Thursday August 23, 2012
Taken for a Ride: How the transit tax went off track. I came across this researching for the trolley article, but it deserves an extra mention. A special report put together by Larry Lebowitz and a small team at the Herald back in 2008, it tells the story of how the transit tax passed in 2002 was squandered. It’s interesting to go back and look at now, not least because it harkens to a time when the Herald was at least trying to do ambitious multimedia reports like this.
You’ve seen “trolleys” crop up in other places for sure. They’re buses dressed up to look like “the streetcars of yore” or something, and I’ve never met anyone who finds this to be cute. The idea is that they provide a cheap or free way to quickly and easily get around a dense and compact area. That’s a promising idea, and the trolley concept may make some sense in cities where it aesthetically makes sense and where there’s no better way to provide such a service.
Enter Miami, where I guess our government is running in me-too mode, and our own trolley, running for about four months and now being promoted by an oversized mailer that arrived at my door yesterday. Notice anything about the route? Yep: it’s almost exactly contiguous with the Metromover route. Remember the Metromover? That thing that’s a free way to quickly and easily get around downtown? That thing that actually is fun (I see tourists on there all the time, and everybody loves it) and actually does aesthetically fit Miami’s style? Why on earth do we need the trolley? And why on earth is it painted green and orange and have the same goofy decoration that every trolley service in the country seems to have?
There’s a second trolley route that runs between Jackson Memorial and the new Marlins Stadium that makes some sense, but you wonder why they’d go with the uncomfortable and ugly trolley concept instead of, say, nice mini-busses like the South Beach Local uses.
Hey, you want to hear where the money for the trolley came from? Well, $2 million comes from the half-cent transit tax that you voted for in 2002 that was supposed to fund an ambitious Metrorail expansion. (The tiny airport expansion is the only part built, and the rest of the money is being squandered on shit like this trolley.) $1.5 million comes from the state, presumably from a tourism fund. And $4.1 million comes from federal stimulus money, which presumably they’d have much rather given us for, you know, something useful. (I’m reading the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority’s Strategic Regional Transit Plan from 2008 and believe it or not it doesn’t mention anything about the Miami Trolley.)
But you know what really irks me about all this? It’s the thought that it’s money that could have gone to developing the Miami Streetcar project. That was actually a sound idea: expand the Metromover with street-level trains that’d run further up and down Biscayne Boulevard, Midtown, Wynwood, Overtown, and the Jackson medical district. It was last heard from being pushed from 2008 to 2010, and now it’s a distant memory. Instead, we’ve got this pathetic trolley.
And it’s not that I think the trolley is completely useless, or that it won’t find a ridership. It’s just that it reflects our worst tendencies: our desire to take the politically and intellectually easy way out, and ignore the long-term problems and needs that are clear to see but challenging to address.
Monday July 30, 2012
The Metrorail opened in 1984. This weekend, the track that connects it to the Miami International Airport finally started transporting passengers. Let’s take a ride, check out the route, the new station, the Miami Intermodal Center, and how it all connects to the airport. And yes, let’s complain about the fact that this took 28 years.
Tuesday May 20, 2008
Exactly wrong: Miami Dade commissioners are considering raising public transportation rates. Just as they’re cutting routes. And just they should be doing the exact opposite. Also: cut property taxes and raise transit fees = more taxes for the poor, fewer for the rich. Nice work, folks. Update: The Herald agrees.
Monday May 12, 2008
How do you increase public transportation use? Well, you wait for the cost of gasoline to go up, and when it does you introduce new routes and lower rates to attract drivers that were on the fence. And since gas prices have just risen, it makes sense that Miami-Dade is cutting 600 bus routes and the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority is considering dropping from 50 to 20 Tri-Rail trains per day. Update: A number of commenters have pointed out that the “600” figure is yet another example of the Sun-Post playing fast and loose with numbers.
Tuesday April 8, 2008
Last week I wrote an article on what I perceive to be Transit Miami’s anti-car bias, and here is Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal’s thoughtful response. This is a response to the response.
First, let me say where I agree with Gabriel. We are both urbanists, and share the goal of making Miami less car-dependent, more transit and pedestrian centered. So-called “livable” cities everywhere in the world feature public spaces that put the focus on humans (as Gabriel so eloquently calls us), with public plazas, pleasant sidewalks, and convenient mass transit that makes getting around town without a car not just easy, but pleasurable. An important component of this is increased density, and we both support Miami 21, which would put higher density development where it can do the most good, and bring about other pro-pedestrian changes. We would like Miami to be more like that, and less of a car-dominated no-man’s land of suburban sprawl. Where we differ is on how that change ought to be brought about.
