I decided to look into traffic management policies and practices in the U.S., and then seek to determine how effective a job Miami-Dade County Government has done in its management of traffic flow on its arterial (non-freeway) roads.
I started with two premises: first, no local government can do anything but nibble at the edges of the problem-- save 5-15% of the time and gasoline wasted because of excessive delays; second, it is not fair to blame a local government for doing a bad job without burrowing in to learn the facts.
The individualistic nature of the American culture ethos it extremely unlikely that major segments of the driving population will give up their "right" to drive to and from work by themselves in their own car. Efforts to cure the problem of traffic delays by spending billions of dollars on mass transit--buoyed by inappropriate allusions to New York City--are, in my view, very limited in their likely effect. Communities like Miami-Dade, built on the basis of single-family homes in developments as far as the eye can see, are dependent on the automobile. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent building that structure. People have moved far away from job locations because they were seduced by lower home prices; who can afford to factor in the costs of gasoline, car depreciation and lost time, when the primary issue is how to get the most square feet in a single-family home for the least money?
Realistically, therefore, focusing on mass transit as a cure to urban sprawl and traffic congestion is, at best, only part of the solution. Another huge portion of the solution is effective traffic management.
Arterial roadways in Miami-Dade County are planned, designed, constructed and maintained by the Public Works and Waste Management Department. That responsibility has been delegated to the Department’s Traffic Signal and Signs Division (TS&S). From a review of the Department's 2015-16 budget request, it appears that this Division may be understaffed and under financed. If this is so, it's a reflection not on the importance that effective traffic management has to the public, but rather on the importance that it has to County Commissioners and the Mayor.
Despite the fact that traffic congestion is probably among the top three topic when people get together, traffic management does not seem to have been an important governmental priority.
Here in Miami-Dade, for example, a recent Transportation Summit was convoked. As far as I could tell from poring over the Summit's website, not a single word was said about traffic management. This is not to criticize the Summit, its organization or its speakers, yet the absence of this subject from the Summit reveals how low a priority this subject appears to have.
Another example is how the County Commission's Transit and Mobility Services Committee, chaired by Commissioner Esteban Bovo, sees its job:
The Transit and Mobility Services Committee will focus on improving workforce mobility, providing cost-effective alternatives to private vehicle ownership and dependency. The committee will invite all major employers to provide input for transit service improvements; will invite colleges and universities to become transit partners to improve student mobility options; will seek greater coordination with municipal circulator services; explore cost-sharing agreements with MDX to subsidize transit parking facilities; will evaluate the feasibility of providing dedicated public transportation services connecting Fort Lauderdale International Airport and Miami International Airport; will evaluate transit services to PortMiami for crews, workers and cruise passengers; will propose roadway safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists; will coordinate with the GMVCB to promote transit service options for visitors; will develop policies to ensure reliable taxi and limousine services remain available, accessible and viable; and, will evaluate and develop appropriate regulations for alternative transportation services offered through mobility apps.Primary Funding Sources: transit sales surtax, countywide general fund, faresIt is encouraging to read that Commissioner Bovo intends to look at traffic management -- not a surprising development since the Herald has recently begun agitating about it. Let's hope he is primarily interested in facts and nuances and not headlines.
Departments and Affiliated Agencies: Miami-Dade Transit; Citizens Independent Transportation Trust; Regulatory and Economic Resources; Public Works and Waste Management; Metropolitan Planning Organization; Miami-Dade Expressway Authority; Florida East Coast Railway; and, All Aboard Florida.
So, back to my own study. I started off by making two Public Records Act requests to the County's Public Works and Solid Waste Management Department, within which is located the Traffic Signs and Signals Division, which oversees the County's 2850+ traffic signals. I'll let my recent letter to Deputy Mayor/Department Director Ilana Hudak show what has occurred so far. Despite the disappointing response to my two requests, I'm still hopeful that I can get access to more documents, meet with TS&S personnel, and issue my report.
