Politics: Transit Wasteland

We’re Taking the Bus. If We’re Not There By Six Don’t Wait

 By Jeffrey Bradley

In a town where the Planning Director deems gridlock “a sign of prosperity”—no doubt in the same way the crack trade down on Meridian and Sixth is a sign of a booming local economy—and weird “transit” schemes surface like toadstools after a heavy rain, the most recent incarnation of “keeping a lid on traffic congestion” came across our desk. The staggering bloozle spouted by Richard Lorber aside (which makes you want to vex and thwart these people while it confirms the view that the distance between nonsense and disreality on Miami Beach as regards transit has shrunk to the vanishing point), this bike-sharing plan actually has merit. It may hold the gravitas to coalesce other transit ideas into enough density to go critical mass.

Keep in mind that Miami Beach considers taxis “alternative transit” and you’ll know what we’re up against. That and a lack of vision coupled with a fear of displaying leadership has cost the City plenty by locking us into a parochial autocentric-mentality that defunds transit and squanders resources on the quaint notion that more cars will fix the problem of having too many. Case in point: pedicabs. Instead of seizing this opportunity of moving on the gridlock bottleneck, uh, gridneck, problem the City rejected the idea out of hand as too radical. The term, we believe, is a bunch of twits.

But a fresh chance to drive a wedge into complacency has presented itself, one the City seems feverish over (it’s when people act out of character that we get nervous). But according to an online  Miami Herald article—which takes up this cudgel from time to time only to drop it again a day or two later—this surefire plan will modify “beach gridlock” so much that “Miami Beach is betting big on [this] popular form of transit”, a strange notion in a town that won’t even bet big on betting. So, is this a case of Pedal Power to the People!, or, “Let them ride bikes”?

Alas, the article mostly seems written from Twinkle City. But in an odd foreshadowing of what we’ve been on about for years the City has partnered with a private vendor to install a self-service bike network, replete with 1000+ bikes, all over the Beach. Down in Hell’s Kitchen, er, South Beach, these stations will average every few blocks. Excellent! Accessibility is the prerequisite of any successful alternative transit program. Welcome to the 21st century, Miami Beach!

DecoBike, by name, is described “as a low-cost, emission-free transit system that will make it a cinch for residents and tourists to get around the Beach without a car”. Another way of saying that only better is streetcars.

“It’s green transit,” said DecoBike’s Colby Reese. “You don’t have to drive four blocks to lunch. It’s a lifestyle.” Sounds kinda… catchy. Still, might’ve called it plikka la delph clim for all the props you’ll get from the SUV crowd, dude.

Article puffery also belies the fact that this City is unfriendly to new business and hostile to any transit minus the noun “parking.” As we speak, NIMBYist neanderthals labor mightily behind scenes to halt bike lane expansion and uproot it where it exists. These folks, which barely see to the edge of their nose before things gets cloudy, are pandered to shamelessly by the wardheels, er, elected officials (still think “It’s all about the parking”, Commissioner Libbin?).

Back of it all lie the tentacles the Dermerite autocentrist faction—which dominated the last administration and thwarted the transit will of the people—left unprised from the levers of power. Just about everything now revolves around the automobile and the rush to ignore, suppress or sidle around anything challenging that status quo. And despite all good angels mobbing us with warnings—take the case of the New Year’s Day gridneck choking the MacArthur all afternoon from the Herald building to the beach with nary a construction crane working nor anything else to account for the mess, except, that is, vehicular saturation—we serenely go about our transit-business-as-usual much the way the purser aboard the Titanic ignored the drifting icebergs while rearranging his deck chairs.

Parking oddly even likes this idea. “There is an expectation of a good return to the city,” said director Saul Francis, who oversees the DecoBike contract. A modest, unassuming man, the Parking Director, to our knowledge, does NOT ride a bike to work. Which makes it no less a sound idea and, by the way, why not put a bicyclist in charge of parking? Hey, Mikey! We like it!

So we’re left with Miami Beach on the one hand turning to bike-sharing to reduce its gridlock, while on the other colluding with the County to truncate bus lines and lengthen their wait times and bowing to NIMBY pressure for dismantling bike lanes (at least in their backyard)—which, you know, flies in the face of the article’s chirpy contention that the city is also separately instituting an interconnected network of on-street bike lanes and designated bikeways to improve cycling safety and convenience. Our experience with City waffling, FDOT’s hostility, and NIMBYist nonsense regarding this issue leads us to think that someone, somewhere, is keeping bad faith.
Our positive view of bike-sharing lies in its ability to gather the natural allies of pedicabs, streetcars and pedestrian walkways—and let’s start by making all Lincoln Road, and Ocean Drive too, vehicle-free—into a consensus to overthrow sullen autocentricity and relegate cars to their role as adjuncts. As the article states: “Backers of bike-sharing say Miami Beach lends itself ideally to a bike-share program because of its density, compact size, flat topography, grid-like street network, and already-high rates of cycling for everyday transportation.” Did we mention streetcars?
Miami Beach, after all, has by far the lamest transit system of any comparable-sized town we can think of—even Little Rock, for Ford’s sake, has streetcars! Not one of our commissioners has stirred on this issue, nor are they likely to, bereft as they are of leadership. The one man who could make an immediate impact—Commissioner Libbin, who commands the power of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, which by the way showed itself completely in favor of streetcars—Commissioner Libbin, we say, is far too myopically fixed, right now, on parking to comprehend the vision. Any elected official relied on for transit support would prove a frail reed indeed.

What we need now are people unafraid of leading to step up. Forget the mealy-mouthed politicians whose interests lie in protecting their backsides and pleasing “constituencies”. Gabrielle Redfern, for instance, who shoulda been elected, labored these long seven years prodding the City to commit to a program of interconnected bicycle lanes. And, she’s tirelessly pushed the City for something rather than nothing (with predictable results) concerning rapid transit. That’s the type we need for stitching together an urbanist pastiche with the clout to overthrow Dermerite Suburbanite autocentricity. And once we go critical mass—once the very first track on the Beach goes down—we’ve won, Jack.

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