A Guide to Trashing Taxpayers

Miami is a great place to throw away public money. This is spectacularly apparent to the 108,500 folks on the Dolphin Expressway who pass the new Marlins stadium every day. The cost to taxpayers on that one: $2.4 billion. We'll be paying it off for the next 40 years.

But at least million-dollar ball players will have somewhere to pitch and catch when the park is opened next year. There's far more taxpayer-funded, politically suspect stuff that's less visible.

Indeed, our leaders are nationally renowned innovators when it comes to building expensive, lamebrained monuments to irrelevance. There's a kiddie park in east Kendall that no one can park near. Or how about the nine-mile bicycle path between downtown and South Miami that almost no one rides on? Hey, what about that two-story landmark in Hialeah that you can't even walk inside because it has no rooms. Or the new $51 million cultural arts center that just opened in Cutler Bay? It's just 30 minutes from a relatively new performing arts center that cost a cool half-billion.

Don't the guys who fund this stuff realize unemployment is at a record high, our homes are worth half what they were just a few years ago, and governments are laying off cops and firefighters?

What are they? Dumb?

To assess their level of ignorance, New Times rounded up six prominent critics and asked them to name the worst examples of public works projects that serve little or no purpose. We'll guide readers through the genesis of these taxpayer-funded catastrophes and describe how much money has been flushed down the commode. We've also invited online readers to submit picks for worst government-funded endeavors at riptidemiami.com. Now join us on a ride through the fruits of your tax dollars.

Metrorail M-Path

Year built: 1984

Cost: $266,945

What's dumb about it: Throws good money after bad.

Why it was built: To create the illusion that Miami is friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

It's afternoon rush hour this past October 28. We count three people traveling on the 27-year-old, nine-mile strip of pavement known as the M-Path, which runs mostly along busy South Dixie Highway, from the mouth of the Miami River to Red Road. There's one guy on a royal-blue Schwinn near the Coconut Grove Metrorail station and a woman pushing a stroller with a baby at the Douglas Road station. Although the M-Path was designed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind, most days you'd be hard-pressed to find either. That's because of heavy vehicular traffic and a gauntlet of 21 dangerous intersections. There aren't even signs warning drivers to slow down or stop at crosswalks.

Most cyclists avoid the M-Path. "Last time I was on it was three months ago," Miami Bike Scene blogger Rydel Deed says. "On days you ride the M-Path, you can't let your guard down. The M-Path sucks."

Transit Miami blogger Tony Garcia, another critic, says the M-Path shows that planners give priority to motorists. "Our transportation system tends to be mediocre when it comes to all other modes besides cars." The path could be great for nonmotorists, but "it seems like it goes nowhere," he says.

Now transportation officials are wasting $4.5 million more. They are building a pedestrian bridge that will link the M-Path at Red Road to the Dadeland North Metrorail station and the South Dade Trail, a million-dollar, 20-mile urban path to Florida City. The bridge is slated to open in December.

Wrong solution, Deed says. Try crosswalks. "At the very least, paint the crosswalks green so people in cars can see there is a path in front of them," he suggests. "That is something that is so inexpensive to do. I'd rather have that than spend millions on a bridge."

Marc Sarnoff's Traffic Circle

Year built: 2007

Cost: $127,000

What's dumb about it: It's designed so poorly that school buses can't navigate it without backing up at least twice.

Why it was built: A city commissioner's self-serving pet project.

In 2001, Marc Sarnoff was president of the Center Coconut Grove Homeowners Association. He complained to city and county road planners that he needed a circle to slow traffic in front of his two houses. Their response: The four-way stop at Virginia Street and Shipping Avenue was doing a fine job. Six years later, newly elected Commissioner Sarnoff made the circle one of his top priorities.