March 17, 2015
BY HAND DELIVERY
Ms. Alina T. HudakDeputy Mayor and Director of the Public Works and Waste Management Department Miami-Dade County 111 NW 1st Street, 16th FloorMiami, FL 33128Re: Public Records Act Requests
Dear Ms. Hudak:
This letter relates to responses of the Traffic Signals and Signs Division (“TS&S”) of the Public Works and Waste Management Department (“Department”) to two recent requests for public records I made concerning the County’s management of traffic on its roads. I believe that these responses were inadequate and that the County is therefore in violation of the Florida Public Records Act. The Act requires a good faith response to a records request, including a diligent search.
The County, through TS&S, has stated that many of the records do not exist or cannot be found. As I discuss in this letter in reference to the specific requests and responses, it is extremely unlikely that the records requested do not exist, and, if they exist and cannot be found, that indicates either a grossly deficient record-keeping system or a simple failure to exert a reasonable effort to locate the records. I have been provided a copy of what appears to be the 2015-16 budget request of your Department, which makes it appear that record-keeping practices at TS&S are both primitive and under-staffed. As discussed below, it even appears that staff members who have left TS&S have taken records with them.
Despite this, if the record-keeping practices of the Department and of TS&S are inadequate and make it difficult to find particular records, this does not provide a basis for failing to comply with the Act. Otherwise, the statutory and constitutional requirements designed to promote prompt access to non-exempt public records would be easily thwarted.
I reserve the right to file an action in Circuit Court compelling compliance with the Act, but obviously I would prefer that the matter be handled cooperatively and without the need for litigation. It is my genuine belief that an inadequate search has been made for pubic records responsive to my two requests. I respectfully request that the County institute an effective search for the documents I have requested and that it promptly provide me the documents.
Ms. Alina T. Hudak
March 17, 2015
Incidentally, although the Act pertains to any request for a pubic record by “any person,” and the motivation of a person seeking public records is irrelevant, although a member of the Florida Bar, I am pursuing this matter on my own and not as a representative or surrogate of any person. After years of frustration driving on the roads of this County, I decided to “dig in” and attempt to determine the effectiveness of the County’s efforts to manage traffic. The underlying theory of my effort is that it is not enough to complain, and it is unfair to blame the government for failure to mitigate traffic congestion without knowing the facts about its efforts to improve traffic flow.
After doing extensive research into traffic management techniques throughout the United States, I made two requests for public records from the County. On February 3, 2015, I submitted an email to the Department, stating, in pertinent part:
Pursuant to Chapter 119, Florida Statutes, I hereby request that I be permitted to inspect and copy the following documents (all from 2010 to the present):
1. All evaluations of the effectiveness of the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS).
2. All budget requests related to the ATMS.
3. All documents describing or setting of operational goals for traffic flow.
On February 24, 2015, Frank Aira, the Chief of TS&S, responded to the February 3, 2015 request by the following email, accompanied by 19 electronic documents:
My apologies for the delay in responding. The documents you requested have not been easy to find. The current ATMS project began in 2002, and there is little in the form of documents we could find to meet your request. Many of the staff that were here at the time the project was being planned and started have long since retired and with them there [sic] files so there is little in terms of past records. Also, one of the flaws in the ATMS project was that there was no before and after traffic studies. Staff and I have searched our records to find any records that may assist you, and have been able to put together the attached files. At this time, these are the files we have been able to or find; they are in electronic format so there is no reproduction costs. We will continue to search for any other files that may be pertinent to your request.
The reasons that this response is inadequate are as follows. First, my February 3, 2015 request asked for “[a]ll evaluations of the effectiveness of the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS).” None of the documents provided included anything that could be called an evaluation of the effectiveness of the ATMS. Given the history, importance and cost of the ATMS, summarized below, it simply defies rational belief that the County has no such documents.
Ms. Alina T. Hudak
March 17, 2015
The County has long been working on the planning, acquisition, installation and operation of an ATMS, which was described in a 1996 County document as “an advanced traffic management system with the capacity to control the operation of existing and future traffic signals throughout Dade County, and the capability to incorporate intelligent transportation system components such as adaptive signal control, motorist information dissemination, vehicle identification and location, incident detection, etc.” Miami-Dade Legislative Item, File Number 962081, July 18, 1996, available at http://www.miamidade.gov/govaction/matter.asp?matter=962081&file =false&yearFolder=Y1996 (last accessed March 14, 2015) (“1996 Leg.Item”).
