A recent Sun Sentinel investigative report revealed deeply disturbing data on police driving behavior on South Florida roads. The three-part series investigated an idea that many south Floridians already believed to be true – police officers sworn to uphold the law are amongst the worst speeders on our roads and are not held accountable for their behavior, even when deadly. The data the Sun Sentinel revealed is a telling story of entitlement, danger, tragedy and a nauseatingly pervasive, dysfunctional culture.
By collecting data from SunPass Records, the Sun Sentinel reporters gathered a stunning array of unnerving facts, including:
Since 2004, Florida officers exceeding the speed limit have caused at least 320 crashes and 19 deaths. Only one officer went to jail — for 60 days.
The three-month investigation found almost 800 cops from a dozen agencies driving 90 to 130 mph on our highways.
Miami officers were among the most chronic speeders, with 143 of them driving over 90 mph — all outside city limits. More than 50 Miami cops broke 100 mph — one more than 100 times.
What struck me about the investigation was that it only took SunPass data into account – meaning only highway driving was measured. The nuisance and danger speeding drivers (civilians and police) represent on our on our local and secondary roadways is well-known to South Floridians – pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.
Take for example the Miami officer that inexplicably managed to drive up a utility pole on a quiet neighborhood street earlier in December. Many in our community laughed and shrugged it off as a bizarre accident. I wasn’t so quick to chuckle. This example of negligence and monumental stupidity are the type of things that erode public confidence towards police departments.
The investigation challenges another myth that pervades in South Florida – that we’re known as ‘terrible drivers’ because of our diverse citizenry importing driving habits from around the globe. While there may be elements of truth to that claim, it is not the sole reason the particular brand of driving in South Florida often resembles a demolition derby.
Take the ‘broken window’ theory into consideration. Coined by Kees Keizer of the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands, Keizer’s research focused on the idea that witnessing disorder and petty criminal behavior leads people to perpetuate such actions. (Like how broken windows on a vacant house invite litter, graffiti, etc.)
On South Florida roads, the ‘broken windows’ and litter are represented by the speeding police officers that pass you at 110 mph, screech around corners, roar through intersections, drive up poles and run over innocent beachgoers lying on the sand.
This type of behavior by police trusted to uphold the law has a ‘trickle down’ effect, meaning average citizens eventually feel entitled to speed without repercussion, perpetuating the behavior they observe daily from the police. Who’s enforcing anything? The risk seems small. Combine this collective mentality with urban roads like Biscayne Boulevard designed with suburban design standards that practically encourage speeding, and you have a recipe for the motoring chaos we see everyday.
Three basic ways to begin addressing the anarchy on our roads is enforcement, education and infrastructure (traffic calming). Sadly, enforcement has to begin within our own police departments on a broad scale.
Though perhaps we reached the tipping point today – Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa was involved in a car crash that sent a person to the hospital this afternoon.
The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority approved a plan yesterday to move forward with a local and express commuter rail along the famed corridor that once carried Flager’s train to Key West. The decision by the board will advance a “fast start” plan proposed by Tri-Rail administrators to leverage existing administrative costs and recently purchased locomotives to run service along the FEC line from Jupiter to Miami within 3-5 years.
The plan is an answer to FDOT officials who had previously proposed giving the concession to run trains directly to the FEC company in an effort to privatize the system. Tri-rail planners, though, say this is not necessary as they are already 80% privatized and can run the service for half the price as the proposed FEC plan. “For the same [capital] cost as the FEC- FDOT plan, we can provide 56 trains on the FEC between downtown Ft Lauderdale and downtown Miami, while also providing connectivity with the rest of the region,” said Joe Quinty, Transportation Planning Manager with the SFRTA.
Under the “fast track” proposal, which will now go to the tri-county MPO’s for approval and further cost feasibility, trains would use the FEC line from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami, with 7 stops in Miami-Dade County. Stops include 163 Street, 125 Street, 79 street, 54 Street, 36 Street, 11 Street/Overtown, and Government Center. As currently envisioned the plan would cost Tri-Rail an extra $15 million a year in operations costs by expanding existing contracts with Bombardier and Veolia. The FDOT plan would have cost $25 million a year and provided fewer stops in Miami-Dade County.
The project was approved 6-1, with the lone exception being FDOT District 6 representative Gus Pego. The plan envisions several types of service along the line, beginning with direct service between Ft. Lauderdale and downtown Miami. Regional service beyond Ft.Lauderdale will be established at Atlantic Boulevard, where a line connects the existing Tri-Rail tracks with the FEC service.
