Tuesday June 27, 2006

What's up with the Miami Intermodal Center?


Miami Transit has a gushing positive writeup on the forthcoming Miami Intermodal Center (I’ll rag on their web site in a minute). The idea is one central interchange between the airport, Metrorail, buses, rental cars, pedestrian traffic, taxis, and probably pogo sticks: it’s a big central hub. It’s also a great big showcase, a $1.4 billion (you heard me) palace to our efficiency and Jetsonsness.

Boy do I ever call bullshit. This is one of the least sense-making things I’ve ever seen, for two completely different sets of reasons. Firstly, there is no logical reason for all these things to be under one roof. Consider: if you fly in to the airport, you have a good chance of leaving by a rental car or by bus. Is there any advantage to having a bus station at one end of the airport and car rental facilities at the other? Of course not. Do you need to be at some central transportation locus before you decide where you’re going and how? You don’t. Any reason taxis should drop people off at some central repository rather then as close to their gate as possible? Nope.

It’s as though our officials are overcompensating for idiotically not putting a Metrorail stop at the airport by turning that stop into a ridiculous palace (go to the Miami Transit page for more photos). The airport is already interfaced with buses, taxis, and rental cars. Is this monstrosity going to improve matters? Maybe ever so slightly, but this is a massive solution in hopeless search of a problem.

Which brings me to the other obvious problem: the $1.4 billion. Oh, the MIC web site? Hilariously, it has an unskipable flash intro, so that nobody with a flashless browser can see it without a deep link (here’s one). After that it’s graphics-only navigation menu, with random links to PDFs and other garbage. A hilarious number of the main menu buttons open up to a grand page with a single off-site link in the middle. It’s like these idiots consciously decided to do the opposite for every single web accessibility recommendation. But if you click around long enough (and if you have the right browser and software), you’ll see enough of the pictures to realize just how much of this thing is purely ornamental.

Oh, and it may look gleaming and beautiful in the computer renderings. But don’t be fooled: you know what happens to mass transit facilities. They get abused, and after awhile they start to look a little shabby. Imaging a huge glass and steel mass transit hub after a year in use: still huge and silly, but now much less immaculate, and looking for all the world like a gigantic mistake. I don’t need to run down the problems the county is facing for you to realize that this money could have been much much much better spent, do I?

Update: Transit Man has revised and extended his remarks. “It’s Kinda like watching the credits roll on Nacho Libre and wondering: ‘How can so many people see nothing wrong with putting this into production?’ except instead of the $10 ticket and popcorn, it’s $1.3 Billion.”


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  1. DGM    Tue Jun 27, 10:21 AM #  

    I dont get why youre always going after this guy. The blog entry was pretty objective. He mentioned that he expected more for the amount of money and felt the designs were “lackluster”. Besides, would you expect anything short of enthusiasm from a “transit” blogger when talking about the construction of a central hub?

  2. alesh    Tue Jun 27, 11:33 AM #  

    I’m not going after Miami Transit at all. I like the blog and the author. I’m ragging on the project, and contrasting my position with his, but no animosity is intended. All smiles!

  3. gansibele    Tue Jun 27, 11:56 AM #  

    Another white elephant that will solve absolutely no problems instead of a coherent public transit policy. Ugly too.

  4. DGM    Tue Jun 27, 01:15 PM #  

    But it is certainly a step in the right direction.

  5. alesh    Tue Jun 27, 01:24 PM #  

    It’s a step in the right direction in exactly the same way as firing off cannon rounds is a step in the direction of killing a mosquito.

    Oh, and so TransitMan was actually critical of the budget and construction snafus, but positive about the project.

  6. Manola BBB    Tue Jun 27, 01:36 PM #  

    Alesh or Transit Man, do either of you know where they plan to build this monstrosity?

    Oh yeah, and a glass building—that’s so smart in the hurricane magnet area!

    By the way, why don’t they just build upon Government Center as a ‘central hub’ or create various ‘hubs’ as they expand the metrorail system? As such a sprawling flat-ass metropolis with no center to speak of, we don’t really need something ‘central,’ we just need to be better connected.

  7. Miami Transit Man    Tue Jun 27, 02:28 PM #  

    First off, it came from TransitMiami, Miami Critical…


    It will stradle 42nd ave next to the airport. Just south of the Melrese Golf course. The site is cleared.

