It’s time for monumental change in Miami’s transportation system

Opportunity Miami
Opportunity Miami
Published in
7 min readMay 31, 2022

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Q&A with Eulois Cleckley

As Miami’s population grows, so does the pressure on our infrastructure and transportation systems. And most people rely on cars to get around in Miami: nearly 80% drive alone while four percent use public transportation, according to data collected for the 2019 U.S. Census.

Those numbers may have shifted slightly in the years since, especially as Miami’s transportation system undergoes change, led by the Department of Transportation and Public Works.

“I feel that we are in a great time in South Florida to make monumental change and to really create a transportation system that can move people around by any mode that they choose and do it in a safe and efficient manner,” said Eulois Cleckley, the department’s Director and CEO. He worked in the transportation sector in D.C., Denver, and Houston before coming to Miami in 2021. The county has a funding source for transportation infrastructure projects, he said, adding: “We’re in a better position than some other cities that might have those same type of growth pressures and may not have a dedicated funding source.”

Opportunity Miami spoke with Cleckley recently on how to make getting around the county smarter, safer, greener, more equitable, and affordable for everyone. Here are excerpts of the conversation, edited for brevity.

Opportunity Miami: It seems like in Miami Dade, driving is the status quo. What have you found to be the most urgent infrastructure and transportation challenges?

Eulois Cleckley: What we want to do here in the county and with our department is do a better job of marketing our existing services and letting people know that there are other options available to you. Why don’t you consider taking one or two trips a week on a bus or figure out how you can get direct access to our metro rail system? We’re building out our bike network as well, especially downtown there might be opportunities, you can get around on your bike. You don’t have to automatically go to that first thought of hopping in their car to be able to get around. So that’s a mindset change. And it’s up to us to enhance how we market our current services and how we communicate that effectively to folks.

The SMART program [Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit] is an implementation of six corridors throughout the county that essentially will expand rapid transit to be able to better connect folks northeast, south, east/west, and north, throughout the county. As an example, we are currently negotiating to bring a rail connection between the city of Miami and Miami Beach. We are in a project development phase within the Northeast Corridor, which is connecting the city of Aventura to downtown Miami Beach, utilizing existing rail tracks to bring commuter rail services to Miami-Dade County. We are pursuing additional options to expand a rail type service going up north to the Broward County line expanding out from our existing metro rail system. We are looking at supporting East-West connections through our East-West Corridor which is a bus rapid transit corridor that we are in the development phase with the federal government. And then we have the south corridor which is a design-build project. We’re about 90% complete with the design and about 30% complete with construction. We’ve gone vertical on that on about four different BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] stations along the corridor. That’s a 20-mile corridor that will have 14 rail-like bus rapid transit stations with a 100% electric bus fleet connecting Dadeland South, which is the southernmost station on our metro rail system, to Florida city.

These are transformational infrastructure projects that we’re implementing and by doing so, those options will be very competitive with somebody jumping into their vehicle. That’s how you change the thought process because then you’re truly creating a connected system that gets people where they need to go.

OM: How much of your calculation in what you do is to make transportation and public works greener, more equitable, and more affordable?

EC: We mentioned the 100% electric bus fleet that’s going to operate on the South Bay transitway, but we’re not stopping there. We currently have one electric bus that we’re testing with the intent of receiving 75 additional electric buses by the end of this year that we’ll use to be able to transition our fleet away from diesel-powered engines to all-electric. We are building out the supporting charging infrastructure at three of our current bus maintenance facilities to be able to accommodate our cleaner fleet moving forward. We also leverage state and federal dollars to purchase all-electric buses or low emission buses so we can transition our fleet totally over to either a low emission fleet or an all-electric fleet. Ultimately, we want to be a 100% low emission operator, but also to help meet the county’s goals of having an 80% reduction in diesel emissions by the year 2050.

OM: Are there other barriers in getting the community to move away from car dependency?

EC: I do believe that personal choice is a barrier, but oftentimes people don’t have other options available to them. So that’s where we step in to try to figure out ways that we can provide those alternative transportation services for folks so they can at least have a choice. And of course, we want those choices to be sustainable, as much as possible, to help out not only their environment but help our communities. But anytime that you have an environment where folks do not have the freedom of choice, and they’re relegated to, I would say one of the more costly and impactful transportation modes as their only way to get around, that’s never a good option for any community.

Some people may want to bike to work, so how are we setting our infrastructure in a fashion where people can make that choice and do it safely and our bike system can allow them to get to places where they want to go? Same thing on the mobility side, whether it be on-demand services that we help support or one of our 99 bus routes that we currently have. How are we creating the frequencies that make it attractive for people to use those services? And they have to be competitive. If you make them competitive to people just driving by themselves, people will entertain those other options. It might not be an everyday thing, but they’ll start to take trips on transit that otherwise they would have just hopped in a car to take. Once people see the ease of being able to get around without using their car and using our transportation system, then you start to increase ridership, which just makes the system grow exponentially.

OM: What are the top actions that your department is doing to create safer streets for walking, biking and in transportation?

EC: Fundamentally, for us, it’s building a culture of safety within the department and making sure that people understand that everything we do first starts with safety in mind. One concept and program that we have in the department that helps us identify areas that need attention in terms of safety is called the Vision Zero program. It’s a program based on a concept of trying to achieve zero traffic fatalities by the year 2030. That’s a very, very aggressive goal. The county currently experiences well over 300 traffic fatalities per year. In the world of traffic safety, it’s usually about education, making sure people are aware of their surroundings and they pay attention to other people trying to get around. It’s about engineering. How are you designing your streets to make sure that they’re safe streets that protect vulnerable users like pedestrians and cyclists? There’s an enforcement component as well to make sure everybody is complying. Our Vision Zero program, which we are moving aggressively with is to identify what we call a high Injury Network, which is a set of roadways that we experience the highest amount of either traffic fatalities or folks involved in a traffic crash that results in a serious bodily injury. We’ve been able to identify about 50 locations where we’re going to aggressively come up with designs that can make those segments much safer, and then go fund construction to actually implement better infrastructure to make people travel much more safely, regardless of the mode that they choose.

OM: What does a successful term for you look like?

EC: Success is going to be measured in a couple of different areas. One is going to be measuring safety, two is going to be measured in how environmentally sound our transportation system is. The next category that we’re going to be focused on is as getting people to where they need to go quicker. And the last category is making sure that we are creating better connections for people that live in the neighborhoods throughout the county. So safer, cleaner, quicker, and more connected is a mantra that we’re trying to achieve. My goal in the next three years is that our South Corridor program will be complete and people that live down in Florida city can get to downtown much quicker. We would be in a position where we would have significant increase in frequency in our bus network that can provide greater connections for people within a quarter-mile of where they live to a high-frequency bus route. We would have achieved our 20% turnover for a clean bus fleet. We would have seen a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and roadways in three years. If we can achieve those goals, then my time here would be a success and we can continue to build on that momentum.

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