Host Robert Ruano sits down with Hialeah Mayor Steve Bovo to talk about participating in the TPO delegation in the Netherlands

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Due to the audio quality of the video Robert Ruano has provided an edited transcription of the video below 

Welcome to the Hague Netherlands. This is LOCALIZED MIAMI and I’m your host Robert Ruano and I have the unique pleasure of being here with Mayor Steve Bovo of Hialeah. How are you, Mayor? 

Bovo: I’m doing well, thank you. I am happy to be here, we’ve got a great setting. 

Right, we’ve got a great setting, we’ve got bikes everywhere. We’re here as part the TPO delegation to the Netherlands to learn about biking and their bike immersion programs. But first, I’d like to know a little about you and about Hialeah. 

Bovo: Hialeah has been able to be a niche and suddenly people that can’t afford living in Brickell, can’t afford to be living in Coral Gables, can’t afford if you can’t afford Miami Beach. And they’re looking at the rent in Hialeah and the rent is high in Hialeah, but it’s still doable for less. And now you have train stations that gives you you can be work in downtown live in Hialeah, just jump on the train downtown in 10 minutes. That I think has become an attraction for folks who live in Hialeah. And then as I’ve said many times Hialeah is situated in such a way that we’re five minutes from the beach, five minutes from downtown, three minutes from the airport. You could be in the heart of the county in 15 minutes, you could be on your way to Naples within 20 minutes with all the connectivity. And I think people have now gotten an appreciation for that and what has brought a lot of people who work in the City of Hialeah, which is extremely important if we want to protect the tax base, the tax base, has not changed in the last 15 years.

That’s great that you haven’t raised the millage in 15 years. We also want to talk about this trip, obviously we’re in a different place. We were supposed to be in the studio but we’re here. Can you tell us some things that you want to achieve on the TPO?

Bovo: When I was on the County Commission and I had the blessing to be the chair of the board, I made the tradition to work on the issues of transportation. I thought if there’s an Achilles heel in this County, it’s our ability to move. If we don’t solve this problem, nobody’s going to come and create thousands of well-paying jobs in the city. And so, my passion is to try to figure out how we can do things the right way, not force things down people’s throats, but give them real options to use. And we collaborated with the folks at the TPO back then, this is my third stint as chair of the TPO. We created legislation to create other systems and I would say a steadfast resolution that we needed to grow our metro system. We’ve got the healthcare components, we’ve got the education components, but we’re missing that piece of transit. And I think our residents are asking for, they don’t want politics involved, they just want to get it done. That’s now this TPO, I continuously remind my colleagues, we’re only going to need a certain amount of time and there’s going to be a generation that’s going to look and say what do they did when they were here? And so hopefully these kinds of trips give us a compass on what can do.

Let’s talk about this. There are about 35 people that are here for this trip – the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization, the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust, the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency, Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, along with several elected officials from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. We had the Dutch Cycling Embassy training, and we’ve been to Rotterdam, to Houten and to Utretch. Tell us, because we’ve done bike tours for three days, obviously in places quite different from where we’re from. Tell us what you thought was the most impressive thing, your big takeaway and what do you think that we can do with it? 

Bovo: I think there’s a lot of stuff to unpack. First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that the culture here pays homage to the cyclist. What we’ve seen here, for the most part, maybe in some cases, maybe Rotterdam wasn’t the case, but for the most part, there’s an acknowledgment that sharing the road with bicycle riders and it’s developed into a form here that gets used to go to work, used to go to the market. It has taken the car out of the equation in many cases.

Now we know that in South Florida, the weather is an inhibitor, but there are some buses. More so, and I got this from day one even before we went out on our bikes, was that in The Hague for example, all the ingredients for a robust transit opportunity are in place. We’ve got trains, we’ve got trolleys, we’ve got buses, and then you’ve got bikes. And it’s like the bike is the cherry on top. And that’s something that is a lesson learned for us that I think we should take back to our communities and talk to them and see if we could create that foundation, a solid foundation, then you can start building upon it. To me that would be very important to understand. We saw the holy grail in Houten, with the winding roads, the bikes, the segregated trails, very easy to maneuver, we saw kids on bikes, we saw adults, we saw all ages on bikes. And I thought that was extremely, extremely important. 

Rotterdam was the best example of all our trips because Rotterdam was leveled by the Nazis during World War II, and I think started taking back their identity after a while when they started shrinking. And obviously, that comes at a collision point, pun intended with cars in the right of way. But they’re getting it right. And so, I think Rotterdam is an example for living in the downtown Miami area, Dadeland area, parts of Hialeah, where a car is dominant, but we could figure out ways where we’re going to make it less dominant in certain areas, to promote another path of mobility. And I think it can be done. I think even in our city with three metro stations and growing, we have the opportunity to do something, create some connectivity. And again, my mantra is giving people choices. If you want to take a car, I’m not one to try to remove the car. It’s giving people the choice to say, “I’m not going to take the car today, I’m going go on the train,” and you go to where I want to go. 

 What do you want us to understand about what Hialeah is doing right now?

 Bovo: We’re going right now through a charette process with our planning and zoning folks and really the entire city. We’ve been meeting with residents to create a blueprint of what does Hialeah look like in 2050. We need to start putting the building blocks together for a future generation. Obviously, we attend to the issues that are important of the day, but we should start putting those building blocks in place today. To me, one of the takeaways from here is understand that for many of us when we talk about biking, it’s leisure activity here, they’re talking about biking in a way that is literally taking folks to work, giving folks a different option, right? Exactly. What I’d like to do is maybe, or one of the takeaways is sit down with my planning zoning folks and say, okay, let’s look at one of those stations with all the development, the amount of people that may live there, how do we create the area to park your bikes. It’s not a robust path by path, but it does take you to a couple of critical points and let’s see how that works. And if people start seeing this as a viable option, then maybe you just extend it a little more and extend the money.

