The Sunshine Economy: Transportation In South Florida

Sep 13, 2015

How South Florida gets around, or doesn't, is increasingly a matter of public debate. Climbing commuting times, more tolls and long-promised but never delivered public transportation projects like BayLink are pushing our collective patience. It costs commuters money and costs the economy lost productivity.

As the region has grown across political boundaries, transportation planning has not kept pace.

In South Florida, there are two Florida Department of Transportation districts and three Metropolitan Planning Organizations. There are county-wide bus systems, trolley networks in smaller cities and two rail systems, one serving Miami-Dade County exclusively, the other stretching across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. There's an expressway authority designed to pay for its roads. There's a separate toll agency for other highways.  The entrenched taxi industry is fighting against transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft,  which are making inroads even though local regulators don't allow their business model. (At least, not yet.) And bicycles are available for rent by the hour.


Despite all these options, more than three out of every four working South Floridians drive to and from work.  And they are spending more time behind the wheel. Here's a map with the average time it takes to get to work throughout the region, from the shortest (just nine minutes in Key West's Old Town) to the longest (42 and a half minutes from Palmetto Bay):


The Sunshine Economy spoke with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. We asked them: What improvements to transportation will be made in one year?

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez:

  • 10 of the most traveled commuting corridors will have new centralized synchronized traffic light system. 
  • Legislation finished to make Uber legal in Miami-Dade County and similar app-based transportation options.
  • A BayLink project finalized. To have both cities (Miami and Miami Beach) have plans in place of what they're going to do and that the county is there to say, “OK, here's how we're going to connect it all.”
  • A  clearly defined strategy for transit out west. On the 836 [the county] can use a B.R.T. (bus rapid-transit) system. "That can be put in rather quickly, a lot faster than a train and a lot cheaper than a train."
  • Finalize and make sure Tri-Rail is coming to downtown.
  • Begin the process of using the F.E.C. corridor for commuter rail.

"Those are things that I can say, would say, within a year we should be able to do, but that's not the end obviously," said Giménez.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado:

  • Some of the construction finishing [in Brickell]. 
  • At least two more routes of the trolley system, which will be free. 
  • Pushing for water taxis.
  • The traffic lights issue will be solved.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine:

  • Signal optimization of our [traffic] lights to make sure those lights are working properly and traffic [is flowing].
  • Our streets are dry and [Miami Beach] has been able to fight back on sea-level rise.
  • Move forward with a dedicated streetcar.

"The commitment is, one year from now the people of Miami will be traveling better," Levine said.