A bad plan: make drivers miserable to shove us onto transit
By Michael Lewis
While drivers seek relief from near-gridlock, planners are bent on making it worse, not better, in what they have decided is a good cause.
Their idea is to force us out of cars and onto transit or bicycles or our own feet or to just stay home.
They plan to change us from a Miami of drivers to a Miami of passengers by making driving as unpleasant as possible — all for our own good, of course.
Instead of traffic engineering, they prefer social engineering to force us to become something many of us don't want to be — carless.
Last week, this paper noted that Miami-Dade new car sales rose 11.5% in 2012's last quarter. Those buyers didn't get the message: leave that car behind.
To my surprise, I got the message clearly Friday as I moderated a panel of planners and a real estate professor for Florida International University's Real Estate Alumni Affinity Council.
After planning directors for Miami, Miami Beach and Doral cited their cities' recent projects, I asked Miami Planning and Zoning Director Francisco J. Garcia about his pride that Miami has set aside acres zoned at 1,000 residents apiece.
How, I asked, will the city deal with the auto congestion it already has plus this addition? After what I'd written about proliferating Biscayne Boulevard traffic, I was sure the answer would be difficult.
The reply shocked me: the city has no intention of trying to soften gridlock. To paraphrase Mr. Garcia: the more the merrier. The harder driving gets, he said, the faster we'll drop cars and use mass transit, as we should and must.
I was still reeling when one guest asked about his excruciating drive from West Dade to downtown Miami. What could be done there?
Mr. Garcia had the same reply: it'll get worse before it gets better. Roads will become more and more congested until we switch to mass transit.
Since Miami-Dade has no east-west rail, that means suffer or stay home until someone spends billions we don't have for a new rail line.
Not to lay it all at Mr. Garcia's doorstep, I learned the next day that the city's concept of build, build, build and don't worry about the motorist predates him.
An architect who designed an iconic Brickell office tower some years ago told me he'd had to fight for a zoning variance to permit in-building parking. Planners, he said, wanted to bar parking to force people to ride Metrorail and Metromover.
The good news: he got the parking. The bad news: social engineering in the city goes on when traffic engineering might help more.
I'd like everyone to use mass transit — everyone but me, that is, because I love the convenience of a car. But transit is fine for everyone else. The more people off the roads, the easier my commute.
Unfortunately, we all think the same way, so few do without cars. It will be instructive to see how many of us hop onto shared bikes now coming into downtown or zip around town in tiny cars for rent by the minute instead of our own.
Much as I like the concept — a car for all is clearly wasteful — a policy of forcing people out of cars by making commuting less and less friendly won't win the mayor and commissioners many votes.
And, it shouldn't. While I seriously want transit use to climb quickly and far, encouraging gridlock with zoning and failure to even try to relieve its worst aspects crosses the line into policymaking.
And it's bad policy. The aim is admirable, but making people miserable for their own good is not only unwise, it's not what a city is for. That's Washington's role.
When we built a performing arts center downtown with no parking, one staff executive seriously said parking a mile away in office towers would be just fine because we ought to walk. Sure we should, but should we be forced to do it after dark in a city that's not always safe in our finest attire in a rainy, steamy climate?
A parallel might be to artificially limit everyone's food supply because many of us are overweight and ought to eat less. Sure, obesity is a problem, but inducing near-starvation is hardly the kindest remedy.
But we're willing and able to limit parking and to jam roads to overflowing in order to force mass transit use, also the wrong approach to a fine goal.
Transit demand is rising without such ploys. It would rise far faster if rail linked the whole county rather than just a north-south line. Make it serviceable and habits might change without inducing pain.
Baseball's Yogi Berra once noted, "If the fans don't come out to the ballpark, you can't stop them." And if the drivers won't leave their cars on their own, you shouldn't stop them, either.
We fully agree with the aim of more mass transit use. In the long run it's got to happen.
But in the long auto ride we're stuck with in the meantime, it's not Miami's place to punish drivers by planning to make things as bad as possible before they get better.
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