He was required to gather signatures from two-thirds of the residents on Shipping and Virginia. But that proved too difficult, so Sarnoff found an end run: Mary Conway, who at the time was Miami's chief of operations. In sworn testimony in an unrelated criminal probe, Conway said Sarnoff was "always supportive" and had once offered her a job on his staff. Perhaps to show her appreciation, she tacked funding for the traffic circle onto an unrelated street-closure project in 2007 without obtaining the signatures. Even worse, the money came from a sales tax meant to improve public transportation.

Michelle Niemeyer, a lawyer who ran against Sarnoff and lost in the most recent election, says the traffic circle serves no purpose other than to enhance the values of the commissioner's homes. "He doesn't have trucks going by there anymore," Niemeyer says, noting the circle is too small for the intersection. "As soon as they drew the outline of where the circle was going, I knew there wasn't enough room for it," she says. "Now that it is finally built, it is even more obvious. It even feels tight going around in my little car."

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18 comments
Lave
Lave

Francisco Alvarado is a hypocrite! Why don't you do a news breaking segment on your friends or better said FRIEND who pays cops on the side to keep them from getting arrested for DUI's and cleaning up their boyfriends' drug record? WHy not them? I am sure you know who I am talking about,or maybe not if you have more than one friend doing this. Here is a clue this friend is what keeps you working, surely your writting isn't the cuase.

NEWS TIMES need to keep a closer look on who they hire! I say NEWS TIMES should do drug test on their so called writers. - DON't be scared Francisco

SOBE50
SOBE50

ITs Wonderful

Its wonderful to hear form the 5 people that use these facilities ...

Its so nice that the "government" can find the time to waste Millions $$ of taxpayers money so a small number of citizens that use their bikes ...

Lets see Millions of taxpayers .. How many use the facilities 10,000? 5,000? 2,000? maybe 100

WONDERFUL enjoy!

David Clark
David Clark

Miami (Dade County)may be in the lead in the corrupt dept., but this happens all over. Way to much is a bow to the extremists. e.g. the bike path which no one uses, why was it built? so the politicians can show how sensitive they are to environmental causes. Same holds true for Metrorail M-Path. Some useless politician pushed this because his girl friend's cause of the week was "Public Transit", Forget the initial building costs, each user could be given a free taxi ride for what the unionized maintenance people are paid.

Many, and I mean MANY of these "public works" projects are to create construction jobs for unionized workers, who then "donate" billions to mostly democrat politicians. Then we pay the cost to maintain these white elephants who also pay outrageous dues which flow right back to the politicians who control their jobs.

In the end however it's OUR fault for allowing these special interests, unions and wacko environmentalists, to name a few, to control corrupt politicians who WE vote to return to office while they thumb their noses at those of us who pay the taxes.

Cornejo Stephanie
Cornejo Stephanie

I'd like to echo some other comments and mine. The M-Path is not a waste of taxpayer's money. As a weekly M-Path to get to work from the bus station, I run into other bicylists (yes, that's plural) every time. The M-Path is less stressful to ride on, of course, at all intersections you should be careful just as you would riding on the street or sidewalk. A greater question is what would bicycling be like in Miami-Dade without it.

Mr. Alvarado, your findings of 'M-Path bicycle users' over the course of one rush hour evening in one given area, is a poor reflection of your researching skills. Let alone allowing it to merit a comment in your article is of bad taste.

Additionally, a crosswalk right by the entrance and exit of a highway would be a scary thing to even attempt to cross, which is why a bridge is being built. The pedestrian and bicyclist can cross without being hit by an oncoming cars entering the highway.

Guest
Guest

Betsey makes some good points. The location of the M-Path along the MetroRail route has definite advantages. It is safe, and it makes a swath of Miami territory accessible by bicycle - you can get on and off the MetroRail with your bike. I don't think you can have gotten opinions from a very large sample of users.

Furthermore, the M-Path doubles the functionality of public property already in use and so is an economical use of public funds. Instead of carping, maybe the New Times should publicize the M-path's benefits and promote more bike-riding.

