Unfortunately, there are still some opponents of the Miami Streetcar who believe (or at least are arguing) that the overhead catenary wires won’t be able to hold up under hurricane-like conditions. As a result, they claim, the whole streetcar system is volatile to destruction and costly, time-consuming repairs. Some have even gone so far as to claim that the overheard wires would be hazardous during a hurricane. Well, today I’m happy to bust these myths once and for all.
First of all, it’s important to note that unlike historic trolleys and streetcars from the early twentieth century, which had complex webs of catenary wire strung above the streets, modern streetcars only need one, yes one, catenary wire on each street. With that in mind, there are much fewer wires to even consider when addressing hurricane compatibility concerns.

Without further ado, here’s a quote from the Miami Beach-sanctioned report for Bay Link, created by urban planning/engineering consultant firm Henningson, Durham, and Richardson (HDR):

“In places with LRTs and Streetcars that experience hurricanes (e.g., Houston, Tampa, San Juan), there has not been an incident where live catenary wires have injured anyone during high winds. The protocol is to turn the power systems off when winds reach sustained gusts of 50 mph, and the poles holding the wires in place withstand hurricane winds of 110 mph, nearly twice the design standard for most light poles, telephone poles, street poles, etc.”

Keep in mind that HDR was hired by Miami Beach so the city could basically get a second opinion about the Bay Link corridor, since a select group of officials were so upset that world-renowned firm Parsons Brinckerhoff advocated an LRT option in the original Bay Link corridor report.

Now let’s take it a step further; here is a quote from the Miami Streetcar website FAQ section concerning fears about hurricanes and overhead catenary wires:

The streetcar infrastructure is subject to the hurricane code requirements required for roadway utilities. In the event of a hurricane that might impact the overhead catenary system, damaged cables will need to be replaced or repaired. Repairs of isolated breaks in the wire can be made within a couple of hours by splicing the two broken ends. Replacement of damaged hardware or wire can take longer depending on the extent of the damage. The City’s future Operations & Maintenance contractor’s compensation will be linked to streetcar system performance requirements intended to minimize and avoid service outages.


So there you have it. All streetcar infrastructure, including overheard wires, are required by law to be built to hurricane code for roadway utilities. If the streetcar wires go down, it’s a good bet that telephone wires did as well. Moreover, most often repairs can be easily fixed within a few hours. Sure, one could make the case that a category 5 hurricane could cause much more severe damage to the overhead wires, but a storm of that magnitude will also wipe out your home. The threat of catastrophic natural disasters is always present, but instead of succumbing to fear and a fortress-like mentality, we should design our infrastructure to be able to sustain mother nature’s blow and bounce back fast. The threat of an imminent major earthquake has certainly not stopped San Francisco from using trolleys.

Lastly, I want you to think about one more thing. Can you remember the last time that a hurricane squarely hit Miami, and didn’t wreak havoc on auto-oriented infrastructure (i.e. traffic lights, stop signs, road signs, etc - the critical and basic elements to a functional roadway system)?

Photos: HDR

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16 Responses to Myth Busted: Streetcar Infrastructure is Not Designed to Handle Hurricanes

  1. Carlos Miller says:

    The problem I have with Street Cars is they would take up more space on our streets that don’t have enough space to begin with.

    And I don’t think they would necessarily be faster because they would still be subjected to traffic lights.

    I would like to see them use the existing rail line to create some type of transportation system.

    The rail line already goes parallel to where the Street Car is planned. And it’s only a few blocks away.

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  2. Arm says:

    I agree with Carlos. Plus, we already have two current platforms in place, Metrorail and Metromover. We should expand those two platforms before creating a whole new system. They don’t operate on traffic right of ways and thus don’t take away street capacity nor are subject to traffic conditions. Also, they reflect more of a modern metropolis than a streetcar does. Additionally, its pretty absurd to make the assertion that the development of a pedestrian-friendly urban core has been stymied by the absence of a streetcar system. There are hundreds if not thousands of issues that are more relevant to the successful development of the Miami urban core. Finally, with projects like these, the devil is in the details. Advocating a streetcar project without going down to the minute details is outright naive and a reflection of ignorance to government’s incompetence and the public’s distrust of it. Nobody with any common sense would just advocate a streetcar project. You need to know exactly where all the stops are going to be, who they expect to be the users, where every last dollar is going, etc. Seriously, who is going to ride this thing and where are they going to ride it to? Putting a streetcar through the middle of the ghetto is not going to solve anything. For goodness sakes do we need to repeat the Metrorail folly again in different form?

