A recent inaccurate and misleading column in the Community News by James McDonald, “Let’s Get Rapid Transit on the Transitway”, cries out for rebuttal. I would like to simply state some facts that he has ignored.
First, to be a “rapid” transit system, the system must be rapid. The recognized minimum for performance is that a commuter must be able to ride from Florida City to Downtown Miami in one hour or less. This requires an average speed of 30 MPH. To average 30 MPH while stopping at 20 stations, busses will have to accelerate to a maximum speed of 60 MPH between stations – just as MetroRail does today. Busses can’t do this, even with the minor improvements that Mr. McDonald mentions. Without this level of performance, busses (BRT) will not attract riders and will not solve our traffic problem.
Any ground level transit system will have to stop and go at the traffic signals at each of the roadways intersecting the Transitway at ground level. In 1997, when the busway service was initiated, traffic signal timing (“priority preemption”) was tried and soon abandoned due to an unacceptably high rate of accidents. Priority preemption is not a viable option. In short, BRT will function just about the same as the busses on the Transitway today.
And regarding accidents, any ground level system will result in bus/car/pedestrian collisions. Obviously, this is not an issue with elevated MetroRail. With BRT, system safety will be no better than safety on the Transitway today. As I see it, BRT is not an acceptable alternative. Elevated MetroRail expansion is the only viable solution.
Mr. McDonald says we can’t afford MetroRail expansion, but it seems to me that we can’t afford not to expand MetroRail. Rapid transit systems are not funded by fares, they are a public service funded by government (in fact, I believe that transit should be free). But these funds are more than balanced by the benefits of rapid transit. New construction, new businesses, a larger tax base, and new jobs, as well as a higher Quality of Life and fewer cars on the roads, all result from a rapid transit system. These benefits will not come from busses on the Transitway – After 20 years, haven’t we learned that yet?
Mr. McDonald misrepresents the Federal Government’s Infrastructure Plan. As I understand it, the Plan could provide as much as 20% matching funds for infrastructure projects. And, the plan proposes to fast track project review and permitting so that a MetroRail expansion project could break ground in a year or two. The plan will reward communities that demonstrate “value capture” methods of funding their projects, such as impact fees on new development – Miami-Dade County saw $8.2 billion in new development in 2017. And, shouldn’t the one half penny sales tax we voted for in 2002 specifically to expand MetroRail, be used for that purpose? And, because of the Save Our Homes law and the tax exemptions for long term residents and seniors, any property tax millage used to fund MetroRail expansion may come mostly from newer construction and property sales. Shouldn’t new growth pay for itself?
Elevated MetroRail is the solution. The County can find the funding to expand MetroRail. All that is needed is some elected officials with the political will to do what is right for their constituents. And, some ”grass roots” citizen involvement.
Unfortunately, instead of implementing a real solution, we are headed toward “getting something done now” even if it won’t work. The County planners have already performed a public “survey” of transit preferences that did not include MetroRail expansion. If we, the citizens of South Dade, want the economic development, growth, and prosperity that rapid transit will bring to our community, if we want to become a first class community, we must stand up and demand it now.
Stephen Zarzecki is a retired professional engineer. He is a third generation, lifelong resident of South Dade County, president of the Concerned Citizens of Cutler Bay, and a member of the County’s South Corridor People’s Advisory Group (RTP-PAG).