What happens when you can’t park?
Gabriel has clarified his position to be that the way to bring change about is to reduce parking on new developments. By decreasing the number of parking spaces, you reduce the number of drivers going there, therefore reducing the number of drivers on the road, therefore increasing the use of public transit. I don’t like this approach for two reasons — because I don’t think it’s very nice, and because I don’t think it will work. Thought-experiment with me here. Let’s say you’re going to the barbershop. You hop in your 2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid and head over to Lou’s Barbershop, in their new location at Lopez-Bernal Centre.
But guess what? LBC has insufficient parking, and there’s no space for you. That sense of frustration you’ve got there — that, to me, is not a way to win converts to the public transportation cause. Moreover, under Gabriel’s logic, you react to this situation next time by either finding a bus route to Lou’s, riding your bike, or car-pooling with a friend. Sorry, but this just does not wash with the reality that I live in. When parking shortages make driving somewhere difficult, the most natural reaction is to drive somewhere else! Lou looses your business, and the environment is the worse off if your new barbershop is farther.
Extending this logic to residences is even easier: will you move somewhere if there’s no place for you to park? Of course not. Friends stop visiting because parking is impossible (we know something about this on South Beach)? Start looking for a place to move to.
I am on board with a lot of the rest of Transit Miami’s solutions to this problem, including increased and improved public transportation. A good example is the streetcar, which, serving a corridor of new high-density developments (US-1 between Downtown, Edgewater, and the Midtown), would be a very good step in the right direction. People in those developments will have a real alternative to driving their cars. But make no mistake — they’ll still need cars, and people from outside the area will need places to park when they come visit.
South Beach is a very bikable city. The rest of the county is not. I don’t think the lack of a degree in urban planning makes me particularly unqualified to make those statements, but the use of Bogota as an example of rapid change is telling. Every Sunday in Bogota many roads are shut down, open only to pedestrians and cyclists. It’s quite something to see, but it does not represent a change in how that city goes about its business. Enrique Penalosa has made some improvements to the public transportation system (which most people there used before), but the urban bike lanes in downtown Bogota are empty.
Odds ‘n ends
For what it’s worth, I think that cycling and public transportation combined can be an effective way of getting around the city, and have said so and done so. I’ve disagreed with TM about the viability of a bike rental program. The very last comment at that link is from Gabriel, who said he was working on a map of how such a program would work in Miami-Dade. Well, there is no map, because outside of a very limited geographical area (say, that covered by MetroMover), the distances are just too great.
Oh, the thing about growing a mountain was a joke. But I don’t think it’s unfair to point out, when you’re talking about “experiences that both illuminate Montreal’s successes and Miami’s potential,” that a vast majority of your article has no relevance to Miami’s “potential” unless you intend to tear the whole city down and start from scratch.
Parking and the law
Technically, the article I was addressing had to do with a legislative issue — the reduction in legally-mandated parking spaces. As a matter of libertarian principle, I actually agree that the government should not be in the business of mandating parking in developments. I think adequate parking is in the interest of the developers and owners, and they ought to be the ones to determine the best definition of “adequate” (e.g. I don’t think Aventura Mall is being legally compelled to build those new garages). While this complicates the disagreement we’re talking about, I don’t think it significantly alters it.
The way forward
There is hope. A commenter on the previous post linked to a density index for various US cities. On a scale that assigns 6.22 to New York, 1.78 to Los Angeles, and 2.1 to San Diego, Miami earned a 1.55 (2000 figures, and note that this applies to the “Metro area,” e.g. for Miami it would include most of Dade and Broward). But as I stated above, parts of Miami are in fact increasing in density, and are good candidates for increased mass transit. As these lines are constructed, anyone who can will use them. The Coral Gables-Downtown commute is a good example, with some people taking the rail despite the fact that it’s more expensive then driving. If we want to change the city, the way to do it is to push for increased transit (which of course TM does) and pricing that makes public transportation an obvious bargain for everyone. Let’s build rail that goes to the airport, Little Havana, and for god’s sakes the Beach. And let’s not get distracted with trying to keep people from parking their cars.
Wednesday April 2, 2008
Transit Miami is a great blog, it’s been around a long time and done lots of excellent work, but lately I’ve been troubled by the increasingly single-minded, almost militant, anti-car zeal coming from over there. Now look, I’m a big supporter of public transportation, so I agree with the direction that TM wants to see Miami move in. But I think that advocating change is more effective when one has a firm grip on reality, and — well, let’s take a look at a recent post, Gabriel and Ryan’s open letter to the Miami city commission.
