LET’S GET RAPID TRANSIT ON THE TRANSITWAY

161
Just don’t call it ‘Tax Reform
Councilmember Jim McDonald

So here we are in February, 2018, lots of talk about a SMART plan for Miami-Dade County to include six corridors, including our very own busway, now called the Transitway that goes from Dadeland all the way to Homestead and Florida City – 21 miles of county owned corridor ready to be enhanced with rapid transit.  There is much activity happening with the county department transportation studying the issue, lots of public input and, as usual, lots of political gymnastics and gyrations.  The good news is our county DOT is doing a thorough study on the best mode of rapid transit for the Transitway, balancing cost with the need to get commuters out of their cars to use transit to reduce congestion and shorten the commute time.  While the county DOT study has not come to a conclusion as to the mode of rapid transit it will endorse, all signs point to a recommendation for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  The reason I say this is because the hard facts and numbers point to it.  There is simply not enough money available to extend Metrorail all the way to Cutler Bay, Homestead and Florida City.  The current daily ridership on the Transitway is approximately 16,000.  To make a Metrorail extension viable, the technology that supports it requires at least 45,000 riders a day. The cost benefit analysis using federal guidelines simply doesn’t work for a Metrorail extension with today’s level of residents – and getting to 45,000 is decades away.  So what’s the solution?  BRT.  Now before you shout out “I hate buses”, hear me out.

While I recognize everyone loves trains, as I do, when talking about expanding our transit system everyone needs to be realistic about what is doable in today’s environment and be focused on getting something done now, as opposed to years away, if ever.  Extending Metrorail is simply impossible unless someone can find a money tree growing near county hall.  There is little funding money coming from the federal government for transit as we learned recently in the Trump infrastructure plan.

The solution that can be achieved relatively soon is BRT.  BRT is not what we currently have on the Transitway –  express bus service.  BRT is a wholly different mode of rapid transit.  The vehicles are designed like rail cars with doors opening on both sides and you pay before accessing the platform just like Metrorail, so boarding is quick.  The stations will be built to be retrofitted for rail when ridership  makes rail feasible.  A BRT system could be up and running in a few years since the transit way already accommodates vehicle traffic.

BRT is already being successfully used in the United States.  The Orange line in Los Angeles opened in 2005 and operates on a dedicated former rail right of way, just like our Transitway.  It has been proven to be highly successful with a daily ridership of approximately 25,000.  Similarly, the BRT system in Eugene, Oregon has been successful with its system expanding.   Cleveland, Ohio’s BRT line has been a catalyst for economic development from down town to the suburbs.

It is incumbent on the political leadership at the county level and in the municipalities along the Transitway to take a leadership role by educating the public that while everyone likes trains and would prefer an expanded Metrorail system, we simply can’t afford it or justify it with the ridership we currently have on the Transitway.  But we do have an option that is successful in other cities, namely BRT – not “your grandfathers bus system” but rather a rapid transit system on rubber wheels that looks, acts and transports people just like rail but at significantly less cost, and importantly, can be up and running in as little as two years.  It is time for real leadership from our to elected officials!


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11 COMMENTS

  1. Disappointing and a defeatist point of view. There is (or was) money available to extend Metrorail all the way to Cutler Bay, Homestead and Florida City. Close to three billion dollars has been collected through the half penny sales tax since the Miami- Dade’s transit sales tax was approved in 2002.

    To settle for anything less than what voters have been paying for is political malfeasance. Our community deserves a comprehensive rail system (like many city’s across our nation and Europe have figured out how to do) and not a bandaid/halfcocked solution. Our community deserves better and we need elected officials to think big and bold and not cave in at the sight of finding resources to bringing forth real solutions to our traffic mess.

  2. They NEED to build a reliable Metrorail train infrastructure that stretches throughout every corner of Miami Dade. Just like NY, Japan and Europe.

    Until then, things will only keep getting worse. So Mr. McDonald, keep enjoying your traffic congestions, high toll & gas expenses and the continous wear & tear on your vehicle.

    Not to mention your quality of life, having to get up 1 hour earlier to beat the traffic; or be stuck in frustrating traffic for 2-3 hours a day.

    We need real change and motivated leaders who can make it happen.

  3. Other than doors open on both sides, please further explain how BRT will differ from the existing busway. Rapid implies that they will either run faster or more frequently. The busway crosses major east-west streets which already has caused a great issue crossing US 1. How will BRT impact that traffic?

  4. This points out the problem with a “phased approach” to rapid transit. While there can be no doubt that the true solution to traffic congestion in South Dade is elevated Metrorail expansion, the communities that already benefit from Metrorail – partially paid for by OUR south Dade property taxes, and with the promise that the system would expand to our communities – now don’t want to pay their fair share of the cost to expand. This narrow-minded “we’ve got ours” mindset is the problem with phased expansion.

    Metrorail expansion IS doable, and the money CAN be found if we have elected officials with the sand to do the right thing.

    If we don’t get the true solution now – elevated Metrorail, we may never get a solution to our traffic problems, and remain a second-class, economically depressed community.

  5. Bandaids are just that > something to temporarily cover a wound. TPO Chairman Commissioner Bovo at a Village of Palmetto Bay meeting last year said it: “You will never get Metrorail, do not re-elect anyone, start a petition to rescind the half cent sales tax as the $2.8 billion already collected has been wasted” > a brave man, a pragmatic realist, and he’s the Chairman of the County’s Transportation Board.
    A comprehensive expressway system, elevated rail with stations, parking, walkovers/flyovers, a modernized U.S.-1 with widened east/west cross streets and fully computerized traffic signals, expanded north/south routes especially within Palmetto Bay, etc., are the only reasonable solutions needed to overcome the “Not In My Backyard” syndrome that has set us back for several generations. In order to bring us into the 20th century (yes we’re decades late!!!) we need a whole new set of fearless politicians at every level, don’t you think?

  6. I think I am pretty tired of White men, who drive from their communities of privilege, telling me what services we do or don’t need. And I love how the communities he doesn’t want us to extend rail to are Black communities who need it most. There are too many vehicles on the road. We don’t need anymore buses. We need a rail system. The reason Miami has low ridership isn’t because we don’t need it or people don’t want to ride; it’s because it’s unreliable due to horrendous traffic and for many inaccessible. And we don’t need quick fixes. We want the real deal.

  7. Although 16,000 people currently use the buses, you are not counting the thousands of people who drive up to Kendall to catch the train, nor all the people who drive because it takes too long to take the bus and the Metrorail. 16,000 is a significant underestimation for potential use.

  8. Not a historian, but I’m pretty sure when they built the transcontinental railroad they weren’t combating arguments that we should just link a bunch of covered wagons together instead, because it was cheaper and there weren’t a ton of people living out west to take advantage of the railroad anyway…

  9. We deserve to live in a city that responds to the need of its people in that 21st century.I don’t think I need to list the myriad of reasons why train transportation is more practical and faster than buses. If the government can find the money to build a wall between Mexico and the United States, which is not an emergency, why can’t they pay for a respectable system of transportation that responds to this urgent need. We will save time and money if we include more trains that can serve students, elderly, disable people among others.

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