Posts tagged with "public transportation":
This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.
Talk of “infrastructure” may be one of the few things—if not the only thing—that comes close to uniting Democrats and Republicans at the moment. It was transit infrastructure, of course, that literally united the states of America: originally with railroads in the 19th century and later with interstates and automobiles in the 20th. Today, however, some cities’ prevailing love affairs with the car have become rather one-sided.
Polluting air and clogging roads, vehicles choke our cities. Miami ranks fifth nationally and tenth globally for congestion, as residents spend 65 hours in traffic per year on average, according to INRIX, a global traffic researcher that uses big data. Adding real injury to insult, the state’s stretch of the I-95 is America’s most deadly, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
There is a financial burden to excessive traffic too. INRIX estimates that congestion costs Miami drivers $3.6 billion per year (remember that figure). Additionally, drivers pay out an average of $628,000 every day in tolls, just for the privilege of using the Miami-Dade Expressway.
Cars aren’t cheap, but what is the alternative in an auto-dependent city like Miami? Director of the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) for Miami-Dade County Alice Bravo said that she wanted to make Miami a “car-optional community,” where people can get to “all the different regions within the county using reliable public transit that’s convenient and helps people save time.”
A plethora of schemes and projects are now occurring in and around the city, such as high-speed regional rail, local rail, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian routes, water travel, and carpooling. Miami has gone from having nothing concrete in the pipeline for years to everything happening at once, and this coincides with a development boom that is more tuned for urban living than previous waves of development.
Bravo said that the backbone of the infrastructure surge is the Brightline, a completely private, approximately $3 billion scheme by All Aboard Florida. The “higher-speed” (Note: not high-speed) rail service runs the 235-mile stretch from the Orlando airport to Downtown Miami. The new line will reduce travel between Orlando and Miami from four hours to two and a half, for about the same cost as driving.
Such a commuter-rail service may sound familiar: In the late 19th century, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) was developed by Henry Flagler. Flagler’s railway ran from Jacksonville and was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” The commuter rail prevailed until the 1960s when the line was used to transport freight only, which it still does to this day. Unsurprisingly, then, All Aboard Florida is a sister company of the FEC and the new tracks will be laid along the existing lines.
Designing the Miami station, as well as those in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) who are working with Miami-based Zyscovich Architects. Design principal Roger Duffy explained how the stations would work with the existing infrastructure around them: “At Fort Lauderdale, we’re looking to link up with a bus service that will connect the cruise port and the station.” The city is also pressing on with plans for a streetcar system called “The Wave” that would connect with the station as well.
Meanwhile, at West Palm Beach, the 60,000-square-foot station is located at the center of downtown and will connect with the existing trolley network as well as Tri-Rail and Amtrak. In Miami, the station inhabits a similar location. A zoning override that turned the area into a special transit district was required to build the station, and tracks here are elevated 50 feet into the air so that the 11,000-foot-long station can bridge roads and pedestrian pathways.
Like any contemporary train terminus, the station will offer a ton of retail space, with room for a food court too. Duffy, however, stressed that the station was “not like duty-free at an airport,” where you have to weave through shops to get anywhere. Amenities will also cater to the area outside the building. Space for food trucks—a hit in Florida—has been provided, while skylights where the station bridges the streets offer daylight.
The Brightline train itself was designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group—an in-house strategy and technology studio at the New York architecture and design studio. The LAB at Rockwell Group worked with All Aboard Florida to conceive the Brightline name, brand platform, visual identity, and designed the train’s interiors as well as the exterior graphics. In addition to this, one of Rockwell Group’s architectural studios designed the interior check-in areas, food and beverage areas, and lounge experiences for all four Brightline stations.
Using the Brightline project as a springboard, Bravo is embarking on a $3.6 billion (remember that number?) transport scheme. Part of “Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit,” otherwise known as the S.M.A.R.T. plan, 82 miles of track will be laid along six transportation corridors that involve local services, including the suburban Metrorail and the elevated monorail Metromover.
In addition to new tracks, existing tracks are also finding a new lease on life as a haven for pedestrians and cyclists. Known as the “Underline,” the rails-to-trails scheme, comes from James Corner Field Operations (JCFO)—the same firm who developed New York’s hugely popular High Line.
As one might guess, the scheme involves area underneath the Metrorail being turned into a landscaped oasis filled with pedestrian paths, cycle lanes, and native planting. The 10-mile stretch is planned to run from Brickell Station down to Dadeland South Station. Phase one is occurring in Brickell, where work is due for completion in 2019, set to cost netween $7 million and $9 million. “Brickell has grown explosively in the past 10 to 15 years,” said Meg Daly, president of Friends of the Underline, the group leading the project. “We really believe that this trail-cum-park will offer incredible amenities and green spaces to offset the vertical growth and increased density in the area.”
