It’s Our Civic Duty
By Isabella Marie Garcia (spookyrose.wordpress.com)
Forty minutes from home to the Modesto Maidique campus. Morning classes, an exam, and then it’s back behind the steering wheel, my hands gripping the warm material like they gripped the handlebars of the Parisian metro during the summer. I’m fumbling to put “Vizcaya Museum and Gardens” into the GPS on my phone so the person waiting for me to leave my parking space doesn’t get irritated when I see three different routes, one of twenty-five minutes, another for thirty, and the last for forty minutes. Hitting the twenty-five minute route, I soon find myself looking too much at my phone to guide me to the estate that I’ve been to time and time again. The GPS isn’t up to date with the construction taking place on the Dolphin Expressway and the signal won’t update it quick enough. I haven’t had lunch and I’ve already had to drive for more than an hour with a knot of anxiety in my chest just to get to my school and then to have my voice heard.
With midterms and elections at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the ability to have one’s voice heard is being emphasized more than ever before, but for many of us, even getting to vote is a privilege we often overlook, especially when a great part of our population is undocumented and applying for US Citizenship is costly. After voting ends, where do our voices lie? While we each have our own views within our country and communities, the issue of Miami’s public transportation system and getting from one place to the next is an issue that affects each and every one of us, no matter where we’ve come from. As a hub brimming with over 2.7 million individuals, it would make sense for Miami-Dade County to have an established, working system of affordable, public transportation for all. Yet, it doesn’t. For those raised in Miami or who have lived here for even just a year, hours of traffic on the Turnpike, the Palmetto, the Dolphin Expressway, even 8th street, are just part of one’s everyday routine. It can be easy to say that it’ll always be that way, but for Civic Dinner, a civic engagement platform created in 2015 that uses technology to bring various, diverse voices and opinions to the table in face-to-face interaction, the need to have one’s voice heard in order to catalyze change counteracts the defeatist stance that things will never change.
In collaboration with Rebecca Peterson, the Community Programs Manager at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, John William Bailly, a professor of Florida International University’s Honor College, and the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), a Civic Dinner event intended to bring up conversation about the state of transportation mobility within Miami was hosted at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on Thursday, November 1st, 2018. From FIU students and alumni to the staff at Vizcaya, attendees were able to have their voices and individual experiences heard as the event progressed, and brainstorm ideas and plans on how to improve the state of public transportation within Miami.
At the start of the event, attendees were made aware of the physical journey it took to make it to Vizcaya by Professor John William Bailly. Noting that the majority of the attendees arrived by car, either individually or in carpooling groups, Professor Bailly emphasized the need to understand various experiences that don’t necessarily include a car, especially in the case of bikers, pedestrians, and public buses. From there, groups of nine-ten individuals where split apart in order to break down three essential groups of questions:
1) What are the modes of transportation you use the most? Does that include transit? Why or why not?
2) What are the barriers for people getting to and from transit? What would make it easier for you and others to use transit more frequently?
3) In your opinion, which of these modes of transportation do you think needs the highest level of investment for future improvement and expansion? Why? And what role can you play to help ensure stronger investment in this mode of transportation?
Within their respective groups, attendees were able to share their personal experiences, whether within Miami or from prior environments, and their respective relationships to public transportation. From students who’ve lived in Miami their entire lives and now commute to Florida International University, to individuals who have migrated from other countries where the economy is down but the public transportation system works efficiently, various backgrounds and opinions merged together to highlight problems and tackle them with potentially useful solutions. As Sofia Guerra of FIU’s Honor College noted about living in Miami all her life, “Our frame of reference is our own lives in our city. We do not have comparative knowledge.” Many of the attendees noted that they mainly use their cars to get from one place to the next, and for those recently arrived to Miami, such as a student who was raised in England, the inability to cycle everywhere was an instant shock. Mentality and the human ego of Miami were noted as the primary barriers to improving the state of public transportation. As a mentality, the idea that you can’t get around in Miami without a car is a mentality that is instilled in people before they even come to Miami, and many would prefer to move on their own rather than giving their time and efforts into the hands of other people.
Yet, despite the barriers noted, attendees were still able to come up with counterarguments to the car-dependent way of living that fills Miami’s streets. Noting that one must acclimate to change, many believe that Miami residents would need to be patient with new public systems if they were installed within the city. With the Brightline train segment between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach that opened in January of this year, followed by the Fort Lauderdale and Miami connection that opened in May, the idea of trains and metro systems within South Florida’s landscape are becoming a concrete reality. Attendees noted several suggestions on how to improve the various sectors of public transportation, whether bus or car or by bike, that exist within Miami.
For Bikers and Those Who Bike:
- What is necessary for bike lanes to be improved are long stretches along canals, built out for bike lanes (not along side roads, but along side canals or next to the Turnpike).
- Designated bike lines. You should be able to get from exit to exit with a bike lane along a sound barrier wall.
For Trains (i.e. MetroRail) and Its Riders:
- A more expanded network of trains is needed. The main issue lies in that you can go north and south but not east to west and vice versa.
- There’s no access from the MetroRail to Florida International University. The 8th and Palmetto area is experiencing gentrification in its neighborhood yet there is no public transportation. A suggestion would be to have a line on the MetroRail connecting Government Center to FIU. Secondary transport, such as buses or shuttles, between one station to the next are also necessary.
