Anyone who drives U.S. 1 knows that we need relief from the nightmarish, bumper-to-bumper traffic that commuters endure daily along the highway connecting South Miami-Dade and points further north.
But, Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez’s answer to South Dade’s daily traffic nightmare is no answer at all. More buses, fancier buses are not a solution.
South Dade must be connected to the rest of Miami-Dade County by the long-promised extension of rail along the U.S. 1 corridor.
Rail is what the people want; rail was what voters envisioned when they approved the 2002 public transportation sales tax.
The so-called BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) simply adds more buses on an existing busway with some cosmetic changes, i.e. nicer bus stops. This will not significantly alter the bumper-to-bumper traffic in and out of South Dade, nor will better buses attract a new generation of transit commuters.
It is estimated that rail would double the number of new riders as compared to simply expanding bus service. As the existing busway along U.S. 1 has demonstrated for more than two decades, people will not get out of their cars in great numbers to ride a bus. Rail, on the other hand, is a popular and efficient mode of urban travel worldwide for users at every income level.
From Shanghai to Dubai, urban areas that strive to be world class are investing heavily in rail. In the U.S., Los Angeles has undertaken one of the nation’s biggest transportation projects, investing billions to expand its rail system. Yes, rail is considerably more expensive than simply expanding bus service. But, there is also a high price for not investing in the right transit mode.
Sadly, BRT will do little, or nothing, to spur economic development.
What an opportunity lost! Today, South Dade is among the few places in the County that offers affordable land and workforce housing. The area is ripe for new commercial development. But, thanks to Miami-Dade’s poor policy and planning, we lack the infrastructure necessary to attract the new businesses that would create much needed jobs for our residents.
The County’s Transportation Planning Organization, a 25-member board comprised of local and municipal officials, is scheduled to vote on July 19 to proceed with BRT as a public transportation strategy. At stake is far more than one more vote-taking on a long-debated transportation issue. The simple truth: if we settle for buses, South Dade will never get rail. And, it puts in question whether we will ever see the expansion of Metrorail to other parts of the County.
True, the Mayor is in a jam. Despite the half-penny transit tax, there are not sufficient revenues to fund rail expansion along all of the County’s designated transit corridors including those in North Dade and Miami Beach. Everyone is demanding better transportation solutions.
But, why settle for expanding something that we already have, a dedicated busway, that has done little to get people out of their cars and lessen the 90-minute plus commute between South Dade and downtown. It’s time to get serious about mass transit in Miami-Dade and change the dynamics of how we move about our County.
Elected officials, like medical doctors, should subscribe a Hippocratic Oath that pledges, “Do no harm.” Spending scarce transit dollars to expand a bus system, that doesn’t deliver what we need, is worse than doing nothing at all.
If our elected leaders cannot fulfill their commitment to bring rail to our community, the people of Miami-Dade would certainly be within their rights to renege on their commitment to fund transit improvements and recall the half-penny transit sales tax that we helped pass 16 years ago.
It’s now time for anyone interested in public transportation solutions to be heard!