FDOT Owes Floridians an Apology Governor DeSantis

Dear Governor DeSantis, 

FDOT owes all Floridians an apology. 

For the past two years my neighbors and I have exchanged over 200 emails with the Florida Department of Transportation begging and pleading with FDOT to make safety improvements to Biscayne Boulevard in Miami. Unfortunately we are no further along with FDOT than we were two years ago and crashes keep happening and they seem to be accelerating with each passing day. In the last two weeks we lost 2 midblock RFFB’s (images attached) which were recently replaced (It takes Miami Dade County Transit, on average, 12 months to replace RFFBs). 

It seems fair to say you are a “data guy” and have made logical Covid-19 decisions based on data. We are hoping you can take the same objective, data-centric approach when it comes to FDOT and how they design our roads. 

Let’s review some Florida and Biscayne Boulevard Facts:

  • Florida is the most dangerous state in the country for pedestrians and cyclists.(Smart Growth America)
  • Eight out of the 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas for cyclists and pedestrians in the US are in Florida: #1 Orlando, #2 Daytona Beach, #3 Palm Bay-Melbourne, #4 Sarasota-Bradenton, #5 Lakeland-Winter Haven #6 Jacksonville #8 Cape Coral-Fort Myers #9 Tampa-St. Pete (Smart Growth America)
  • Miami Dade County is the 14th most dangerous metropolitan area in the US.
  • Florida is one of the fastest growing states in the country.
  • Biscayne Boulevard is one of the most densely populated roads in Florida.
  • There were at least 2,553 car crashes within a 33 block stretch (54th Street to 87th Street) along Biscayne Boulevard from January 2010 to August 2018 (FDOT Data
  • 49 crashes out of the total 2,553 involved pedestrians on Biscayne Blvd (FDOT DATA)
  • In the past 10 years, I’ve personally seen the debris of over 120 crashes involving motor vehicles which have hit people, RFFB mid-block crosswalks, speed feedback signals, light posts, bus shelters, trees, sign posts, etc.
  • Children from Morningside Academy cannot walk to Legion Park to attend the after school program because Biscayne Boulevard is too dangerous to cross. We have to bus our children 3 blocks because our streets are unsafe to walk along.

Eighteen months ago FDOT representatives joined at least 50 neighbors and myself on a Biscayne Boulevard walk to experience first-hand how dangerous the conditions are for pedestrians.   Last fall I flew to Tallahassee to meet with FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault and Senator Jason Pizzo to push for changes at the local and state level. With all of this, we still haven’t made a single improvement to Biscayne Boulevard. How is this possible?

Given all the facts, what’s our plan to make Biscayne Boulevard safer and what’s our plan to make Florida the safest state in the country for cyclists and pedestrians? We need a plan and FDOT doesn’t seem to have one. Seems fair to say that we cannot maintain the status quo at FDOT. It will take a leader like yourself to look at the facts and data objectively and make the changes at FDOT that all Floridians deserve. Looks like we can all agree that change is overdue. Let’s start designing our roads with safety of all users as the #1 priority. 

We are not going away and ignoring us won’t work. Infact, it has inspired us to be even more persistent, so please expect more emails and phone calls from Floridians until we see movement in the right direction. Let’s all hold FDOT accountable. In the meantime our statewide coalition will continue to grow. 

Thank you and Florida looks forward to working with you. 

Felipe Azenha

Here are pictures of 2020 crashes….

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Accountability Now: Cyclist Killed in Miami Park

Photo: Miami Herald

Dear Mayor Suarez and Mayor Gimenez, 

It was just a matter of time before it happened. On Sunday morning a cyclist was killed at the intersection of Arthur Lamb Road and Sewage Plant Road on Virginia Key by an on-duty police officer while driving his patrol car. This should come as a surprise to no one. There have been several serious crashes between cyclists and motor vehicles at this intersection in recent years. What has the City of Miami done to make this intersection safer?  Nothing. How many more cyclists need to be killed or severely injured before the City of Miami takes steps to make this intersection safer? 

It’s simply unfathomable that we allow this to happen, especially within a city park. This speaks volumes about the state of cycling infrastructure in Miami Dade County. If we’re unwilling to design the roads in our parks to prioritize safety and discourage speeding, the prognosis for the rest of our street through the county is not encouraging. Miami Dade County is the 14th most dangerous metropolitan area in the country for cyclists and pedestrians. What steps are we taking to make MDC the safest metropolitan area in the country for cyclists and pedestrians? This this is the questions we should be asking ourselves. We need leaders that embrace this vision for our community. 