An increase of net parking spaces – to one per unit, as the city commission proposed – will only worsen the traffic conditions along Biscayne Boulevard and the surrounding streets. The aim of the city administration and all downtown development should be to reduce automobile dependency, not enhance it, especially in one of the few areas well served by public rail transit. Any increases in available parking will only serve as a means with which our residents will continue to neglect and undermine the intended purpose of public transportation.
They go on to say that supporting both public transportation access and parking spaces is “contradictory – essentially taking one-step forward and one-step backward,” and conclude by quoting the notion that “in order for public transportation to be successful it [must] be at least equally attractive as the alternatives.”
I have to admit to being baffled by this. The way to encourage public transportation use is to make driving more unpleasant, parking more difficult? I have two suggestions here. First, that improving public transportation is a better strategy then worsening the experience of driving. Second, a realistic understanding of where Miami is, and how far and fast it can change, is beneficial when advising on public policy meant to hasten that change. Let’s consider.
When we talk about “public transportation in Miami,” we are of course referring to Miami-Dade County. The county runs the public transportation system, and the City of Miami accounts for a small fraction of the county’s population. It takes only a passing familiarity with Miami-Dade to see the difference between it and the cities with the great public transportation systems that TM so admires: most Miamians live in single-family houses with great big lawns, while the citizens of those cities live far more often in high-rises, mid-rises, townhouses, and rowhouses. In other words, the population density is higher. It’s a fact of life that the potential effectiveness of a public transportation system is proportional to density. Yes, increasing population density is a worthwhile goal. And yes, Miami 21 will move us in that direction. But these changes happen slowly, and in the meantime the simple fact is that the overwhelming majority of Miamians, whether they live in the great suburbs of Miami Gardens of one of the new towers in downtown, have a car, need a car, and use a car everyday to commute and run practically all of their errands.
But furthermore, as those errands and commutes become easier to do with public transportation, the way to nudge the nice folks is make that public transportation more pleasant. To try to get them to switch by making driving more difficult is suicide for elected officials and inhumane for public professionals. I’d think it’d also be inadvisable for bloggers who want to change public opinion.
Sure, it’s fine to look at other cities, but let’s be realistic about how much they can “illuminate … Miami’s potential.” Miami is not going to have the public transportation system of Montreal any more then it’s going to suddenly grow a mountain. And the same goes for cycling in the city — last year I challenged TM to show me how a bike-rental system like the one that works relatively well in other cities would look in Miami. Nothing came of that because it wouldn’t work here for the same population density reasons. (And trust me, I know a thing or two about cycling in Miami.)
These situations will improve, and we should certainly work towards improving them, but it helps to be realistic about the time frame we’re talking about: when this happens, it’s on the scale of generations, not years or even decades. In the meantime let’s do what we can to make public transportation — and driving — easier and more pleasant.
Wednesday March 19, 2008
New cars for Metromover, too. Bonus factoid: 25,000 riders on the mover daily.
Tuesday March 18, 2008
Wednesday February 20, 2008
Miami-Dade Transit is out of its sodding mind: I recently noticed that parking at MetroRail stations is $4. With $1.50 per ticket, you’re looking at $7 per day round trip for a commute. In a 30 mpg car, this same trip, 10.8 miles x 2, will run you around $2.20 at today’s gas prices. So what person in their right mind would take the rail?
Tuesday February 5, 2008
Larry Lebowitz on the Metrorail expansion’s serious problems: The US DoT is lowering its “rating” on the North corridor expansion and yanking is $700 million for the project, throwing the whole system into turmoil: “[T]he Federal Transit Administration will be lowering the rating because of the county’s inability to maintain and modernize the entire system after 2015. If the county can’t afford to pay for the transit system after the $1.3 billion North opens, why would it be able to do so for the $2.2 billion East-West?”
Wednesday January 30, 2008
Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre: new name of the Metrorail station previously know as “Overtown/Arena.” I dig the nod to the Lyric (name-checked by Garrison Keillor when he was in town), but isn’t the “Historic” a little much?
Thursday January 17, 2008
Some current estimates on the cost of the Metrorail expansion: $57 million+ for planning/consulting, $290 million+ for construction of a line between the intermodal center and Earlington Heights, $2 billion+ for a northern extension into Broward and the east/west line.
Thursday October 4, 2007
Left to right: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Metrorail, Disel Multiple Unit (DMU).