The new system was required because, according to the County, the then-existing computerized traffic management control system was found to be lacking many basic traffic control techniques offered by more modern systems, including adaptive traffic control management, which was specifically discussed in 1996 as one of the attributes of a new system. http://www.miamidade.gov/- publicworks/background.asp (last accessed March 14, 2015).
“Adaptive Traffic Control Systems (ATCSs) adjust, in real time, signal timings based on the current traffic conditions, demand, and system capacity.” National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Adaptive Traffic Control Systems: Domestic and Foreign State of Practice (2010), 1, available at http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/ nchrp/nchrp_-syn_403.pdf (last accessed March 16, 2015). The County is just now beginning a pilot program to implement adaptive traffic control systems. TS&S, Traffic Signal and Signs Division—Business Plan, Dec. 8, 2014.
In July 1996, the Commission awarded a contact to a local engineer to develop such a system. 1996 Leg.Item. The initial effort with the local engineer failed. On February 1, 2005, the County Commission approved a waiver of competitive bidding and permitted the Department to acquire such a system without competitive bidding on the basis of a staff review of available “off-theshelf” systems. The stated purpose of the no-bid and off-the-shelf approach was to speed up the process of acquiring, installing and putting the system into operation. Miami-Dade Legislative Item, File Number 050002, March 1, 2005, available at http://www.miamidade.gov/govaction/matter.asp?matter =050002&file=-true&yearFolder=Y2005 (last accessed March 14, 2015) (2005 Leg.Item). The Department originally budgeted $40 million for the ATMS. Id. From the documents provided to me and available on the Web, I cannot determine how much has been spent on this project. I can only assume that it amounts to substantially more than $40,000,000.
Ten years into this new project, the County publicly describes the ATMS as follows:
The County's new Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) is a state-of-the-art, distributed traffic signal monitor and control system that is the most important tool at the staff's disposal to accomplish that goal.
Ms. Alina T. Hudak
March 17, 2015
The ATMS helps to assure that optimum traffic signal operations are in place at all locations and all times-of-day. It also monitors the performance of the signals and automatically notifies appropriate staff when a traffic signal malfunctions, enabling staff to respond with maximum efficiency and effectiveness. ***
The Miami-Dade County Advanced Traffic Management System will reduce delays and improve mobility within the County. Traffic flow will be improved by reducing congestion on roadways County-wide as major arterials are coordinated to run more like an integrated network system rather than individual entities.
http://www.miamidade.gov/publicworks/advanced-traffic.asp (last accessed March 14, 2014).
According to Mr. Aira’s response to my request, the County installed the ATMS without even conducting a “before-and-after” analysis to measure the effectiveness of the ATMS in reducing traffic congestion and improving traffic flow. This is extremely difficult to accept, because the County states that the ATMS “will reduce delays and improve mobility within the County,” and that “[t]raffic flow will be improved by reducing congestion on roadways County-wide as major arterials are coordinated to run more like an integrated network system rather than individual entities.” How can one measure whether these laudable goals have been met without a comprehensive “beforeand- after” measurement? If this is true, it would be a sad commentary on the quality of the County’s efforts in this area.
But even assuming Mr. Aira’s response is correct, it does not mean that there have been no “evaluations of the effectiveness” of the ATMS. This system has been in the installation and testing mode since the late 2000s. The Department’s website describes testing of the ATMS at sixteen intersections in 2005, which led to the decision to go to “full deployment.” http://www.miamidade.gov/-publicworks/ background.asp (last accessed March 17, 2015). The County has just finished tying in the roughly 2850 traffic signals to the ATMS. Is one seriously to believe that there is not a single record discussing the effectiveness of the ATMS—even an informal evaluation, an evaluation regarding only a portion of the County’s roads? The very wording of Mr. Aira’s response, referring to “one of the flaws of the ATMS project” strongly suggests that, like any large-scale civil engineering project, this one has had its ups and downs. A diligent search measuring up to the requirements of the Act should be engaged in to locate and provide me those records.
