A lot of words leap to mind when you think of Miami's roadways. Terrifying. Useless. Mad Max-ian. Unless you've been pounding mescaline all morning, one term that likely hasn't popped up is efficient. But a new piece by an urban planner in Washington reveals that by one measure, Miami has the most efficient set of roads in the nation.
Riptide would like to extend an open invitation to this scientist to attempt to drive from the westbound Dolphin onto the northbound Palmetto without rage-punching his steering wheel.
Chris Dickersin-Prokopp, an urban planner based in Washington, D.C., decided to measure the roadways of America's 12 largest metro areas by an unusual metric: the number of miles of pavement per capita.
His idea is that because roads are an expensive, pollution-encouraging means of shuttling people and goods around, the more people-per-roadway the better for a mass urban area. Here's his argument, as laid out in Greater Greater Washington:
Roads cost money to build and maintain. Movement along those roads creates pollution and costs the users time. All else equal, it is more efficient to build, use, and maintain fewer roads per person.
Guess what? By that measure, Miami is tops in the country. With a metro area of 5.5 million and just 1,462 miles of roadway, Dade County has 3,807 people per road mile. That beats the next closest urban area, New York City, by more than 1,000 people per road mile. (By this measure, Atlanta came in last.)
Dickersin-Prokopp also put together a handy graphic showing Miami's lack of urban sprawl compared with most of the other metro areas:
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All true, but the project misses some key context. For one thing, the reason Miami has so much less sprawl has nothing to do with great urban planning and everything to do with being pinned between an ocean and a protected wetland.
Second, though the idea of packing more people per road mile is great in terms of urban efficiency, the lack of a great public transit system simply leads to thousands more people trying to use an overburdened, underdeveloped road system every day.
That's why driving from South Beach to Hialeah during rush hour is only slightly less unnerving than a hike sans sherpa up Everest and takes roughly the same amount of time.