Below are proposed new transit lines from the executive summary of a Kendal Link study (download pdf of summary). While it focuses on South Miami, it has implications for the whole county. Still, the political situation in Kendall around some of these proposals is pretty controversial. This is mainly NIMB surrounding transit trains along existing, but minimally-used, tracks. As such, I’d be interested in hearing what South Miami/Kendall residents thing of these proposals.
It’s useful to know that this study considers anything under 5 years short-term planning, 5-15 years is mid-range, and over 15 years is long-range. You can click any of these maps to see a larger version.
Proposed Metrorail/BRT line along Kendall Drive.
Proposed North/South Metrorail line along Turnpike.
Proposed new Metrorail (orange) line and DMU (green) line.
Proposed North/South BRT line, alternative to above Metrorail option. I gather this is more useful to more people, but also more disruptive.
Putting it all together: this is the short/midrange transportation strategy.
And finally, the biggie: the long-range “preferred” transit strategy. It ain’t pretty, but this is what you get when you combine low-density sprawl with a mandate to reduce worldwide carbon emissions. Also: I still want my Metrorail beach-line.
Monday September 17, 2007
Nasty cuts to bus and metrorail service; several routes no longer run between 9 am and 3 pm, one has been eliminated completely, and wait times have been increased. One rider: “Most folks I speak with are kind of shocked that this was done after the promises associated with the half-cent sales-tax increase.”
Tuesday September 4, 2007
People, this does not bode well. This is the Biscayne Boulevard sidewalk in front of the American Airlines Arena, where the fancy improvements are underway to make it a pedestrian paradise. The paving is still underway (half a block there are unpaved sections and stacks of bricks), but the whole stretch in front of the arena has been spray-painted, not by vandals, but by utilities. Here’s a page with the color codes; there were different colors farther up the block.
So . . . what the fuck is going on here? Did they just put all this sidewalk down only to tear it back up? Is there someone who just decided the street will NOT look attractive if they have anything to say about it? Did someone make some idiotic boo-boo? Either way, some right hand somewhere doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and this does not bode well.
Monday August 27, 2007
Frances Nash rides the Metromover. “‘Please stand clear of the door,’ says the robot voice, as if we’re going to the Magic Kingdom to visit Mickey Mouse. The boys get off and a homeless-looking dude waddles on board. He tries to sell me some palm leaves twisted into roses and grasshoppers. I pretend that I don’t speak English, but he won’t take the hint.”
Thursday August 16, 2007
Friday August 3, 2007
Bicycle renting stations from around the globe. I appreciate the sentiment, but this would never work in Miami. If you think so, make me a map of where you would put the rental stations. The distances are simply too great, even putting aside the obvious weather issues. Riding a bike is great exercise, and a really good way to get to know your neighborhood, but as transportation it just stinks. On the other hand, bike + public buses seems promising. But for that you need your own bike, because by nature the bike rental stations will be sparser then bus stops.
Tuesday July 17, 2007
Diagram of the Biscayne Blvd. streetscaping currently underway south of I-395. Gabriel has an overview of everything planned for this stretch, full of links and images. I still don’t see, though, how getting rid of the median parking (only “useless” if you’re not looking for a place to park, btw) around Bayside makes the road less daunting for pedestrians — the number of lanes isn’t changing. Also: a Metromover overhaul (replete with more heinous Photoshopping).
Tuesday July 3, 2007
Wednesday May 30, 2007
$19 for a 7-day metro pass. It’s for tourists: 2 trips per day x 5 days = $15 per week for public-curious regular commuter.
Wednesday October 25, 2006
Friday July 14, 2006
The western expansion of Metrorail isn’t happening. A close vote, but no cigar. Not sure how I feel about the Bus Rapid Transit line, but since I don’t live down there I suppose it’s none of my business.
Tuesday June 27, 2006
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.”
Monday June 19, 2006
Larry reports that there’s a problem with the planning of a Metrorail East/West line. Seems that FIU is refusing to allow the last stop to be built on its campus. This is completely insane on a number of levels, and the fact that the FIU administration is sticking to it does not bode well for the U’s future. What’s more, they’re refusing to even comment about their reasoning.
Well, I say they’re taxpayer funded, and mostly attended by locals, and they have to do what we say. Maybe a phone call or two (305-348-2111) to FIU’s (soon to be grossly overpaid) president would help.
Meanwhile, I’m glad to see that something like what I want is in the works for Metrorail. I still say connect it up with Miami Beach, though. There again, residents have to speak up and not let backwards-looking forces kill the deal.
