The single secret ingredient to unsnarl downtown’s traffic
Written by Michael Lewis on May 16, 2017
The simplest, least-costly solutions to problems often are the best, but also the most overlooked.
Take the gelatinous slow-moving traffic on the main streets in Brickell and downtown. Driving is rapidly deteriorating.
On the other hand, the most-discussed solutions are the least promising – at least, in the next few years.
For Brickell, the hot topic is to tunnel under the Miami River near the Brickell Avenue Bridge starting from far to the south to dump out cars somewhere in or past downtown.
In downtown, meanwhile, the Downtown Development Authority is intent on narrowing – yes, narrowing – Biscayne Boulevard, which is also US highway 1, in the misplaced hope that the flow will somehow even out and thus get cars through the heart of the city faster. The logic eludes us.
Both remedies, along with most others touted for center city traffic, amount to throwing a lot of money at the problem and hoping something works.
We’re not opposed to solutions based on vast projects that are well thought out, though we recall painfully that a decade ago the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County spent $3 billion on a baseball stadium that was going to somehow cause an economic boom in the heart of Little Havana. We’re still waiting.
Other traffic solutions are around, like making two-way streets one way or one-way streets two way – we’re not sure which is now in vogue – or not building garages in residential towers so that occupants will dispense with cars and walk, bicycle or take transit everywhere (assuming that we suddenly built rail lines that go everywhere).
On the most costly end of the scale, we’re working on six SMART transit routes that will somehow connect in a single system countywide and beyond. But even if we can afford all of the SMART plan and even if transit can be built on its $3.6 billion budget, which is barely half of what the same six transit legs were going to cost 15 years ago, that won’t solve the downtown dilemma for decades.
In the interim, a far less elegant solution to downtown and Brickell gridlock won’t enrich a single contractor or lobbyist. Holland & Knight attorney Bruce Jay Colan has been pushing the remedy for at least a decade.
That answer is – drum roll, please – what seems to be the City of Miami’s lowest priority: enforce the traffic laws.
That would mean ticketing drivers who enter an intersection in heavy traffic and sit there as the light turns red, waiting for traffic ahead to get moving. How many times have you sat grumbling as that blocking of the box road-blocked your whole lane?
Then there are the cars and delivery trucks that double park illegally as drivers duck into a building on some errand that cuts traffic lanes in half until they return. It’s common.
Yet, Mr. Colan laments in a position paper that he’s been handing to city officials and civic leaders for years in vain, the city has no permanent traffic enforcement squad.
It’s so simple. Policing requires no capital investment. It could start almost tomorrow to move traffic.
Of course, it’s not the long-term solution, because more and more cars are being pumped every day into the same number of traffic lanes – or fewer, if the Biscayne Green plan actually takes lanes out of a boulevard that has just added a new science museum this month and faces more construction that aims to bring us casinos and other gambling just north of downtown along that highway.
Brickell, meanwhile, is to get more 80-story-plus residential towers complete with other uses to attract visitors, including the 85-story front door to Brickell City Centre on Brickell Avenue.
No amount of policing can make that traffic go away. But good enforcement can open some current bottlenecks, at least helping to slow mobility’s decline.
The problem, as Mr. Colan notes, is not that Miami police don’t know how to write traffic tickets and keep cars moving. The issue is that traffic enforcement gets bottom priority. When you don’t have traffic cops active and visible, you’re giving frustrated motorists carte blanche to exacerbate traffic jams by breaking the law to get ahead.
If everyone obeyed the law when nobody was watching we wouldn’t need traffic enforcement. Everyone would police himself or herself.
But we’re not all saints.
It’s past time for city hall to demand traffic enforcement.
City commissioners do a great job of slowing down cars in outlying residential areas with traffic-calming devices and an occasional police officer. Bravo: it works.
Now, how about speeding up cars in the congested heart of the city by shifting police to permanent traffic duty or creating traffic-control jobs? It’s cheaper than digging a miles-long tunnel and far more effective than narrowing our busiest boulevard because someone thinks traffic will flow better.
Folks, traffic policing is not rocket science. Big cities have done it well for years. And, unlike some other solutions, it can pay for itself: just write tickets, fine offenders, and government could make a profit by speeding up travel.