Currently viewing the tag: "Urban Transit"

I saw this first via Twitter and it left me going “Whaaaat?” It’s called YikeBike, and it’s what its creators term a “mini-farthing,” a modern and miniaturized evolution of the venerable penny farthing bicycle.

Launched back in November at Eurobike, the YikeBike stands out, in my opinion, as the most unique of the new crop of e-bikes sweeping the industry. It looks like an ergonomic desk chair, I know, but I guess that’s part of its appeal. Check out the promotional video created to show off the bike.

The YikeBike was created by a British company and thinking of the London Downtown area, it makes perfect sense how this could be a useful personal mobility system. In Miami, however, I could see it being used on the Beach, maybe in Coconut Grove or Coral Gables, but considering the drivers we boast, I can hardly imagine Yike riders exploring the areas in between neighborhoods. In the places where it could work, though, I could really see this working well.

Much like the Segway this product seems to be aiming to compete against, price becomes the major factor in its adoptability: $4450.00 USD.

Mind you, personally I think that a regular, good ole bicycle is the simplest, most perfect answer to urban personal mobility, but I also cannot help but like to be attracted to neat, futuristic technology. I think it’s an interesting idea with an even more interesting design, and it will be cool to see how it does in the general market. Maybe we can convince YikeBike to send one down to Miami for road testing.

Lots went on this week in transit and I for one am exhausted. I know we have been silent these past few weeks on what has been happening, and speaking for myself, I didn’t have anything new to add to the discussion that I had not already said before. MDT is having problems, ridership is up, and the people in charge are asleep at the wheel. Does that sum it up? Not to be frivolous, but if we don’t laugh about this we’ll go crazy.

There are no quick fixes. We are fast approaching a time when people realize that not having a transit system in place is the same as not having adequate sewers or electricity. We are living up to our image as a Banana Republic, and unfortunately some of those so-called Banana Republic’s down south are much better off transit-wise than we are.

This morning on NPR Houston Mayor Bill White talked about the challenges facing his city. In light of the Mayor’s Conference going on today, I thought it appropriate to show how another car-centered modern city is dealing with not having adequate mass transit:

“We need to reorder the way we live. … Mass transit is critical. More people are using mass transit in our community, it’s up sharply this year. We’re going to be the most aggressive builder of light rail lines of any community in the United States in the next three years. …. We don’t have to encourage people, they get it. There’s a tremendous demand for people who want ot give up that car, or go from two cars to one, and live near that transit line. … We really don’t have to channel what consumers want (as far as density), but we do have tools such as where we put our infrastructure …. Some communities that have had zoning are trying to dismantle it because it segregates (uses) … We’ve had large changes in behavior. No question about it, we’ll be bigger, we’ll be denser. There’s a new attitude cropping up every day when somebody fills up their tank.”
This is from this morning. Mind you loyal readers, Houston is not a bastion of urban living, but to hear their mayor say these things gives me hope. Our leadership needs to take their cue from Mayor White, or any of the other US cities that have renewed their commitment to transit by investing in new lines (Charlotte, Denver, Atlanta..etc)
Our leaders are to blame for this debacle. No question. The Commission has repeatedly made bad choices. This week they finally came to their senses (and took some Transit Miami advice) by restoring some independance and credibility to the People’s Trust. This is a good first step.
Lets review what else those crazy commishes said these past few weeks:
Chairman Bruno said that he wants to repeal the half cent tax. Are you crazy? Why are you even talking about repealing the half cent tax when it is helping fund our system. Just because you “prognosticated” (his word) that the half cent would not be enough to deliver on the promises, doesn’t mean that you should toss the baby with the bathwater.
Commissioner Souto played silly politics with the changes in bus routes. Thanks to Larry L. for researching how much those routes were costing us. It is that sort of cost/benefit analysis that will lead to a functional system. Commissioner Souto: you are just like the other posturers on the Commission: you talk the big talk, but when it comes time to it you don’t care about transit at all. Your choices reveal that much and more (like when you voted against refurbishing our metro cars ten years ago only to have it cost three times as much now).
Commissioner Jordan, I believe you have your constituents interests at heart. Unfortunately, where good planning and budgeting has been replaced with stopgap measures and half hearted attempts at compromise, your constituents are the ones who suffer. Our friends at “Eye on Miami” recently posted a letter you wrote about the UDB controversy. Your vote for moving the UDB shows how as a commissioner you have supported the faulty planning that has put us in this situation. I for one don’t think that the Orange Line North is a good idea. That line misses most pockets of density we have in Dade County. Next time there is a UDB vote think about the density you should be supporting along corridors like 27th Avenue, rather than expanding the limit of county services.
Remaining Commissioners: wake up! When are you going to take a positive position. I applaud Chairman Bruno for at least making a suggestion, however unpopular. I don’t think that another half cent would be bad, but the Commission’s credibility is shot right now.
My biggest disappointment has been Mayor Alvarez’s total absence from this discussion. Where is the strong mayor that you lobbied so intensely for? I know you inherited a big problem, but you convinced me and a lot of fellow citizens that you were the man for the job. Where are you now?
Listen up: we need transit. Multiple lines need to be built at the same time. The only way this is going to happen is if we float a bond dedicated to building these lines. This will be unpopular, but someone needs to take the lead…
PS. Looks like Tri-Rail is here for another year! Thank You Palm Beach for not killing our only success story. Woo hoo! More on this later…

