Politics: Big Fish

By Jeffrey Bradley

“Try not. Do or do not. Trying is nothing.”

—Yoda: Return Of The Jedi

“Resolved:  Encourage the city of Miami Beach to support and pursue implementation of the Baylink project through the MPO by requesting the MPO to commence and take appropriate steps to move the process forward.”

—Allen Fishman: Return Of Baylink

Thank you, Vice-Chair Allen Fishman of the Transportation & Parking Committee. This Obi-Wan Kenobiish figure, instrumental in thrusting Baylink back in the limelight, is a bit of a recluse, successful and private—and driven to get Miami Beach the public transportation system it needs.

Let’s get this straight. What we’re talking here didn’t happen in another universe, and certainly not a long, long time ago. Despite what some may think, or hope, it’s happening right now. Baylink, we mean. And it’s an idea that’s not going away.

(Quick recap: The City Commission already voted for streetcars as the preferred mode of public transport. Granted, that was an earlier commission. But you’re not going to tell us that that commission was more “resident-oriented” than this one, are you? Besides, it was overwhelmingly ratified via public referendum, which is about as vox populi as you get.)

A more unlikely advocate for straphanger rights can hardly be found than Mr Fishman. He rolls, for instance, in top-of-the-line wheels… but does he wave agitated hands in the air—that universal gesture of Boobirds Against Transit (BATs)—and complain about stacked-up traffic? He does not. See, he gets it. He understands that a streetcar system will serve as a linchpin for changing the way we do business transit- and commuter-wise on the Beach. He knows that Baylink represents a whole new paradigm for easing, not augmenting, our gridlocked graveyard of tires and tin. In this, he shows exactly what our elected officials do not—the ability to envision a workable future, and the cahones to carry it out. The term, we believe, is leadership.

The City of Miami Beach’s Transportation and Parking Committee has long overseen such sweeping changes and solutions to our transportation crisis as, ummm, lessee… uh, hmmm, oh yeah—okaying the building of multi-million dollar parking pedestals that largely stand empty, the tweaking of traffic signals, and debating if one-way street signs should point north or south. Well, heck, they’ve also helped expand parking everywhere, but that’s a dubious sort of “progress.” In fact, it’s a pretty shameful record that doesn’t even begin to touch providing the kind of infrastructure to make this a pedestrian-oriented, livable “world class” city. And as long as the boobirds think that plunking down a streetcar on top of the existing mess is what we’re about, and refuse to see how it would calm and lessen traffic (not to mention knocking some 800 bus trips a day off the Beach), they will labor to keep us in transit medievalism.

Here’s what they should be considering: there’s not enough room or money for building more highways, especially on the Beach. Rail is much cheaper, and a lot of it already exists. Contrary to popular belief, getting rail going is not as difficult of building new roads, and can be done at a fraction of the cost. Rail is the thinking man’s pick of the future. But what are we getting instead? An FDOT-sponsored $1 billion—as in “million” with a b—car and truck Port of Miami tunnel that’ll dump a whole ton of commercial traffic directly on the MacArthur. You think that causeway’s congested now? Try adding 8,000 more vehicles a day for your new “idling in traffic” wait times. Even the Mayor’s taken belated fright, and is trying—too late!—to influence outcomes. (In this case leadership meant using vision to guide the project, not hurrying after playing catch-up) And what of that oil gushing by the uncapped wellful right off our shoreline? Is that going to ease the congestion or help lower prices? Spending this kind of money on that kind of project is worse than inefficient—it borders on lunacy. It’s as if these planners reside in Twinkle City. We could have streetcars by the score in dedicated lanes all over the Beach and still bank millions with the leftover change.

Mr Fishman is the kind of person we need. When people of vision step up to the plate, the long ball suddenly becomes possible. At the very least, it can embolden those who were elected to lead us to, you know, lead us. Stalwarts who have persevered over the years on behalf of this and other Miami Beach transit issues have at times gone directly over the commission’s head to the County level or the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for rational relief. These include Gabrielle Redfern and Stanley Shapiro, fixtures on the mainland transportation scene, with Gabrielle serving on a Citizens Committee of the MPO.

If you’re frustrated as we are when dealing with Commissioners Wardheel or Pothole, who talk it but don’t walk it, there are forums and groups ready and willing (see www.transitmiami.com) to start moving the ball forward for real transit change.

But you have to want to.

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