Can Miami-Dade County Make Public Transit Cool?

Miami is often stereotyped as a sexy tropical city with candy-colored sports cars zooming in and out of lanes. This allure makes people forget the reality of car culture in Miami, such as hazardous driving behaviors, unforgiving traffic, and never-ending construction. Somehow there’s a level of coolness associated with Miami and its car culture that’s hard to shake. The Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW), partnering with local groups Prism Creative Group and the New Tropic, is working to shift the focus away from car culture and promote public transportation with the campaign Miami’s Never Moved Like This. But can they make public transit cool?

Alice Bravo, director of the DTPW, thinks so. “Miami has evolved as a car-centric city, so a lot of people view public transit as something that is just for people who don’t have a car. But things are changing.”

With a wave of progressive millennials and an increase in transit-oriented real-estate development, living in Miami without a car is slowly becoming feasible and popular, she says. “We want to grow our transit system so this can be a car-optional county. People are spending too much time in the car. With public transit, you can save time and money,” Bravo says.

She lists DTPW projects designed to further expand public transportation in Miami: The Tri-Rail Coastal Link project is well underway. The Baylink and Aerial Cable Transit projects are in the works to complete studies required by federal law. And the department is talking to marina owners and developing a plan for a water taxi system.
Another part of that plan: using creativity and the arts to educate and encourage people to use public transit. The Miami’s Never Moved Like This campaign includes coffee giveaways to riders on Mondays, revamping the tones on platforms at select stations to reflect music by Miami orchestra Nu Deco Ensemble, and holding events such as last Thursday's Sounds of the Underground concert, which required attendees to download the Miami-Dade Transit Tracker app. The department also launched the competition Transit Loves the Arts, in which works by local artists Nate Dee, Hector Andrade, Daniel Fila, and Carlos Alvarez will be wrapped around buses, creating moving canvases that cruise around the city.

“We’re giving people a new way to think about transit. We want to create an experience attractive enough that people come out to use it.” Bravo says she believes in the power of art to encourage people to take public transit. “Art instinctively draws people’s eyes and forms connections and experiences. Maybe with this campaign, they will associate art with public transit and give it a try.” 

Andres Rodriguez, a native Miamian who attended last Thursday's Sounds of the Underground event, says he rarely uses public transportation because he lives out west near Florida International University. But the concert has opened his eyes. “Just to come in, I had to download the app, so now I’ll be more aware of different stops and modes of public transportation in this city. It’s enlightening,” Rodriguez says. He was one of more than 800 concertgoers who danced to music by Xperimento and Locos por Juana while enjoying food and drinks provided by local food trucks.
The band Xperimento felt inspired to play at an event promoting public transportation. “I used to drive, but I was like, What am I doing? Get on the bus, Gus!” says drummer Derek Cintron. “Our music has an urban flair to it, and when you think of urban cityscapes, you naturally think of public transportation. I don’t know if we have any songs about riding the Metrorail yet, but we’ll have to work on that.”

Also at the concert was Howard Herring, New World Symphony president and CEO, who emphasized the importance of cultural events to promote public transit. “These kinds of events make a lot of difference, because in order to change people’s impressions about public transit, you have to get out there and tell people that it exists. Public transportation will make all of us happier, more satisfied with life, out of our cars, and into conversation with our fellow bus riders and train riders. It will connect this city in ways we can’t even imagine,” Herring says.
Alice Bravo says one of the major challenges of encouraging people to use public transit is marketing; that's why she believes a campaign like Miami’s Never Moved Like This, with its unique communication efforts, has the potential to enact positive change in the community.

“These experience-based communication tools are effective in the long run. Events like these are a gateway to using transit," she says. "We’re trying to lead a cultural revolution.”
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth