Currently viewing the tag: "Xavier Suarez"

Discussion reveals frustration with FDOT as a common thread, and a maturing Complete Streets advocacy movement.

O Cinema in Wynwood was packed to the rafters last night for the SafeStreetsMiami Forum - a public meeting organized by the Green Mobility Network to engage elected officials, government employees and the general public on how to make Miami-Dade County roads safer for all road users.

The meeting comes on the heels of the Bicycle Safety Summit on February 29th, organized by Commissioner Xavier Suarez after the death of cyclist Aaron Cohen on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

Wednesday night’s forum allowed attendees to submit written questions directed to the panelists, including Miami-Dade Bicycle Coordinator David Henderson, and Jeff Cohen from the Traffic Engineering Division of Miami-Dade County Public Works, City of Miami Bicycle Coordinator Collin Worth, City of Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, Miami-Dade District 7 Xavier Suarez, and representatives from Miami-Dade Transit.

Collin Worth makes the case for complete streets.

Plenty of the information presented in the forum was not new news - the great progress being made in implementing the City of Miami Bicycle Master Plan, pedestrian and cyclist crash data and statistics that illustrate a rapid growth of bicycling throughout the county.

The written questions created a more directed, poignant conversation, in contrast to the free-flowing public input at the District 7 Bicycle Safety Summit. The Q/A format allowed public officials to answer directly to the folks who use the streets. The Safe Streets Forum was about showing our elected officials that there is a strong and growing bicycle constituency, and that real changes need to be made in the way that we design our streets.

Over the course of the evening, one common thread emerged - that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is one of the largest roadblocks to implementing more complete streets throughout the county. Roads including Biscayne Boulevard, Brickell Avenue, Coral Way and the MacArthur Causeway, among many others, are ‘state roads’ and fall under the jurisdiction of the FDOT, who adhere to arcane, auto-centric standards ill-suited for safe streets in an urban setting.

Commissioner Sarnoff explained his frustration with the FDOT, particularly on the issue of Brickell Avenue. Together with Transitmiami, Commissioner Sarnoff  has lobbied FDOT District 6 Secretary Gus Pego hard for a safer 30 mph speed limit for Brickell Ave, while Pego and the FDOT are opposed. As Sarnoff explained, the FDOT prioritizes moving cars as fast as possible, rather than accommodating - in FDOT speak - “non-motorized units”.

“I will treat Brickell as a neighborhood, while FDOT will only treat it as a pass through,” said Sarnoff.

Gus PEGO

FDOT District 6 Sec. Gus Pego views people as "non-motorized units"

Sarnoff and others stressed the importance of continued advocacy and maintaining pressure on officials and agencies like the FDOT. He also suggested that local advocates form a Political Action Committee (PAC) to support candidates that align with their goals.

We are happy that Sarnoff suggested increased public pressure on the FDOT for more pedestrian and bicycle friendly streets. We support this call, as we at Transit Miami have been some of the loudest, most consistent voices in demanding change at the FDOT (only to receive information that TransitMiami.com is blocked from FDOT computers).

The first step in knowing you have a problem is denial.

Additionally, no one from the FDOT attended the forum. (surprise, surprise)

One question asked was what could be done to improve the pedestrian experience of NW 36th street, which divides Miami’s pedestrian-friendly Midtown and Design District neighborhoods with an intimidating wall of roaring traffic and scant crosswalks.

“It’s a state road,” said Collin Worth, who also expressed frustration at the FDOT’s reluctance to fully embrace “non-motorized units” as a priority in roadway design.

“Sitting outside a restaurant there is harrowing,” said Worth.

A map of pedestrian fatalities in Miami-Dade county shows the problem is widespread though out the city and county. “It’s a problem, that affects everyone, all neighborhoods, all ethnic groups,” said David Henderson of Miami-Dade MPO.

Pedestrian Fatalities in Central Miami 2001-2009

But a closer examination reveals a chilling fact - the most dangerous streets for pedestrians are clearly FDOT roads, with dense clusters of pedestrian fatalities along Flagler Street, Calle Ocho and along US-1.