A lot happened this week behind the scenes and between the lines. Here is a review:

Kudos to this editorial today from El Nuevo Herald columnist Daniel Shoer Roth. I think he did an excellent job in highlighting how mismanaged our transit system is. Accountability goes out the window when ten different departments and municipalities are ‘responsible’ for certain aspects of mass transit. I’m always talking about how our system is ‘mismanaged’ but that really isn’t the case at all. It’s a question of priorities, and transit has not historically been one of them.

Our planning priorities were on full display this past weekend in an insert produced by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that the Herald included in its Sunday edition. The insert describes work done to date and future projects. If you are not familiar with the MPO, it is a County run organization that is charged with coordinating the various transportation projects around Miami-Dade, as required by Federal Department of Transportation rules. Their mandate is described on their website is:

…to have a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive transportation planning process that results in plans and programs that consider all transportation modes and support metropolitan community development and social goals. These plans and programs shall lead to the development and operation of an integrated, intermodal transportation system that facilitates the efficient, economic movement of people and goods.” (emphasis added)

Many worthy goals, but unfortunately their focus is more on expressway and road building projects than on balancing roads with mass transit. My favorite part of the insert is titled “Miami-Dade: Urban Travel Trends” which utilizes graphs, bright colors, and a lot of traffic engineer lingo (vehicle miles traveled, peak period speeds, etc), with only a brief mention of transit under a graph called ‘Transit Mode Share’. The text accompanying the graph states, “the countywide transit mode share in 2005 was approximately 2.5%” It goes on to say that share will grow, “albeit modestly.” Ok. I find it disillusioning that the organization supposedly responsible for coordinating our transit system is not very optimistic about the future growth of MDT.

Truth be told, after this week’s political farce concerning tranist fares and another half cent tax, I might tend to agree with the MPO. Our future transit does not look so good because the people responsible are alseep at the wheel. Commisioners Bruno and Barbs: wake up!! You have have been reaching in the dark these past few weeks trying to placate your constituents. I know this issue gets heated and personal. Let me be clear: this is not a personal attack. It makes it difficult for those of us who are transit advocates and who supported the first tax increase to justify anything you ask for now because of how the money has been squandered. Surely you can understand that. Next week I am going to work on a series of posts on how the People’s Transportation Tax has been spent to bring to light how that opportunity has been, and continues to be, botched.
If you really care about transit, and Commissioner Jordan I think you care about getting the Orange Line built, here are a few recommendations that can serve as confidence building measures that might make any fare or tax increase palatable:

  • Make the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust the sole entity responsible for deciding what happens to that money. Give it back its teeth, and allow it to do its job.
  • Charge veterans and the elderly. We can’t give away transit that doesn’t exist yet. Until MDT gets its house in order, they should be charged, albeit at a reduced rate that should be revisited when MDT’s finances get better. MDT needs income, and the Trust shouldn’t be responsible for giving it an allowance every month.
  • Charge for the Metromover. Same reasons as above.
  • Have MDT work with the Trust. Recent reports from Miami Today describe how the Trust is having a tough time getting cooperation from MDT with regard to budget issues. How is the Trust supposed to operate if it doesn’t know how much the system costs to maintain?? This is silly.

Note to Mayor Carlos Alvarez: the strong mayor powers you wanted came with responsibilities, ie. get MDT organized. How can they run the business of Miami-Dade Transit without a budget. Helloo?? Not to put all the blame on you though, as you’ve only really been in charge for a short while.

  • Tie the 20% Municipal Transportation Plan funding to transit specifically, not transportation which has become synonymous with roads and expressways. A majority of payments to municipalities have been spent on roads, resurfacing, and other road related infrastructure. The PTP was marketed primarily as a transit plan. Spend money on rail, buses, and the infrastructure related to these much needed systems. Our roads are in fine shape. That way projects like the Coral Gables Trolley continue to get funding, while other money is free to be spent on, oh, I don’t know, maybe a few bus shelters (around International Mall maybe)?
  • Increase fares to be consistent with our how efficient our system is. Don’t over do it. We want to pay for our transit, but we want to get something in return.

