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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

This is transit-oriented development?

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 8, 2013

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  looking north from Douglas Rd station, Coral Gables (courtesy of Victor Dover)

Yikes.  I literally do not know where to start with today’s article.  But I’ll give it a shot:  at the top, you’re looking at the view northward “from the turnstiles” at the Douglas Road transit station in Coral Gables, just outside of Miami.  The photo was taken by my friend (and Miami resident) Victor Dover, who captioned it “Epic Fail” and a “sidewalk-free zone.”  Note the bus entering the image from the left.  This is multi-modal, where different forms of transportation converge . . . well, except for pedestrians.

  context of the view above (via Google Earth)

On the Google Earth image, you can see that actually there’s lots of development around, just not near the station, unless you consider parking lots and garages to be development.  The station is “oriented” to cars, not people.  It brings to mind a short article I wrote three years ago, “Transit-oriented development requires more than transit and development.”

I suppose the station in Coral Gables is like other suburban metro stations around the country in that it was originally designed to be a sort of park-and-ride situation.  Not much thought was given to real TOD when many of these stations were built, and now many of the surrounding parking areas are being retrofitted for people, such as in Oakland, California and Prince George’s County, Maryland.

  Dadeland station, Miami (by and courtesy of Mariia Zimmerman)

But in Miami even the downtown station areas leave a lot to be desired.  As it happens, my friend Mariia Zimmerman has also been taking photos of the Miami transit system.  When I saw the one of the Brickell “neighborhood,” below with Mariia’s quote, my first thought was “horrifying.”  And then there are her photos of the Dadeland station with captions, above.

Note to Miami-Dade planners:  we know you supposedly like form-based codes and all, but could you please buy some copies of Julie Campoli’s book about the things we need to make urban density work, like pronto?  And, while you’re at it, take a look at Stephanos Polyzoides’s essay about how to make development around transit people-friendly (I reviewed it here).

Echoing Campoli’s central thesis, Mariia puts it this way:

Brickell station area (by and courtesy of Mariia Zimmerman)“Too little attention is paid to the smaller scale strategies that can help to make TOD a success. Included in this category would be things like attention to good design of both the building and the street – does the project fit with the neighborhood’s scale and aesthetics? Are there sidewalks, trees or other greenery and lighting that signal people are desired and that it’s a safe and comfortable place? . . .

“I do not mean to undercut the hard work that the city and region are doing. But rather, to remind us that while large scale infrastructure and development projects can grab attention of politicians and the media, density without design may fail to generate anticipated return on investment -- both in terms of creating new riders and in transforming neighborhoods.”  (Emphasis in original.)

Brickell is actually a nice, interesting city neighborhood in a lot of ways, so don’t screw it up, OK?

I know you’re trying, Miami-Dade.  You’re actually trying harder than most places, and you have an amazing amount of home-grown talent who can help out.  So I suspect we’re on the same side here.  But we sure aren’t yet where we need to be.

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Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Switchboard and in other national media.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.  Please also visit NRDC’s Sustainable Communities Video Channels.

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C ForinashMar 8 2013 09:30 AM

Others in Miami are bringing life to station areas, even without stations!

Francisco A. ArbelaezMar 8 2013 10:15 AM

These issues are nothing new. Not only is the current system inadequate and outdated, it does meet the needs of the younger creative demographic. All current stations are in need of revitalizing. And adding more lines the current laughable system is a must. The county is not connected.

Marta ViciedoMar 11 2013 11:37 AM

The immense support for the Purple Line installation stands as a absolute proof that Miami is ready for better transit, not just with respect to service but also in terms of station design and activity. One of the points made in the article regarding plenty of "home-grown talent" is right on. Miami residents showed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are ready to do what it takes, including building their own train station, if need be.
Thanks for the article!

Mike MoskosMar 11 2013 06:14 PM

While there's lots to be critical of the areas around the stations in the article, those were mostly built out a long time ago.

You should be looking at the recently finished housing development built at the Brownsville Metrorail. What did they do right, what did they do wrong. Hint: ya gotta love the big parking garage.

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