Five years after moving to Miami to start working at UM, it is a good time for a quick recap: the good and the bad. And while what happens (and crucially: doesn’t happen) on the Rickenbacker Causeway is important, it is symptomatic of much larger systemic issues in the area.

The Good

Let’s start with some of the good developments. They are easier to deal with as unfortunately they aren’t that numerous. Miami-Dade Transit has – despite some questionable leadership decisions and pretty awful security contractors – put into place some important projects such as a decent public transit connection from MIA and while the user experience leaves a number of things to be desired, it generally works; so do TriRail and the express buses to Broward and elsewhere; a number of cities have local trolley systems and while not a great solution in some places, it’s a start; Miami Beach has DecoBike and it seems that it is being used widely – and the service is slated to come to the City of Miami some time in 2014; Miami is finally becoming a city, albeit an adolescent one with a core that, while still dominated by car traffic, is more amenable to foot and bike traffic than it was five years ago (and there are plans for improvement); and at least there is now a debate about the value of transportation modes that do not involve cars only.

The Bad

Yet at the same time, it seems like Miami still suffers from a perfect storm of lack of leadership, vision and long-term planning, competing jurisdictions which makes for easy finger-pointing when something goes wrong, civic complacency and the pursuance of self-interest. Add to that a general disregard for cyclists, pedestrians and those taking public transit. All of this leaves the area as one of the most dangerous places to bike and walk in the country. And instead of actively working towards increasing the safety of those – in an area where many drivers are behaving in a dangerous manner – that do not have the protection of the exoskeleton of 4000 lbs of steel or aluminum, infrastructure is being built without regard for the most vulnerable.

impact-of-speed2 (1)

Poor Leadership and Lack of Political Will

At the top of the list is the rampant lack of genuine support for the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians as well as public transit. The area remains mired in car-centric planning and mindset. While other places have grasped the potential for improving the lives of people with walkable urban environments, we live in an area whose civic and political leadership does not appear to even begin to understand this value (and whose leadership likely doesn’t take public transit).

This starts with a mayor and a county commission (with some exceptions) whose mindset continues to be enamored with “development” (i.e. building housing as well as moving further and further west instead of filling in existing space, putting more and more strain on the existing infrastructure). How about building a viable public transit system on the basis of plans that have existed for years, connecting the western suburbs with the downtown core? How about finally linking Miami Beach to the mainland via a light rail system? How about build a similar system up the Biscayne corridor or, since the commission is so enamored with westwards expansion, connect the FIU campus or other areas out west? And while we’re at it, let’s do away with dreamy projects in lieu of achievable ones? Instead of trying to build the greatest this or greatest that (with public money no less), one could aim for solidity. What we get is a long overdue spur (calling it a line is pushing it) to the airport with no chance of westwards expansion.

Few of the cities do much better and indeed Miami consistently ranks among the worst-run cities in the country (easy enough when many city residents are apathetic in the face of dysfunctional city government or only have a domicile in Miami, but don’t actually live here). When the standard answer of the chief of staff of a City of Miami commissioner is that “the people in that street don’t want it” when asked about the installation of traffic calming devices that would benefit many people in the surrounding area, it shows that NIMBYism is alive and kicking, that there is no leadership and little hope that genuine change is coming.

Car-Centric, Not People-Centric, Road Design

One of the most egregious culprits is the local FDOT district, headed by Gus Pego. While the central office in Tallahassee and some of the other districts seem to finally have arrived in the 21st century, FDOT District 6 (Miami-Dade and Monroe counties) has a steep learning curve ahead and behaves like an institution that is responsible for motor vehicles rather than modern transportation. Examples include the blatant disregard of Florida’s legislation concerning the concept of “complete streets” (as is the case in its current SW 1st Street project where parking seems more important to FDOT than the safety of pedestrians or cyclists – it has no mandate for the former, but certainly for the latter) or its continued refusal to lower the speed limits on the roads it is responsible for, especially when they are heavily frequented by cyclists and pedestrians. All of this is embodied in its suggestion that cyclists shouldn’t travel the roads the district constructs. According to their own staff, they are too dangerous.

The county’s public works department – with some notable exceptions – is by and large still stuck in a mindset of car-centricism and does not have the political cover to make real improvements to the infrastructure. Roads are still constructed or reconstructed with wide lanes and with the goal of moving cars at high speeds as opposed to creating a safe environment for all participants. Yes, that may mean a decrease in the “level of service”, but maybe the lives and the well-being of fellow humans is more important than getting to one’s destination a minute more quickly (and if you have decided to move far away from where you work, that’s just a factor to consider). The most well-known example is the Rickenbacker Causeway which still resembles a highway after three people on bicycles were killed in the last five years and where speeding is normal, despite numerous assurances from the political and the administrative levels that safety would actually increase. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make things much better and that is all that has happened so far. But even on a small scale things don’t work out well. When it takes Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami months to simply install a crosswalk in a residential street (and one entity is responsible for the sidewalk construction, while the other does the actual crosswalk) and something is done only after much intervention and many, many meetings, it is little wonder that so little gets done.