Expanding on this, Isabel Castilla of JCFO listed amenities such as a dog park, an outdoor gym, a basketball court that doubles up as a space for yoga classes and similar activities, as well as a 150-capacity bicycle garage (Miami-Dade’s first) and a bike repair station. Art will also line the trail, and amenities will be site-specific: In the University of Miami area, a beach volleyball court will be installed.
According to Irene Hegedus of the DTPW, providing safe bicycle routes is a high priority. Castilla added that the shade provided by the Metrorail is “critical” for a project where people are encouraged to “walk, run, and cycle to stations and along the path.” “Working with the existing infrastructure,” she continued, “we hope this leads to the rezoning and re-visioning of areas along the Metrorail as transit-orientated development sites and areas where, as Miami continues to grow, it hopefully grows in a denser way near transit stations rather than continuing urban sprawl that is very dependent on highways and cars.”
Bravo, too, is aware of the interwoven relationship between transit development and the densification of urban areas. Another tool she discussed to further assist Hegedus’s and her ambitions was the possibility of Uber and Lyft entering the fray of her transport plans, acting as the “first and last miles” for journeys.
Now operating in Miami (after three years of lobbying for service legalization), Uber and Lyft previously found success in other parts of Florida, notably in Pinellas Park and Altamonte Springs where rides are subsidized and saving the cities considerable money. Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz described the pilot partnership as “going very well,” but said the scheme is due to end in July.
The low-cost nature of services such as Uber and Lyft is a key to their success. Already able to outprice traditional taxi drivers, ridesharing services Uber Pool and Lyft Line are looking to compete with bus service, too. Uber has gone further than mere carpooling by introducing pickup points optimized by algorithms that essentially create Uber bus stops.
Uber is also losing money—approximately $3 billion per year. In December, economist Justin Wolfers commented that “prices will rise once they’ve succeeded at monopolizing the industry.” If he is correct, the governmental embracing of Uber and Lyft long-term will prove to be shortsighted. Evidence of what happens when alternative public transit routes become unavailable can be seen in London. During a tube strike earlier this year, Uber fares surged by 450 percent; one rider was reportedly charged $138 for a five-mile trip.
It should be noted, though, that Altamonte Springs and Pinellas Park went with car sharing due to other circumstances not going their way. The Altamonte Springs city government set aside $500,000 (of which only a fraction has been needed) for private-hire subsidies after it was denied funding for a $1.5 million pilot “FlexBus” program. At Pinellas Park, the program emerged in response to a 2014 referendum in which local voters declined to adopt a one-cent sales tax to aid transit in the area.
In Miami, however, residents appear to be more enthusiastic about public transport. The “People’s Transportation Plan,” a half-penny charter county sales surtax is helping to fund the S.M.A.R.T. project, something the public voted in favor of back in 2002.
All this, too, shouldn’t suggest that Miami is waging all-out war against the automobile. Getting around by car is being made easier by what Bravo calls “smart signals”—traffic signals that adapt to current states of congestion. Using cameras, they monitor intersections and use AI to optimize traffic flow. Miami-Dade County is investing $40 million this year for the implementation of the traffic signals along major corridors, part of a five-year, $160 million effort. Other smart-city services include 300 soon-to-be-installed wi-fi transit hotspots from CIVIQ Smartscapes.
With all the proposed infrastructural plans, varying in scale, Bravo is under no illusions about the difficulty of the task. “This is a huge cultural change,” she said. However, Bravo is optimistic about how future generations will take to the changes. “New millennials are cool about public transportation,” she added. Such unprecedented growth seldom comes around often, and the chance to invest off the back of hefty tax receipts may be fleeting. Miami’s public transit system is dire, but if it continues to ride the wave of public support and enact its plans, change in the form of mobility lies ahead.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was in Los Angeles this week to commemorate the announcement of $1.6 billion in federal funding toward the extension of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (LAMTA) Purple Line subway route.
The existing Purple Line opened in 1993 and begins in Downtown Los Angeles’s Union Station, sharing track with the system’s Red Line along most of its length. The route separates from the Red Line in the MacArthur Park neighborhood and currently terminates as a two-stop spur along the city’s Wilshire Boulevard corridor. Eventually, the Purple Line is expected to reach the oceanside community of Santa Monica and is being built in a piecemeal effort to achieve that goal.
The first, 3.9-mile long extension from the current terminus at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard is currently under construction and is expected to open for service in 2023.
The second phase of expansion will run from La Cienega Boulevard to Century City, roughly two-thirds of the way between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
The new round of funding announced by Foxx includes a $1.187 Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant, a $307 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan, and a $169 million grant from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program. The remaining $747 million in funding for the $2.41 billion expansion will come from Measure R funds, a voter-approved transportation sales tax increase passed in 2008. Construction on the phase two extension is expected to begin in 2018 and will be completed by 2026. There is a possibility that construction on the extension could be sped up so the line would be operational for the 2024 Olympic games, should the city be selected as that year’s host.
