As a Commissioner working in Downtown Miami’s Government Center I ride the MetroRail because it helps me avoid traffic and gets me where I need to go. I’m a “choice rider” but many people in our community do not have this luxury. I recognize that affordable public transportation is the only way for many residents to get to work, get home, or travel.
By improving the reliability, frequency, and safety of public transportation, we can attract “choice” riders while greatly enhancing the quality of life for tens of thousands of our residents. We need a transit system that competes with the car as the preferred way to get around. We cannot continue with a goal of Transit being “less bad.” Our ability to thrive depends on our mass transit network and is often seen as a major barrier to economic development here.
One of my favorite parts of living in South Florida has been getting to experience the natural beauty that surrounds us, so I try my best to go on walks and bike rides around the County. We must also expand bike lanes and safe alternatives to driving so our residents can experience Miami-Dade and all it has to offer – not only by car, but on foot, on their bikes, and in our many wonderful parks. And especially in this COVID world, more are choosing bicycles for mobility, as well as recreation.
Connecting these routes to each other and to our residents will be one of my highest priorities.
In order of speed of implementation:
For starters, we need to implement the Better Bus Project led by the Transit Alliance! I was proud to work with you to bring the problem to the Commission, and to help see it through to this point. The COVID crisis has understandably delayed bringing the final recommendation to the Board, but it still remains the fastest and best solution for improving the transit system.
I have looked to TA for ideas and recommendations on how to make the best case for real change that would improve our Transit system. I have listened. I have advocated for consistent and improved weekend service as an important fix, and won back concessions. I had learned first-hand how critical consistent service is to our residents. After the current Mayor cut routes and farmed out others to private operators - that I vehemently opposed - his shortsighted cuts stranded hundreds of senior citizens in my district. I spent almost an entire year working to bring back service to these low income, transit dependent senior citizens. That experience was infuriating and reinforced my drive to make sure transit services become a real priority for our County.
Entire segments of the County had been allowed to develop without transit as an integrated component. The result was evident in my district where homes for 16,000 people within a mere mile of the Transitway had no bus service to connect them. I struggled for years - even had my picture in the Miami Herald holding up a map of my “transit desert” - to get a single bus route funded. That is absolutely unacceptable. My administration will require transit planning to be integrated with land use planning.
Miami-Dade allowed the bus fleet and train fleet to deteriorate to such a horrible state that it crippled reliability and drove away thousands of “choice” riders who could drive instead of suffer roach-infested buses with leaking roofs and mold. Who would take the bus if there was a pretty good chance you could end up stranded due to a mechanical breakdown?
Our bus system was designed three decades ago but since then, our County has grown by almost a million residents, its population centers have shifted, and so have its needs. Our residents cannot grow and thrive on a transit system from the past that has not changed with the times. We need innovative transit leaders in charge who will reinvigorate our public transit system and build bridges between communities in our County.
Furthermore, I would aggressively deploy clean, quiet, and climate-friendly electric buses to attract more riders. Transportation is one of the biggest contributors to human-induced climate change, so radically cutting our use of fossil fuels and moving toward more renewable resources will be a top goal.
Our community is tired of the broken promises of the past to improve and expand our public transit. These promises have increased our taxes but given us nothing in return, and have actually cost us hundreds of millions in federal funding we could have used to expand our services and deliver on those promises. We urgently need transit that brings opportunities to every neighborhood, makes movement around Miami-Dade affordable for everyone, and reduces our impact on the environment.
I have supported efforts to improve and expand public transit through the SMART Plan. I have been skeptical of “no cost” solutions offered by some, and pressed for the best - not the most expedient - solutions for each corridor. While the TPO committed the County to pursue Bus Rapid Transit for the entire South Corridor, I had worked with the cities impacted and sought to deliver the solutions they all thought best - in the case of the South Corridor, it was a hybrid between an at-grade Metrorail extension to Cutler Bay and BRT to Homestead. On the north corridor, there are real concerns about equity and inclusion for the lower income and largely Black communities that would be served by this corridor. There is a legacy of broken promises dating back to the very first plans for Metrorail. And Federal funds expected for the North corridor were not approved after it was determined that there had been inadequate investment in transit from the time when Penelas was mayor, a travesty that led to another decade of delay.Those injustices must be addressed with the affected communities in any plans for the North corridor.
I have worked with Transit Alliance in reviewing the plans for both the Beach Corridor and Northeast Corridor, and greatly appreciate the thoughtful insights the organization has brought to both. I agree that the best solution should be what we build for the Beach - providing the best ridership and best travel time performance for patrons. For the Northeast Corridor, I will settle for nothing less than a seamless, integrated commuter train system that is priced the same as Metrorail. The East/West corridor was finally launched with the dedicated lanes on the DolphinExpressway and the opening of the Dolphin Park and Ride. Plans for a more robust BRT are in the works, but I have raised concerns that it was not being designed with the most effective BRT standards (lacking level boarding, prepayment of fares, robust transit stations instead of shelters, dedicated lanes, and too frequent stops) to be effective. Finally the Kendall corridor has long been a planning challenge. I have asked the planners to try to find a dedicated reversible lane solution that would be embraced by the residents of Kendall.
Beyond the SMART Plan, there are many opportunities to improve Transit operations by providing dedicated lanes on more routes, better route management to sync up intersecting routes, and better timing of bus arrivals with train and mover arrivals for more effective transfers. Signal priority (queue jumping) should be introduced on popular routes in places where bus lanes can’t be provided. I was successful in getting the South Dade Transitway included as one of the first applications of adaptive traffic management signals. The system prioritizes buses over cars on the Transitway and has improved end-to-end travel time reductions of 20% in some cases. Adaptive signal technology should be used to improve all mobility options - not just cars - and I would work to ensure that buses are prioritized along high volume corridors. There’s a great deal that can be done now with technology as part of the toolkit as well.
