Maze of solutions congests efforts to enhance our mobility
Written by Michael Lewis on August 18, 2015
Escalating concern about getting around Miami in predictable time dominates serious news. As ever-larger construction involves more and more people, we belatedly find it’s time to plan for the impact of that growth.
A few years ago local mobility was not center stage. Today, it overflows the stage. A review of Miami Today’s pages for the past six weeks finds articles touching on 49 distinct aspects of the mobility issue.
The fact that these articles derive from a broad range of groups shows both the spread of efforts to grope for solutions and their lack of coordination.
In the disconnected category are plans in both Coral Gables and Miami Beach to expand free local trolley lines. At the same time a University of Miami bus system goes off campus to other popular points.
Meanwhile, an exclusive Miami Today report showed that county bus ridership fell 8% in a year, with some blame placed on free trolleys that siphon riders from paid county routes. Broader bus tracking aims to rebuild that ridership as the county orders 64 new jumbo buses.
All the while, expressway buses are planned, Miami again looks to create a trolley line, and Miami Beach moves rapidly on its end of a Bay Link rail system that would include a City of Miami line of some sort and would eventually join another link over one causeway or another.
As we plan new modes, some seek more one-way streets to speed traffic while others aim to narrow those same streets and make them two way to favor pedestrians instead of moving cars faster.
Miami Beach mobility planning puts pedestrians first and cars last, while Miami’s Downtown Development Authority seeks to narrow car use of the major north-south route, Biscayne Boulevard, which is US 1, to make it a walking street downtown.
At the same time, downtown plans a new pattern of street signs to help people navigate, suburban areas look to traffic circles and speed bumps to slow cars, everyone wants to get traffic lights in sync to move cars faster, and one county commissioner is pushing reversible lanes on roadways to shift with the direction that cars flow in rush hours.
Then there’s car use. Ride sharing is a major aim, development of housing clustered around Metrorail stations targets those who might not have cars at all, and Miami Beach plans a web of charging stations for those who switch from gasoline to battery power.
Others strive to make highways more efficient. The 826-836 interchange to speed traffic, which has been in the works for years, is nearly done. Wynwood businesses seek an expressway exit for connectivity.
Another set of answers targets rail traffic. Some county commissioners want to use CSX rail tracks for commuter rail, while funding has about come together for a Tri-Rail link to a new All Aboard Florida station downtown that will itself link all of South Florida with Orlando.
The big transit roadblock is funding. Some seek to pay for it with a City of Miami trust fund, others seek tax increment districts in which businesses that benefit from nearby transit would fund rail construction and operations, and still others see tourists paying a sales tax to aid transit. More than 50 officials and citizens flew to Denver to see how that area has managed transit challenges.
Meanwhile, officials fend off criticism of higher expressway tolls to fund future transit. We want more ways to get around, but we resent paying for them.
Because all of these steps together wouldn’t clear every hurdle to Miami-Dade mobility, officials also seek services nearer neighborhoods so that residents don’t have to travel, including a $10 million county government hub in West Dade. Another target is the so-called last mile, the link from a home to mass transit.
And as we try to pry drivers out of the flood of cars that increasingly clogs our roadways, falling gas prices are likely to remain the lowest in years, encouraging more of us to stay behind the wheel burning cheaper fuel in stalled traffic.
All of that mobility battle and more reported in just six weeks.
As we grope everywhere for answers, the lack of coordination and agreed-on priorities might be our most serious impediments, even worse than the dearth of cash to do the job. As long as government spreads efforts thin so that every commissioner benefits equally, we’re likely to keep sitting in traffic without real solutions, burning that admittedly cheaper gas and fuming at delays.
If 49 disconnected mobility efforts prove nothing else, they show that we’re headed in far too many directions simultaneously. We can’t both narrow and expand the same stretches of roadway, but we’re trying to. And if we fund free trolleys, why expect more of us to board paid buses headed the same way?
The jam of solutions rivals the jam of traffic. Let’s get some adult supervision in government so that we’re all playing the traffic game with the same aim.