FDOT has been studying rail service along the FEC for years, with the latest SFECC Study looking at an integrated service, similar to what is being proposed, at a cost of over $2billion for the tri-county area. This plan hit a wall this spring when the Miami-Dade County MPO balked at moving forward with the study because of concerns over cost.
Tri-rail planners say that the fast track project is a way to get service running on the line as the South Florida East Coast Corridor study advances and addresses the MPO concerns. As currently planned, the service would not require any county or federal funds for operations or construction.
One third of the additional operational costs will come from farebox revenue from the new line, while the rest will come from a combination of Tri-Rail service adjustments, and yearly contributions from each of the 17 cities that will have stations of between $350,000 – $550,000. The capital cost to build the line is approximately $270 million, which will come from the Florida Department of Transportation.
Quinty went on to say, “We believe this new SFRTA is superior to FDOT’s approach, as it can be implemented quickly (by avoiding the Federal project development process), provides better regional service coverage, and will not require any additional county or FDOT operating funds.”
Last night I attended a meeting at Legion Park with representatives from the FEC and about 50 residents and business owners from the Upper East Side. Also present were Commissioner Sarnoff, a representative from the FDOT and a representative from the Port of Miami. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the upgrades to the FEC rail line which are currently underway and the establishment of a “quiet zone” from the port north to NE 71st Street. In order to qualify as a “quiet zone” the FEC will upgrade the rail crossings which will make blowing the train horn unnecessary. The FEC is also replacing the rail line with a quieter track in order to reconnect service to the Port of Miami in anticipation of the port expansion and dredging to accommodate the larger Panamax ships which are expected to significantly expand its cargo business.
Most resident where supportive of the FEC’s plans, but the conversation quickly turned to passenger rail. The majority of those in attendance wanted to know why passenger service was not moving forward. Commissioner Sarnoff was quick to point the finger at the Miami Dade County MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). He mentioned that both the Broward and Palm Beach County MPOs had already passed resolutions in support of passenger rail service. The FDOT representative confirmed this as well and she actually made it sound like her department was on board with passenger rail service on the FEC. (I was very happy to hear that the FDOT was supportive).
Why can’t our Miami Dade County elected officials get their act together and actually do something that is in the public’s best interest for once? They need to stop playing politics and do what is best for the South Florida community. Last night’s meeting clearly showed that residents and businesses desire passenger rail. Providing passenger rail service on the FEC is really a no-brainer and will make the South Florida region more competitive. For some reason, that is beyond my understanding, our Miami Dade elected officials can’t seem to figure this one out.
Passenger rail is fundamental to our economic success. Young, talented and educated job seekers (as well as employers) are in search for cities that provide a better quality of life. They are not interested in spending countless hours commuting in bumper to bumper traffic. Passenger rail will spur development opportunities for real estate developers to break ground on walkable, mixed-use, transit oriented developments. This is progress, not futile road expansion projects that destroy communities rather than making them stronger.
Safety Issues for Pedestrians Along the FEC
Wendy Stephan, former president of the Buena Vista Homeowners Association, asked the FEC representative if they intended to make the area surrounding the tracks more pedestrian friendly. In particular she cited the area from NE 39th- 54th Street along Federal Highway which does not have any pedestrian crossings. She pointed out that people cross these tracks (including her mother-in-law in her pearls, lol) to get to the Publix and Biscayne Boulevard from Buena Vista and the surrounding neighborhoods because there aren’t any proper crossings for 15 blocks.
One of the FEC representatives then began to refer to the people crossing the tracks as “trespassers”. I took issue with his statement and I quickly pointed out to him that the FEC cannot possibly expect for people to walk 15 blocks out of their way just to cross the tracks to catch a bus on Biscayne Boulevard or purchase food at Publix. Further north we find the same problem from NE 62nd –NE 79th Street where we there is only one crossing at NE 71st Street which the FEC has asked the County to close, but the County so far has denied this request. Its worth mentioning that I see small children crossing the train tracks from Little Haiti every morning on their way to Morning Side Elementary School on NE 66th Street. There are numerous schools along the FEC corridor from downtown north to NE 79th Street and nearly not enough pedestrian crossings. An FEC representative basically said this was not their problem. Commissioner Sarnoff said his office would look into building bridges or tunnels for pedestrians to get across the tracks safely. Instead, I think we should look into at-grade pedestrian crossings (see below) rather then spending big bucks on tunnels or bridges which will most likely not be used by anyone besides drug addicts.
How about an FEC Greenway?