The meeting did include information on some exciting plans that are in the works. The most interesting of which included:

  • Progress on a bike-sharing system like DecoBike for the City of Miami. The current plans call for 50 stations and 500 bikes from Coconut Grove to Midtown, focused mostly on the eastern side of Miami. The plans are currently making their way through the various government approval processes.
  • Preliminary plans for a “Miami Bike Station” - a centrally located downtown facility where bike commuters could securely park their bicycles, use a locker and shower after a ride to work. No timeline was given on this project.
  • A plan for a protected bike lane/cycle track design on North Miami Avenue is being worked on by city and county officials.

We also applaud the public officials involved for finally engaging the bicycle community. Hearing Commissioner Xavier Suarez at the Bicycle Safety Summit say “We have a paradigm shift going on, and if we don’t recognize it, we’re not serving our constituents,” is a fundamental shift in the political dialogue. Together, with groups like Green Mobility Network taking the lead, we can bring complete streets advocacy to the next level in Miami-Dade County.

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle, Quoted at the funeral of Aaron Cohen by his grand-father Ron Esserman

I have only been a county commissioner for about eight months, but already have a deep scar in my heart from a tragedy that seems, in retrospect, so avoidable.

Aaron Cohen has been wrenched from our lives.  And the sense of loss is overwhelming, despite the wisdom imparted by rabbis and family members.  Because the tragedy happened in my district and because my daughter Annie practices medicine with Jim Esserman (Aaron’s first cousin), the loss hits home in a particularly poignant way.

Was the tragedy avoidable?  I don’t rightly know, but I know we didn’t try hard enough to avoid it.  We know the Rickenbacker Causeway is a narrow, dangerous, treacherous, alluring, spectacularly located and majestic roadway, rising as it does from the shallows abutting the mainland to bring us all (joggers, bikers, motorists) closer to heaven and then quickly deposit us in an island that is mostly unspoiled – as befits a critical wildlife refuge of some 400 acres.

In between the moments of sorrow, my Annie and I discussed the physics of the problem that led to this tragedy or, rather, the unavoidable elements of the circumstance that make this awful accident likely to happen again in the future.

I refer to the simple variable that physicists call “momentum.”  Simply put, a 4,000-pound vehicle, travelling at 45-50 mph, possesses about 100 times the momentum of a biker/bicycle whose combined weight is 150 pounds and who is struggling up the bridge at 12-15 mph.  A collision between two objects, one of which has 100 times the momentum of the other, means that the smaller object will suffer, in displacement and consequent damage, 100 times more than the bigger object.

In the short term, there is only one variable we can change in the above equation – and that is the speed limit for cars.  I consider that reform a no-brainer that should be instituted without delay.  Of course, a reduction in the speed limit needs to be accompanied by traffic management devices (including electronic surveillance) to monitor law-breakers.

The other possible solution is separation.  I think, in that context, that we all agree that a simple painted strip (as exists now) is not enough.  We will have to consider either rubber cones or well-lit corrugated surfaces which alert and deter the motorist from trespassing on the bike lanes.

Beyond the physics of the problem, beyond the traffic engineering and enforcement, there is the human dimension.  And that brings me back to Aaron, whose name technically means, “tower of strength,” but was further interpreted by the rabbi as referring to someone who loves life and who runs for life.  Aaron Cohen loved to run more than we can imagine.  He loved scuba diving and every kind of water sport; he loved ceramic arts and cycling, and – most of all – he loved his wife and two children.

As described by family and friends, he was special because he found something special to love in everyone he met, regardless of their station in life.  He took time, on the way to the airport, to buy M&M’s so that he could pass them out to the flight attendants.

He was, his sister Sabrina told us, like Elijah, the unforeseen guest for whom we keep the door permanently open, with a cup of wine ready, just in case the prophet visits us.

Perhaps the most appropriate analogy was offered by another rabbi who explained that the whole world is like a narrow bridge.  We must do our best to co-exist in the narrow space. 

We must, as another relative said in her eulogy, think “WWAD.”  What Would Aaron Do?

For myself, I will strive to reduce the chances that such a tragedy will happen again on the Rickenbacker Causeway - which just happens to be where I myself jog.

I will do it because it’s my obligation as an elected official and also because of Aaron – in his memory.

I never met him, but I already miss him as if he had been my best friend.