(Almost) Zero Traffic Enforcement

It continues with police departments that enforce the rules of the road selectively and haphazardly at best, and at least sometimes one has the very clear impression that pedestrians and cyclists are considered a nuisance rather than an equal participant in traffic. Complaints about drivers are routinely shrugged off, requests for information are rarely fulfilled and in various instances police officers appear unwilling to give citations to drivers who have caused cyclists to crash (and would much rather assist in an exchange of money between driver and victim, as was recently the case).

The above really should be the bare minimum. What is really required – given the dire situation – is for public institutions to be proactive. But short of people kicking and screaming, it does not appear that those in power want to improve the lives and well-being of the people that they technically serve. I view this issue as an atmospheric problem, one that cannot easily be remedied by concrete action, but rather one that requires a mindset change. A good starting point: instead of trying to be “the best” or “the greatest” at whatever new “projects” people dream up (another tall “luxury” tower, nicest parking garage [is that what we should be proud of, really?], let’s just try not to be among the worst. But that would require leadership. The lack thereof on the county and the municipal level (FDOT personnel is not elected and at any rate, is in a league of their own when it comes to being tone-deaf) means that more people need to kick and scream to get something done (in addition to walking and biking more). Whether this is done through existing groups or projects like the Aaron Cohen initiative (full disclosure: I am part of the effort) is immaterial. But if there is to be real improvement, a lot more people need to get involved.


16 Responses to Miami after five years …It’s not only about the Rickenbacker …

  1. Prem says:

    your conclusion is on point. I remember a couple years ago when there was a public meeting held with a commissioner and some reps from FDOT regarding safety improvements to the rickenbacker.
    The meeting was scheduled to begin but the commissioner was too busy takling to cameras.
    I couldn’t stop myself from stating out loud to him something along the lines of, “are you here to get your face on TV or to address your community?”
    I think the results speak for themselves. Spineless, attention desperate politicians who can’t stand up for what’s right and needed, and can only stand by what will get them votes, when they need votes.


  2. Rima Gerhard says:

    Right on! Just today I was crossing Alton Rd on Miami Beach, when a van nearly killed me making a right turn on red. It was green for me but he looked the other way. Who is to blame? The driver, who was busily chatting away on his phone? The police officer, who witnessed the incident and did nothing? The city, for not urging the police force to drive a hard line against such offenses? FDOT, for planning streets that are not usable by human beings without a “4000 lbs exoskeleton”? Or the general electorate, for not voting for politicians that take a stand on this public safety issue?


  3. Gables says:

    Great comment Rima!


  4. miamiman says:

    Totally on point. Agree 100%. We will get things to improve… though certainly much slower than we need.


  5. Jurgis Rudkus says:

    Spot on article!
    My humble opinion is that MIAMI will never make a turn into the 21st century till it fosters and attracts more creative, educated, and forward thinking persons. It is sad to say but anyone with half a brain has already left because there are no jobs in Miami. And What little work is available, is in Broward or Palm Beach. The city of Miami essentially functions on the left overs (Gus Pego) of people that have weathered the storm of unemployment and nepotism. But I digress..Say, has anyone been to the fancy new Perez Art Museum or that new Miami Marlins baseball Stadium? The laughs keep coming! How is Miami going to build a new art museum + baseball stadium when it has the worst drivers/traffic in America? What about some Public transportation? Nope, sorry but we are all out of public tax dollars. This is a war on the working class individuals who have to drive and get paid lower than average wages to live in a city where its only positive attribute is the weather..


  6. Mariano Ordonez says:

    We need more MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT around the Metrorail stations, the Tri-Rail stations, the main intersections served by public buses and along the main roads. THIS WOULD ENCOURAGE MORE PEOPLE TO WALK, BICYCLE OR USE TRANSIT, like we see in Brickell, Coral Gables (Miracle Mile, etc.), South Beach and other areas, and wouldn’t the government collect more real-estate taxes per square foot of land, since there would be more owners over the same land? It would be a win-win situation!


  7. I used to live in Los Angeles. Compared to Los Angeles, Miami traffic actually runs pretty smoothly most of the time.

    Of course it is horribly congested compared to Broward or Palm Beach County, and that may be a major reason why those places are getting more jobs.

    Reducing speed limits, as you guys are advocating, is certainly not going to make traffic go faster or smoother!

    It seems to me that increasing speed limits, widening roads, and similar improvements are the best ways to reduce traffic congestion.

