborhoods and parks of Victorian London. It’s an area of many Riverfront Warehouses and factories, relics of England’s industrial age. It’s also an area which bore the brunt of the Blitz in World War II, and deteriorated for many years after as factories closed, and trade via the Thames dwindled. As Canary Wharf has grown into a shining, modern business district, the docklands area has seen many old riverfront factories and warehouses adaptively re-used for residential and commercial uses, and that process is far from finished.

Commuting on the DLR

As a veteran subway rider, I was already very familiar with the London Underground, it being the first subway I ever rode, and have ridden it extensively on a half dozen trips to London over the years. Last September I spent 6 days near Canary Wharf, and got to see and ride the Docklands LRT for the first time, commuting to Central London and connecting to the Underground on several occasions, and also to Canary Wharf from my hotel near the Excel Convention center.

In riding the system I marveled at it’s high ridership, which averages 200,000 commuters per day, impressive numbers for a light rail system by US standards, yet a small percentage of the overall ridership for Greater London.  Even so, contrasting the Docklands area to other areas of densely populated central London, the DLR is very well suited for it’s lighter, but no less important share of London’s Transit load. To put it’s scale in perspective, the system length totals only 31 KM, with 38 stations, 8 of which transfer to Underground stations, 2 of which are northern terminus stations at Bank and Tower Gate, a short walk to the Tower of London. The system’s growth continues, however, and the Docklands area will be the site of many Olympic venues when the Olympics
come to London in 2012.

The DLR serves a smaller and less-densely populated area then the Underground, but with more frequent stops, and at necessarily lower speeds. It also utilizes existing freight railway rights of way to a large extent, often operating on at-grade-seperated railbeds, with station walkways straddling the DLR and Freight tracks.

The trains themselves automated 4-car trainsets, with compact 4 car platforms, and completely dedicated rights of way, mostly elevated, some at grade, and small sections of underground, most notably at the northern Tower Gate terminus.

Stations are unattended for the most part, with automated ticketing machines, and a modern, if slightly utilitarian appearance, in contrast to the victorian-era feel and appearance of the average underground station.

In it’s brief 20 year history, the Docklands light rail has grown from a single line into 4 seperate corridors, with additional infill stations added, and 6 additional transfer stations to the underground in addition to the original two, which also reflect the continuing growth of the Underground into southeast London as well.

The evolution of the DLR can be shown to pararell the re-development of the Docklands area, and as such, it provides a model for how a modern transit sytem can evolve and grow as a city grows, and serve as a stimulus for  a highly urbanized area’s redevelopment. This lesson has many applications in North America, but the FEC corridor comes immediately to mind when visualizing how a similar system might work in a South Florida setting.

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  • Farecards are coming and we couldn’t be happier. MDT will spend $72 Million to finally upgrade the transit fare collection system, phasing out the cash only system for a new high-tech card. However, on the downside, MDT is also looking to increase fares to $2 among other things in order to improve the federal ratings of the proposed North and East/West expansions…
  • Man who tried to commit suicide by rail this morning is alive and well, even after he was run over by 3 rail cars…
  • Ana Mendez performs a mini experiment and finds that walking around downtown is easier than driving (duh!) I find it shocking how many Herald reporters don’t use transit regularly…
  • The CITT has reversed its original decision to refuse the funding for new metrorail cars. We can likely kiss one (maybe two) of the original proposed extensions goodbye…
  • Downtown Doral is rising…
  • Rumor has it that the state is working on an incentive program to bring a new Hispanic owned airline to MIA as well as a reincarnation of Eastern Airlines…
  • Here is another no-brainer: Rising Gas Prices Lead to Increase in Public Transportation

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It’s been a rough week with the site being down, but we’re glad to be finally back up and running and can’t wait to dive back into action. We’ll be working out the kinks over the next few days or so…

Let’s end the week on a lighthearted note, with images of Sony’s recent “Spring Cleaning” of Downtown Miami:

Via A Welsh View

More Images

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I know we have already mentioned this topic this week, but considering the Herald continues its negative spin campaign against the zoning rewrite I thought a healthy counterpoint was in order. Herald columnist Ana Mendez writes in her column today that she thinks that the code is a little too complicated for a layperson to understand.