Commissioner Xavier Suarez represents District 7 in Miami-Dade County.  He represents numerous municipalities including the City of Miami, the Village of Key Biscayne, the City of Coral Gables, the City of South Miami, the Village of Pinecrest, as well as areas of unincorporated Miami-Dade County.

Whoever said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” probably had the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners in mind. As if the recent real estate market crash was not enough of a wakeup call for our elected leaders, commissioners recently voted to expand the Urban Development Boundary – the line that separates agricultural and environmentally sensitive land from urbanized areas – for a 9.9 acre commercial development that adds to the existing stock of vacant and undeveloped land in Miami-Dade County. Apparently, some county commissioners didn’t get the memo that their love for suburban sprawl over the past decade led to the real estate market tanking, and to the bloated county government that they now seek to reign-in.

The transportation connection: UDB expansions are being closely coordinated with an upcoming massive highway expansion along the western border of the county being proposed by MDX. The pink box in the middle titled 'Ferro' is the subject of this latest application. Thanks to Genius of Despair for the image.

They must have overlooked the 2010 EPA report, “Growing for a Sustainable Future” that described an inventory of 16,140 acres of undeveloped land within the boundary. That amounts to 6% of the land within the urbanized area of Miami-Dade County - currently vacant. With so much land within the boundary unused why are commissioners adding more land to existing capacity? Is it that they want to further depress land values and our economic recovery?  Some cite the need for jobs – oh jobs! The latest excuse for any project to be shoved down our collective throats is the promise of jobs. Want jobs? Here’s a stadium. Jobs you say? How about a humongous resort casino?

But, when it comes to the UDB amnesia sets in about the 16,140 acres of empty land within the UDB waiting for development.  Let’s put this in perspective– 16,140 acres is approximately 25 square miles. The island of Manhattan – from Battery City Park to 218 street - is only 22.96 square miles. I would say that we have more than enough development capacity to last the next 100 years and beyond without having to touch the UDB – and that’s just with our undeveloped land. Take into account underdeveloped land and we should never expand the UDB again.

Critics argue that the line was never meant to be a solid boundary – but a flexible delineation between the reach of county services and the agricultural and environmental lands beyond. There may be 16,000 acres of undeveloped land in the city– but what about the residents of this suburban neighborhood? Don’t they deserve access to strip malls and warehouses and outparcels within close proximity? What if they need closer services? This particular property is already surrounded by developed residential land – what is 9 more acres of commercial land? Attorney for the project Miguel Diaz de la Portilla said, “You’re not talking about some land that’s out in the middle of nowhere. It’s contiguous with the UDB.” Of course this argument ignores an undeveloped 40 acre tract designated for commercial development, currently within the UDB, as well as the existing Hammocks mall, both within ½ mile of this site and with enough commercial capacity to serve the surrounding community for the next 30 years.

Commissioners might argue that they shouldn’t dictate where development happens. If a willing developer wants to build a Publix on what is currently farmland – so be it. Except they overlook the fact that in expanding the extent of county services, they put us all on the hook to provide those new areas with infrastructure, police, and life safety services. That single story Publix surrounded by a parking lot uses the same services as the 8-story mixed-use building in the urban core – only it provides a fraction of the tax base forcing commissioners to make a choice between two evils: reduce services for the rest of the county, or raise tax rates.

Last week County Commissioner Xavier Suarez wrote a column for the Huffington Post that critiqued Mayor Gimenez’ latest county budget saying that “absolutely nothing changed in the way the county does business.” The same day that column was published he voted to expand the UDB for an application that has been repeatedly criticized as unnecessary, and for which the County’s own professional planning department recommended denial because of the reasons noted above. Our leaders cannot simultaneously seek to reduce the bloated bureaucracy of county government and at the same time expand the extent of the county services. If Suarez and other commissioners want to break the business as usual attitude in county hall they should start with the UDB.  The application has to come back to the commission for a final vote in the spring – let’s hope commissioners come to their senses and hold the line – indefinitely.

 

Lets start by saying kudos to newly elected Commissioner Xavier Suarez for discussing the need for adequate transit in the county. Nothing like new blood to reinvigorate the discussion. Because of his push for new service on the FEC line along Biscayne, Commissoin Chairman Joe Martinez brought up a pet project of his own that he has conitinually tried to push over the past decade. While I’m happy that rail transit has joined the discussion, lets take an initial critical look at the plans being proposed and weigh them against the transit needs of Miami-Dade County residents.