The structure isn’t the immediate challenge - the inability to work cohesively has been the challenge. The current administration has been acting as a one-person-transit-authority. That would end with my administration.
I would deliberately work to engage the public which would play a much bigger role in how Transit responds to our customers. I would seek to bring our cities (both on the TPO and not), the TPO itself, the Citizen’s Independent Transportation Trust, and State and Federal transportation agencies into a shared set of community driven goals.
The fragmentation of the transit system was an inevitable outcome of the way the PTP was“sold” to the public and the decades of mismanagement of the County Transit system that led to desperate cities going their own way.
I think a more invested TPO and a Mayor actively seeking to make the public a partner, will lead to better outcomes than we have experienced in the past.
The Transit Surtax was oversold to the voters by Alex Penelas. It was known at the time of passage that the promises made could not (and would not) be kept. The County Manager was forced to issue memos to the County Commission within a year of the surtax passage saying that the projections were too rosy and that the promises to the voters could not be kept. That abuse of the public trust, more than just about any other scandal, has gutted public confidence in County government. The broken promises back in 2002 have been probably the biggest factor in the erosion of the quality of life of millions of people as more people lost access to jobs and services, are mired in traffic, and more.
It's hard to recover from that. But I will try. Since coming to office, I have pushed to keep us on schedule with the Metrorail fleet replacement, added highly successful express service to theUS 1 Transitway, pressed for traffic light synchronization and use of the Transitway by city circulators and the integration of county bus with city circulator service, pushed hard to replace the ancient bus fleet and to put new electric buses into service. I’ve fought efforts to privatize Transit services and advocated for quality ADA accessibility. I fought to ensure the South Dade BRT be built to international “gold” standards, even after losing the vote to extend the Metrorail as promised and needed. I pushed to build protected bike lanes and greenway trails and more. I have pushed to try new things - even getting “Quickbuild” grants to use community volunteers to deploy “tactical urbanism” solutions on streets in my district.
The County has been embarrassingly slow to implement basic improvements and has struggled to slow the decline. None of the PTP corridors had been built, and the public rightly feels that the funds have been squandered.
But in my time on the Commission, I have seen a change in attitudes towards non-auto mobility. There’s an embrace of bike trails like Ludlam and the Underline that had been neglected for decades before. There is at least a grudging acceptance that building more roads won’t “solve traffic” (although a super-majority unfortunately still voted to build the toll road extension outside the UDB even with a catchy song opposing it). There’s also a consensus that we need to plan for more compact and pedestrian friendly urban places. We are finally getting serious about modernizing the bus fleet - and even Commissioners now trying to out-do me on my call to electrify the transit fleet for cleaner air, quieter neighborhoods, and a cooler planet. And I can guarantee as Mayor we will finally make progress on the old PTP (now SMART) Plan corridors but with an eye to optimizing the entire network.
The backbone of our public transit system should be access and equity. Through transit, we can reduce the barriers that disadvantaged communities face in getting better jobs, lessening the financial burden of owning and maintaining a car, reduce the congestion and pollution of traffic, and create an inter-connected and accessible Miami-Dade County for everyone.
But in order to truly provide these opportunities, we need a transit system that works, that is reliable, and that our residents feel safe and comfortable using. By building a world-class transit system for our county, we can directly address issues of equity and access throughout our community.
I will also found the Office of Equity and Inclusion which will specifically address equity concerns across our government. Income, wage, and wealth growth in our county has been tilted toward the wealthy for too long, and a better system of public transit will be an important step in addressing this inequity.
In Miami-Dade County, we not only face a transit problem, but we also face an affordability crisis. Our residents are being priced out of their homes and though we can address this in part by providing a living wage to all residents and by increasing community safety net programs, we must also address this through the lens of affordable housing and development.
More urban centers need to be identified along transit corridors, and transit-accessible mixed use (and critical to that - mixed income) development is a key to ensuring affordability for low-income residents. Connected to our transit system, they are able to find better jobs and open up their options. We must expand these options and look to additional solutions as well, such as Community Land Trusts which ensure that housing will be accessible to communities for generations.
One of the first projects I worked on with the Transit Alliance was an effort to untangle the balkanized and disjointed system of city circulators and County Transit. The crazy mishmash of city service and County Transit was an outcome of the splitting of the PTP (and therefore responsibility) which led to a disparate and sometimes competing transit system.
Instead of collaborating on a holistic system, the County’s main driver when dealing with city trolleys was to “avoid duplication” and to make sure the cities didn’t poach too much of a County route. The result is the mess we have now. As a bit of a band-aid, we worked to require that cities upgrade the GPS equipment on their trolleys and that they provide real-time data in an open-format for private real-time mapping services.
I’ve tried since then to find ways to accelerate the system upgrades and data requirements. I’ve also worked with the cities in my district to better integrate their services with the County. I worked with Transit to provide Palmetto Bay’s incredibly inefficient iBus circulator into a peak commuter shuttle which is now complemented with on-demand services offered by the Village.
I’ve worked with Cutler Bay to integrate weekend service into their circulator to restore services lost to inadvisable and harmful service cuts to the County’s transit system. There will be lots of opportunities (in the absence of any delegating the operations back to the County as Cutler Bay has done) to more actively coordinate municipal transit with the County system.