Bonus chuckle: check out the multiple redundant headings on the page with Larry’s column: “Larry Lebowitz / Streetwise / STREETWISE BY LARRY LEBOWITZ / Metrorail project stopped in its tracks / By Larry Lebowitz / llebowitz@MiamiHerald.com.” And in case you forget, his name is repeated again at the end, this time with a different e-mail address. LOLz Herald!
Tuesday June 13, 2006
Geez, they’re really serious about this water-transit thing.
Tuesday June 6, 2006
You missed it, right? The City of Miami considered, approved, and is now tweaking plans for a European-styled streetcar system for the area north of Downtown. These small trains share the road with cars, making frequent stops every few blocks. In high-density places (of which this area will be very very soon one), they make the prospect of pedestrianism much more appealing and realistic. And they’re fun to ride – overhead lines provide power to the electric engines, which make the cars very quiet, while their low floors maintain riders’ connection to the sidewalk. The streetcars in Vienna, for example, are so low that a woman with a stroller can get on them without help.
The obvious downside is that they share the road with cars. Typically, the way it works is that the streetcars have their own set of traffic signals, and enjoy almost complete right-of-way over automobiles. Getting Miami drivers to accept this is going to be a little bit of a struggle, although if you factor in a decreased need to drive, streetcars actually don’t make traffic on the streets worse at all. Plus, they’re burly and intimidating, and carry a menacing jingle-bell-sounding horn.
Anywho, here’s the proposal pdf, but don’t bother, since lots of the specifics have changed: we’re talking about $200 million now (ouch: $4,200 per foot of track), not $120, and a completion date of 2010 instead of the original 2008. Check the map snipped from the proposal (click for larger), and the “Recommended Alignment Baylink” is demonstrative of just how pie-in-the-sky the writers of the proposal were feeling. Here we are, two breathless years later, and the project is locked and loaded.
Thursday December 29, 2005
Ronald Reagan criticized Metrorail when it was finished in 1985, saying “It would have been cheaper to buy everyone a limousine.” These days, Metrorail serves 48,000 people a day so that (racist?) remark has been sufficiently refuted. It’s still a pretty low number, though, and the reason is obvious: Metrorail doesn’t go any-particular-where.
Now, there are lots of proposals around for expanding public transportation – everything from water-taxis to streetcars to a second Tri-Rail. There is even a super-ambitious plan for expanding Metro-rail floating around, but I’m not going to support anything quite so pie-in-the-sky as that.
I’m thinking of a second Metrorail line, which would run east-west, down to South Beach at one end, meet up with the current line at Government Center, and proceed west to the airport (or further, if possible, maybe to FIU). This would solve the problem of Metrorail not going to the airport, incorporate the free-floating BayLink idea (good grief: “To be evaluated for funding in 2016”), and generally make the rest of Metrorail make sense, by giving the system more destinations.
There are three principal arguments against this: (1) Miami isn’t suited to a large public-transportation system; (2) it’ll cost too much money; and (3) we don’t want more people going to the Beach; they’ll ruin it. To which I answer:
Maybe not (1), but tell that to the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the system every day. The more people who use public transportation, the better off we are as a city and as a civilization, and the more places there are that can be conveniently reached by public transportation, the more people will use it (Metrorail is more convenient, less intimidating, and faster then regular busses, so much more likely to be used by people who have a choice).
(2) This’d less then double the size of the system, and it would leverage the usefulness of the existing stops; it’s throwing good money after (arguably) bad. Plus, what with all these condos going up in Miami, we’re in for a big tax-boom over the next few years. If we put this plan in gear, we’ll be spending the money just as it rolls in.
As for (3), people living on the Beach (of which I’m one) being afraid of their neighborhood being overrun by tourists is like being afraid of Iraq becoming a center for terrorism: it’s already done happened! Making the Beach more convenient might make it a more popular destination, but it also makes life easier for residents.
There’s all this talk of Miami being the city of the future and whatnot, and our public transportation system is lagging. It’s been over 20 years since Metrorail (line 1!) was built, and it’s high time to expand. We have the need, we have the money, and we have the momentum; let’s do it.
Tuesday June 14, 2005
Over at City Debate, North Beach William breaks down the recent Metro-Dade bus rate hike. We agree that this is pretty straightforward price-gouging (the agency’s site, by the way, is unapologetic), but we disagree about the state of the public transit system. Considering how sprawled-out Miami is, the fact that any viable bus service is possible is impressive. And we love when they drive fast – there’s nothing like zipping through traffic, knowing that the 5-ton vehicle you’re in can hit a Hummer and win.