Among our bucketful of mobility ideas, let’s let some get out
You know the crabs-in-a-bucket story? One crab trapped in a bucket can easily climb out, but with a bucket full of crabs those that lag behind will pull the leader back down, so that none of them ever get out of the trap.
Well, it’s just like that in improving Miami-Dade County mobility: we’re all caught in the trap, and whenever anyone comes up with a partial solution the rest join in pulling the innovator back down.
Think about it: when bicycle lanes sprouted on our roadways motorists yelled. We did the same with on-street bike rentals. We see it today – read the letters to the editor on this page – as pedestrians decry electric scooters. And what do you think you’ll hear when 750 planned electric rental mopeds hit the city’s streets?
The crab-in-a-bucket syndrome isn’t limited to individual travel. For decades as mobility has deteriorated Miami Beach residents have offered many and varied excuses for why public mass transit can’t possibly be allowed to link the Beach with downtown Miami.
We seem united in only one things: we work together to prevent any unconventional progress. We cheer faster auto traffic, but every other partial solution or transportation improvement gets the stop sign.
Ask county Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., who publicly pledged that during his year as commission chairman in 2017-2018 we would undertake at least one of the six planned legs of the Smart plan for mass transit. Through no fault of his own, we are still pledging this: every form of government red tape imaginable – including plain old bickering over what area goes first – has prevented progress.
The latest example came this month, as county Commissioner Xavier Suarez produced legislation to create a two-trolley relay to link the county’s multi-modal transit hub beside Miami International Airport with Florida International University’s main campus in West Dade. It took only a single week to derail the plan because other commissioners said action should wait for more planning.
Now, anyone in Miami-Dade who wants to wait for added mobility while planners decide what they want to do, please raise your hands. Higher, please – I can’t see any hands showing.
The fact is, we are planned to death, Anything that can be accomplished without waiting for planners or studies of any sort or more red tape or opposition to arise seems to be a blessing – at least, if you’re trying to get around Miami-Dade.
I will admit that Mr. Suarez’s plan seems shaky. He wants to link the City of Miami’s second-worst-performing trolley route to a new trolley running in unincorporated Miami-Dade to go east-west as we await a larger transit solution, not instead of it.
Little 30-seat trolleys aren’t huge mobility answers – but they could move 30 people a trip to, from and around one of the nation’s larger universities that now has minimal transit links via bus.
The link, if successful, could save the life of the city’s little-used Flagami Trolley, which is now on life support but already exists and runs. Adding a county trolley or trolley-like bus would be a minimal gamble because the vehicles could be used elsewhere if the experiment – and it is indeed an experiment – were to fail miserably.
Like bicycles and scooters and private mopeds, the trolley plan has minimal downside cost risk to government while seemingly adding mobility to people and areas that have precious little to go on other than private automobiles.
That’s why it was disconcerting to see other county commissioners pull Mr. Suarez and his plan back down to wait for a study by the non-profit, non-government Transit Alliance or do something else to avoid duplicating services – although there is no such service at all today. Anything, it seems, to avoid an advance.
To a certain extent we understand commissioners preventing one another from showing a success when four of them are competing for the mayor’s job next year. That would be the ultimate crab scenario: pull down any of the four who might show a success in transportation before the election. We sincerely hope that isn’t the motivation in this case.
But let’s face it: there is no single transportation solution in this county, at least not in our lifetimes. The Smart plan, even if enacted, won’t be finished for decades if we start full speed ahead right now.
That means we need lots of patchwork and partial solutions to small pieces of the puzzle, ways to get a few cars off the road and move a few more people a bit faster – at worst, not see ourselves moving more and more slowly over the next two decades while we strive for a Smart plan that we have no guarantee will ever be completed.
We can’t just keep waiting for perfection to do something. What Mr. Suarez has proposed, and commissioners have shelved, is a “something” of undetermined value.
But there is certainly very little value in waiting and waiting, first for the Transit Alliance to get everyone to agree to a bus formula – their choice is, do we want to cover more areas or carry more people in fewer areas – and then to figure out how to pay for the Smart plan, and then to agree on what to do next, and then to get it done.
Given the choice between adding tiny trolleys on an uncertain route or waiting for planners and plans and funding and approvals, commissioners would do well to take this plan off the shelf. If all four who are running for mayor put their names on the legislation as sponsors, they can be equally rewarded by voters if the trolley succeeds or be equally culpable if it doesn’t.
But at least they will have done something more than pulling the lead crab back down deep into the mobility bucket.