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Front Page » Opinion » Get on track to battle Miami-Dade’s Economic Enemy #1

Get on track to battle Miami-Dade’s Economic Enemy #1

Written by on April 30, 2014
Get on track to battle Miami-Dade’s Economic Enemy #1

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.


4 Responses to Get on track to battle Miami-Dade’s Economic Enemy #1

  1. Fernando Cabrera

    April 30, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I often read Mr. Lewis’ opion column. Half the time I find myself shaking my head and the other half the time I completely disagree. However I keep coming back because A) Mr. Lewis is a great writter and B) he defends his strong opinions with well constructed arguments. In this column I neither shake my head nor disagree we need to expand the rail ssytem both south and west in the county (initially). Make more of the county accessible through a larger rail system and we will all benefit.

    Kudos for a well argued column.

  2. Holger

    May 1, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I agree with Mr. Levin, one thing I may add is to make the City more pedestrian friendly and create more bike lanes and invest in parks and recreation.
    Its called sustained development. All the highrises are fine and good, would be nice to sit down in a (shady) park to have a (business) lunch or simply enjoy an evening stroll and perhaps listen to a (Jazz) band. Great cities do have a well thought out transportation infrastructure, I lived or visited in some of them, so look at Munich, London, New York and others.

  3. DC Copeland

    May 1, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Mr. Lewis, I feel for you getting trapped in that traffic jam near the AAA. It’s no fun. However, your suggestion that streetcars might help isn’t the answer. Anything on the grid gets stopped if the traffic jams– especially for light rail if traffic is stopped on the tracks. The only real salvation is to bury or raise the transit solution. Subways are most effective in the largest most congested cities but at today’s construction costs and considering our high water table, that becomes problematic and not in the budget. That’s why MetroRail and MetroMover are above the street. May I suggest that our mayors drop their idea that light rail is the answer (for BayLink) and consider any solution that mitigates traffic gridlock by putting it above the madding crowd below. For me, that’s a Disney-style monorail which has more than proven its effectiveness for over 40 years in Florida. A visionary public/private venture could make that a reality.

  4. Darrell

    May 4, 2014 at 10:18 am

    I agree. Traffic is the biggest issue facing Miami. I often feel that our local government has limited vision in handling this. Every time there is a money grab from the federal government, the solution is to widen the highway. That is not a long term solution.

    Great cities have traffic, but they have solutions for that traffic. What makes those cities great (NYC, London, etc) is that their public transportation connects all their communities. It’s near impossible to get from south or southwest Dade to downtown Miami area with public transportation. You must take hours of bus connections just to make it, and that is not feasible for the everyday employee. They need rail extensions that connect all the communities. Whether it be metrorail, or something else. They can begin by following the highways, then extending to some main streets. This would connect Miami to all its communities. Then it would be a truly great city. One where people are easily connected to all of the arenas, art centers, and businesses.