Phase three of the extension will move the end of the line 2.6-miles further west to the upscale Westwood neighborhood and the nearby Veterans Administration Hospital (VA) complex. Plans for extensions beyond the VA campus have not been announced.
The current round of funding was bolstered by the passage of Measure M this November, which entails an additional county-wide tax increase to fund transportation infrastructure projects across the region in perpetuity. According to government officials, the guarantee of these future funds compelled the Transportation department to move forward with the latest round of grants and loans.
The new transit line has the potential to reshape the city’s Westside neighborhoods and could usher in a new era of dense, transit-oriented development along Wilshire Boulevard. Anticipation for the future line is building, as a similar transformation has already begun to occur along the system’s recently-opened Expo Line that runs several miles to the south along a parallel trajectory.
Already, several high-rise housing projects have been announced along the eastern portions of the Wilshire corridor, including a 15-story residential luxury tower designed by Steinberg Architects in the Mid-Wilshire area and a Pei Cobb Freed & Partners-designed addition to Minoru Yamasaki’s Century Plaza Hotel in Century City.
L.A. transit initiative, which could generate $860 million annually, will officially be on November ballot
This year, a new northward extension of the Gold Line (Pasadena to Azusa) and the Expo line (Culver City to Santa Monica) are opening or have opened to the public, and a third extension of the Gold Line (Glendora to Montclair) may break ground as soon as the summer of 2017, pending the adoption and passage of a November ballot initiative to raise the sales tax by half a cent over the next 40 years. The initiative would also retain the voter-approved sales tax increase of 2008’s Measure R. A southward extension of the Gold Line (Downtown to East L.A.) and the first spur of the Expo (Downtown to Culver City) were among the projects funded by Measure R and opened in 2009 and 2012, respectively.
The Gold Line’s extension into these heretofore car-centric burgs isn’t just about increasing ridership by 13,600 daily boardings by 2035; it’s also a way to make once relatively inaccessible areas part of a newly defined urban corridor. At least, this was the thinking underpinning many of the speeches given by public officials such as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on the Gold Line extension’s opening day ceremony on March 5. “We want to come here and visit our friends here too,” he said, before remarking that “we want to see a vibrant region that eases congestion for everybody.”
The Gold Line’s northward extension has occurred in three primary phases: first, from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena, then from Pasadena to Azusa, and now potentially from Glendora to Montclair. While the Metro operates the trains and manages the fares, a separate agency known as the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority is responsible for all of the planning, stakeholder meetings, and each construction phase. Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority CEO Habib F. Balian remarked in a phone interview that the March 5th opening was “very successful. It’s very complicated when you start operation of a project like this, let alone when it’s transferred from one agency to another. But it’s all gone very well.” Balian has overseen phase two and is already 30 percent into the design and engineering planning of phase three. His hope is to be “shovel ready” by the summer of 2017, if this November’s proposed ballot initiative passes.
Balian’s duties as planner aren’t simply about navigating the geotechnical challenges of laying track on top of the earthquake-fault-prone soil of Southern California, but also creating a piece of infrastructure that will hopefully add as much beauty as it does efficiency to its environs. In phase two, Balian and his team decided to make a bridge over the 210 freeway a significant part of the new line. “Once we got the funding in place in 2008 for the 210 bridge specifically, I thought ‘what a great opportunity to make it a gateway.’ If we started early enough and gave real direction to the designers and brought on an artist, it wouldn’t cost us any more than if we did it any later in the project.” Artist Andrew Leicester was commissioned to work on the bridge, while artist Christie Beniston helped select an orange highlight color for the previously gray operations campus in Monrovia. If phase three gets its funding, Balian is already working with artists to create meaningful motifs and patterns for the line’s alignment, which includes retaining walls, sound walls, bridgework, and abutment walls.
The result is a section of public transit that heavily incorporates aesthetic considerations while making it possible for a resident of Azusa to get to downtown L.A. in under 50 minutes, regardless of traffic conditions.
San Francisco’s BART recently received nationwide attention from the likes of New York Magazine and Gawker for its new and improved Twitter account. No, it’s not because the transit system finally figured out how to correctly use Twitter (slow clap), but because BART has made the radical decision to be honest and upfront with its riders (er, another slow clap). In response to particularly terrible service with multiple hour-long delays, @SFBART tweeted: “BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality.”
Perhaps the gesture would mean more if the majority of the tweets weren’t apologies for bad service, or if, as SF Weekly reported, that BART is engaging in campaign tactics to convince San Franciscans to pass a $3.5 billion bond for funding this November.