She writes, “Its true zoning codes are difficult to write. And no one wants to minimize the important role that government plays in assessing the public’s needs and translating them into hopelessly complicated, impenetrable legal gobbledygook. But there has to be a better way.”

Now, as an urban planner and architect I agree that the language can be difficult at times, but the fact is that anyone with a high school education can figure it out (not to mention that all of the terms used are defined in the first chapter). Part of the problem is that we have to translate good urban design (which is a field that lends itself to drawing more than writing) into legal ‘gobbledygook’ so that land-use attorneys and developers don’t find loopholes in otherwise straightforward regulations.

Codes (Miami 21 or any other land use code) have to be written in language that is not simplistic, and that will hold up to scrutiny in court. Menendez quotes from the code:


Lots facing streets on more than one (1) side shall have designated Principal Frontage(s) and may have Secondary Frontage(s). Unless otherwise designated by a Special Area Plan, a Principal Frontage shall be that facing the street of higher pedestrian importance or intensity (i.e., traffic volume, number of lanes, etc.)

Which is another way of saying that you define the front of a corner lot as the one that faces the busiest street, but you can’t say that in a legal document because if you did then you would have all sorts of follow-up questions like:

  • How do you define which street is most important?
  • What do you call the other less important front?

Unfortunately, I think that this criticism of Miami 21, along most others, is less about the code than about blaming it for things that are beyond its control.

Here are a few of the arguments against Miami 21 that I have read both on the Miami 21 website and in various articles over the past two years:
-> “Miami 21 is the first urban application of a smart code in the US. It is an experiment that has never been tested.”

Actually, Miami 21 is not the first form based code to be applied to a major urban center, Philadelphia is in the process of passing a form based code, and I think we would all agree that as far as successful urbanism is concerned Miami pales in comparison. Form based codes have actually been around for a long time. Think of any good city (Chicago, New York, Philly, Boston) and their downtowns were developed with codes that were form based (as opposed to use based).

-> “Miami 21 is hated by architects and urban planners.”

Actually, having been written by urban planners and architects this one is not really true. The Herald loves to point out that architects dislike the plan, but really only a vocal minority of self-crowned celebrity architects dislike the code as a matter of ego than of substance. One architect in particular (whose name will remain anonymous except to say that it begins with Z and ends with h) says that the code infringes on his creativity by imposing height restrictions. Without going into some lengthy discussion on aesthetics and philosophy, lets just say that where this designer is concerned, creativity is overrated. Miami 21 holds faithful to some pretty basic premises (active street fronts, eyes on the street, etc.) and allows a lot of latitude after that. If you need your building to stand out like a huge phallic symbol, go to Dubai. Never mind that the the latest draft of the code has all but relaxed the height restrictions in certain T-Zones to be what they are in the existing code.

-> “Miami 21 will not allow me to rebuild my house if it gets destroyed.”

First of all, as with any zoning rewrite there will be nonconformities. The whole point of the code is that the existing code is allowing some pretty awful stuff to get built, and the new code will make some of that illegal. That’s the nature of any zoning code. I live in a 1940’s med style house that is illegal by today’s code because its too close to the sidewalk. Go figure. At any rate, the new draft of the code explicitly states that nonconformities in R1 zones will be grandfathered in. Period.

-> “Developers hate Miami 21.”

This one is my favorite. Developers love Miami 21 because it gives them greater development rights than they had before. The code was drafted using the existing regulations as a base. That means that all of the development rights have been preserved or augmented. All the code does is say that you have to meet the street in a way that will promote healthy urbanism. It’s not complicated.

-> “Miami 21 will allow tall buildings next to single family residences along Biscayne in the NE part of town.”

This one is true much to the chagrin of community activists such as Elvis Cruz who have long protected the area. Unfortunately they aren’t entirely using their thinking caps as to what they get in return for this extra height. Along parts of Biscayne you can build a 3 story building that would reach a height of 50’+ that would be adjacent to 30′ homes.

There are two parts to this that people need to understand.