Let me ask you something because this is a big point with a lot of cities. If you make room for bikes, you’ve got to take room from something else. That could potentially mean a road diet, a lane diet. Getting rid of the lane, right? Getting rid of parking, changing parking, reducing size of lane. Are any of those something you think are a possibility?

 Bovo: I think it is possible the closer you are to the TOD (Transit Oriented Development) to go ahead and manipulate that. There are always ways of doing it as a pilot program and seeing how that reacts. You could always create one-lane, one-way and then kind of flip lanes around. I think all of us drivers as creatures of habit. If we drive and we find, oh, I can’t turn here anymore, I’ll just find another place to turn. Sometimes we shouldn’t be fearful that we’re offending somebody when we’re trying to give a menu option for folks. Pilots aren’t a bad idea, but I do think that if I’ve got a development that has let’s say 800 units, I need to create something that will allow them whether they bike, or they walk but take them to the places that they want to go. 

And another thing that we’re doing highly is we’re trying to create a circulator, similar to a people mover, but this is a grade where we’re going to have a trolley bike system going into a circular pattern constantly to start creating that synergy where people could say, predictably, every 25 minutes, every 45 minutes, this is coming. Let me wait for it. And here are all the points it takes me to daily. I always say we’re the second-largest city in Miami-Dade County. We need to start acting like the second-largest city in Miami-Dade County and start investing. When I became mayor, we made our bus system free, our ridership went through the roof. And I think a lot of people see transit as a service. It is a service, and we have the flexibility that you did not have in the county, or at least I didn’t have in the county, was to change routes. As sees fit, we contract and then we could always manipulate to fix. But I think coming here, seeing lessons learned, understanding that they’re not going to become this overnight and then not necessarily this works in South Florida, but there are variations that work in South Florida, and they started back in the sixties and seventies to do this stuff. So maybe part of our work is dialogue with young people in our community, young college students, high school students, ask them “soon we’re going to turn the keys to this city over to you. What is it that you’d like to see happening?” So that when you get the keys to the city, there’s already work being done to build upon the dreams that they have. 

I was just thinking we were the young people trying to get things done and now we’re the old guys and now the new generation must come in.

Bovo: We just need to make sure that what we’re doing is going to fit their needs and what their aspirations are. And I’ve already had some dialogue with young people. They’re looking at the Freebie as an option. They think differently. I remember being 15 years old and couldn’t wait to get my restricted permit to drive and then my license and it was, I need the car now. And I do realize that there are some people now that are thinking of alternative ways. They don’t want a car.

They have Uber.

Bovo: Tell them to wait as much as they can before they get a car with the insurance of a car, gas, maintenance, not to mention the monthly payments on a car. It’s easier. 

Obviously, that’s a benefit, right? It’s cheaper. And if you have a population that is not of high income, there’s a way they can save. But I think I remember reading something over here. I think the population, in the United States like 26%, is obese or something (it’s actually 41% compared to The Netherlands at 15%). I may have that number wrong though. And we noticed here people are much thinner. There’s a health benefit there. 

Bovo: No doubt. The technologies, the comforts of a first-rate nation could come to haunt us, right? I did a stint at Miami Children’s Hospital doing some government work for them while I was on the county commission. And I remember the statistics of obesity, hypertension, starting at incredibly young ages. And it is interesting you say that because one of the things I’m trying to do in the city of Hialeah is recapture our parks and get more recreational programs. And I see long term I hark back to the way I grew up on my bike as a kid playing rec baseball, optimist, baseball, football. And I like to emulate as much as I can. That upbringing to the kids in my city, me today. I work actively with our park guys and our mindset’s always that we got to get kids off the couch, out on the field. 

Like here, the kids, you saw them riding from an early age, from 11, they said they take a test, and they can ride on their own. They could ride to school on their own. 

Bovo: Very impressive. 

Absolutely. We just have a few minutes left, so Mayor of Hialeah, ‘The City That Progresses.’ what are a couple of things, some takeaways, that you would like to give people that really don’t know about Hialeah or think they know about Hialeah? 

Bovo: I would say this, for those that are investors that are business owners come to Hialeah and if you scratch, you’ll find gold in the streets. I mean, there is a product loyalty amongst the residents in Hialeah, if you put a business in Hialeah, our residents feel that you’ve taken ownership and you’ve invested in them. And so, it’s very rare to see a business open in Hialeah and fail. That’s one takeaway, extremely important. And the second thing is that we are still a city where the American Dream is alive and well. A lot of folks come to Hialeah; they start their journey in the American Dream. Hialeah is a launching pad. It always has been. And it continues to be. And we’re seeing a transformation, young people coming into our city, putting pressure to see new restaurants, new clubs. Soon you’ll see development at Hialeah Park that may mirror what you see in Wynwood Entertainment Center and restaurant districts. There’s a lot going on in Hialeah. The sky’s the limit as far as I’m concerned. And I think the best times for Hialeah are still to come.

 Mayor, thank you very much. Absolute pleasure. I guess we’ll leave the Hague soon. We’ll be back in Miami and back to a hundred-degree weather.

Bovo: Definitely, a lot warmer there. Absolutely. Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks.

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