Miami’s traffic riddle has no one solution, yet it has many
Written by Michael Lewis on October 31, 2017
As we struggle to map out an easy path to mobility in a rapidly congesting Miami, let me deliver the bad news: no single solution serves us all.
But that’s also the good news: while no silver-bullet solution can cure Miami-Dade’s congestion woes for everyone, a number of partial solutions can together do the job.
It’s not a matter of throwing money at one magic project. We need plenty of money, yes, but we also need creativity, vision and cooperation to attack the local mobility problem on many fronts simultaneously.
That was the basis of our Smart plan, which originally targeted six transit corridors at once to spread what was envisioned as rail linkage across the map of the county – a map sketched decades ago. Now the plan has been slimmed to two legs to start, with buses instead of rail on another leg, slowing the effort to put other pieces of the puzzle in position.
The agreement among leaders not to leave behind any areas thus has been at minimum bent.
But it would be shortsighted to say that mobility efforts now have all been focused on a single north-south rail run from Florida City in the south up to the Broward County line at the north.
That might be the single most costly attack on our mobility crisis, but it also might be among the slowest to bear fruit. Far more pieces of the puzzle could be in position years before the first passenger takes a single train trip from Florida City to Broward. We neglect these other pieces of the puzzle to our own discomfort and economic disadvantage.
If you doubt that multiple efforts to hack away at congestion are either needed or in the pipeline, you didn’t read this newspaper last week. Including the north-south rail line priority, we published 15 – count ’em, 15 – separate articles on pieces of Miami-Dade’s mobility puzzle.
Those articles discussed progress of a Brightline rail service that will link downtown Miami with the downtowns of Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, a service promised by year’s end. Virtually every future passenger into or out of downtown Miami would otherwise have been in a car on our roadways and would have been roaming the streets to find parking.
Then, six months after Brightline, Tri-Rail commuter service is to link downtown and communities to our north along Brightline’s tracks – more trainloads of former auto commuters into and out of Miami.
Then come 136 new Metrorail cars. These are to replace trains we have now, but we can still expect more comfort, reliability and on-time service. Those benefits can perhaps reverse the steady exodus from our rail system. If we can’t adequately serve today’s rail riders, after all, how can we hope that a Smart plan’s north-south service could reach its potential?
Another article looked at the hope for a tunnel under the Miami River that would unclog downtown and Brickell traffic that backs up for blocks whenever the Brickell Bridge opens. Remove that single tie-up and traffic in the city’s heart becomes almost bearable – a substantial improvement.
Far before a tunnel, the Dolphin Station Park & Ride will open in West Dade next year to allow motorists to exit cars and take mass transit to the heart of Miami and back. Every driver who parks and rides is off the roads, With more than 800 long-term parking spaces, that’s 800 cars a day gone.
Each of these advances will move hundreds or thousands of extra people every day while using fewer cars. Add them up and they’re significant.
But that’s not all. We wrote last week about a new transit hub in Homestead, systems to manage traffic in Miami Beach, a new South Beach trolley, a Little Haiti trolley run in Miami, plans to expand our water taxi (and those passengers too come right off the roads), a large new garage in Coconut Grove that will pull autos out of the center of that area, school bus lanes that could speed roadway traffic, more express bus service, and repairs on Flagler Street, which long has been a traffic stumbling block.
Those 15 separate steps that could loosen our mobility straitjacket aren’t all that we could do to relieve congestion for varied geographic groups.
No one doubts that a plan to extend SR 836 west and then into the south part of the county would be a traffic godsend, but some object that it would also open doors to more unwanted development in sensitive areas.
At the same time environmentally friendly steps could increase mobility via an Underline pedestrian and bike pathway running from Brickell 10 miles to the south.
Also environmentally friendly are technological changes that might spell an end to gasoline and diesel power for cars that might soon be driving themselves. That in turn could pack far more cars safely onto the same roadways and might result in cars that none of us need own because we will share in their use as needed.
Meanwhile, the county says it’s hard at work installing traffic signals so smart that they too can pack more cars onto a roadway and still move traffic faster. That promise, years in the works, might soon be kept.
New highway interchange designs also in process here will move more cars through the same space with fewer delays.
While all of these upgrades are at stages of becoming reality in Miami-Dade, a Miami Mobility FasTrack study team is promising newer and less costly solutions. We’re eager to learn what else they can find.
So, no, there is no silver bullet that we can fire into the target of gridlock and get a bull’s-eye. Life just isn’t that simple, especially when problems are as complex and the malady as advanced as is our congestion.
But the good news is that on many fronts and in many areas we’re chipping away at the problem.
We need to continue to support those disparate efforts, large and small, even as we seek newer, bolder solutions. The trick will be to avoid some wizard’s distracting promise of a single all-encompassing solution that is more sleight-of-hand than real.