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Front Page » Transportation » Trip to California finds pro-transit mindset

Trip to California finds pro-transit mindset

Written by on May 3, 2016
Trip to California finds pro-transit mindset

When members of the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) traveled to Oakland and San Diego, CA, to survey transit tactics, they found many similarities between the California communities and Miami. But the differences were also clear, said Aileen Bouclè, MPO executive director since January.

The April 8 traveling party included Ms. Bouclè; Jean Monestime, chair of both the Miami-Dade Commission and the MPO; Francis Suarez, Miami commissioner and MPO vice chair; and Oliver G. Gilbert III, mayor of Miami Gardens and MPO member.

They visited the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a planning authority for nine counties in the San Francisco Bay area; the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency in the San Diego area; and the California offices of both the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration. “Multiple meetings took place,” Ms. Bouclè said.

Like Miami-Dade County, the Bay area and San Diego are affected by both growth and congestion, she said. “We share similar problems; these are two very populous regions. The road network is at capacity.”

But the California planning groups operate under a mindset that the only effective way to improve mobility is to grow public transit, she said. “They know that’s where the future is.”

They are also unified in the pursuit of regional solutions, Ms. Bouclè said. “They get behind a plan and move it forward. They acknowledge that they need help, and they are very aggressive in seeking federal funding.”

Once a plan is established, “they work it, acknowledging there is a time line.” Ms. Bouclè said she hopes a similar coalition of committed officials and stakeholders will push forward the Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit plan that the MPO recently approved.

In California, “they have a pipeline full of projects” in various stages of environmental testing or design. “As soon as they have a project that’s ready, they move it forward,” she said. “They know that federal funding requires a local match” and have prepared the resources.

In its search for solutions that have worked elsewhere, the group has visited Denver and will next travel to Houston.

“We’re at a crossroads in Miami-Dade; our roadways are built out,” Ms. Bouclè said. “We have the capacity to grow our transit.” The question, at least in the minds of many observers, is whether community leaders and transportation officials can put aside individual agendas and unify behind a common goal.

8 Responses to Trip to California finds pro-transit mindset

  1. Tom Rubin

    May 4, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    While projects do tend to move along in California, do not mistake this for progress in transportation. In the Bay Area, total transit trips are down from 1980, even as the population has grown over 40% and transit revenue vehicle miles have grown over 50% — and costs have more than doubled (after inflation). Many project are beyond stupid, such as a people mover connection between BART and the Oakland Airport costing almost half a billion dollars, with on-going annual subsidies well over $10 million a year, and the fare doubling from the totally self-supporting shuttle bus system it replaced — which had comparable trip times. While there are very interesting plans to completely redesign the Bay Area, there is no funding to do so — and housing costs are driving many people out of the Bay Area entirely. San Diego also has very significant problems, as does Los Angeles.

    • Wade Greene

      May 4, 2016 at 6:17 pm

      A web search indicates that Mr. Rubin works for the Reason Foundation, a Libertarian organization that consistently opposes rail transportation projects if they are government-funded. The Oakland Airport project which he mentions has been in operation for half a year, and its success won’t be known until it has several years of operation. The initial reaction of its users has been mostly quite positive.

      Transit has become essential for the Bay Area, providing capacity that would be difficult by building roads. BART and Caltrain ridership are at all-time levels.

  2. Tom Rubin

    May 5, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Mr. Green, ad hominem attacks are generally used only when their proponents have nothing better to offer — particularly since a good web search would show that, while I have written papers for the Reason Foundation (and what, exactly, is wrong with that — other than you evidently don’t care for Libertarians for some reason?), I have also done substantial worked for organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. — and none of this has anything to due with the validity of the facts and arguments I presented.
    If you actually think that spending $484 million of taxpayer money to build a 3.2-mile rail system for under 3,000 people a day to use, plus millions more annually to subsidize operations, to replace a SELF-FUNDING shuttle bus with a fare half that of this “improvement,” well, I guess there is not much more I can say to try to get you to change your mind, but I will try one other thing: If the annual operating subsidy ALONE had been spent instead on REAL transit service, it would have produced more trips for people who have few, if any, mobility alternatives. If the $484 million construction cost had been invested and the interest earnings used for REAL transit, the REAL transit ridership would have increased an additional multi-fold — and anyone who wanted to go from the airport to BART would still have the shuttle buses.
    Yes, BART and Caltrain ridership have been growing, but the ridership of virtually every other Bay Area transit operator has fallen, so the net is a big reduction in transit use — even as the population has grown significantly and spending has grown far more.
    No one is arguing that transit is not essential to the Bay Area — I certainly didn’t, not after over four decades in the transit industry. The issue is, the huge amount of spending on transit in the Bay Area has not produced improvements, in fact things are going backwards, and the plan for the future is, unfortunately, still more of the same at ever higher costs to the taxpayers for little benefit to anyone.
    If Miami is looking for good solutions to address its transportation issues, ones that have a proven record of success, the only reason to visit the Bay Area is to find out what hasn’t worked so there it won’t be tried in Miami.

  3. Wade Greene

    May 5, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    I wish to apologize for an error in my earlier post. The Oakland Airport Connector opened in November 2014, so it has been in operation about one-and-a-half years. Its daily ridership after a year of operation (3,300) was 37% higher than the shuttle bus it replaced.