    As for the hub, think what you may about a central facility unifying the county’s transit. Taxis will still be dropping off patrons in front of their terminal (from what I’ve heard.) I agree its no quick fix, but we do need a rail link to the airport. I do disagree with the budget over-runs that will occur but overall, I think the project is a positive thing for our community. The design is beyond lame; however, if built properly the glass should not pose a problem…

    As for a Transit Enthusiast…Nope all wrong…just looking to correct the wrongs in a very flawed system, however possible…

    Alesh, thanks for once again pointing out how much my site design needs some work…

  8. Miami Transit Man    Tue Jun 27, 04:39 PM #  

    The MIC site needs work…Misread, whoops!

  9. Miami Harold    Tue Jun 27, 05:18 PM #  

    I commuted through that area for a while
    as they removed several crappy hotels
    and a truly seedy (but large) porn biz.
    The back streets, by which one could avoid
    some horrible lights on Lejeune,
    got blocked off, strewn with bricks and rubble,
    and (just for good measure) flooded.
    Meanwhile, the lots were cleared,
    then fenced off from the street.
    Then: nothing.
    And more nothing.
    This was over 3 years ago, I believe.
    Urban Removal at its finest.

  10. Rick    Tue Jun 27, 05:34 PM #  

    If only Miami Transit Transit Guy Miami Guy TransitMiami had stuck with Blogger…..


  11. Jonathan    Tue Jun 27, 06:14 PM #  

    ...we do need a rail link to the airport.

    -Who’s “we”?

    -How much will it cost (the full cost including subsidies, not just the fare) per ride?

    -Why should taxpayers who don’t use the airport subsidize travelers and airport workers?

    -If taxpayers should subsidize travelers and airport workers, why not simply give those people money and let them arrange their own travel? That would probably be cheaper than building another politically inspired white elephant.

    To be less abstract about it: currently, when I go to the airport I either get a ride from someone I know or I drive and park in the airport garage or I take a cab, so I bear almost all of the cost of my getting to the airport. If they build a big Metrorail/bus/whatever terminal there I will probably take the Metrorail instead. The direct cost to me for using the Metrorail will be a couple of bucks per ride, but the cost to taxpayers will be something like (I am guessing) five to 15 bucks. It’s really not much different than getting a check from the govt every time I go to the airport. So why should taxpayers who don’t use the aiport pay the expenses of people like me who do?

  12. Manola BBB    Tue Jun 27, 06:23 PM #  

    Oh! It’s the big gaping moonscape where the seedy hotels used to be!

    As in most cities with rail links to the airport, it is only really convenient for the local commuter or the one who travels light. Most passengers will by pass that central hub, taking a cab with their loads of luggage.

    I agree though, this town needs more rail.

    Yes, I knew the story came via Transit Miami. I like the sound of “transit man,” picture him wearing tights and a cape flying over the magic city! :-)

  13. Manola BBB    Tue Jun 27, 06:33 PM #  

    Oh, I missed Jonathan’s comment. It’s even worse if you consider the fact that most people who don’t travel light aren’t going to schlep their luggage on the rail. Maybe the business traveler who carries an overnight bag and a laptop or the student who’s staying at the hostel on Washington Ave—my guess.

    But I do think more rail lines in general would be useful to those of us who actually live and work here.

    And I wonder how they even plan to get people from the airport to the hub. I’d rather take a cab then walk all across airport after walking ten miles already through concourse C after an international flight or even God forbid, having to schlep outside in the heat and humidity. It’s bad enough standing there in the pick-up area with all the heat and gross polluted air.

  14. otto    Tue Jun 27, 09:09 PM #  

    The most useful part of the whole project is the consolidation of the Rental Cars in one area… as a frequent traveler… I have seen it work in other cities. This will help dramatically, by having a single bus come by every 5 minutes instead of 7 different buses, Hertz, Avis, Alamo, Budget, National, Thrifty, etc. This will help reduce the congestion and make more room for the taxi’s.

  15. alesh    Tue Jun 27, 09:21 PM #  

    I’ve got it now: the blog is called Transit Miami (although it used to be Miami Transit, so cut me some slack), and the guy is Gabriel. And yes, I was ragging on the MIC web site. The TM site is imperfect but effective.

    Jonathan, I have a strong sympathy with the argument you’re making, which I believe is the standard libertarian argument against any public project. It’s exactly accurate, right up until the point at which it isn’t. That point comes when enough people are using public transportation, and that will happen when the system is useful and efficient enough. That may NEVER happen, but I’m an optimist.