Second, the February 3, 2015 request also sought “[a]ll documents describing or setting of operational goals for traffic flow.” The only record produced to me is a onepage document dating from early 2009 entitled “Goals of the Miami-Dade County Advanced Traffic Management System Project.” It states that the “primary goal” is “improve traffic flow on Miami-Dade Arterials,” and there is no further discussion of that general goal. While stating a laudable general goal, this record is not a serious, indepth discussion of that goal. Again, it is completely unreasonable to believe that this is
Ms. Alina T. Hudak
March 17, 2015
the only record describing or setting operational goals for traffic flow. How else would one determine whether the goal of improving traffic flow has been achieved but by comparing results to specific goals? Again, a diligent search for such records should be made.
On March 4, 2015, I emailed Mr. Aira a second request for documents, seeking:
1. the County's traffic control/traffic management handbook
2. documents describing the usages since 2010 of impact fees and the constitutional gas tax. [sic]
3. ratings of individual intersections for traffic flow, congestion or some other measure, on a number or letter scale 4. the County’s responses to questionnaires or surveys from the following reports and/or TRB syntheses:
a. NTOC, 2011 Traffic Signal Operations Self Assessment (NTOC) (report cards published in 2012)
b. An Overview of TMC Practices– Results from a Nationwide Survey (Zhang, Jin, Wu-FIU) (unsure of date of report… attached to this email)
c. Transportation Research Board, Active Traffic Management for Arterials (report published in 2013 as NCHRP Synthesis 447)
d. Traffic Signal Retiming Practices in the United States, A Synthesis of Highway Practice (report published in 2010 as NCHRP Synthesis 409)
e. Transportation Research Board, Adaptive Traffic Control Systems: Domestic and Foreign: State of Practice (report published in 2010 as NCHRP Synthesis 403)
By email dated March 13, 2015, Mr. Aira responded as follows:
My apologies for the delay in responding. We have are [sic] no files or records for your request.
1. The County has not established an Traffic Engineering Manual; and for the most part follows FDOT’s Traffic Engineering Manual[.]
2. Summaries of Road Impact Fees and Gas Tax usage and allocations are not maintained by TSS, this is a matter that will need to be requested for the County’s Budget Office.
Ms. Alina T. Hudak
March 17, 2015
3. TSS does not maintain a LOS grading of roads or intersections. Typically these measures are established through Traffic Studies that are conducted periodically to address specific projects or initiates and are performed for specific corridors. The FDOT does maintain traffic count stations throughout the County, but I don’t believe there is a roadway evaluation or score attached to the data collected as a continuous task. This request is too broad, you will need to be specific to a corridor or intersection, and then Traffic Engineering will need to find if a study exists.
4. TSS ca not [sic[ locate or find any records of responses to questionnaires or surveys to the publications listed in the request.
Once again, this response is inadequate.
First, Mr. Aira refers me to, but does not provide, FDOT’s Traffic Engineering Manual, which he states the County “for the most part follows.” A proper response would have provided me the State’s Manual and would have provided me records showing how the County does not follow the State’s Manual and what standards, in that respect, it does follow.
Second, without conceding the correctness of Mr. Aira’s position regarding grading or roads and intersections, and without prejudice to renewing my original request, I hereby request the records regarding the following corridors and the intersections within: U.S. 1 (reading south) from the end of I-95 to Kendall Driver, or the corridor that includes this road; the Biscayne Boulevard Corridor as defined (defined as U.S. Route 1 from the Downtown Miami area to the Aventura Mall near the Miami- Dade – Broward County line; and the Douglas Road corridor (defined as Miami Intermodal Center (MIC) on the north to the Metrorail system to the south (in the vicinity of US-1), and from SW/NW 42nd Avenue/Le Jeune Road (SR-953) on the west to NW/SW 27th Avenue (SR-9) on the east). The last two corridors are already covered by existing plans for improvement of mass transit. The first is the major thoroughfare north to and south from downtown Miami.