Both projects use existing freight rail infrastructure with different technologies aimed at different types of transit usage. Overall, we are happy that the conversation is taking place; however, the ill conceived nature of the projects and the lack of coordination and vision points to the need for a holistic transit strategy - something we have been saying for some time.

Commissioner Suarez is looking at the FEC line that runs parallel to Biscayne for some form of rubber-tire ‘dual mode electric vehicles’ for local service.

As you might imagine, we here at Transit Miami think this is a big joke. While we applaud the rookie/veteran commissioner, we really urge him to support the current efforts to install transit service on the FEC via the SFECC study. This Tri-County study, has laid out several alternatives for transit service, and is pretty far along in the process. Transit Miami supports the urban-local alternative, which combines regional service (ala Tri-Rail) along with local light rail or MetroRail service. The rubber tire ‘dual mode’ transit idea is as hair brained as they come. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, folks. The FEC goes through or adjacent to most of our urbanized areas. No need to be gimicky here - just provide run of the mill fixed-premium transit service and people will ride!

As for Commissioner Martinez’ plan to connect points south to the Tri-Rail Airport station (once it reopens) along a CSX ROW, this might be a good idea, but as with all plans, the devil is in the details. Do we really need to provide expensive transit service to some of the least dense and suburban locations in Miami-Dade County? I’m not sure. Extending Tri-Rail’s regional connectivity south is a good thing, but I’m not sure in this era of constrained municipal budgets that this project is more worthy than the FEC line, or other urban rail extensions like the Douglas Road MetroRail or Baylink. The pricetag to upgrade the line in 2006 dollars is $300 million, relative chump change compared to other transit project (or any road project), so that is not as much a concern to us as the cost to maintain the system. With yearly budget battles for scarce transit dollars, we need to be sure we build lines that we can afford to pay for - going to MetroZoo and points south may be a great idea in the long run, but as Commissioner Martinez said, “What is wrong with our mass transit system? It doesn’t loop and it doesn’t connect.” Will this line actually change that? Not really. (Not to mention that this ‘transit’ project is really about giving CSX an easier - and cheaper- freight connection out west on sensitive wetlands.)

CSX Freight Relocation Diagram

Lets continue to develop our urban rail network before making targeted investments in extensions to important points south and north and west. As with the MetroRail Orange Line along NW 27 Avenue, simply extending transit to the outer reaches of the county will not guarantee ridership - and will further induce suburban sprawl in areas to the far west and south. A better start would be to use the Ludlam trail from Dadeland Station to the Airport for light rail service (not bus). That would finally create a complete loop around Miami-Dade County, and set the stage for expansions to the suburban reaches of the county.

Ludlam Trail/FEC Transit Connection Study CTAC presentation, January 12, 2011

Members of Miami Neighborhoods United and the Urban Environment League hosted a debate between District 7 candidates Julio Robaina and Xavier Suarez. We were pleased to have Stephen Stock from the CBS4 news moderate the debate, and had a wide range of questions for the candidates.

On the big issue du jour of smaller government these candidates took similar positions, but a closer look at their responses to the questions reveal the differences in how they perceive the problems facing our community- especially with regard to Miami-Dade’s land-use and transportation challenges.

Question: If elected Commissioner, how would you address land-use challenges to the urban development boundary?

On this issue, Robaina scored big points by describing his past work fighting to hold the UDB and his state legislative opposition of the dismantling of the Department of Community Affairs. Suarez also made the case to hold the line - for now. “With today’s demographics - hold the UDB.” He went on to say that that the county’s  planning department tracks demographics better than most people give them credit for, and that expansion should be allowed to occur with proper demographic data to support it.

Question: At present, there are some legal challenges to the Marlins Stadium.  If the matter were to come back to the County Commission and you are one of the Commissioners, what changes to the Agreement with the Marlins would you introduce for consideration by the Commission as a whole?

On the Marlins stadium both were in agreement that the Global Agreement was no good, with Suarez also going after the Miami Streetcar, which was a very minor part of the deal that created the Marlins Stadium and the Port Tunnel. (What does the Streetcar have to do with the Global Agreement you ask? Look Here..) Robaina said that if the opportunity presented itself he would seek to amend the contract with the Marlins so that any cost overruns are not paid by the county; Suarez also made a similar comment.