    I accidentally visited Miami during Critical Mass, and after seeing what bikes are like when they take over the roads, I am vehemently against all special considerations for bikes. I do not think there should be any bike lanes, special provisions for bikes, or bike-friendly speed limits. Existing bike lanes should be replaced with lanes for cars. Everything possible should be done to discourage the presence of bikes on our roads.

    Automobile users are at least 95% of all road users. Roads should be for cars. Anything else is, as you so rightly say, unsafe.



  8. I’m amazed David’s comment went this long without a response.

    I’ll just call troll and move on. Everyone here would understand both the importance of intermodal infrastructure and also that no form of transit, regardless of its representation in the community, has rights in and of itself. The rights are held by the public, who can at any time choose to ride a bike or go for a walk instead of get in a car.
    They may also choose to get on a skateboard or ride a unicycle.
    Those are their rights. The road is a collective privilege.


  9. Jurgis Rudkus says:

    Thank you for your fascist comment David H Dennis.

    I wonder what you would say to a Lithuanian immigrant who is now living in Miami and has little money to spare beyond rent and food? This new arrival luckily has a job working construction but is in essence living a hand to mouth existence. The made to feel invisible worker brings his lunch to work and takes public transportation when it rains but regularly RIDES A BICYCLE to and from work as his main means of transportation. Not everyone can afford to drive a fancy new automobile(aka the metal wheelchair) with a suede interior. So tell me David, why is this working class person made to feel like a persona non grata on the road when it is his only means of transportation? Why are people like you and the powers that be not building more public infrastructure to benefit everyone; both rich and poor alike? It is fearful thinking like yours that is keeping this country and city from realizing its true potential..


  10. Gables says:

    David should go back and visit Los Angeles and see the changes taking place there. More bikes and pedestrian activity. More transit. More mixed use. After decades of auto-centric policy and planning, the city realized that this was not sustainable. Leaders like Mayor Villaraigosa have done a lot of great work to change this. David is living in the dark ages and it’s time he realized that it’s 2014, not 1974.


  11. Anonymous says:

    I still say there should be Miami City Transit that, as the name suggests, handles the city’s mass transit because everyone should know that City public transportation is different from suburb public transportation, and covers the entire city with great mass transit. And there should be Miami Metro Transit, which as the name suggests, handles the public transportation for the Miami metro (outside the city), from Dade to Palm Beach and gives us a great way to get from the suburbs to the city and back. That’s the main focus and what is most important primarily.

    One of the main problems with Miami is that it’s so sprawled out and unorganized. Before, the area wasnt treated how it is and how it should be treated. Miami wasnt always treated as the City and the rest as the suburbs. Fortunately, that has changed a lot and is getting better each time.

    Most of the city doesn’t get access to Metro Rail but yet it goes into Hialeah, which is a suburb. Horrible.

    I also believe certain areas like the airport area and Miami Beach, for example, should be made part of the City of Miami. Not only because they are already treated as part of the Miami area by locals and tourists, but also because it would make the “mainland” be more urban, pedestrian friendly, etc. because the Beach is so urban, pedestrian friendly, etc. Its also smart planning and organization.

    Its embarrassing that Miami Beach is more urban, pedestrian friendly than Miami, and has things like Deco before Miami does.

    Also, this just came to my head, Midtown Miami is not even next to Downtown or in the middle of anything. Just one more example of how dumb and horribly organized this city is.


  12. Prem says:

    Anonymous, not only is there no money for such a proposal,
    but relegating the rest of the county to suburb status seems anachronistic. It’s not the 80s anymore. Many other areas are cities in their own right.
    While Miami has a long way to go to improve the transit, there are surely less expensive, and more ingenuous ways of doing that.


  13. Anonymous says:


    No money for such proposal? The proposal is nothing out of the ordinary, its ordinary and basic.

    If there’s no money for mass transit then ok, but when there is (and it should be a priority) then that’s how it should be spent.

    That’s how it is and how it works. The city is the city and the suburbs are the suburbs. The city is
    the city for a reason and the suburbs are the suburbs for a reason. People live in the city for a reason and live in the suburbs for a reason. Suburbs shouldnt get unsuburb or city stuff because thats not the point of a suburb and defeats the purpose. Just like a city shouldn’t have suburban things.

    The city gets the mass transit while the suburbs get access to the city (and back).

    That’s a huge problem with the Miami area, that’s its so sprawled. If the Miami area isn’t treated how major metro areas are suppose to, its just going to make things worse.

    I seriously hope residents understand this because we need change now. Miami has so much potential but dumb moves keeps limiting it.


  14. Anonymous says:

    I wanted to edit but I’m not sure if one can. I wanted to add:

    All we have to do is look at the metro areas with the best mass transit (and organization) and mimic them. If there’s anything that can be improved then obviously we improve it. We shouldn’t go with our own logic when there’s so much history that proves what works already.