Cycling has exponentially increased during the past 3 months due to our current crisis. Failure to make cycling infrastructure safer will likely only result in more deaths. We can stay the course or we can start making safety a priority.  The ball is in your court Gentlemen. We hope you guys step-up to the plate. How about we start by closing travel lanes on weekends so families can bike safely?

Regards, 

Felipe

This is your fight, let’s pedal for justice

The Daily Stoic put it perfectly:

It’s tempting to tell yourself that we don’t have a problem. That you don’t have to get involved. This doesn’t affect your community. It’s not actually that big of a deal. 

Look at these numbers instead, a commenter whispers. But what about this other case or that one, they say. I’m not an activist, you think. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, I don’t want to make things political. Someone else can probably do a better job. 

These are lies. All of them. And they are worse than just apathy or rationalization. As Marcus Aurelius reminded himself, we can commit injustices by doing nothing too. When we try to tell ourselves that this is not our fight, that this is not our problem, that someone else is more equipped to get involved than we are—that’s what we are doing. We are not just allowing injustice to continue, we are committing a new injustice by abandoning fellow citizens or fellow humans who are asking for our help. They need our capital, they need our bodies, they need our political pressure. That’s how change happens. That’s how things get done. 

“One person’s disengagement is untenable unless bolstered by someone else’s commitment,” Pericles famously said. If you decide not to vote because voting seems so statistically insignificant, or you don’t speak out, if you let things pass because you would rather avoid conflict, that might make your life a little more peaceful, but the result is an incremental increase in the suffering of others. By refusing to demand a solution, you are contributing to the problem. By refusing to fight for that solution, you are asking others to carry your part of the load. 

That’s not right. It’s not courageous. It’s not just. It’s not wise either

We have to do this together. We have to see it as our fight. Because it is.

Leadership & Transit: We must do better Miami

In the summer of 2000 I moved from Guatemala to Miami. I had just completed a two year stint in the Peace Corps and my parents had recently moved to Miami from New York. At the ripe age of 26, with no game plan, I moved to the 305 to figure out my next step. Two decades later, here I am, in the city I have grown to love.

There are many wonderful things  about our young city. The mix of cultures and ideas is probably what keeps me and my family here. Miami has a good balance of both American, Latin American, Caribbean and European cultures. All cities are unique, but Miami has a certain flair that keeps many of us here and attracts people from all over the world.  Miami is one of a kind and it is home.

There’s a lot to like about our city, but the one thing Miami lacks is leadership and it’s in times of crisis that our leaders show their true colors. Several weeks ago our leadership hit rock bottom when Mayor Carlos Gimenez, using the protests as an excuse, decided to shut down our transit system for an entire day on Sunday May 31, 2020. Without warning, the 40,000 people that depend on transit, on any given Sunday, were left out to dry. It’s important to note that no other major city in the US shut down their entire transit system for a day during the recent protests. Many cities reduced and/or rerouted service, but no other transit system in our country shut down. 

Transit Alliance Miami put it perfectly in a letter addressed to Mayor Carlos Gimenez. 

Dear Mayor Gimenez, 

We understand and recognize that this is an incredibly challenging time for our community. However, a complete and total shutdown of a transit system in response to localized protests and violence is an unprecedented response. In a community as diverse as ours, a shutdown of this magnitude is not only counterproductive to many working families struggling with the effects of the pandemic – but it also unreasonably affects transit-dependent Black and Brown communities who are at the heart of our nationwide need to heal, and promote justice and solidarity. 

All other major cities facing similar circumstances opted for responsive, localized transit service suspensions and temporary road closures in response to their evolving situation, and resumed their transit services today. It would be unprecedented to shut down the entire road network in response to the events of last night, yet that’s what we have done to our transit system – in a community with 90,000 households that do not own a vehicle and still need to buy their groceries, access medical services, and get to work on a Sunday. 

36% of transit commuters in Miami are essential workers, who are more likely to work on Sunday. They and thousands of other transit commuters woke up today lucky to have a job, but stranded without service. Our community is hurting, and we are sending a clear message to struggling families – you can’t depend on transit to put food on your table, you need a car. Without it, you may be stranded by no fault of your own, and your livelihood will be at risk.

Businesses countywide are also reopening as part of the recovery and can’t do so without their workers. However, what will cause greater long-term damage, is that because of shutdowns like today, employers will continue to discriminate against those who do not have a vehicle, exacerbating long-term destructive trends for working families struggling to make ends meet.

