Miami-Dade County's new mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, ran on a platform that included supporting public-transit initiatives. Now that she has been sworn in, she says she'll make good on her promises with the help of a pro-transit nonprofit and its appropriately named plan.
This week, the nonprofit Transit Alliance released its so-called C.A.V.A. Plan to improve Miami's public-transportation system and make the county more pedestrian-friendly. The plan consists of four pillars tailored to match the name of Miami-Dade's first woman mayor:
- Commit to implementing Transit Alliance's Better Bus Network,
- Adopt dedicated bus lanes,
- Verify the county's SMART transit plan with a full audit, and
- Advance transit-department reform to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists.
María Cristina Chicuén, the Transit Alliance's public-affairs manager, tells New Times that the four pillars were already at the core of the nonprofit's mission, but the organization reconfigured them into a cheeky acronym to commemorate the new administration and to push the mayor's office to support its initiatives for a reimagined transit system.
"It was something we thought was apt for this moment. There's no better way to launch it than with the name of our mayor-elect," Chicuén says. "With the new mayor, this was the best time to go forward and outline policies for the new administration to prioritize."
Cava tells New Times she's supportive of the Transit Alliance and the C.A.V.A. Plan, which the nonprofit sent her this week. In particular, the new mayor says pushing the new county commission to implement the Better Bus Network, a redesigned network of bus routes in the county created by the Transit Alliance, is one of her top priorities.
"I'm in a hurry to move forward with the Better Bus Network," Cava says.
Transit Alliance worked for a year and a half to design the Better Bus Network, soliciting public input on what kind of transit layout worked best for the county. The final design was approved in October, promising routes that will have buses coming every 15 minutes from North Miami all the way to Homestead. The previous iteration of the Miami-Dade County Commission accepted the Transit Alliance's recommendations for the network, but the newly elected commission needs to actually implement the changes after a period of public review.
Cava says implementing the changes is vital as the county continues recovering from the economic effects of the pandemic.
"We hope more people will be going back to work, and many of those people are transit-dependent. Good public transit is not an option — it's a necessity. We need people to get places reliably," Cava asserts.
One of the Transit Alliance's plans for the Better Bus Network is to create dedicated bus lanes that are painted and set aside only for use by public buses. Chicuén says that change would make public transit more efficient because buses wouldn't be hampered by regular traffic.
"Having dedicated lanes will only make buses more efficient and competitive with car travel. We hope that they push forward plans to make bus lanes in congested corridors," Chicuén says.
Cava also wants to see dedicated bus lanes so public transit is more attractive to people who drive.
"There are riders who have no choice whether or not to ride a bus, and those who do. We want to get those with a choice out of their cars, and to do that, the bus has to have advantages," Cava says.
Cava is also supportive of introducing more dedicated bike lanes and better pedestrian crossings throughout the county. She says a bicycle crash that affected her family played a part in her motivation.
"My husband was commuting by bike and was knocked off his bike by a car and broke his arm. We know we're one of the least pedestrian- and bike-friendly places," she says.
Miami-Dade County has long suffered from terrible traffic and a car-centric policy philosophy, which has prioritized road and highway construction over public-transit initiatives.
In 2018, Cava's predecessor Carlos A. Giménez pushed through a project to extend the Dolphin Expressway through the Everglades. The extension was heralded as a way to alleviate traffic, but experts said it wouldn't work. The project was panned by urban planners and by Cava herself.
Cava says she'd like to fight the proposed extension if she can, adding that her office will review whether the county has any power to reverse the decision on the project.
Overall, Cava says, she wants to press the new commission and the transportation department to reimagine what transportation in Miami looks like.
"Our traffic engineers are trained to accept projects that prioritize cars," she says, "and we have to change that fundamental ideology."
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