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The streetcar articles have stirred up some great discussion in the comments section, both in favor of and against the proposed route. I would like to address one of the main reasons cited against the streetcar; the proposed and possibly upcoming LRT along the FEC corridor.

The LRT along the FEC corridor appears to be the favored alternative transportation choice of those in favor of and against the Miami streetcar. Although I believe that the FEC corridor would prove to be the most useful alternative due to its dedicated ROW through the largest municipalities, I don’t believe it should be the driving force behind the opposition to the streetcar. We shouldn’t discredit the current effort to provide reasonable alternative means of public transportation within the city limits; after all, this is all the city can do to improve its’ own infrastructure. This is a city of Miami infrastructure solution, funded by city dollars, so we can erase the notions of spending the money instead to run rail lines every which way out of the city. Likewise, the FEC corridor situation is basically out of the hands of city planners and is still currently little more than a pipe dream study, leaving at least several years before we can even begin to witness any sort of real planning or development occur. In the meantime, the streetcar would begin to alleviate the traffic problems the current and future development is going to create and would further bolster the reach of an FEC corridor LRT, eventually giving riders more destinations in easy reach of efficient transit. Many streetcar opponents claim the streetcar simply isn’t a reasonable alternative and cite the FEC as a more realistic option, however, I don’t know if this is because it wouldn’t be funded solely by the city or if it wouldn’t impede on their daily vehicular commute…

My lengthy reply to Mr. Frank Rollason:

Frank,

It’s great to finally get some discussion going on this critical issue with some of Miami’s more prominent individuals such as yourself. I followed the election closely and was hoping that your campaign would have taken you a bit further.

The streetcar issue is a difficult situation to address. I’ve given this idea much thought and have tried to analyze its’ impact from all different angles. In the end, I concede that I am a bit of a realist when it comes to this sort of development but I find it difficult to think otherwise especially when I’ve witnessed and studied similar projects rise flawlessly around the United States and the World.

Placing cost the cost of the streetcar aside for a second, I’d like to first discuss the impact that the streetcar would have on the city, its residents, and the future of both.

Development:

As I mentioned previously, the streetcar would serve as an economic engine for the city, steering development along its corridor. You informed me that residents are against further development, a fact which I have come to understand from their perspective, seeing that all upcoming development within their neighborhoods is likely being improperly constructed to suit the needs of urban living elements such as the streetcar (see: New Urbanism.) Their stance isn’t unwarranted, seeing how terribly these buildings were designed and then approved by the hapless commission. Growth, however, is inevitable in every city. A stagnant growth stance by any municipality will in the long run lead to further economic strife for both the city and residents. I get the feeling that much of the anti-growth sentiment can be attributed to the lack of reasonable transportation options to offset the increase in traffic, general regulatory abuse by the city commission to approve every building, and overall disregard by the developers. Not building the streetcar, the area we’ll continue to witness truly devastating projects (ie. 2222 Biscayne, Bayview Market) rise throughout the district. A streetcar combined with the appropriate rezoning would severely alter the type and context of the development which will inevitably continue in the area. By placing better constraints on development within a close boundary of the corridor, I feel that the area citizens will fully benefit from the streetcar, truly creating an environment (detailed in this herald article from 2002) where people can live without the burden of owning an automobile. (Note: the constraints that I speak of are used in various municipalities and include: minimal parking requirements for buildings within a stated distance of the transit corridor, required building/street interaction elements like covered porticos and ground level retail, on street municipal parking, pedestrian-only zones, etc.) I would not endorse the streetcar if such constraints were not enacted simultaneously in order to guarantee its success.

The streetcar is much more than simply another form of transportation; it’s a critical piece of Miami 21 and a vital method of reconstructing our city in manner which caters to humans rather than vehicles.

Economically:

Going along with the constraints I mentioned above, the economic benefit that the streetcar would provide the city is well worth more than its initial costs. Placing constrictions on developments within the corridor such as requirements for affordable housing in the form of rental units would not be unreasonable. Using principles outlined in Miami 21, the city can rezone the corridor to include areas which would favor the construction of mid-density and lower priced rental units or condominiums. The affordable housing units would be cheaper to develop given the lower parking constraints and thus construction costs while eliminating the burden of relying on a vehicle for some of the city’s neediest constituents.

The $200 Million price tag is certain to go up, a fact we can both easily agree upon. However, the state (according to recent reports) would front half the costs leaving the rest to be divided among the city and the county. The city has received $42 Million thus far from its’ share of the PTP, money which must be used for city transit options. MDT could also be sought to fund part of the streetcar. Given that a significant sum of the initial cost of streetcars nationwide is attributed to finding a facility to house and maintain the vehicles, the city could look to partner with MDT to build a joint facility which could accommodate the Miami streetcars as well as the upcoming Baylink cars, saving both agencies large sums of money in the long term. All in all, I’m not saying or thinking that any of this will be easy to accomplish, considering the limited discussion which regularly occurs between the city and county, but, it is definitely a reasonable project which in reality would not require such a grave commitment on the part of the city.

