Politics: Control-Alt-Delete Poof!

By Jeffrey Bradley

Welcome to Miami, sixth most congested city in the nation. Worse, even, than Los Angeles, that poster city for car-culture run amok. And guess what? It won’t be getting better. Traffic always grows worse exponentially and the Sunshine State—add 7 million people over the next twenty years—is a virtual lock for serious chaos.

Of course, we could add some 3,500 miles of new roadway by 2030 at a cost of around $30 billion to try to offset it. (We couldn’t figure the math to find what that will cost individually because we ran out of fingers and toes. Trust us; it’s a big number). And what do you get for your money? Besides stuck in more traffic longer, we mean. It can only be wondered as DERM would no doubt take a very dim view of the Beach spreading its traffic out, so we’d probably have to build it up, stilts upon stilts, till everything looked like the Golden Glades sky pretzel or something from Dr Seuss. (That’s it—with “If I Ran The Traffic” we could make a killin’, Jack!)

Note to Beach Traffic Planners: Just kidding; if the Museum of Nutty Solutions is ever invented, that idea would get its own wing.

Which returns us to Jump Street. The Beach strives mightily to function as a suburb, using conventional rigid land-use separation that presupposes everyone gets from point A to point B by car. And like other misguided cities that confound ‘more’ with ‘less’, we’re dominated now by acres of baking pavement that sprawl over vast distances and blight the landscape. Alternative forms of transportation get short shrift; yet, there’s no denying what occurs when everything gets subsumed in making cars go faster: Sidewalks shrink to the size of postage-stamps, roadways yawn hazardously, crossing lights quicken and, chango-presto!—turn around and there’s your fullblown gridlock mess of mayhem and frenzy. Shall we talk about the parking? (Right; we didn’t want to ruin our day, either.)

This paradigm—call it the Vortex Parallax—ensures that quality of life becomes a series of diminishing expectations as all, all, all “impediments” to driving swirl down the drain. This stifling get-the-hell-out-of-my-way arrogance dangerously lumps together bicyclists and pedestrians on narrow sidewalks, wants no interference from insufferable pedestrians, abhors public transit in any guise. How could it not? These prevent speeding, they’ll tell you, and they must go. This despite the high costs of gasoline; the burgeoning blacktop parking barrens; the hulking, noisy garage grotesques that alter the skyscape; the frustrating idling away in traffic  And let’s not even discuss the poor, elderly and dependent who can’t drive and are even more restricted. Say, last time we checked driving was a privilege, not a right. Oddly enough!

Yet some defend this course, or even expanding it! What ails ‘em? Do not all good angels mob them with warnings?

Good Ford! With much of the country awake to this fast-failing approach—loosely described as “old-fashioned thinking” (and on the Beach as Dermerite Suburbanite Autocentricity after that stalwart protector of the transportation status quo)—we’re still seeing commissioners and administration types flogging Raskolnikov’s dead horse by stubbornly backing the transportation equivalent of Betamax. Ensuring, of course, that we’ll remain fettered to a corpse.

So why do we have that when we could have this?

A TND—Traditional Neighborhood Development—is a comprehensive planning system that includes (most importantly for our purposes), a network of paths, streets and lanes suitable for pedestrians and vehicles that gives residents the option of walking, biking or driving with present and future modes of transit considered during the planning stages.

This New Urbanism, stripped to essentials simply relates a place where residents can, if they wish, live comfortably without an automobile! It values equally public and private spaces to create a balanced community of civic buildings and civic spaces—greens, parks, squares, you name it—to enhance community identity and value. (Think of Washington Avenue south of Fifth with those wide-open plazas, brickwork crossings, medians with leafy shade trees and generous sidewalks.) The pièce de résistance? Bicycle lanes and a streetcar! Automobiles would be a welcome, if regulated, addendum that give way to pedestrians and public transit. Sounds like a place you could really walk, doesn’t it?

Now, think of crossing Collins Avenue on foot somewhere above 43rd Street… Any questions?

New Urbanism repudiates living far from work and commuting long distances, strip malls and autocentricity for communites—read your neighborhood, Gertrude—that have it all. Most daily activities lie within walking distance, interconnected by attractive streets, public spaces, natural areas and a variety of travel options. The people seek amenities like these, not a ceaseless preoccupation with making SUVs go faster.

Consider this. If the pedestrian/bicyclist/transit rider is the indicator species for a livable environment, how miserably do we actually rate? Perhaps a 1½  or 2 on a scale of 10? That’s if we’re generous, which generally we’re not. Why does Washington south of Fifth exist in a vacuum? Why is Lincoln Road an aberration instead of the norm? Why has not the autocentric mentality been overthrown, or at least addressed?

Partly a lack of education, true; but also because change is difficult. It’s always easier just to back away from the trainwreck. And there’s no denying that when it comes to transit, this town’s got a bad case of the slows. But one thing’s for sure: Officials don’t understand the problem because they only drive cars. When we oblige them to ride public transportation for one week a month, every month, improvement’ll happen <a snap of the fingers> that quick.

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