    The ultimate level of success for transit projects can’t be measured until they have been in service long enough for ridership to mature. To draw conclusions about this project so soon is premature. Note that this project’s ridership is also dependent on airport travel volumes.

  4. Adam Old

    May 5, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    The best lessons to take from San Francisco are:

    1) Freeways are not as essential as we take them to be—SF has done excellently since losing the embarcadero freeway and made the right move ending the 280 earlier. Miami could do the same thing.

    2) Prioritizing transit, even when some drivers complain. Look at the “red-carpet” lanes muni routes just rolled out. This is what it will take in Miami, as well.

  5. Tom Rubin

    May 6, 2016 at 11:44 am

    Mr. Green, thank you for your most recent posting.
    The comparison that you make does not consider the riders from AC Transit Routes 73 and 805 who formerly utilized these to access the Oakland Airport. Since, unlike the now-cancelled Airport-BART shuttle, these remain in operation, the public sector — taxpayer — cost of operating these has not decreased.
    Using your numbers — and not adjusting for the riders who formerly utilized Routes 73 and 805 who shifted — this is an increase of ~800 riders daily.
    I think that everyone, including even you, agrees that adding 800 riders a day cannot justify $484 million of taxpayer funds to build this rail transit addition — and the millions more in annual operating subsidies, all brand new added expenditures over the former self-funding shuttle bus service. While you state, “The ultimate level of success for transit projects can’t be measured until they have been in service long enough for ridership to mature,” I can tell you from my many decades in the transit industry, that a doubling of ridership on a new rail line over first year ridership, would be doing well — BART ridership at the San Francisco International station did not quite double in the twelve years from its first year, 2003, to 2015.
    So, if ridership doubled in ten years to 6,600 (which would be an increase of 4,100), would this then justify this expenditure in your eyes?
    If not, what is your number to justify this expenditure?
    … and I would appreciate if you would respond to my comment as to transit riders that could have been added if, instead of these scarce taxpayer funds being utilized for replacing a well-functioning, totally self-supporting shuttle bus system, it was instead used to provide transit service to those who had no other mobility options?

  6. Sean R

    May 8, 2016 at 10:50 am

    How many more studies and trips are needed to improve transit? My family has resided in Miami since 1910 and ironically some of the transit lines needed today existed nearly 90 years ago ie: Miami Beach, Coral Gables and Buena Vista trolley lines. Aside from the political and economic reasons for their removal light rail and commuter rail is the best fit for the area. Instead of grand plans expand in 1 or 2 miles of light rail a year and take over ALL freight lines to add commuter rail. Had this been done we’d have 40+ more miles of dedicated transit lines today since the start of the transit tax. This is not rocket science. With the internet the greedy politicians can do all the research from their desk and stop trying to get free trips! Go to map quest and you’ll see all the freight lines pass near population centers or areas that can draw weekday commuters. WE NEED ACTION YESTERDAY!

    To fix this mess, end all the free rides. Stop offering free trolley buses in Miami Dade. Stop using the money for non-transit uses and for vans/buses that do no not integrate with the exiting bus network.Did it not occur to anyone they are taking riders off of the regular bue lines and not collecting a penny? Finally remove transit from the county and city and move the an authority that answers to FDOT. Like it or not the Expressway Authority has done a good job with road improvements. They have the gumption to raise tolls and created a plan to get the job done. The fact is there are no free rides and transit is not cheap.

  7. Roderick Llewellyn

    June 1, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    As a San Franciscan, I’ll weigh in on the transit issue, though my knowledge of Miami conditions isn’t strong 🙂

    1. The Bay Area has done a HORRIBLE job of funding effective transit. This area consists of 9 counties, each of whom (plus some of the cities) get seats on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). All bodies of this type end up being horse-trading institutions (“I’ll support your freeway if you support my bus line” kind of thing). The result is terrible regional connectivity and the loss of ridership Mr. Rubin references.

    2. The Oakland Airport Connector was (like the BART extension to the SF Airport) a politically-driven project that ran over the objections of transit planners and activists who knew these projects were, to put it mildly, not the most cost-effective way to increase ridership. Basically, the average person goes to the airport maybe twice a year, but commutes 200 times per year. Airport riders of course are richer, and whiter, than average transit commuters, and there is no doubt that society dotes on such people. Make no mistake about it: many of the Bay Area mega-projects were funded by cutting bus service to communities of color and low income.

    3. Do not forget the pernicious influence of corporations, which is routinely suppressed when MTC makes excuses for poor performance despite spending billions. These corporations don’t care at all about ridership, environmental protection, or serving the poor. All they care about is whether a project serves their facilities. These companies don’t show up at “public” hearings supposedly run to gather opinion and options; rather, they make their demands known in more private settings. The Silicon Valley Manufacturers Association has had a disproportionate influence on Bay Area planning, and it tells: Silicon Valley has about the most circuitous and unusable mass transit, worst farebox recovery, and greatest auto dependence of any urbanized county here.

    If you want a GOOD example of how transit and urban planning should be done, I think you’re wasting your time looking at American examples – Americans are I’m afraid just too brain-dead when it comes to these subjects, having been essentially roboticized by Hollywood and Detroit. Go to Europe instead.