Friend of Transit Miami Frank Rollason asked the FEC representative about their responsibility of being a good neighbor and properly maintaining the right of way (ROW). He pointed out that there were homeless people living on the FEC ROW, people using drugs as well has hiding stolen goods in the overgrown shrubbery. The FEC representative snubbed Frank and said, “We do maintain it”. (Yeah right).
I told the FEC representative that the FEC could be a good neighbor by including an FEC Greenway into their plans. An FEC Greenway would root out homelessness and drug use as joggers, walkers, parents with strollers and bicyclists would discourage undesirable activities with their presence. I was also snubbed by the FEC representative and was basically given a look that said “yeah right kid, good luck with that, looks like you are smoking crack with the crack heads on the FEC line, there is no chance we are putting a greenway on the FEC.”
Overall the meeting was very positive. The FEC and the City of Miami need to work together to find solutions to add more crossings for pedestrians. Pedestrians shouldn’t be forced to walk 15 blocks to cross the tracks. The City of Miami should also press the FEC to incorporate a greenway into their plans. A greenway would deter crime and improve the quality of life for everyone that lives near the train tracks. That being said, rail is the priority. The FEC has 100ft of ROW; if they can somehow safely squeeze in a 10-12 ft greenway they should.
Lastly, we must all write a quick email to our County Commissioners and tell them to stop playing politics with our future economic prosperity. We need local and commuter passenger rail service today, not in 15 years. You can find our recommendations for passenger rail service on the FEC here. Let’s make this happen South Florida!
The relentless siege on pedestrians and cyclists rages on in South Florida. In June alone, local media outlets reported on an embarrassing number of tragic accidents in the greater Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano area. While the recent Miami Bicycle Summit touted many plans and accomplishments in bicycle infrastructure, the troubling frequency of high-profile accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists requires a more aggressive response from local agencies and leaders. Below is a summary of some recent accidents. (The dates correspond to the date of the coverage, not the actual accident.)
Is this a more appropriate warning for pedestrians and cyclists in South Florida?
June 14th, Ft. Lauderdale
A mother and her baby, who was in a stroller, were taken to the hospital after being struck by a pickup truck in Ft. Lauderdale.
June 13th, Lake Worth
In what appears to be a classic ‘right-hook’ accident, a bicyclist is in critical condition after being struck by a tractor-trailer. No word on any charges facing the driver.
June 10th, Miami
In this horrific accident, the innocent victim, who was on the sidewalk, was actually severed in two by a vehicle after it collided with another vehicle at an intersection in Miami.
June 7th , Hollywood
On May 13th, Wilmar Galeano was riding his bicycle on the Sheridan Street Bridge, when he was struck from behind and killed by a speeding white van. The accident was caught on video, but the driver fled and the accident is still under investigation.
June 6th, Ft. Lauderdale
Jamie Valderrama of Miami Beach tried to leave the scene after striking and killing a pedestrian, Juan Herrera, with his Lexus. Charges against Valderrama are pending.
June 6, Lauderdale Lakes
June 2nd, Coral Gables
In this tragic accident, 4 pedestrians were struck when two cars collided in an intersection and careened into the sidewalk. One of the pedestrian victims, Olatz Conde Salcedo, who was head of human resources for Nextel in Bilbao, Spain, later died from injuries suffered in the accident.
Has South Florida actually become more dangerous for pedestrians? A recent Transportation For America Study showed Miami-Ft. Lauderdale to be the 4th most dangerous region in the USA for pedestrians. Is South Florida about to climb in this dubious list? Where is the vocal leadership on this most basic of issues that deteriorates our quality of life and the viability of our cities? How can a city thrive when it’s dangerous to simply cross the street or walk the sidewalks?
Of course, if you have money, you can drive recklessly and kill with impunity in these parts. Need proof? Read about the outrageously light sentence recently handed to Ryan LeVin who murdered two pedestrians in Ft. Lauderdale in 2009.
When are our public agencies and elected officials going to take pedestrians seriously? Streets are for people – not just cars.
Friend of Transit Miami Dana Weinstein recently wrote an editorial for the Miami Herald to commemorate Bike Month. Although Dina commutes with her two children to school on bicycles, she does not suggest that inexperienced cyclists/parents follow her lead. She says, “It really takes someone with almost a death wish to walk or bike”.
Part of me agrees with Dina. Ever since Christophe Le Canne was killed on the Rickenbacker Causeway in January, I have come to view bicycling as a dangerous activity.