Traffic Concerns:

Traffic will only continue to get worse within the city, plain and simple. With the new developments rising and the plethora of interest remaining in the neighborhood, developers are going to continue to exploit the neighborhood. We’re going to continue to see buildings situated on massive parking pedestals and we will soon witness gridlock bring many streets to a grinding halt.

Running the streetcar in a lane of traffic would actually improve traffic flows along the corridors. Through improved signal timing and using technology pioneered in Toronto back in 1991 with signal priority timing, the corridor would feature advanced ITS which is endorsed by the USDOT. The Toronto study found that total corridor delay was reduced by 35% (better than with bus signal priority timing) and there were no significant impacts on side street queue delays.

The Bus “Alternative”

From the American Public Transportation Association:

The Transportation Research Board Special Report No. 1221, “Impact on Transit Patronage of Cessation or Inauguration of Rail Service” dated 1989, and authored by transportation researcher Edson L. Tennsyson concluded the following:

“Because transit use is a function of travel time, fare, frequency of service, population, and density, increased transit use can not be attributed to rail transit when these other factors are improved. When these service conditions are equal, it is evident that rail transit is likely to attract from 34 to 43 percent more riders than will equivalent bus service. The data do not provide explanations for this phenomenon, but other studies and reports suggest that the clearly identifiable rail route; delineated stops that are often protected; more stable, safer, and more comfortable vehicles; freedom from fumes and excessive noise; and more generous vehicle dimensions may all be factors.”

Click on this link, Transportation Research Record 1221, for the full text of this research report.

Additional Facts:

  • Currently there are 26 existing streetcar/trolley lines operating in the United States and Canada with a whopping 61 other cities actively planning streetcar initiatives. There are over 200 municipalities vying for federal funding leaving funds scarce and competition fierce (Source APTA.)
  • Since 1995, public transit ridership has expanded 25 percent (to 9.7 billion trips in 2005). From 25 in 2000, the country’s fixed-guideway (rail or bus) transit systems are likely to grow to 42 by 2030, adding 720 stations to today’s total of 3,349.
  • Streetcars are experiencing a revival worldwide with new lines opening in Washington DC, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Bilbao, just to name a few…
  • Streetcars were not dismantled due to a lack of ridership, many were dismantled by GM to push for the expansion of roads and highways…

Like I stated at the beginning, I may suffer from viewing things in an idealized fashion but the facts to support streetcars in Miami abound. I realize it will take a large amount of municipal responsibility and government oversight (something we have been known to skimp on in the past) to fully realize the maximum potential this project has to offer the city and constituents. The current arguments against the streetcar are weak, to place it as mildly as possible. Hurricane concerns can be overcome, development can (and should) be better controlled, and construction costs should not run amuck with city’s treasury. The time has come for the city to take transportation initiatives into its own hands to better provide for the upcoming growth we will continue to experience. Thank you for your time, I hope we can continue to discuss this topic further. I have many more reasons why you should support the streetcar including environmental concerns, job opportunities, and tourism…

Let me know if I may share this discourse with the readers of TransitMiami.com…

Regards,
Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal

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Sorry about the delay, I have been addressing the streetcar issue with several individuals via e-mail. With the permission of Frank Rollason, I will share my discussions with him over the issue here on the website. Here were his initial thoughts on the streetcar initiative, my thoughts will follow later today:

Gabriel,

I am contacting you just to give another perspective on the proposed streetcar project. I was an unsuccessful candidate for the commission office that Marc Sarnoff now occupies. We both opposed the streetcar project as part of our campaign platforms. My position has not changed. Previous to running for office, I was the Executive Director for two City CRAs through which a large portion of the system would run and from which the City was looking for funding. There is a huge anti-development mentality presently existing in the residential communities of Miami especially in the Upper Eastside. The proposed streetcar project would do exactly what you speak of – encourage additional development along the streetcar corridor. It’s not an issue of whether the streetcar is needed or not; it is an issue of future development and the community has said enough is enough. On top of this, one must recognize that more and more the CRAs’ funds are being siphoned off for projects deemed for the well-to-do and having no benefit for the affordable housing group. One cannot take this project out of context from the other projects for which CRA funds are being sought – increasing commitment to the new Performing Arts Center, a seaport tunnel, improvements to a park slated to house two museums, and a new baseball stadium. All of these cause huge community opposition for the use of CRA funds when affordable housing goes largely ignored. You speak in the pure scheme of planning for development and here, in the City of Miami, the development has already run amuck with little or no planning and no concern for traffic and infrastructure needs. Now, to suggest a streetcar project that mostly serves underdeveloped areas instead of already existing hi-rise residential units is looked at as another example of poor planning and will cause only what you suggest – more hi-rises along the streetcar corridor.