Third, the reports listed in Paragraph 4 of my March 4, 2015 request were based on questionnaires sent to the nation’s major local and regional traffic management control authorities by highly esteemed and nationally recognized traffic management organizations or scholars. It is extremely unlikely that the County was not asked to respond, and did not respond.
• The National Transportation Operations Coalition (“NTOC”) is a group of associations interested in advancing transportation system management and operations, and sponsored the 2011 Traffic Signal Operations Self Assessment, the results of which were published as the 2012 National Traffic Signal Report Card. http://www.ite.org/reportcard/default.asp (last accessed March 14, 2015). • The Transportation Research Board, part of the National Academy of Sciences, facilitates the sharing of information on transportation practice
Ms. Alina T. Hudak
March 17, 2015
and policy by researchers and practitioners; stimulates research and offers research management services that promote technical excellence; provides expert advice on transportation policy and programs; and disseminates research results broadly and encouraged their implementation. http://www.trb.org/-AboutTRB/AboutTRB.aspx (last accessed March 14, 2015).
• I believe the report listed in Paragraph 4(b) of the request was widely known and recognized within the traffic management control community.
It is simply not credible that the County and/or TS&S, responsible for managing traffic in this major metropolitan area, were not asked to respond to any of the questionnaires that led to the listed reports, or, if asked, did not do so. Again, the strong inference is that the County has simply not looked hard enough for such records.
As additional support, beyond the nature and importance of the records, for my belief that they exist but have not been properly searched for, I wish to point out to you the requirements of State law regarding record-keeping by public agencies, including the County.
Pursuant to section 119.021(2), Fla. Stat., the Library and Information Services Division issues General Records Schedules establishing “minimum retention requirements for record series common to all agencies or specified types of agencies based on the legal, fiscal, administrative, and historical value of those record series to the agencies and to the State of Florida.” Fla. Admin. Code Ann. r. 1B-24.003.
The applicable Schedule for Miami-Dade County and the offices therein is the General Records Schedule GS1-SL for State and Local Government Agencies (“GR Schedule”), available at https://www.flrules.org/Gateway/reference.asp?No=Ref-04998, eff. 2/19/15. Fla. Admin. Code Ann. r. 1B-24.003. The GR Schedule contains requirements for different categories of “record series.” The following requirements are pertinent to this matter:
ADMINISTRATOR RECORDS: AGENCY DIRECTOR/PROGRAM
MANAGER (Item #122)This record series consists of records documenting the substantive 1 “‘Record series’ means a group of related public records arranged under a single filing arrangement or kept together as a unit (physically or intellectually) because they consist of the same form, relate to the same subject or function, result from the same activity, document a specific type of transaction, or have some other relationship arising from their creation, receipt, or use. A record series might contain records in a variety of forms and formats that document a particular program, function, or activity of the agency.” Fla. Admin. Code Ann. r. 1B-24.001.
Ms. Alina T. Hudak
March 17, 2015
actions of elected or appointed program managers or agency directors. These records constitute the official record of an agency's performance of its functions and formulation of policy and program initiatives. This series may include various types of records, such as: correspondence; memoranda; statements prepared for delivery at meetings, conventions, or other public functions that are designed to advertise and promote departmental programs, activities, and policies; interviews; and reports concerning agency program development and implementation. See also “CORRESPONDENCE AND MEMORANDA: PROGRAM AND POLICY DEVELOPMENT,””DIRECTIVES/POLICIES/PROCEDURES,” and“SUBJECT/REFERENCE FILES.” These records may have archival value. RETENTION: 10 anniversary years; State agencies must contact the State Archives of Florida for archival review before disposition of records. Other agencies should ensure appropriate preservation of records determined to have long-term historical value.
GR Schedule, 1.
