Sunday, November 8, 2009

Riding the bus in Miami: Only for the poor and the elderly

Alfredo Triff

It's rush hour and I despondently walk under the inclement Miami sun. One gets no shade from the airy/flimsy row of interspersed trees planted along this portion of SW 37th Avenue Avenue (check as "decorative greenery"). When I finally reach the bus stop, I see an old man so tired he is clinging to the metal pole. He looks alienated. An old woman sits -not on a regular bench- but on a concrete sill dividing the unkempt lawn of a Spanish radio station. She maneuvers not to fall back on the ground while keeping an uncomfortably prudent posture. I ask the old man how long they've been waiting: "More than 45 minutes. It's always like that." Other than the stop sign, this is an indistinct middle-of-the-block between-so-and-so: No tree to lean on or go under, no bench to sit on, no roofed structure to protect the public from the weather: Welcome to Miami-Dade!

Walking under the blistering sun can screw up any pedestrian's immediate goal. In Miami, your Bus Stop destination is just more of the same. This is Homestead: At least one can sit, but no roof structure either, (the stop sign is cut in the photo). Beyond the cookie-cutter project gone sour by unscrupulous lending, the barren site reflects a public transportation policy:

Could we dream of something like this for our city?

Alright, admitted that our local government has better things to do with our money than provide comfort for the public. How about this Estonian vernacular structure?

Or this colorful shack-like paragem de autocarro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil?

Or this 1950's Havana-Mo?

Transportation comfort is an important urban contract, which reflects on our commitment with the "so-called" new pedestrian-friendly policies. Waiting for the bus in Miami is proof of why our version of capitalism does not work. The received notion is that people don't take the bus because they prefer the car, but given the impoverished state of our public transportation, one has no choice but to drive. You want the truth? Bus riding in Miami is for poor people and the elderly.*

*There are several motifs ingrained in the mind of the late-capitalist city dweller: 1- The myth of status disguised as comfort: Riding the bus is for people who cannot afford a car. 2- The myth of intoxication: Bus-riding is dangerous. 3-The myth of speed: A bus takes forever! True in Miami, but not in New York, or Portland. Miami's Metro Mover shows that an efficient system can get you from point A ---> B quickly and safely, only that being Miami, our Metro is crippled with poor access (it doesn't service the Miami airport). Click here for a possible expansion. Late-Capitalism has created a far/near paradox: An out-of-town shopping mall reachable by motor car is now perceived to be nearer than the local shop to which one can walk. In fact, public transportation carry its share of history: In 1953, nearly four decades after the Plessy Decision relegated blacks to the back of the bus, African Americans in Louisiana, staged the nation's first successful bus boycott. African Americans accounted for the overwhelming majority of Baton Rouge bus riders and two-thirds of the bus company's revenue. In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks ignited the modern civil rights movement. Transportation was a central theme in the "Freedom Riders'" campaign in the early 1960s. Greyhound buses were attacked and some burned in 1961.


Malagodi said...

ah yes, proving Merton's point: Humility is a virtue, not a neurosis. It must be a gift of nature or god, and is the proper response to trials and suffering.

Waiting for the bus is an excellent example.

I was waiting for a bus just last night. It was getting late, and I wasn't sure if there was another. After a critical time had passed (I had to be somewhere before it closed), I turned to my last resort. I called a friend.

He picked me up, completed my errand, had dinner and laughed a lot. None of these pleasant things would have happened if not for waiting for the bus.

"Praise God!" said the blind rabbi, crawling from the ditch into which he had fallen. "The Devil is on Earth and is doing his work marvelously!" ~John Cage.

joni said...

When I lived in Miami Beach (1987-1993) I took the bus all the time. I did not have a car. In Miami proper I had to take the Jitneys, which I actually preferred because a) they came, and b) the drivers raced each other so you would get where you were going twice as fast as you would have on the bus. But I have to tell you, when I leave grad school I am leaving public transportation forever (unless I move to Europe). I am tired of being my own pack animal and having to shlep (sp?) 40 pounds of books and a computer on my back to and from the bus stops of the US, which are placed as far as possible from where people actually live. Case in point, yesterday I needed to actually go to the library at Berkeley to renew some books (I had run out of online renewals), the books weighed 30 pounds and then I had my computer and other stuff. I walked the 10 minutes to the bus stop. Then I waited another 40 minutes for a bus to come – because there was a damned football game and all the buses were too full to pick up new riders. Same thing on the way home. So it took me 3.5 hours to renew some books, whereas if I had a car it would have taken 30 minutes. So people with cars get to use their time more productively too, thus allowing them to get ahead in our Capitalist world, while people on public transport waste a ton of time just getting from point a to b. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty. In Paris I never wait more than 10 minutes for a bus. The only time the buses are as slow as they are in the US is when there is a strike! And the Metro comes every 3-6 minutes. You can actually get where you need to be. And in Paris people are quiet and read or speak in hushed tones. In the US people don’t even know the proper etiquette for riding a bus. That’s my rant.