BetseyBy
BetseyBy

The bike path under the metro rail (running from at least the Brickell area down to Dadeland) is NOT a waste of tax payers' money. For myself & others, it is not only a safe riding path that I use, but it also gives me the option of easily getting on & off Metro rail at every station. It is very well placed & thought out. I wish there were more such safe bike paths around Miami, raised or separated from the auto roads & safe for bikers. I recently got knocked off my bike on the bridge between NE 125th St. & Bay and Bal Harbour because there is NO bike path over the majority of the bridge area. (only one short area.)The policeman said I should be riding on the sidewalk over the bridge, but the sidewalk is not only too narrow but has encroaching built in obstructions that narrow it even further.

In Bal Harbour also, bicyclists are not supposed to ride on the sidewalk, leaving no safe bike paths adjacent to or near the streets reserved for autos. The police there tell you to ride on the beach, out of the way & not easily accessible to the commercial sites & over the bridges in Bal Harbour.

I wish there were more such bike paths as the one criticized here, or safer ones around Dade County. We are very backward about promoting/advocating safe alternative transportation methods, esp. re: safe biking paths.

Noneya
Noneya

I LOVE living in MIAMI! It's so CLOSE to the United States!

mabella
mabella

Another great article. Good job!Can you imagine how many palms have been scratched while they fleece the taxpayers?

RoadsRunner
RoadsRunner

A lame analysis. There are many stretches of the M-Path that are quite pleasant - I'm a runner and have been using it for years, particularly the stretch from SW 15th Street to SW 17th Avenue in the Roads area. It's a well-utilized urban design touch for runners, pedestrians and cyclists in an otherwise automobile-oriented area and a great place to get in some urban exercise in pleasant surroundings. I'm with the previous posters - put as much money as is feasible into maintaining and expanding this hidden gem.

David
David

I use the M path every day to commute to work. Its amazing. I like the New Times. but you dont always have to be controversial to prove a point. sometimes you need to step back and ask are we sending out the right message. The M path is the best thing for cyclists we have. Throw all the money

jason
jason

M path is great - how about the palmetto expwy or 836 - permanent construction projects when east west metrorail should have been built instead.

Dabble D. Gook
Dabble D. Gook

Walk north or south on arterial road NW 42 AV from about NW 11 St to NW 36 St, Take several changes of underwear. This is not a limited access expressway. This was recently built with a lot of fancy landscaping and ornamental crushed stone pits for drainage and to look pretty. No sidewalk, no extra wide lane for bike use, no shoulder area. Thank FDOT district 6 & ask them why there is no sidewalk, or walk 1/2 mile over to NW 37 AV & half mile back to lejeune (NW 42 AV) , way safer but there will still be (much shorter) areas where you have to walk in the road, probably with your back to traffic some of the time. As for need, check the narrow areas of dirt path behind the barriers on the east side under the overpasses a few hundred feed south of NW 36 ST. Technical term for these artifacts of engineering malpractice against pedestrians is "goat path".

Dabble D. Gook
Dabble D. Gook

Er, ah ditto the M-Path users who have commented.Most of the bicyclist who would be using the M path are 40' up in the air on the last car of a metrorail train. I personaly think the bike path, kind of an economy model at that, is better use than just landscaping, and it gives the cyclist a bit of north-south travel path with reduced conflict with Miami's ever so courteous and cautious drivers when the cyclists get off the train.

Matthew Toro
Matthew Toro

This brutal honesty of most of this article makes for a painful, but very necessary, read.

However, I must strongly disagree with the inaccurate picture of the M-Path that's been unjustly painted as a waste.

I ride the M-Path regularly, and I know many other bikers who actively use, appreciate, and love the M-Path in a community that’s otherwise devoid of any multi-use urban trails. I think the M-Path, while far from perfect, should be one of the most celebrated pieces of non-motorized transport infrastructure in our county, even if for no other reason than its sheer existence in a community that lacks any comparable facilities.

Some of the specific criticisms aimed at the M-Path are irrefutable and important.

Is the M-Path highly disjointed? Unquestionably.

Does the M-Path have adequate signage. Absolutely not.