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  3. grvsmth says:

    I lived through Hurricane Floyd in North Carolina, and the car infrastructure was completely hosed. Some large percentage of the deaths involved people trying to drive through flooded streets. I doubt streetcars could have done much worse.

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  4. Eric says:

    Hello, writing in from San Francisco, home of the F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar line, which runs along Market Street and around the waterfront. I don’t think I’ve commented on here before, but I’ve been enjoying Transit Miami silently for quite some time.

    I’ve never been to Miami before, so I’m not familiar with the context of where your streetcar line might go. While it’s true that a mixed flow streetcar on its own does not lend itself well to forming core infrastructure, it can do much better with signal preemption, ticket machines to reduce dwell times, and dedicated lanes. Without those features, it will be much slower — certainly not rapid transit — but I would argue it still has benefits in terms of making more people interested in transit and in changing the streetscape. It is wonderful to have historic streetcars running up and down Market Street here in SF, and the contrast of historic streetcars to the bustling modern downtown is striking. Using new vehicles I think would fit quite well into a modern context. Of course, no one would just plunk down a streetcar without studying its impacts first, but negative impacts to cars should be weighed fairly against the benefits. Slowing down car traffic is, after all, very often not a bad thing.

    Four heavy rail and five light rail routes operate in a subway underneath Market Street in SF, not to mention a whole slew of bus lines running on the surface. Despite all those options, the F streetcars are crowded — they can hardly run enough of them. Even if the streetcar isn’t the core of the network, it can be a very nice supplement.

    As I said, I’m not familiar with your local context, but I have a firmly entrenched soft spot for streetcars, so I wanted to just pop in with another viewpoint. :)

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  5. Carlos Miller says:

    Eric,

    Miami is a complete contrast of San Francisco as far as people, attitude and efficiency go.

    And history.

    The streetcars of San Francisco have always been there. That is part of its culture. So much, that they have almost become like an amusement park, which is why they’re so crowded.

    Miami can be more compared to L.A. because of its sprawl and because of the indifference of its people.

    S.F. is more like a west-coast Manhattan. Because it was mostly constructed in the 19th century (and yes, I know about the earthquake), it was constructed for people without cars.

    But Miami, like L.A., was mostly developed after the car had been invented, which is why streetcars don’t really work in these cities.

    We need rapid transit. Something speedy and something that will enable passengers to travel over the gridlock.

    A streetcar in Miami will mostly be a novelty. Hell, everything is a novelty down here. This is a city that is constantly reinventing itself.

    This is a city that has always tried to emulate the bigger, more cosmopolitan cities, like NY, Chicago, SF and LA.

    In this case, it’s trying to emulate SF.

    But the difference between Miami and SF is that nobody is willing to give up their car. Everybody expects everybody else to give up their car.

    Because the truth is, if you give up your car, you are severely inconvenienced, unless you live on Miami Beach and want to stay on Miami Beach.

    Streetcars in Miami would be a total failure. It would only cater to those people who live in the corridor east of 1-95.

    What needs to be done in Miami is to expand the Metrorail and Metromover. Yes, that costs money, but it needs to be done because we need to think of our future, and we need to think of everybody’s future, from people in Kendall to people in North Miami, to people in Sweetwater, to people in Cutler Ridge, or whatever it’s called now.

    The only difference that a streetcar would be from the current bus system is that it would be “cooler” to take it.

    Like the trolleys we have in Coral Gables. They’re nothing but a fucking bus, but they don’t look like a bus, so people can ride them and not be ashamed.

    Yes, that’s how people are down here. Very superficial.

    This is no S.F. And that is too bad.

    Cause S.F. is one of the best cities in the world.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Of course giving the street car a dedicated lane would solve all the problems. Also people need to understand that Metrorail and Metromover absolutely will not be expanded in the next 15 to 20 years (maybe the extension to the airport can be done in 15 years). Metromover will never be expanded. The feds dont pay for such things any more. Expanding the metromover up to midtown and perhaps down 8th street or Coral Way with better cars that could hold more people and could go a little faster would have been the best solution but the Feds would never pay for that. The Feds are open to paying for street-car type transit solutions.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    I like the metro-mover a lot but there are issues with that that I am happy about having a streetcar in the works.
    What I don’t like about the metro-mover and I’ll admit I really like it, is it is slow and it is really high up, some much higher up than others. Being an independent line it would be nice if it moved a bit faster.
    The streetcar has the benefit of being a ground level system. Also, it will add to the street and create a more lively streets. Streetcar will revitalize NE 2nd Ave.
    I’m quite excited about streetcar and having a better connected transportation infrastructure. You have to start somewhere and it is relatively quick to setup a streetcar, and there are not the same right-of-way issues that a metro-rail would have since it is all within the right-of-way.