Nothing is as simple as you lay it out because there are always other issues which are impacted, Frank.

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The Light Rail Transit Ridership Report for the Third Quarter of 2006…

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Perhaps Miami should look north for some answers on how to regulate our urban sprawl. Central Florida community leaders are presenting 4 alternatives on the future growth patterns the area can choose to take for regional developments and are allowing area residents to choose which path the region should take from now till 2050. I think its exceptional thinking on the part of city planners to choose a plan of action for regional growth over the next 40 years while educating the public on the negative effects sprawl will have on their community if the corrective measures aren’t taken. The report is inclusive of urban growth and development patterns, environmental land conservation, area job opportunities, and public transportation. The plan proposes three better urban growth alternatives along with the typical “do-nothing” alternative which would continue the treacherous path of disruptive land use. Needless to say, the citizens are speaking out and are overwhelmingly deciding that the “do-nothing” alternative is not a reasonable plan of action and are instead opting to see denser, smarter developments in their community. Interestingly enough, the seemingly controversial streetcar is included in denser growth patterns, as is extended commuter rail and alternative transit (bike, bus, etc.)

Our region is in dire need of an area wide policy against current land usage patterns. Our neighbors to the north have realized this, why can’t we?

I found this on the myregion.org website, which has a wealth of information. One of their desired outcomes is something I have had a great deal of difficulty achieving with Miami residents since I started Transit Miami nearly a year ago:

Our Desired Outcomes:

  • Build a new regional mentality
  • Strengthen and create regional coalitions
  • Maximize opportunities and address challenges

Changing people’s minds will be the hardest objective for any visionary plan in this Country. The already disillusioned “American Dream” has morphed into an uncanny desire to lay claim to large tracts of land, repeatedly misuse resources, and generally live in an unsustainable manner. To attempt a reversal of this mindset would require a figurative amending of the constitution as well as widespread progressive leadership to reverse the suburbanization of American Culture witnessed over the prior six decades…

  • Heck, they even address the fragmentation which has occurred in the region…
  • Check out who is on board

The Miami Streetcar isn’t a screwy idea created by corrupt Miami politicians to further cushion the pockets of area developers as some of our community activists and commissioners would like to believe. The Miami Streetcar can and will provide many intangible benefits to the city and all residents. I think it’s well worth reprinting today’s opinion by the Miami Herald here on the subject:


Take the trolleys to avoid gridlock

OUR OPINION: MIAMI TRANSIT PROJECT SORELY IN NEED OF LEADERSHIP

If there is any hope of avoiding downtown gridlock, it will depend on Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and the City Commission leading the charge for improving the plan for, and then building, the proposed trolley system once championed by former City Commissioner Johnny Winton. Since Mr. Winton’s suspension after a drunken fracas with police, the trolley plan has become a City Hall orphan. The city could finance half of the $200 million construction cost with state dollars, but only if the mayor and commissioners soon show state officials that they are committed to relieving congestion in and around downtown.

Hook up to Metrorail

The 10-mile trolley system’s two routes would carry riders to museums, the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts and the office core. The routes would circulate between downtown and the Design District and from Wynwood to the edge of the Jackson Memorial Hospital Medical District. Therein lies one of the problems. The westward route stops far short of the Metrorail station at the Civic Center. In fact, under the current plan, the trolley would link up with only one Metrorail station — Government Center. That isn’t sensible. While the plan includes circulator buses to feed the trolley, hookups with Metrorail and the planned Baylink to Miami Beach are necessary to effectively integrate Miami-Dade County‘s mass transit systems in the future.

Tracks for the trolley would be built at grade level, meaning the project could be completed much sooner than elevated rail systems. Cars would be powered by overhead electric lines. If the city approves the project now, trolleys could be carrying riders by 2011.

Some critics complain about the cost. But the city has funding sources, including proceeds from the countywide half-cent sales tax for mass transit. The city already has invested $5 million in an environmental study, engineering and survey work, and ridership studies showing that more people are willing to ride trolleys than buses.

Take the long view

Probably the riskiest aspect is that the city would hire a private vendor to build, maintain and operate the system. Such public-private ventures are common in Europe and only beginning to catch on in the United States. The city would pay the vendor $8 million annually for operations and upkeep. Structured properly, the joint agreement would include incentives that would encourage the builder to avoid cost overruns and delays that hamper many public projects.

Elected officials sometimes focus too much on short-term issues that can be completed during their time in office.

Taking the long view doesn’t always bring quick political benefits. But 2011 — the projected finish date — is not so far off. The choice is trolleys or gridlock. The time to decide is now.