Question: What is your position as far as using county tourist bed-tax dollars to fund renovations for the Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium?

Robaina took the position that tourist bed tax dollars should be spent on improving the Miami Beach convention center, not going to sports franchises. Suarez supported giving money to Sun Life, noting that the tourist bed tax was an industry approved tax for the purpose of building stadiums.

Question: This coming year’s County budget promises to be another very challenging one in very tough economic times for our community.  What do you propose to do to keep taxes down and maintain County services ?

Both candidates are in favor of eliminating discretionary spending and the ending the practice of reallocating carryover funds from previous years. Suarez announced that “draconian measures must be taken to streamline the budget,” and that he would seek to reduce the number of county departments from 64 to 25, with salary caps for non-constitutional officers. Robaina also advocated a reduced number of departments.

Question: How will you work toward the goal of expanding mass transit to reach 20 % of the citizens of Miami-Dade County by 2020 (from a 6 2% baseline)?

Suarez showed some transit acumen when he corrected a statistic referenced in this question. He correctly noted the transit mode-share was much lower than 6%. His plan for addressing large gains in ridership was to expand on the trolley system that is currently being implemented by the City of Miami. His vision is for a fleet of 2000 ‘trolleys’, minibuses and jitney’s that are privately run in some cases and that do not cost taxpayers anything.

Robaina had more concise, long term vision for premium Metro-rail expansion, starting with the East/West line  . He made the case that while Metro-rail is not perfect, it is only part of a network. He spoke of building a transit network, re-examining the rate structure, and encouraging more Transit Oriented Development.

Question: Do you support true charter reform, including two-eight year terms, easier citizen petitions, and other recommendations made by the Charter Review Task Force?

Both candidates support the 2- 4 year term maximum, applied retroactively, with Robaina pledging to only seek one 4-year term. (Refreshing news to voters still in the process of purging establishment candidates. ) Suarez made a good point that real charter reform should be made on the ballot in a general election when more citizens are likely to vote. He also said that one reform that was missing from the current discussion was to require competitive bidding rather than the current selective procurement process.

Question: What is your platform on reducing CO2 emissions?

Both candidates talked a good talk on this one, with Suarez noting that CO2 emissions would be best addressed by “getting people out of their cars and onto mass transit.” He also said that the managed lanes are counter productive (surprising  given his vague answer about the Busway).  Robaina went back to the issue of expanding the local passenger rail system as the key.

Question: If elected Commissioner, would you support a restructuring of County government to allow for a truly independent transportation authority?

Robaina strongly supported the idea of an independent transportation authority, noting it would allow for a streamlining of the transportation planning process, and contribute to the reduction in municipal responsibilities currently overseen by the County. Both candidates criticized the tolls, and made statements in favor of abolishing MDX. Robaina made the connection between abolishing MDX and creating a Transportation Authority, while Suarez did not see the need for it.

Question: What is your view on converting the South Dade Busway into a limited access expressway?
Robaina skirted the issue, saying “we need to do a charrette to decide what to do in the area.” Suarez said that he believed the buses to be ineffective, but did not give a clear answer on the issue.

Question: Are you in favor of phasing out the Unincorporated Municipal Service Area? What roles should the county play in government (question asked by former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre)

Suarez gave a quick recap on what UMSA means and its implications. Anything in Dade County that is not within one of the 35 municipalities is under the responsibility of the Miami-Dade County. In these areas, the County serves as the local government, offering zoning, permitting, public works, and other local - and necessary - government functions. Both candidates agreed that either by annexation or by incorporation, the UMSA should be phased out. Suarez made the case to “remove the classic municipal functions” from the county, while Robaina  wants “the county to get out of the UMSA business.”

Thanks to the two candidates for the great dialogue. Both candidates showed their experience and knowledge of the issues. Suarez talked a good talk on the connection between cars and CO2, but his trolley plan left a lot to be desired. Robaina was very clear about his desire to expand the transit network, and supports the creation of an independent transportation authority. Two worthy candidates, but Robaina wins for his solid support of Metro-Rail expansion and transportation governance reform.

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