Most importantly, 34% of transit commuters are Black, and 51% are Hispanic or Latino, with research demonstrating that they are more likely to be essential workers. A complete system shutdown deepens the racial and economic inequities that have contributed to the unjust reality that Black and Brown communities face today, by further isolating them from their fellow citizens and making their lives during this incredibly challenging time even harder.

We urge you to reinstate transit service, especially along major corridors and, as needed, consider temporary localized service suspensions instead of blanket shutdowns, which may be equally effective at preventing further violence but avoid the collateral damage against the working families of our County.

Thank you for your consideration and attention. 

Sincerely, 

Transit Alliance Miami

Even if you don’t use public transit (I rarely do) we should all be outraged. With so many people struggling, it’s unfathomable, that our leadership can defend such a decision. Imagine finishing a graveyard shift, you’re already exhausted and struggling to make ends meet and now you have to pay for a $20 Uber to get home? 

To add insult to injury, Mayor Gimenez has done nothing to improve our transit and mobility options during our Covid-19 crisis. Other than reducing transit service, Miami Dade County Transit has yet to close any travel lanes or streets to accommodate cyclists, pedestrians and  struggling restaurants. Meanwhile, there are dozens upon dozens of cities across the world that have taken the initiative to make cycling a mobility priority and they have created temporary protected bike lanes to encourage cycling and to provide another alternative to transit.  

Here’s CBS4’s Jim DeFede interviewing Mayor Carlos Gimenez about the transit shutdown. Roll the tape… this interview speaks volumes about our Mayor’s character. There simply wasn’t a justifiable reason to shut down an entire transit system for an entire day. Full stop.

During his twelve years as Miami Dade County Mayor, Mr. Gimenez’s administration has failed at every level when it comes to transit and mobility in our county.  His administration has very little to show for with regards to investing in transit. Pandering to special interests he pushed hard for a $1 billion 836 extension through wetlands in western Miami-Dade, but thankfully a judge recently ruled against citing “meager” traffic improvements. 

His greatest transit achievement so far was to hand over $76 million to Brightline, a privately-owned passenger rail company, to build a station in Aventura. Not satisfied with this handout, Miami Dade County Commissioners are considering giving Brightline an additional $350 million to build 5 additional train stations in Wynwood, the Design District, 79th Street, North Miami and the Biscayne Bay campus of Florida International University. In addition, the county would have to pay yearly rent on company tracks starting at $29 million.

You will probably not find a stronger supporter for mass transit then myself, however giving a private company tax-payer dollars, without stipulating beforehand the cost of fares, schedules and integration with the current MDC Metrocard fare system, seems like the minimum bar for negotiation.  It doesn’t appear that Miami Dade County has an agreement from Brightline that stipulates any of this so far. How is this possible? 


When it comes to other mobility options Miami Dade County leadership has also neglected to provide safer infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. According to Smart Growth America, Miami Dade County is the 14th most dangerous metropolitan area in the US for cyclists and pedestrians. Leadership at Miami Dade County and the State of Florida (Governor & Florida Department of Transportation) are to blame since they own, design, and control most of MDC’s roads. At the state level transit policy is even more embarrassing when it comes to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Florida is the deadliest state in the country for those of us humans that choose to walk or bike in beautiful Florida. We have the Florida Department of Transportation to thank for this grim statistic. It’s still too early to tell if Governor DeSantis will step-up to the plate and force some changes at FDOT. Fingers crossed. He inherited an FDOT with a culture that prioritizes the automobile rather than the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Leadership Matters

Miami is in desperate need of leadership. In my twenty years of living in Miami, the closest we’ve had to a visionary leader was former City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. (I won’t cut Manny Diaz any slack on the Marlins Stadium deal) We need leaders that are willing to challenge the status quo, do things differently and put the needs of our community first. 

We need leaders that understand zoning and transit. Some of the most pressing issues we have in Miami are centered around housing affordability, transit and crime. It all starts with zoning. If your zoning sucks, your city will suffer. With proper zoning many of our growing pains can be more easily mitigated.  

Under Manny Diaz’s leadership the City of Miami adopted a form-based zoning code that encourages mixed-uses, density, walkability, affordability and transit-use. Unincorporated Miami Dade County, as well as the other 33 incorporated cities in MDC should consider a form-based code for their respective municipalities. Here is why: A zoning ordinance provides the rules that developers are allowed to play by in order to build our cities. Zoning and transit go hand-in-hand. If we, as a region, cannot get our zoning right, we will never get the development we want that is necessary to support a world class public transit system. In other words, we won’t be able to build a thriving and growing South Florida metropolis for future generations if we don’t get serious about zoning and transit.  It’s that simple, however this is not an easy task, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  In order to do so, we need to elect an enlightened Miami Dade County mayor that would be willing to put our community first and work with the following stakeholders: 

  • The 103 cities & 3 counties that make up South Florida (not including Monroe County)
  • 3 county transit agencies (Miami-Dade Transit, Broward Transit and Palm Tran) 
  • 5 agencies that control South Florida roads (Miami Dade County , Broward County, Palm Beach County, FDOT and MDX), 
  • South Florida Regional Transit Agency (Controls Tri-Rail) 
  • Brightline (private commuter rail on the FECR line)

So far these are the candidates we have running for Miami Dade County Mayor for the election being held in November 2020.  Please choose wisely. 

