Traffic sucks, owning a car is expensive, and driving isn’t great for the environment; all reasons why Miami Riders Alliance formed in 2019 to advocate for holistic transportation in Miami-Dade County.
According to President Kevin Amézaga, the organization is fighting to get people out of cars and make public and alternative modes of transportation safer and more accessible.
“We're essentially consultants on behalf of transit riders,” he said, “lobbying for people while they’re at their jobs.”
Florida, he said, isn’t serious about getting drivers out of cars and it shows. And while some leaders and municipalities in Miami-Dade have made positive changes, there are still ways to go.
“Here in Miami Dade, everybody is using their car to go from their house to the grocery store, even if it's a quarter-mile away,” Amézaga said. “People are sending their cars over bridges into the bay. And this pollution is contributing to some of the die-offs that we’ve been seeing [in Biscayne Bay].”
Aside from environmental reasons, he said, alternative modes of transportation like walking and cycling are cheaper, and often healthier, than driving.
The Riders Alliance fights issue by issue for causes related to transportation and provides a number of resources for residents looking to make their voice heard or learn more. For example, leading up to last July’s County mayoral election, the Alliance launched candidate report cards indicating where now-Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and opponent Esteban Bovo fell on transportation-related issues.
The website also features a “Report a Stop” tool, which allows individuals to submit pictures of bus stops in the county and indicate whether they have features like a bench or shelter.
Amézaga said last-mile transportation is a critical issue for the Alliance and for transport in Miami-Dade. While the transportation system itself is important, equally crucial is how riders can get to it.
“The SMART Plan is really important,” he said, referring to the County’s Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit Plan which identifies six corridors in Miami-Dade for transportation development.
“But what's more important is actually implementing ways to get to the SMART Plan. We could have rail down every single corridor, and it won't work because connectivity in our network just isn't there,” he continued.
Improving this network, Amézaga said, requires taking into account the needs of elderly and disabled riders. For all walkers and cyclists, wider sidewalks would be a plus. The network should also incentivize ridership over driving by implementing systems like allowing busses to queue jump at intersections.
Though the County and state have a long way to go to become truly pedestrian, rider, and cyclist-friendly, Amézaga said there have been some positive changes.
Miami Beach officials are making an effort to make the island more friendly for individuals who aren’t behind the wheel.
“I think they’re seeing that maybe getting tourists out of cars is a great thing,” he said, “because tourists don’t know where they’re going.”
Recent improvements on the island include protected bike lanes on Washington Avenue and the ‘Slow Streets’ pilot that discourages through traffic and encourages road sharing in Flamingo Park.
Amézaga says everybody, even drivers, can benefit from fewer cars on the road. And whether one is walking or biking to work or for a workout, they can benefit from wider sidewalks, safer streets, and a transportation system that accounts for their needs.