Get on track to battle Miami-Dade’s Economic Enemy #1
Written by Michael Lewis on April 30, 2014
It’s time to declare Miami Dade’s traffic nightmare Economic Enemy #1.
It’s even worse than the outflow of bright young people, the tightness of capital for entrepreneurs, the lack of attention to promising industries, or the inability of government to prioritize and meet needs.
Congestion takes top spot among economic horrors because it has exploded beyond mere nuisance to loom as a major economic impediment.
When it’s unusual to get anywhere on time, when appointments require a logistics expert, when not going anyplace becomes top choice merely because of bottlenecks, we’re in trouble.
When car trips that took 10 minutes double to 20, then hit 30, it’s costly. And to be punctual, we add more time, just in case – because variability has replaced regularity. If X equals the unknown, getting around Miami requires way too much X.
And when that extra X impedes trips to and from work, both employees and employers lose time and money.
Some rationalize traffic snarls. At the Freedom Tower last week I was told that traffic jams prove we’ve become a great city. Every world-class city, my friend said, has heavy traffic.
I was in no mood to hear that, having tried multiple routes to get to Biscayne Boulevard only to discover that a Miami Heat crowd across the boulevard had made my objective almost impassible.
I should have replied that every great city does face heavy traffic, but to remain great it must offer means to mitigate traffic, whether it’s a rail grid in all directions rather than our single line, or ferry boats, or streetcars, or whatever.
We are halfway to being great: we have great traffic problems. But truly great cities not only have problems, they fix them.
County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is on track to do that. He last week steered his new business advisory roundtable to tackle mobility as its main issue. “We have to do something about transportation in this county,” he told them, calling our congestion “untenable.”
He targeted rail links not only to Miami Beach but also to mushrooming West and Southwest Miami-Dade.
He might have added rail lines north and northwest too, but his program is geared to meet our biggest needs, not simply list everything, find there isn’t enough money or will to do it all, and forget it.
We’ve had massive growth in high-rise housing plus more than 50 projects in the offing and added sports, arts and culture venues – but we haven’t built transportation to serve that growth.
While new Metrorail cars are due on line within two years, the system itself has had little maintenance for decades and only a tiny addition has been made. Meanwhile, county population has grown, with residential and business nodes springing up in new areas.
But local government hasn’t prioritized anything major unless the name “stadium” or “arena” is attached. Whatever comes along seeking funds has become the priority du jour, until something new surfaces next week.
We need to get priorities, and get them straight.
If the priority is jobs, what is more important to both maintain and grow jobs: a roof on a football stadium or better transportation for all?
And, no, not every step to make it easier – and more predictable – to get from here to there requires billions. As a report on page 17 details, downtown Miami is trying to better police intersections to improve traffic flow. It’s not a long-term fix but one of many steps to keep us moving as we strive for bigger, longer-term upgrades.
The answer is not to halt growth until we can get around. We won’t stop investors from adding high-rise housing or retail mega-magnets or hotels. We shouldn’t stop museums and arts venues from upgrading and growing.
We shouldn’t stop them, but we must prioritize so that we can serve them – as well as our visitors, businesses and residents. All of those additions are welcome. But infrastructure to link them all has to be our top priority.
New infrastructure includes a pair of tunnels that will soon remove huge freight trucks from downtown streets. Unfortunately, they’ll just move the trucks onto the MacArthur Causeway on Watson Island, where Miami Beach traffic already backs up. That’s not a gain, just a shift of symptoms across the city.
In the past eight years, Miami Today has written about “gridlock” 58 times. We’ve written about “traffic congestion” even more.
Miami is a real city, We don’t have to prove that we’re great by jamming our roadways without adequate and vital alternatives to get from here to there.
We’ll prove we’re great by following Mayor Gimenez’s recommendation to his business team: find alternates to get people around Miami-Dade, get them financed, get them built, get them open and get them used.
Let’s get going.