You need to rebuild our confidence in your ability to provide us with a functional and growing transit system. Very soon public perception of transit in this community is going to turn from being a nonessential ‘social good’ to an indispensable and basic part of the infrastructure of the city. When that happens, when people start to feel like they have no choice but to get in their cars at $8.00 a gallon, watch out Commissioners and company. The mob will be ruthless, and the storming of the Bastille will seem like a trip to Disneyworld in comparison to your worth in the public eye.

The Boston (MBTA) Silver line illustrates the proper way transportation should be integrated into up and coming areas, not yet ready to be serviced by regular rail transit.  The Silver line will eventually create an “Urban Transit Ring” connecting much of the transit in the city of Boston and establishing a BRT to service areas which could sorely benefit from regular fixed transit.  The Buses used on the silver line operate using engines on regular streets, but operate under electrical power (transferred by overhead wires) when operating in tunnels or streets with existing electrical infrastructure (similar to streetcars and LRT.)  The eventual objective of the silverline is to serve as a placeholder for future rail expansion while cultivating proper transit oriented development and ridership along the route…


Stadtbahn im Schnee, originally uploaded by Fußgänger.

The Freiburg Straßenbahn line 4 running in an early October snowfall in southern Germany.

Freiburg, a town of just over 200,000 boasts 4 tram lines and over 21 bus routes, far more than most cities it size…Check out the map of the routes…

Who says small towns can’t have public transit? You certainly can’t if they aren’t first navigable to pedestrians, the original form of personal transportation. Freiburg also boasts an extensive pedestrian zone in the city core and compact urban design that places most public structures in easy reach.

I had the opportunity this past weekend to finally ride one the nation’s three downtown fully automated people mover systems in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville skyway, is the most recently completed of the three automated systems (the others being in Miami and Detroit) opening up fully to the public in November of 2000. Like the Miami and Detroit people mover systems the Jacksonville mover originated from a congressional movement in the 1970’s aimed to fund and research new urban transit systems.

“…Congressional pressure was increased on UMTA to show some positive results from their research and development expenditures. So, in 1975 UMTA announced its Downtown People Mover Program and sponsored a nationwide competition among the cities, offering them the federal funds needed to design and build such a system. Since UMTA was prepared to pay most of the costs of planning and building these systems as part of its demonstration program, the response from the cities was almost overwhelming…”

Free money to develop an urban transit solution in an age of increasing congestion, if it sounds too good to be true, that’s probably because it was; none of the “top” cities initially considered for people movers built them, leaving millions of dollars available to secondary cities like Miami and Detroit.

“…In 1976, after receiving and reviewing 68 letters of interest and 35 full proposals and making on-site inspections of the top 15 cities, UMTA selected proposals from Los Angeles, St. Paul, Minnesota, Cleveland and Houston. It also concluded that Miami, Detroit and Baltimore would be permitted to develop DPMs if they could do so with existing grant commitments…”

Needless to say, the people mover system was a botched, rushed, and half-hearted effort from the US Department of Transportation to fund and research reasonable transit solutions for the ever growing congestion problems of the 1970’s. Unlike Miami, the Jacksonville and Detroit systems have never been connected to larger urban transit systems and all three are largely considered to be failures. Miami and Detroit are currently experiencing urban renaissances which will surely provide the downtown residences and employment necessary to patronize such costly systems. Metrorail, Tri-Rail, BRT, and possible FEC rail transit will provide an even greater number of patrons and will increase the area in our city which is easily accessible without regular vehicular use.

In riding around on two of the three systems, I’ve come to identify their obvious shortcomings and deficiencies. Their failures can be attributed to a lack of supportive regional transit infrastructure as well as absurdly poor integration with their surroundings. The pictures below accurately depict most of these problems, turning the Jacksonville Skyway transit stations into inhospitable, inaccessible urban realms for pedestrians, like much of the rest of the city already is…

This evening picture depicts the surface parking lot (1 of 2) which I had to cross just to access the San Marco Station. This “neighborhood” contains a few of the ritzier hotels in Jacksonville, all of which are surrounded by surface lots, isolating the transit station in a sea of asphalt:

The Central Station was no exception either, bordered on the south side by not only a surface lot but also a free standing parking garage which towered above the station…

The Jefferson Station seen here is a the epitome of urban blight, surrounded by worn out grassy lots and blatant signs of urban neglect and decay…

As if parking were an issue, the space below the problem, highways, finds a new use…

The Prudential plaza is one of the few buildings built up close to the Skyway, its unfortunate that the other side of the station was crowded by a parking garage.

Twisting through the mess of interchanges…

Who rides the skyway when there is more than enough parking at Alltel Stadium?

A beautiful touch added to all the downtown streets, but someone failed to realize how transit, pedestrian access, biking, and urban planning all go hand in hand…

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