News: Paul Pry Pages


By Anne Newport Royall

Monday October 3, 2011

The TPC met as usual on the first Monday of the month and the first item on the agenda was SWOOP!  This free electric taxi service founded by Alexander Smith runs from 1:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m., offering folks free rides in South Beach, either by calling 305 409 6636, or flagging down the open-sided multi-seat golf cart with the signature “SWOOP! SWOOP!” call.

While the service sounds good to all those tired and cash-strapped club hoppers, the City of Miami Beach has not been too thrilled and have tried to find a way to rid the streets of the advertisement-laden vehicles since they snuck onto the scene by purchasing a parking space in the underused Fifth and Alton Parking garage in early 2010.

Debra Turner from the City Attorney’s office was present to explain that SWOOP!  continues to be unregulated by the City or Miami-Dade County.  She explained that Richard Lorber, Acting Director of Planning and Zoning, Assistant City Manager Jorge Gomez and herself met with representatives from the County. They discussed the issue of jurisdiction and regulation of the taxi service provided by Swoop! and other potential companies.

The County agreed to investigate the matter and provide a response to the City within the next few weeks. Until the City knows whether or not the County has jurisdiction over this service, the City can’t begin to address how the City will regulate this industry. If the County has jurisdiction, the City would be preempted from further regulation or restrictions.

Next up, more things the City has no control over, the Port of Miami Tunnel project.  The giant machine, dubbed “Harriet” is almost assembled, and plans are for the digging to start by the end of October, with an official ceremony scheduled for November 4.  Committee Chairman Mark Weithorn, husband of Commissioner Deede Weithorn expressed his concern over the chemicals being used in the boring process.

Mike Gruen of the Miami Beach Police Department came to the committee to discuss the issue of the Red Light Camera Program.

Although the City said it enacted Article XI in Chapter 106 of the City Code in December 2008 as an effort to reduce the number of crashes and resultant injuries at traffic intersections, the real intention was to raise over a million dollars annually for the City in the form of fees. The City projected that million as revenue in the 2009-2010 fiscal year budget.  Since the inception of the program to May of 2011, only $201,309.06 has been added to the City’s coffers.

While crashes have been slightly reduced, according to data provided to the committee and the Neighborhood /Community Affairs Committee in June, the revenue has clearly not lived up to expectations.

While the initial ordinance enabled the City to enforce red light camera violations with a “Notice of Violation” (NOV) that did not carry points against one’s drivers license with a fine of $125.00, those fines are being held in escrow, pending an outcome to a lawsuit filed against the City of Aventura, which charges that municipalities did not have the right to enforce the State of Florida’s uniform traffic laws.  The state statues at the time were silent on the issue, neither permitting nor prohibiting the use of red-light cameras.

The Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act of 2010, (Florida Statute 316.0083), signed by then-governor Charlie Crist, changed all that. The law is named for a Bradenton man who was killed by a motorist running a red light in 2003 and championed by his widow. With this act, the State has skin in the game, and the fines went up to $158.00 for the first violation, but the City’s share went down to $75.00 per ticket, with the rest going to the State. The City’s ordinance is now obsolete.

In the City of Miami Beach, a five-year contract was signed with Affiliated Computer Systems (ACS) in 2008. The City pays a flat fee of  $3,550.00 per camera, per month to ACS. That, and the full-time  sworn police officer dedicated to reviewing the tapes before the NOV’s are sent certified mail eat up the rest of the gross receipts.

Another wrench in the revenue plan deals with the lower standard that is applied to camera-caught violations versus those witnessed by a police officer, regarding “right turn on red.”  The only way you get a ticket for this move is when the vehicle does not make the turn in a “careful and prudent” manner.  This state-mandated language has significantly impacted the City’s revenue stream, the City claims.

In total, since the inception of the program, the ten cameras have reviewed 23, 753 incidents of which 10, 833 infractions were issued, rejecting 12, 913, for a 54% overall rejection rate.

The busiest camera, located at Chase Avenue and north-bound Alton Road captures an  average 8.79 possible violations a day, with a 51% rejection rate, while the other end of the spectrum is located at 41st Street and Prairie Avenue northbound, with an average of 0.69 violations noted a day with a 70% rejection rate.

On a positive note, there has been a slight reduction in the number of crashes at four of the ten intersections, (17th Street and Washington Avenue southbound and eastbound, 17th Street and Alton Road, Indian Creek and 71st Street southbound and Indian Creek and Abbot Avenue southbound) from 2009 to 2010.  However the numbers have gone down only one or two crashes at each intersection monitored.

At 23rd Street and Dade Boulevard westbound, the crashes over the period have increased by two and four other intersections have reminded the same.

Del Fruit, representing the 41st Street Merchants Association on the TPC was not interested in evaluating the program on revenue generation alone, even though 90% of the people who get the ticket pay, according to Gruen. The program, Fruit said, “saves lives, saves damage, saves all around.”

The other advantage to the cameras is that they record 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are an aid to law enforcement.  The FBI recently requested the City’s tapes after the armed bank robbery at the Wells Fargo branch on Alton Road.

That crime remains unsolved at this time.

Last but not least on the agenda, Maria Hernandez, Senior Project Manager and Maria Palacios, Public Information Specialist from the Capital Improvement Project Office, came to hear the committee lament the loss of free parking spaces in neighborhoods undergoing their CIP Right of Way improvement projects.

“We are the Transportation and Parking Committee,” Chairman Weithorn reminded the  Two Maria’s.

Lake Pancoast neighborhood, in Collins Park, west of the Indian Creek Waterway and bounded by 23rd Street to the south and Pinetree Drive to the west will be loosing 80 spaces, to make room for improved landscaping and other pedestrian amenities including wide sidewalks.

While a new 400-space parking lot is in the works for the neighborhood, the Committee was only concerned with the loss of parking, not the net gain to the community.

The Maria’s threw the Planning Department under the bus, blaming them for wanting more trees, landscaped bulb-outs, wider sidewalks and bike lanes rather than parking spaces.

Seth Wasserman, a member of the committee was tasked with working with CIP to come up with a solution.

The Committee meets again, Monday November 7, 2011 in the second floor conference room of the Parking Department 1755 Meridian Avenue.  Everyone is welcome to attend this public meeting.

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