CORRESPONDENCE AND MEMORANDA: PROGRAM AND
POLICY DEVELOPMENT Item #338This record series consists of correspondence and memoranda documenting policy development, decision-making, or substantive programmatic issues, procedures, or activities. See also “ADMINISTRATOR RECORDS: AGENCY DIRECTOR/PROGRAM MANAGER,” “CORRESPONDENCE AND MEMORANDA: ADMINISTRATIVE,” and”DIRECTIVES/POLICIES/PROCEDURES.” These records may have 2 The GR Schedule explains the significance of the statement that “These records may have archival value” in the context of non-State agencies: When preparing to dispose of records that have met their required retention, carefully consider the potential historical research value of those records. Some records that do not have a permanent retention still might have enduring value to your community as evidence of the interactions between government and citizens and as sources of information about local government, society, and culture. For your convenience, we have indicated that ‘These records may have archival value’ for series that are most likely to have such historical or archival value. Not all such records will be determined to be archival; conversely, some records without this statement in the series description might have archival value. Records of historical value to your community should be preserved locally for the benefit of historians and other researchers.
Ms. Alina T. Hudak
March 17, 2015
RETENTION: 5 fiscal years. State agencies must contact the State Archives of Florida for archival review before disposition of records. Other agencies should ensure appropriate preservation of records determined to have long-term historical value.
GR Schedule, 10.
DIRECTIVES/POLICIES/PROCEDURES Item #186This record series consists of the official management statements of policy for the organization, supporting documents, and the operating procedures which outline the methods for accomplishing the functions and activities assigned to the agency. The series may include, but is not limited to, such materials as employee handbooks, standard operating procedures, and correspondence and memoranda stating the policies and procedures to be followed by employees. See also “ADMINISTRATOR RECORDS: AGENCY DIRECTOR/PROGRAM MANAGER,” “CORRESPONDENCE AND MEMORANDA: ADMINISTRATIVE,” “CORRESPONDENCE AND MEMORANDA: PROGRAM AND POLICY DEVELOPMENT,” “DISASTER PREPAREDNESS PLANS,” and “DISASTER PREPAREDNESS DRILL RECORDS.” These records may have archival value. RETENTION: 2 anniversary years after superseded or becoming obsolete. State agencies must contact the State Archives of Florida for archival review before disposition of records. Other agencies should ensure appropriate preservation of records determined to have long-term historical value. GR Schedule, 10.
SUBJECT/REFERENCE FILES Item #373This record series may contain copies of correspondence, reports, memoranda, studies, articles, etc., regarding topics of interest to or addressed by an agency or program unit. See also “ADMINISTRATOR RECORDS: AGENCY DIRECTOR/PROGRAM MANAGER.” These records may have archival value. RETENTION: Retain until obsolete, superseded, or administrative value is lost. State agencies must contact the State Archives of Florida for archival review before disposition of records. Other agencies should ensure appropriate preservation of records determined to have long-term historical value.
GR Schedule, 37.
Ms. Alina T. Hudak
March 17, 2015
The public records requested fall within one or more of the categories of documents listed in the GR Schedule and identified above. The public records requested are required to be maintained for periods of up to ten years. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that the County has custody of most if not all of the public records that the County, through Mr. Aira and his staff, say do not exist or cannot be found. If they do not exist, then the County has plainly failed to follow the dictates of State law in this vital area of public accountability. It simply cannot be presumed that this has occurred.
Let me assure you and Mr. Aira, to whom a copy is being sent, that by this letter I am not intending to criticize Mr. Aira or his staff. I know that traffic problems in this County have been recently recognized by the media as a “hot” topic. I am sure he is being pulled hither and yon. Nevertheless, this situation, as well as the apparently dismal state of record-keeping, if they have negatively affected the search for responsive records, are not a proper excuse for failure to conduct a diligent search. I look you as his boss (and as Deputy Mayor) to rectify this situation.
I would be happy to discuss this matter with you but, most importantly, I look forward to your prompt agreement to see to it that a proper search is promptly conducted and that the records that are located are promptly provided to me.
Thank you for your consideration of this letter.
Richard E. Brodsky
c: Mr. Frank Aira