BY STEVE ROTHAUS
Hate your drive to and from work? Most of us do, and a group of Miami-Dade County activists is brainstorming to turn the daily commute from drudgery to “delightful.”
“We went out and talked to people. We heard them saying, ‘We wish there were more transit options,’ but also a more fundamental thing: ‘I feel like I waste a lot of time in the car or I spend a lot of time getting where I want to go.’ It’s frustrating,” said Chris Sopher, an organizer of the grassroots group WhereBy.Us, which met in Wynwood Tuesday night to discuss transit options. “We ask the question how do we make that more delightful?”
WhereBy.Us, which is sponsored with a $18,500 grant from The Miami Foundation and Sopher’s employer, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has gathered data from the U.S. Census, IBM Global Commuter Pain Study and other sources. “Miami ranks third in the nation for commuter pain,” according to a WhereBy.Us graphic, noting that half the area’s population travels at least an hour a day getting to work and back.
“It’s frustrating,” said Sopher, 25. “You get to work angry because you fought traffic or the bus was late.”
WhereBy.Us is about a year old. Via social networking, dozens of people with similar interests (most from the urban core) quickly found each other, Sopher said.
Meeting eight times in 2013, members determined several immediate needs in Miami-Dade County: Better transit, “the difficulty of finding a community where you feel at home” and “wanting to explore and find hidden corners,” Sopher said. “There are a lot of interesting experiences in Miami to be had, but they are difficult to unearth.”
“Our goal is to provide a place where people can build the community projects they're excited about, not to do it for them,” he said.
Another Miami group, Urban Impact Lab, is partnering with WhereBy.Us in the traffic project.
“The larger point of all of this is that beyond a certain limited section, most Miami-Dade County residents really have very limited choices about mobility,” said Marta Viciedo of Urban Impact Lab. “We have to have as many cars as we have adult members of the household. That doesn’t feel like freedom to me. I want to be able to move around in different ways.”
Everyone’s affected by traffic and transportation, whether they drive themselves to work or take mass transit, Viciedo said.
“We actually have a fairly good transportation system right now, but the experience of it leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of our bus stops are very dirty, very exposed. There’s no sun covering. People riding transit don't feel respected. It isn’t classy,” said Viciedo, who describes herself as “completely trans dependent.”
“I don’t own a car,” she said. “I use public transportation and car sharing.”
Viciedo, 36, lives and works in downtown Miami, which, she said, is an easy commute.
“But I have meetings all over the county,” Viciedo added. “Sometimes I have to get pretty creative. The Metrorail is amazing. I gets me down to Kendall quicker than I can drive there, but anything a half mile off the Kendall station is problematic.”
Viciedo said that not only are residents interested in the program, “they are ready to take action.”
“They’re ready to do what they can and find creative solutions to our shared transportation experiences,” she said. “The budget is very small, but that brings out the highest level of creativity. When we can come together and brainstorm ideas, we can figure out to deliver something that has broader impact at a lower cost.”