Opinion Post: Two Viewpoints on Mass Transportation in Broward

May 5, 2016 | More People

Jonathan Schwartz, AVP Operations Planning, Real Estate at Broward College

Jonathan Schwartz, AVP Operations Planning, Real Estate at Broward College

Viewpoint from Jonathan Schwartz

Traffic. Besides a general consensus that we all despise it, the debate continues on how we can create a solution for South Florida’s ever-growing traffic problem.

South Florida is becoming notorious for our roadway congestion. The GPS and mapping company TomTom has ranked the Miami-metro area the 7th worst traffic city in America. If you have been brave enough to commute during rush hour, you may have wondered if every person ever issued a driver’s license is also on the road. Unsurprisingly, only 4% (41st in the nation) of local commuters use public transportation, resulting in an additional 125 hours per year each commuter spends in their car beyond normal drive times.

Like most American urban areas, the South Floridian transportation system is centered on the car. Frustrated commuters will often say that our roads need to be expanded or our traffic signals need to be synchronized, yet there are many examples that prove that these measures are extremely costly and do not result in any long-term improvement to traffic congestion. Furthermore, the gas tax, highway tolls, and other user fees cover less than half of all roadway construction and maintenance. The balance of the cost is subsidized by drivers and non-drivers alike to the tune of $1,100 per household, per year.

In South Florida, we face a number of challenges to solving our traffic congestion:

Our population is rapidly growing. Over the last decade, an average of 137 people-per-day moved to the tri-county area. Broward County now has 1.9 million residents and is the fastest growing county in the region.

Secondly, we are landlocked and our county is almost fully built out. Our urban sprawl has left limited options in adding transportation infrastructure and federal and state funding is drastically outpaced by our system needs.

Lastly, our existing public transportation system is inefficient and unreliable. Until transit commuting times converge with driving in our own vehicles, commuters will not opt out of driving.

Given these challenges, it is clear that the only way to prepare for our future is to develop a strong network of various efficient modes of transportation, and to make those options so appealing that drivers are lured out of their cars. Transportation options will also attract more millennials who favor walkable, transit-oriented cities. Our neighborhoods will also become more connected, which will provide more affordable housing options that are still within reach of our urban core.

There are some exciting transportation projects currently underway in Broward including Tri-Rail Coastal, the Wave Streetcar, Brightline, express busses, and bicycle infrastructure. In Fort Lauderdale, we have the added bonus of our New River that gives us transportation options most other cities could only dream of. The solution to our traffic problems will be found by working together to better understand how we move around our county and what we can do to make the neighborhoods we call home even better. I look forward to continuing this conversation on May 11. See you at the Square!

Viewpoint from Matthew Rocco

Matthew Rocco

Matthew Rocco, M.B.A., J.D., Coordinator, Corporate Training Institute of Economic Development at Broward College

As we discuss this topic of mass transportation in South Florida, we have to not only think of whether it’s feasible from a logistics perspective, we have to consider the economic factors which define this as a dream or reality. It is my position that, unless some of these economic factors change – such as wages and cost of living in South Florida, specifically Broward County – we are essentially making this seem more like a dream than reality.

Millennials, and those in the preceding generation, are looking for places like downtown Fort Lauderdale where they can reduce costs for housing and transportation. My premise for these economic barriers stems from issues pertaining to wage and cost of living, and the unaffordability of housing in areas such as downtown Fort Lauderdale.

A February, 2015 Sun Sentinel article recently published that approximately 5,000 new residential units were planned for downtown Fort Lauderdale to attract workers. It’s one flaw is that approximately 15 percent of those units were allocated ‘as affordable housing’ to provide lower economic residents to live the ‘city life.’ In this article ‘affordable housing,’ was defined as available to a single person making no more than $30,000, or a household family of four making no more than $40,000. When taking into account other living costs like food and healthcare, there isn’t much left to afford mass transportation options. Could they afford expenses such as bus or train passes? Even if you remove the direct cost of transportation, the implementation of these new modes will raise taxes, placing an additional burden on this section of our community.

Another section of our population also is affected by our current infrastructure: young families and Millennials. Taking into account the rising prices of rental units, the average wage in South Florida, and inflation, there are serious affordability issues for millennials and young working professionals. Currently, the average rent for newer downtown units is $1,600 for a one-bedroom or studio equivalent. In a June, 2015 Sun Sentinel article, it was pointed out that the average wage in South Florida trailed the national average by 7 percent and failed to keep up with inflation. When you add in entry-level salaries and inflation, these factors have contributed to the younger generations getting priced out of the market, ultimately pushing them to the suburbs and further from the bustling, hip downtown culture we are trying to cultivate. As young families continue the exodus west, it will only add to the traffic conditions on local and residential streets. Even if we extend mass transportation options and routes to include our westernmost cities, the congestion will only multiple as they move towards central meeting points meant to catch the bus, or train, or trolley, which would only serve to exacerbate the problem. Ultimately, those suburbs were not designed like downtown, and they are not conducive to mass transportation modifications.

Until we address the ‘human infrastructure’ issues and find ways to increase the living wage, decrease housing costs, and begin shifting South Florida from a suburb culture to a downtown culture we cannot begin to discuss fixing mass transportation. Therefore, mass transportation is just a dream!

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