I love biking; it is part of who I am. I used to be fearless and after my stint in the Peace Corps I biked with 2 friends from Guatemala to Panama. Bicycling brings me great joy, but I no longer feel safe biking in Miami. What I feel is vulnerable. This is particularly true on our causeways, where bicycle lanes are placed next to cars which are moving at 45-75mph without any sort of hard or soft barrier to protect cyclists (i.e. Rickenbacker Causeway and MacArthur Causeway). When I do bike now, I choose roads where the design speed of the roadway does not exceed 25-30 mph. Even when bike lanes are present, such as the Coral Way bike lanes, I do not use them because cars are moving at 45-50mph. I prefer taking a side street were traffic moves slower.
Perhaps I am just getting old. Or perhaps now that I am married I am aware of the tremendous loss I would leave behind if I suffered the same fate as Christophe Le Canne. But the lack of proper bicycle infrastructure in Miami has been forcing me recently to drive my bicycle up to Oleta River State Park so that I may get the exercise I enjoy. I feel defeated that I have been relegated to biking in a park.
In the interest of full disclosure, I still ride my bike (in my suit) to work everyday. Although it is only about 6 blocks away I have way too many close calls on a regular basis.
Is this the way we must live? My hope is that we can develop streets for all users in South Florida.
Apologies for the late notice, but the following information was just sent to me.
There will be a South Florida East Coast Corridor study workshop tomorrow in Overtown at the Culmer Neighborhood Center (1600 NW 3rd Avenue). The workshop will take place from 9:30am-1:00 and be held in the multi-purpose room. This is one of many meetings to discuss the potential for transit along the FEC, with workshops happening at each potential station stop–Overtown obviously being one of them.
In yet another South Florida hit and run, two children age 10 and 13, were struck yesterday in Broward County while bicycling down their neighborhood street. The heartless driver took it upon themselves to leave the scene of the accident. Police have asked citizens to keep a look out for the car in question, which the Miami Herald reports is a “gold, older-model, four-door Honda with tinted windows. The car should have damage and might be missing a front headlight cover and the left front tire is either missing a hubcap or was a spare tire.” Geez, come to think of it, that could be half the cars in Miami.
According to one of the comments on the Miami Herald website, the neighborhood street is often used as a cut-through by speeding motorists.
I would like to say that I am shocked by this incident, but unfortunately cannot bring myself to such an emotion. Since moving to South Florida a year and a half ago I have repeatedly witnessed behavior akin to this dastardly act of selfishness, on the road and otherwise. Although explaining why this behavior persists in South Florida may be complicated, I reduce it to a lack of civitas. That is to say, the disconnected lives that people tend to lead down here — in their gated suburb, gated high-rise, or personal automobile — prevents a feeling of a collective citizenship or a sense of pride in place. It’s everyone for themselves down here, and this incident is no different.
Photo: MIKE JACHLES / BROWARD SHERIFF’S OFFICE
Thanks to a tip from one of our dedicated readers, David, it has come to my attention that US Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters will be speaking at the Downtown Miami Hilton Today. The event, A New Transportation Approach For America, is sponsored by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and will begin at 12:30 (Click here to register, $75 fee for non-members.) I’m going to try my best to make it there and hope that despite the short notice some of you all can attend. You can find some of the emails SBH has shared with me concerning the subject here.
Like our friend over at Hallandale Beach Blog has noted, we too find it interesting that Mary Peters can make some time out of her busy schedule to speak about transportation in Miami, while FDOT director Stephanie Kopelousos remains MIA in the South Florda region. Kopelousos recently held a transportation summit in Destin Florida to discuss the congestion issues of North Florida. I guess a drive down to Miami would have been to difficult.
Here is what the Halladale Beach Blog has to say:
When federal public transit policy meets South Florida’s notoriously fickle apathy, who wins?
I recently had the chance to spend a whole day riding Tri-Rail (Fully Work Related) and finally got a good glimpse at the quantity of commuters who depend on this rather primitive commuter rail system daily. Last week, Tri-Rail averted a major financial crisis that would have slashed daily service from 50 to 20 trains and completely eliminated weekend service, thanks to only a 10% budget reduction by Palm Beach and Broward Counties. Another year of near optimal operation should allow the former fastest growing transit agency in the nation (2006) to continue to attract riders, in a time when public transit infrastructure is of paramount importance.
Ridership is up already 45% over June 2007. May saw a 25% increase, April 28% and March 22%. More than 157 companies signed up for the authority’s employer discount program in May — about 881 riders.
While travelining along the line, I noticed a few key areas where tri-rail could drastically improve its bottom line and service:
TOD: Currently Inexistent. This is my major focus in Regional Planning studies. Often times, I find that our problems are not necessarily the fault of poor transit policy but rather what we choose to do with the land around our transit centers. In Miami, this usually equates to fences, poor access, and inappropriate uses.