1) We are trying to encourage pedestrian friendly development along in this part of Biscayne and part of that involves defining the street as a public space. With a street as large as Biscayne is, you need something more than two stories to make that happen. I don’t think that 50′ is all that egregious a transition to a single family neighborhood (especially in comparison to what is allowed now).
2) We need to start thinking of our eastern edge as the place where more intense development needs to happen. We cannnot hold the UDB line and be NIMBY’s at the same time. Saving the Everglades means that growth has to be in someone’s backyard. Biscayne Boulevard deserves buildings that are more than 3 stories.

Remember this: Miami 21 is a lot better than the existing code, and if we let this opportunity pass we are the ones who suffer. This is not some abstract concept in a book, this is about the kind of city in which we want to live and raise our families. I for one will not give up.

Miami 21 is in the Herald today with news that is not very uplifting. Commissioner Regalado, a longtime critic of the plan, has decided that the residents of his district do not yet fully understand the code and that he will not let the plan move forward until they do. Judging from turnout at meetings in his district, it’s no wonder that people still don’t understand the plan, but whose fault is that? (Maybe they should show up, or at least read through the code once). Are we going to continue to stall this plan and delay its implementation because of his own political agenda against Mayor Diaz and Commish Joe Sanchez. All too often lately, it seems that his decisions are based on where ideas came from rather than what is best for his constituents or the city. Think about the Ballpark deal: if that had come solely from Mayor Diaz’s office he would surely have tried to kill it.

Lets not even mention the fact that he expects DPZ to do any work from this point on for FREE!! What boggles my mind is that he originally suggested the quadrant system, only to change his mind later to city-wide implementation. In my business that’s called a change order, and there is no reason that DPZ should not be compensated for it. It all boils down to a cheap political trick: rather than force a vote against the plan (which he would be responsible for) he is going to try to force them to stop working on the plan (by not paying them), and later blaming the administration and DPZ for not following through.

The fact is that this plan works, and it works a lot better than what we have now. Period. Any other arguments he or any other commissioner makes is small potatoes. It serves the public good, will create a walkable city, and provides for the transitions from high density areas to low density areas that are non-existent in the current code.

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Mayor Diaz is the latest Blogger to join the Miami Blog Scene. We’ll be adding his site to the sidebar and following it regularly. Welcome Mayor Diaz!

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There’s movement on the horizon for Miami 21. You’ll remember that the last we heard about Miami 21 (way back in June of last summer) the City Commissioners sent DPZ back to do more work refining the code, & holding more public meetings. Among some of the criticisms the Commissioners had was that the plan was divided into quadrants (a request they made when DPZ first started the project) and would required concurrent zoning codes, and that there were several parts of the code that were not very clear (ironically the parts that came from the existing code regarding non-conformities).

DPZ spent the remainder of last summer holding 14 public meetings in the remaining 3 quadrants to educate the rest of the city on what Miami 21 is and what it is trying to accomplish (as if they didn’t already know). They reissued a new and improved code (addressing some of the concerns regarding height and development rights) and revamped the Miami 21 website. The City of Miami seemed to be ready once again to move forward with with the code by scheduling an April 8th special City Commission meeting. Unfortunately, that meeting was postponed so that DPZ could finish the atlas of the entire city.

The new website is helpful and will hopefully do away with the notion that the city and DPZ have tried coming up with this code in a smoke filled room with no public involvement. They have published several previous versions of the code as requested in the Question/Answer section of the website, and have provided readers with a thorough education on the idea of the form-based code. I would urge any interested party (developer, lawyer and citizen alike) to read through the code to really understand it. It is user friendly and streamlines the zoning process.

We urge the City Commission to recognize Miami 21 as the visionary code that it is, and hope that the work can move forward as quickly as possible so that new development can start to shape the city in a positive way.

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Sorry about the slow activity this week. We’ll be back to normal soon. Here is a scanned copy of the proclamation issued by Mayor Manuel Diaz today commemorating Miami’s Bike Month. I captured the whole presentation on video but am having trouble uploading it. I’ll have it up as soon as soon as possible.

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