- Think about Kendall. A huge population with no trains, and too many people trying to move at the same time.
- A line from West Palm Beach to Wynwood. It would create an attraction for those outside of the county to easily visit and experience hubs of Miami culture.
- The Dadeland station of the MetroRail is the closest one for many who live down south, and it can be tough to get to, thought its speedier and sits above traffic. Improvements could be made to make the station more accessible to residents down south.
- A line or system that connects between Broward County and Miami-Dade County since many work in one county and live in the next.
- In comparison to countries like Japan, that are known for their functionality and punctuality, reliability is a huge problem that must be addressed with the MetroRail. If it’s unreliable, people will be discouraged from using it.
For Buses and Its Riders
- Bus lanes that are designated only for buses move swiftly because there are less cars in that lane, and also encourages people to take the bus to avoid traffic. Bus lanes would also alleviate traffic since people try to switch lanes all the time to avoid buses, which results in more traffic.
- In Miami, buses start and stop, instead of going in every which way like they do in many other parts of the world. The economical aspect of riding a bus, especially since it is a part of our infrastructure, would be one way of attracting more residents to ride public buses.
- Overhead covers and shade for bus waiting areas. Especially in the hot, tropical heat we live in, those who use the public bus shouldn’t have to bake in the sun when waiting for the bus.
For Cars and Their Drivers, Carpoolers Included
- Reversible lanes. All lanes will be open, and flow will change depending on how heavy traffic is going one way or another. Idea: A zipper can move barrier across lanes to avoid danger. This is being sparked in NW 25th and 119th Street.
- A large car pooling system to help people go from point A to point B.
For Pedestrians, We Need to See You
- If there is no sidewalk, people will not walk. Get pedestrians off the road and expand the sidewalk system in Miami.
- Drivers don’t respect pedestrian laws, which explains the high amount of hit and runs that occur throughout Miami. Severe penalties and laws should be enforced.
Even though some of these suggestions will work amazingly in theory, while others not at all, the practice of voicing one’s ideas and game plans is the first step needed in enacting change. For many, this was the first time they could openly and productively voice their opinions on Miami’s public transportation system outside the bubbles of their cars.
“For me. it was great being able to hear everyone else’s experience with Miami traffic and transit. The bottom line: Many people don’t have access to reliable mass transit and if they do have some form of transit near them, they’re not aware of how to use it. Where I live, there’s only the public bus. I’ve seen people stranded at the bus stop through all kinds of heat, wind, and rain for close to an hour or more. I wouldn’t even know where to start to take the bus and I’ve never once gotten anything in the mail or at my door from the county saying, “Hey! Here’s a How-To on the public bus system!” It only adds to my frustration, especially since they’re building a massive bus station five minutes away from my house and there hasn’t been any promotion for it whatsoever. All in all, today was extremely constructive and the day and backdrop was gorgeous as always. I can’t wait for the next Civic Dinner,” stated Natalie Mateo, an FIU Honors College student.
Silvina Di Pietro, a Department of Energy Fellow and PhD candidate in Chemistry at Florida International University, stated, “It wasn’t only about spending a beautiful day at a magnificent villa. It was having diverse minds, cultural backgrounds, and different disciplines come together to solve a problem that affects us all in a city that we love. I’ve suggested that in order to use more bike lines and bus options, we (as a society) need to change our mentality of shifting from car usage to public and/or physical transportation. That on itself will take some time.”
“As someone who has spent more than half of her life riding Miami-Dade public transit, I knew I had to take the opportunity to discuss and hopefully contribute to changes to the system that will help people get around the county better. Discussing the issues that affect the people that ride public transit really opened my eyes to the multitude of issues plaguing the system and the potential solutions that there are for these issues. As a college student, I’m extremely grateful for opportunities like this, where we actually get to have our voices heard, and hopefully some changes will come about from this experience,” noted Dina Kencie Denord, an FIU Honors College student.
As the host venue of the event, Rebecca Peterson of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens noted, “Vizcaya was excited to host FIU Honors College students and alums for a conversation on Miami-Dade transit this week. As a museum committed to environmental sustainability and cultural vitality, we welcome conversations with our community to identify ideas and solutions that make Miami-Dade County a better place to live. We are grateful to Professor Bailly for our ongoing partnership, to Civic Dinners for organizing these conversations, and to all of the students who shared their voices so thoughtfully. You give us hope for our future.”
It can be so easy to get caught up in the hours of rush hour traffic, to forget those who brave the heat when walking and biking if you’re lucky enough to own a car and a working AC system, and to believe that your voice will forever rest in the complaints and huffs and puffs that come with commuting. It doesn’t have to be that way. Civic duty doesn’t have to remain at the polls. Get out of your car, get off your bike, get down from the bus or the MetroRail. Just stop, and speak up. Make your voice heard.
For more information on Civic Dinners, please visit https://www.civicdinners.com/. For more information on Miami Dade TPO, please visit http://www.miamidadetpo.org/. To learn more about Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and similar events, please visit http://vizcaya.org/.
Gallery from Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization Civic Dinner at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Isabella Marie Garcia