Parking: Currently free and very limited. Potential revenue source? There are several reasons why free parking poses many problems, even at transit stations.
Employee Parking: Seriously? This parking is largely unused and unnecessary.
Tri-Rail has received a year reprieve in which it must continue to attract a larger share of riders while working to better integrate itself with the South Florida Landscape. Most of the land use issues are largely out of the control of the agency but must still be addressed regionaly if we ever hope to make a sliver of change in our very autocentric lifestyles.
“Koons estimated that widening the road to accommodate development could cost $1 billion…”
“Many of those developments are running into traffic concerns because parts of SR 710 are getting congested. Future development could be prohibited if the highway isn’t widened. Using commuter rail could reduce the need for widening, Koons said, and help solve affordable housing problems.
“You can afford more housing if you have to spend less on transit,” he said.”
Nice to know someone sees it…
Our global warming crisis continues to become more foreboding. Today the Herald reported findings from a recent study that predicts serious local climate change in South Florida’s future. According to the study, which is one of the first to predict local climate change stemming from global warming, by 2100 South Florida will likely have a novel climate that is warmer, drier, and unlike any other on Earth. Among the findings:
- Mean temperatures in South Florida could rise by 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer/wet season (+ 3 ½ degrees in the winter/dry season)
- High temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90’s can be expected during the summer/wet season
- Much drier conditions: 3 ½ fewer inches of rainfall during the wet season (Note: Drier does not mean less humid)
- Even if worldwide action reduces greenhouse gas emissions, 4-20 percent of the world’s land could experience novel climates
All of this does not even consider the potentially catastrophic effects of rising sea levels, increased frequency of major hurricanes, drought, and the decimation of the Everglades. It is now critical that we begin making major changes in the way we live and the way our cities function. Given the implications of climate change in South Florida, you would think that our region would be on the leading edge of sustainable urban planning. Sadly, as we all know, this is not currently the case. Yes, Mayor Diaz should be complemented for his green building proposal, Miami 21, and the Miami Streetcar initiative, but this barely scratches the surface of sustainability. We need a progressive, regional effort to significantly reduce our dependence on the automobile, boost alternative transportation modes, and design sustainable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. We cannot wait any longer to act.
The Sun-Sentinel published a rather ho hum article today concerning the possible use of the FEC corridor for local commuter rail traffic. Basically restating everything we already knew about the study being conducted to alleviate traffic on I-95, local developers paving over our way of life, Henry Flagler and the oranges, blah, blah, blah, the whole nine yards… The article confirmed my recent estimates placing the start of construction on a best possible scenario at 2015 (oddly enough the same year Baylink will be reconsidered for funding by the MPO.) As usual, the comments on the Sun-Sentinel’s site proved to be an everlasting source of entertainment for me. Here is one of the more ridiculous replies which just about sums up why we need to focus on changing mentalities around here first…
Finally, my first reaction:
Yep, I wanna give up my Lexus to ride with the vermin of the world.
Let me take my lovely family and sit among people from nations where personal hygeine is a dark mystery associated with the like of the full moon and witch-craft. Oh sorry, did I say other nation? I meant
Let’s have a “chat” with the hip-hoppers who can’t say 3 words straight without an F-Bomb, or the others who can’t say 3 words in English.
Even better, I want to give up the luxury of personal transportation in order to roll in the filth left by the previous passengers. Gum stuck in chairs, overflowing toilets (if they even bothered to enter) and the associated residue of society all stuck to my seat, and now my pants all at one time.
Snob? Perhaps…Dude, I’ll simply say it’s not technology that kills public transporation. It’s the public.
American’s golden days passed when manners and social grace were put aside in favor of personal gratification and the current selfish, boorish behavior that seems to be a norm among so many.
So yeah, raise our taxes even higher and strangle our economy to death. Chase out and destroy the middle class and build the train. We’ll have extremely wealthy and those so poor they are tax exempt. At least the latter will have a train. All they need is a reason to use it. What are the chances that will be for work?
Developers downplayed the potential traffic impact, claiming it would add fewer cars to local roads than a new housing subdivision.
In exchange for the town’s approval, developers will ask that the agricultural exemption on the 152-acre property be lifted beginning in 2008. The change would increase the taxable value of the land from less than $100,000 to about $20.1 million, creating a windfall for the town, Siegel said.
In addition, if the land-use change receives final town approval, developers have agreed to pay $3.5 million per year to guarantee that
receives the amount of revenue the project is estimated to generate. Davie
The LRT along the FEC corridor appears to be the favored alternative transportation choice of those in favor of and against the
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