    Yes, society at large picks up some of the cost of riding the Metrorail, but society is also picking up some of the cost of you riding around in your Range Rover. Consider the enviroment polluting emissions, the world politics-bending petroleum market, and the stress on me when you cut me off in traffic without signaling.

    (for the purposes of the preceeding paragraph, please substitute “jerks” for “you”)

    I think what I’m saying is that the more people use public transportation, the better off society is. Does anyone honestly not agree with that?

    Manola, I think the plan also includes some sort of metromover-like contraption which will ferry people around the airport and to/from the MIC. this ?

  16. Miamai Transit Man    Tue Jun 27, 09:30 PM #  

    Nope, not that one Alesh…Its poorly done, but the airport when completed will have three independent people mover systems. The one we currently have, the one that is excersing in Japan which will go above the North terminal, and the last one which will travel to the MIC (Think of JFK’s airtrain only stupider). The sad part is that all three trains will be independent systems (STUPID!!!)... I’ll write some more later…

  17. alesh    Tue Jun 27, 09:39 PM #  

    OMG, MTM. That shit makes me want to smoke crack.

  18. Miamai Transit Man    Tue Jun 27, 11:28 PM #  

    Yeah, deff, I nearly jumped off a bridge, but then I remembered that it wasn’t my F*ck up.

    You all seem to be so interested in Transit, you should come vent yourselves on my site more often…!

    The MIC will be at best a central point for commuter rails. The current tri-rail station is inadequate to say the least and Amtrak is pretty much uknown down here (Although from what I hear the silverstar train (MIA-NYC) is one of the most successful long distance train routes with 3 full trains daily), it will drastically improve the bus transfer station at the airport and will relieve congestion by the airport terminals to a certain extent. The rental car factor is crucial given our large dependency on tourism, and further public transit enhancements in the coming years may allow our city to become more accessible to all visitors.

    I agree that Gov center should be our central station, but, honestly its pathetic (If you stand on the Southbound platform, north of the Stephen P. Clarke center, you can see the “ghost station” which was suppossed to handle incoming east/west trains one day…) The east west line is riddled with problems and will ultimately serve the needs of commuter riders with various park-n-ride stations. The alignment at 107th ave is lame too, stopping the train equidistant from both major area malls…

    I`ll be covering the east/west line on my page soon…

  19. mkh    Wed Jun 28, 04:06 AM #  

    “If you stand on the Southbound platform, north of the Stephen P. Clarke center, you can see the “ghost station” which was suppossed to handle incoming east/west trains one day”

    That’s interesting. I work just a few blocks away, I’ll have to check that out.

  20. Jonathan    Wed Jun 28, 10:00 AM #  


    -Why do you think any of these costly rail systems in low-density cities like Miami will ever be “useful and efficient enough” so that many more people will use them? I don’t think that’s happened anywhere yet, with the exception of old, high-density cities like NYC, despite the enthusiastic installation of new rail systems in many cities over the past few decades. Look at Kotkin’s chart of rail vs. automobile commute times: rail systems are uncompetitive with automobiles for most travelers in most places. If more people used rail it would still be uncompetitive because it would still be slower and less flexible than driving for most people. And it’s always likely to be that way for all but the most dense American cities—which are anyway tending to become more decentralized.

    -I acknowledge that there are public costs of auto travel, but most of the sunk costs are already sunk—the roads have been built—and drivers bear a lot of the variable costs via fuel taxes and tolls. I think you are overweighting air pollution, which is not a big issue in Miami (and anyway cars are becoming cleaner all the time), and underweighting the costs of rail. Rail is merely a new and very substantial layer of costs imposed on top of existing transportation costs. Since there is no evidence that rail will be popular, and since it’s certain to be costly, and since much of the rail infrastructure (fixed) costs have yet to be incurred, I am suggesting that the sooner we stop expanding the rail system, the better.

    -The only Range Rovers I know about are the ones cutting me off in traffic when I am riding my bicycle.

  21. mkh    Wed Jun 28, 01:33 PM #  


    Just out of honest curiosity, what would you propose as a solution to the intolerable traffic levels in Miami and South Florida? Rail has always seemed like a reasonable solution to me, but I could certainly be wrong in that. Is there a way to allow everyone to drive their own car everywhere and still relieve the traffic congestion which reduces the quality of life here to almost zero?