  15. Prem says:

    Anonymous, I don’t think I suggest your proposal is something extraordinary, that changes little about the affordability.
    I called your characterization anachronistic because many of the former suburbs of Miami are no longer suburbs, and have urbanity of their own.
    This is very clear from the appearance of local transit options in places like Aventura and North Miami.
    I also think some research should be done on who the system currently serves, and whom a Miami only system would serve.
    How many people working in Miami take transit to get there from a so-called suburb?

    While Miami should do what they can to serve their citizens, don’t take away from the county transit, but rather find ways to compliment it, perhaps so that it can refocus itself toward such “suburbs”.


  16. Mike Arias says:

    Let me take this opportunity to add several positive / negative points of factual information.

    In reference to local roadway improvements.

    There are 2 much needed overhead pedestrians crosswalks planned with the construction starting soon.

    One will be built on US #1 in front of the U/M where several students have unfortunately been killed by vehicles that were attempting to cross this high volume public roadway. It is very unfortunate that it took the loss of life of numerous human beings before corrective action was finally taken in order to avert future tragedies from reoccurring at this location.

    The other one will be built at SW 8 street and 109 Ave to serve the FIU students and local residents as well. Fortunatly no loss of life has occurred thus far at this high volume roadway location as well.

    The tunnel for the Port of Miami should be completed soon and we will have to wait for its opening debut to determine the effect on the traffic flow / congestion occuring on Biscayne Blvd in this area.

    Forget traveling thru the area by vehicle anytime the Heat are playing along with the event at the Arsche Performing Center

    The 826 /836 roadway improvements should be completed soon as well which once again will have to wait for the opening debut to determine the impact on the traffic congestion and flow thru this area.

    In reference to the negative roadway and transportation issues.

    Miami Dade is currently ranked # 1 in the State of Florida leading in all motor vehicle related fatality categories.

    The State of Florida is currently ranked 3 rd in the Nation leading in all motor vehicle related fatality categories with the great potential of moving up in these rankings and becoming number # 1 in a couple if years due to an increase in residents/ vehicles and a lack of public safety currently existing on the public roadways.

    FDOT is one of the main local roadway entities and based on my personal dealings with them their goals or priorities seem to be traffic mobility issues for motorists and not public safety for the motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists on the local roadways with the latter 2 being the most vulnerable users on the roadways.

    Perhaps if the head of the FDOT roadway entity became an elected position there would be more accountability and responsiveness to the concerns and needs of the local residents / taxpayers.

    There are several other local major roadway entitys as well such as : MDX and the Florida Turnpike Enterprise along with 34 local municipalities which have their own Public Works roadway departments.

    Attempting to contact the correct roadway entity can undoubtedly become a feat in itself much less dealing with them.

    Perhaps there should be 1 main local telephone number for all of them in liue of being shuffled from 1 entity to another.

    Last month I attempted to contact a local municipality to report major craters ( not regular size pot holes) that are existing on a public roadway which can cause a motorists to loose control of their vehicle ( especially a motorcyclists) as well as cause tire blow outs to occur, damage rims and the undercarriages of a vehicle.

    Initially, I contacted the Public Works Roadway maintenance via email received no response. Several weeks later I contacted the municipality via telephone and left a message and once again no response. On several other occasions I would call during buissness hours and the phone would ring off the hook with no pick up. Are the civil service employees of this municipality so busy and or overwhelmed with work that, they cannot answer a phone call ?

    Finally, I also submitted an email to the Mayor of this City with no response received thus far. In the interim period this safety hazard is still currently existing on a public roadway NW 135 to 139 street and 19 Ave and also from NW 22 Ave to 19 Ave on 139 street. Avoid these areas unless you are driving a 4×4 vehicle !

    In reference to a lack of traffic enforcement in Miami Dade there are simply not enough officers available to perform traffic enforcement details on a regular basis since there are numerous priority emergency calls to respond to.

    In reference to citizen activists participation unfortunately there are not enough residents involved that have the time and dedication needed since everyone is trying to make a living, and dealing with all of the stresses of life compounded by traffic congestion, unsafe roadways and a lack of traffic enforcement and when all combined they are the essential ingredients needed for the carnage which occurs daily on the public roadways to the resident / motorists / pedestrians and bicyclists.

    If we had safer public roadways the majority 40 to 60 % of the collisions, injuries and fatalities which are currently occurring on the public roadways could be prevented which would be in everyones public safety vested interests.

    I hate to think what the traffic conditions and public safety issues are going to be on the public roadways in 5 or 10 years from now for the younger / future residents.

    I urge everyone to become involved on transportation / traffic mobility / public safety issues which are of a concern for you and everyone else in the community by contacting your elected and roadway entity officials and hold them accountable or simply whenever reelection time comes around vote for another official which will hopefully be more responsive to your needs. Stay informed and become involved !


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