Miami Moving Guide

How to Survive Miami's Traffic

It's October and it's time to start thinking about ghosts and goblins. Or we could talk about something really scary: traffic. It's probably the one topic nearly everyone in the city agrees on: Miami traffic is terrible, and it keeps getting worse.

There are a variety of reasons, starting with too few roads for the number of vehicles driving on them. It's hard to build new roads in a highly developed urban area. You might also note that whoever planned the far-out suburbs didn't do a very good job, either. Water on three sides of the county (and another urban area on the fourth, to the north) means spreading farther out is not an option.

If you really want to scare someone in Miami this Halloween, don't bother with "Boo!" Mention one of these scary phrases instead:

  • Palmetto Expressway traffic
  • Miami's South Beach parking
  • I-95
  • Road construction

Miami Traffic
Photo credit: Miami Herald

We all have our stories of trying to go somewhere, especially in the evening, and realizing that we just can't get there from here, at least not in a reasonable amount of time. (We will save parking nightmares experienced by those who do arrive for a future report.)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Miami-Dade County was just under 2.7 million in July 2015, the most recent statistic available. That's up 7.8 percent in five years.

The average South Floridian wastes 52 hours a year stuck in traffic, according to a study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and Inrix. That's just the average, and this study included as part of the metro area Broward and Palm Beach, where traffic is not quite as bad. That means that most people who commute in Miami are wasting significantly more than 52 hours a year.

More bad news: According to the study, "rush hour" actually lasts 4.7 hours a day. Since 1982, the number of commuters has risen from 1.253 million to 2.724 million. Freeway miles traveled are up from 11.96 million to 40.92 million. Miles traveled on surface streets has more than doubled, from 24.5 million to 49.525 million. The reason people feel as if they are always stuck in traffic is that they ARE always stuck in traffic.

The Miami traffic report, of course, is just one of the city's scary features. Another frightful feature is the drivers themselves.

Travel & Leisure readers rated Miami the "rudest" city this year in the annual poll. While we may question the scientific validity of the data, rudeness often rules the road here. Defensive driving is essential, because someone may signal left before turning right, and many people never signal at all. Abrupt stops and racing to get through yellow lights are common. Raised middle fingers and honking of horns are common. And be warned: Drivers often do not stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.

The favorite saying about Miami driving is this: Everyone drives according to the rules where he or she is from, and we're a very diverse community. But we're going to guess that a lot of people are following neither the road rules of Florida nor of their native city.

We'd like to give you some suggestions to cope with Miami's traffic, but "stay home" is not really the best advice, because you'd miss so much fun. Avoid driving at rush hour whenever possible, of course. You may notice that the workday starts later in South Florida than it does in other parts of the country. Traffic is one reason.

Leaving earlier is also wise. Everyone is late for everything in Miami, but traffic can make you even later than is socially acceptable, and that is saying something. Plus, not everyone in Miami finds being late socially acceptable. In business situations, for example, it's often expected that you will be on time.

On the bright side, South Florida is quite easy to navigate. Most of the cities are part of a grid system, with streets running east and west and avenues running north and south. The glaring exception is Coral Gables, where streets run in circles and have names rather than numbers. Plus, those names are written on tiny white signs in the ground, which makes it hard to read them until you are passing your turn.

The "zero" street in Miami-Dade is Flagler Street, which runs from downtown Miami. The "zero" avenue is Miami Avenue. Those intersection streets create a grid, with northeast addresses being north of Flagler and east of Miami Avenue, and southwest addresses being south of Flagler and west of Miami Avenue.

What does Miami plan to do about its traffic? That's another scary subject. Miami-Dade is seeking to improve its mass transit system. A system of express lanes on Interstate 95 also has helped to speed up traffic, at least for those who are willing to pay the toll to use them.

In the meantime? Stay alert and drive defensively. And try to stay off your horn.

About the author

Teresa Mears

Teresa Mears is a website publisher, writer, blogger and editor in South Florida who was raised to be frugal. After working as a newspaper reporter and editor, she moved her career online. In addition to running Miami On The Cheap, Florida On The Cheap, Fort Lauderdale On The Cheap, Palm Beach On The Cheap, Living on the Cheap and other websites, she writes about personal finance for U.S. News & World Report and other publications.

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