Are many of the M-Path crossings dangerous? Extremely so.

Does the design of the M-Path reflect a planning/design/construction bias toward automobiles? Regrettably so.

Does the M-Path have adequate lighting? No way.Is the M-Path wide enough? Not yet.

Should the M-Path be regarded as a waste of public monies simply because of its far-from-ideal design flaws – no way, José!

To suggest that the M-Path is a waste of money is a terrible falsehood. I’m personally very grateful to have the M-Path at my disposal. I use it regularly to access all the same destinations accessed by the Metrorail.

We have to remember that the “M-Path” refers to the “Metrorail-Path”, and the property on which the M-Path is located is actually county property. It’s a great use of otherwise neglected space, although, admittedly, it could be doing much more to serve the pedestrian and biker communities.

Is the M-Path ideal? – no way, but I must prefer having the M-Path than just a wasted scrubland occupying the space along the linear Metrorail.

Regarding the soon-to-be-finished multi-use footbridge and M-Path connection running through the Dadeland North Metrorail station, this is absolutely the right idea. The reason crosswalks were decided against is because the westbound traffic on the Snapper Creek expressway (SR 878) is free flowing (i.e., there is no stoplight there to allow for pedestrians or bikers to cross the Snapper Creek expressway. I’ve done that route many times (I did it just this past weekend!), and riding southbound down US-1 is quite an adventurous undertaking. That multi-use bridge will give walkers and bikers the necessary feeling of safety when crossing that expressway and continuing on through the newly widened sections of the M-Path.

Also, the new section of the M-Path will be widened and striped with two lanes.

The New Times would do better advocating for improvements to the M-Path to rectify its design flaws rather than inaccurately labeling it a rarely used waste of tax-payer money .

Yes, the M-Path is flawed, but it’s basically all we’ve got, and, to quote a famous British rock-band, “It’s getting better all the time”!

Markus
Markus

I respectfully disagree on the M-Path issue. Is it perfect? Absolutely not and there is valid criticism to be made, as pointed out by Rydel and Tony. But is it a decent solution for those having to travel in a direction (Grove - UM) that is otherwise incredibly busy and dangerous? Yes. And as for three cyclists, I see them every day while I'm commuting, so if you stick around for longer, I'm sure you will encounter more people. Its location is actually good as a connector - yes, it needs to be improved, but I for one am very glad it exists.

tjblaze
tjblaze

I know lots of people who use the M-Path. It is a great bicycle route from East Kendall to Downtown that also provides access to the UM and Coral Gables. It is far from perfect, but it is the best we have in off road facilities that connect with lots of useful places. Plus it has the redundancy of the rail, which is a good thing if a cyclist has mechanical or physical problems. Investing in the M-Path is a wise use of tax payer dollars and not very expensive in comparison with other transportation projects, like the 826/836 connection.

The bike/ped bridge over the Snapper Creek expressway was a strategic need. It enabled closure of a gap in the M-Path that existed since it was built in 1985. Up until this project is completed, the M-Path ends/ed at Ludlam Road. This project connects it with Dadeland South which also provides a connection to the Busway's wide sidewalk path all the way down to Florida City. When this project is completed next month, a cyclist will be able to ride off road from about 15th Road near Brickell Avenue all the way down to Florida City. The bridge in the project was needed because the entrance to the Snapper Creek Expressway includes two go at all times lanes - an impossible hazard to bikers and walkers. The presence of a goat path worn by bikers and walkers showed for years that people needed this connection. The bridge was the cheapest way to rectify the problem without disrupting traffic flow.

Sorry, but your reporting is sorely lacking on this item. You completely missed the significance of this project.

As gas prices rise and congestion gets worse, anything we do to improve transportation alternatives will be good for the community.

Mike Miller
Mike Miller

In Broward County they have wasted 6 million dollars on the "greenway" along 595, this is impossible to use as a bicyclist and very poorly thought out and very dangerous, not to mention a waste of money.

 
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