The Miami Streetcar should only be the beginning of a visionary transportation master plan to transform the City of Miami. Part 1 of this multiple part series aims to explain the map pictured above. Later, I will go in depth to explain the specifics behind route choice, design, and the benefits each will bring to the city and all residents.

Pictured above (Click to enlarge) is a rough aerial sketch of possible streetcar routes that I envisioned in a city transportation plan. Using the basis of the current streetcar plan, I extended rail networks south, west, and east in the corridors where such transportation efforts would fit well with future, proper urban growth patterns.

The red streetcar line follows the basic path already presented. The train would head east on 1st or Flagler St, heading towards Biscayne Boulevard, where the route would turn north. At NE 11th St, Baylink would merge onto the Macarthur Causeway and head towards the beach while the Design District Route would continue North on the boulevard until NE 14th St. I chose 14th street to not overlap with the metromover on 15th and to bring riders as close as possible to the Carnival Center. The streetcar would head west to N Miami Avenue, intersecting with the FEC tracks (highlighted in Black) where a transfer would occur to the LRT which would travel from Miami through Jupiter, easily accessing every major city in between. This transfer station will also grant FEC riders with a station to easily transfer to the Health district Streetcar which would travel west from this point along NW 20th St. The Design District Streetcar route would turn left at NE 29th Street before entering Midtown Miami (Note: this is Midtown Miami, our newest neighborhood, not a development, there is no need to spite our newest urban dwellers to make a point to a developer.)

The other routes could receive funding at a later point in time, once the overwhelming success of the Miami Streetcar is evident. The Blue route would exit the Brickell station heading west on SW 10th street to SW 3rd Avenue where it would turn South. SW 3rd avenue merges with Coral Way, which will guide the streetcar to the Coral Gables CBD. At 37th Avenue, the Coral Way Streetcar could head into the Gables via Merrick Way or Miracle Mile, and later head either north or south along Ponce, further into the CBD.

The Yellow or Flagler route would also terminate at Government Center, solidly defining the central core transfer station for the city. Routes would head west along Flagler to Beacom Blvd. At Beacom the Flagler route would head southwest to Eighth Street where it would continue west. The return route for this route would travel along SW 1st St.

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I’m excited to see such debate occurring on the previous land usage post. As evidenced by the discussions you all brought up, the area and statistics of the greater Miami region are very debatable, a problem we’ve compounded by the fractioning of municipalities in the region. What is important is to analyze the density of the regions highlighted in the map. A city may have a large population, but have hundreds or thousands of miles or urbanized sprawl. What is important though however is that we address our density, building up properly on our urbanized land to create sufficient density for public transit options to actually work. This brings us to the next point in this discussion: The Miami Streetcar.

Amidst an unprecedented building boom and surge in urban dwellings and living, the Miami streetcar could possibly serve as the catalyst to properly link some of the densest regions of the city, making the urban lifestyle a reality for a greater portion of our population. The time to incorporate such a significant piece of the urban lifestyle puzzle would be now; before the condos are completed, before the urban dwellers move in, and to serve as a guide for further dense development. Unfortunately, some city commissioners are blinded, rather flat out ignoring, the true benefits of the streetcar along Miami’s most promising neighborhoods:

Sarnoff said the Streetcar was too expensive and would be used to fuel more overdevelopment in areas already overwhelmed by high-rise residential condos. He argued that a fleet of environmentally friendly circulator buses would better serve the city at a much cheaper price.

Is this guy joking? Areas overwhelmed? I’m sorry we might disrupt the calm village like quality that every CBD is supposed to embody. This is what happens when we continue to allow ignorance to exist in our local government. It’s not about providing a benefit to local developers; it’s about creating an urban lifestyle that area residents are craving. The environmentally friendly bus idea is beyond ridiculous. Let’s spend $600,000 a pop on a hybrid “circulator” bus which will a) do nothing to enhance the urban fabric of the community or route b) realize far less ridership numbers than the streetcar could easily guarantee c) make urban life next to impossible for everyone not living within a few blocks of the metromover d) be a gigantic waste of money e) be the worst idea I’ve ever heard and f) continue the terrible parking garage pedestal and further increase area traffic because countless studies always conclude that there is a permanent negative stigma towards buses in the United States.

What irks me is the desire to kill a project even before the facts have been heard. This guy is a lawyer, not a transit planner, engineer, or urban planner. He’s behind ecologically friendly construction in the city but knows little of how to actually create a greener city (here is a hint: it involves making the city denser, easier to walk, and has abundant public transit.) He ran against bad government but is suddenly the epitome of the bad government decisions we are trying to fight. Now, don’t get me wrong this isn’t a tirade against Sarnoff, but rather against the thought process, given the real facts, on the Miami streetcar…

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