  • Monique Nicole Barley, businesswoman and daughter of former State Representative Roy Hardemon 
  • Esteban Bovo, Miami-Dade County commissioner 
  • Robert Ingram Burke, candidate for mayor of Miami in 2017 
  • Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County commissioner 
  • Ludmilla Domond, real estate agent
  • Alex Penelas, former Mayor of Miami-Dade County 
  • Xavier Suarez, Miami-Dade County commissioner and former mayor of Miami 

Miami CRE: Hospitality, Retail & COVID-19

The last two months have been a roller coaster ride for all of us. It’s probably still too early to say what impact  COVID-19 will have on commercial real estate in Miami, however, it seems like hospitality (hotels and short-term rentals) and retail assets will be the most vulnerable of the CRE asset classes.  If social distancing continues until the end of the year, or if there is a second wave of infections, hospitality and retail assets could see significant downside repricing in the next 6-24 months. 

According to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) in 2018 :

  • Greater Miami and the Beaches had 16.5 million overnight visitors in, along with 6.8 million “day trippers” for a total visitor number of 23.3 million.
  • Visitors had an economic impact of nearly $18 billion, fueled mostly by international visitors. 
  • The travel and hospitality sector employed a record 142,100 people (11.9% of all employees in Miami-Dade work in hospitality and leisure).
  • Greater Miami’s hotel market ranked in the top 10 among the top 25 hotel markets in the U.S. according to STR. 
  • International visitors comprised 35% of the overnight market, with 5.8 million visitors, and contributed about 54% of the total visitor expenditure because of longer stays in the destination. 
  • Latin America remained a key feeder market, generating the top three countries of origin for overnight international visitors into Greater Miami: Brazil, Colombia and Argentina. Combined, these three countries delivered more than 20% of the international overnight visitors. 
  • Latin America as a region represented 45% of the total overnight visitors. 
  • Domestic overnight visitors (not including Florida Residents) represented 38% of the total overnight visitor market, with 6.2 million traveling to the Greater Miami area and representing 34% of visitor expenditures. 
  • New York City remained the largest domestic overnight market, contributing more than 1.2 million visitors or 20% of the total domestic overnight market.
  • Cruise travel as a reason to visit Greater Miami continues to grow, with more than one in 10 visitors traveling to the destination for a cruise.  Miami Dade County had 6 million cruise passengers.. 
  • More than 22 million passengers arrived at MIA. 
  • Nearly two-thirds of overnight visitors to Greater Miami arrived by air. 
  • Greater Miami and the Beaches had an ADR (average daily rate) of $199.35 and a Hotel Occupancy rate of 76.7%. Occupancy and ADR resulted in RevPAR (revenue per available room) of $152.81. 
  • Tourists spent an average of $279.48 a day and stayed an average of 5.86 nights. With total spending averaging $1,637.75 per person per visit, the majority spent on shopping and lodging.

Then came the “The Rona” lockdown…

According to the Miami Herald:

  • Among the top 25 tourism markets in the nation, Miami posted the largest decline in ADR for the week ending April 18 — a 56.8 percent drop to $101.51 from the same week last year, according to data from STR, an industry tracking firm.
  • In Miami-Dade, occupancy from Apr. 12-18 was 20.3 percent, which is 75.4 percent lower than the same week last year. The RevPAR was at $20.59, an 89.3 percent slide from last April.
  • Miami International Airport passenger traffic has dropped 90% since March,
  • Around 75% of hotel hourly workers have lost their jobs.

Air Travel & Cruising 

In early May, Warren Buffett, announced that Berkshire Hathaway was selling all of its substantial holdings in the four major U.S. airlines: American, Delta, United, and Southwest. Of all the industries disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown the airlines’ situation is in a sense the worst. Absent a vaccine (which is highly unlikely in the short term) will people feel safe going to an airport or sitting with 150 strangers on a plane? Probably not. Particularly if you are elderly or have a preexisting condition. 

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