miamibourbaki said...

Malagodi: I truly enjoy your humor. Thanks for visiting.

Joni: You're a courageous girl. Our public transportation sucks. A consequence of our libertarianism.

R.L.R. said...

The transit system have been getting better over the years (compared to what it was when I first visit Miami in 2000), but it still have way to go if we really want to get even closer to what other American and Canadian cities have achieved. Being a non driver Miami resident for almost 3 years have been a challenge, but the lighter side of it is that led me to create a whole body of work reflecting on the issue.

janet batet said...

I remember my first months in Miami and most of my experiences are related to the very precarious public transportation system in this city. Coming from Montreal, the inefficacity of the public transportation was a shock and to this, we should add the inexistent urban qualification of the city.
The private anarchy covering walls and the few seats on bus stops with mere typography and worst announcements freaked me out:
“Se afilan cuchillos, navajas y machetes”
“Recibiste un ticket, no lo pagues!”
Where had I arrived?!
But the unique sociological experience of sharing the bus in the morning with those poor and elderly people reassured me. They were just working friendly people neglected by their city; condition that has not changed over the years.
The urban qualification seems to be a luxury in Miami more than a citizen right. You must be located in Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Key Biscayne or so, to enjoy what is offered to the eye around you.
So yes, the urban qualification is a huge challenge in this city.
Thanks for the post!


Anonymous said...

Triff, I definitely agree. Public transportation leaves much to be desired. When I first came to Miami and as much as I liked the idea taking a bus from Miami Beach to Coral Gables took forever. I was forced to buy a car.

Anonymous said...

By the way it's me Vehania.

Anonymous said...

One of my worse experience I remember, traveling by bus from Coral Gables to Hialeah. Three buses to go and three to return. Five hours round trip, including waiting time at bus stops (usually it take like 20 minutes driving a car). Along the way, countless Car dealers. Many interests involved that perpetuate the absence or inefficiency of public transportation.
La Chichi.

Cristina said...

I agreed with you and with the comments.
Many times I tried to get the bus instead the car for pick up my children at school. Results: we spent about one hour waiting, very nervous with the traffic because children want to play in any place, incluiding the bus stop. Finally, bus 56 comes empty but we are exhausted. (

miamibourbaki said...

Thanks, Janet. I think the reason for our car culture has to do with our deeply ingrained libertarianism. If people had more choices, we'd see more public transportation being used.

RLR: You are a bus veteran. I also think of architect Rafael Fornés, who swears by the bus, he is a truly hardcore pedestrian.

Thanks Chichi: You're another courageous female artist. :)

Thanks, Cristina.

miamibourbaki said...

Vehania, I value your comments.

miamibourbaki said...

Vehania, I value your comments.

Asli said...

Subway workers called a last minute "greve" yesterday, and the traffic in Buenos Aires city collapsed. There were 360 thousand more cars in transit and everybody was upset. Most people chose to walk, and bicycles were observed (it is pretty dangerous to bike around the city), but the best part was people asking the city officials to deal with the problem asap so they don't have to use their cars again.

Greetings from Paris of South America!

a said...

Same in Los Angeles... But i dont think the car culture is just related to individualism, but rather to the related plane culture (as opposed to trains for short distances). and the link is the oil interests....

In cities like Miami and L.A. with long avenues and a quadrangular grid, we could have electric trams...

A.T. said...

Thanks, Asli (you, Rioplatense East/West woman). Keep us informed about Buenos Aires.

A: True, about the US oil cartels / highway interests.

Anonymous said...

Wow I honestly thought I was the only 1 with the name veha.... I can't beleive this... Where did you get your name from?

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