  22. Miami Transit Man    Wed Jun 28, 04:16 PM #  

    Also forces industry to move elsewhere…

  23. Mark    Wed Jun 28, 04:40 PM #  

    I always love seeing first time arrivals step out of the MIA terminal into the 100% humidity. It would make Miami a 21st century city to have a transit hub at MIA—of course we KNOW it doesn’t have to be such a boondoggle. Now, just figure out the pre-construction estimates for MIA’s expansion vs. the total cost overrun expense for the whole damn thing, and it’ll give us an idea of how much -IF it ever gets built (or should I say, FINISHED, once it’s started)- it’ll soak Florida taxpayers for. What? You didn’t think they were going to have MIA passengers pay for it, did you? And then comes the eminent domain issue for the property owners around the airport.

  24. Jonathan    Wed Jun 28, 08:01 PM #  


    I think the central problem is that the local road infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth and changes in commuting patterns.

    Measures that I think would be more cost-effective than building rail lines include:

    -Expansion of major roads (e.g., US 1 South of downtown Miami) where possible. Build new roads where possible.

    -Congestion pricing on expressways—i.e., a SunPass-like system that charges you more at 6PM than at 3PM or 9 PM.

    -Deregulation of private bus and jitney service.

    -Relaxation of zoning rules, to make it easier for people to work near where they live.

    No panaceas here, but perhaps some reasonable bets for improvement. Of course these ideas have little chance of being adopted in the current political climate, and for all I know will never be popular enough to implement. However, the alternatives seem a lot worse to me. I mean, the argument for trains is essentially: It used to take you 20 minutes to drive to work and now it takes an hour, so we are going to spend eleven zillion dollars to build a system that will eventually, after we spend 15 years building all of the routes, take you to work in 50 minutes (if you live close to a station). Most people would rather drive, and I think that public money is probably better spent on incremental road improvements than by giving up on roads and hoping that trains will solve all problems.

  25. mkh    Thu Jun 29, 08:54 AM #  

    Some interesting thoughts. Are there enough contiguous black-only neighborhoods to demolish between downtown and the airport to house the new east-west highway? Destroying Overtown to build I-95 worked out pretty well for the community, but we certainly don’t want to disrupt white or hispanic neighborhoods the same way.

  26. alesh    Thu Jun 29, 10:35 AM #  

    It would be interesting to add up everything that’s spent on new road construction and road maintenance in the county for one year. I think it might vividly refute the “most of the sunk costs are already sunk,” claims.

    I’m not saying the costs of maintaining roads outweighs the costs of building rails. Over the long term (and as, esp. w/Miami21, parts of the city DO increase in density), though, building rails is the right direction for us to be going in.

    I think Jonathan’s arguments DO point out that it’s a somewhat philosophical/moral issue. On purely economic analysis, mass transit does not 100% pay for itself.

  27. DGM    Thu Jun 29, 02:12 PM #  

    I think that supporting cars as the only form of transportation is a bit short sighted. Gasoline prices will continue to go up. I figure we might as well try and construct some form of mass transit before the price of construction is driven up by gasoline prices. The corruption and inefficiency in the process angers me just as much as anyone else. But, corruption and inefficiency aren’t innate properties of mass transit.

  28. Jonathan    Thu Jun 29, 05:40 PM #  


    I wrote, “build roads where possible,” not build roads everywhere. Anyway, the same issues apply to rail construction.


    If people preferred trains to driving I would reconsider my argument. But in most places people prefer driving despite years of attempts on the part of municipal authorities to encourage train use. Why should it be different in Miami?

  29. conductor    Thu Jun 29, 06:12 PM #  

    Why build a ballpark when you can build overpriced airport terminals, a intermodal center, and an overbudget performing arts center? Total cost for the projects: probably over $2.5 billion combined.


  30. Angel C    Mon Jul 10, 10:28 AM #  

    In regards to the MIC, I believe it’s a waste of money. It should not be the government’s job to consolidate private rental agencies. Budget, Avis, and the like all found the area east of LeJeune to be satisfactory. Though some drainage and roadwork was needed.

    A downtown to FIU Metrorail line, with an airport stop, would’ve been a better use of the money. Buses and taxis already stop at MIA. Pedestrians and cyclists, really? On what planet?

    FDOT is consistent when building people-unfriendly public work-arounds. They never follow a master plan and always has your money to do it. The county wishes it could tap into these transportation funds. Somehow a wannabe Grand Central Station gets funding but a continuation of SR 112 to the Palmetto and an FEC commuter rail is served up as a pipe dream.

    Folks, state engineers are running the game with your politicians playing alignment gerrymandering using your tax dollars. It seems you’ve sold yourselves out for a glass building… next to a noisy airport.