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  8. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    CM#1- Streetcars do not “take away” the lane but rather share it with vehicles much in the same way that buses do. However, In key points the streetcar runs along its own dedicated Right-of-way, which is in the best interest of transit and reducing the congestion which you speak of. Modern Streetcars come equipped with technology that forces streetlights to favor approaching streetcars. This technology is included in the cost of construction and presents a clear benefit the system would bring to transit and vehicular commuters…

    Arm- Many of the world’s best transit systems utilize multiple platforms (Vienna: 50+ Streetcar lines, 5 Subway Lines, 1 LRT, Multiple Commuter Rail Lines, Buses and waterways)(London: Heavy Rail (Tube), Commuter Rail, LRT, and Buses.) The variety of transit choices should not be seen as a negative trait when they can all be combined to create a useful system. Diffent parts of cities call for different types of Transit. Sadly, the fact of the matter is that in today’s political world, there simply isn’t the funding available to expand two antiquated, underutilized, and very expensive forms of urban transit such as Metrorail and metromover. The details you speak of are very clear: there will be 43 stations, 20,000+ Riders daily, a dedicated ROW along the MacArthur Causeway, Shared stops and tracks with the Miami Streetcar in Downtown creating a core “inner loop”, signalization management, etc. Approximately 50% of Miami Beach residents do not use a car for daily travel needs and various studies (HDR, Parsons, and Corradino) have shown that congestion on the beach will reach intoleable levels by 2011. How much more eveidence do you need to justify this project?

    eric- Thanks for visiting and finally commenting. I think what many people fail to understand about streetcars is exactly what you mentioned, these aren’t rapid transit systems, they’re URBAN transit systems designed to enable people to move around an urban core with out needing a vehicle.

    Carlos- There are numerous lessons our area can learn from SF, don’t be so quick to discredit it. Rapid transit is great, for sprawled out areas with distinct centers. But how can we expect people to commute on rails if don’t have a dense urban core where commuting is easy to begin with? Miami isn’t as sprawled as LA, yet. Furthermore, as I mentioned above, The Streetcar is not designed to accomodate riders in kendall, Homestead, Pinecrest, or any other suburban bedroom community; its a transportation system for our urban centers, places where people will have the option to live lives not restricted by the constraints of owning a vehicle. It’s an option, not a requirement. Plus rails bring about land use changes where buses cannot…

    “It would only cater to those people who live in the corridor east of 1-95.”

    Precisely! That’s the point! The Miami streetcar system is often misunderstood because subrubanites wonder how it will help them- it won’t and isn’t intended to because it’s a city of Miami project for a City of Miami Problem: Urban mobility.

    Anon #1- The Metromover projects of the 1960s were one of the biggest mistakes the federal government made. It was poorly analyzed and hastily inplemented to cover up for GM’s actions in ripping apart most of the streetcar lines accross the country.

    Anon #2- I hear ya. It’s riddled with problems but it still will always serve a limited role in our downtown.

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  9. Ryan Sharp says:

    Gabe already answered much of what I have to say, but I’m going to say it again anyway.

    Comparing Miami and San Francisco in a historical context as Carlos has done is great if you’re writing a position paper on why SF grew up denser and more transit-oriented than Miami, but it does little to advance your argument that the proposed Miami streetcar project shouldn’t be built (especially considering that I used SF to address a natural disaster argument, not a one-to-one comparison between the two cities and their transit-orientation).

    Another question I want to ask everyone here: did you actually read the Miami Streetcar report or HDR Bay Link report that I have hyperlinked in the article? Don’t you think it’s a little weird that in every case, an urban planning firm of some sort has recommended streetcars?

    Moreover, Carlos, are you familiar with Portland, Oregon’s success with streetcars? That is a city that is far less dense than Miami, didn’t mature in any way similar to San Francisco, yet is now an international model for streetcar growth and the transit oriented development that accompanies it. Addressing a few more of your points:

    → Are you aware that about a dozen cities in the US are currently planning or implementing streetcar systems? Most of these cities aren’t as dense as Miami (which is actually the 6th densest city in the US with a population greater than 350,000), yet are still moving ahead in favor of streetcars. Do you think that all of these cities and urban planners are out of their minds?

    → “The streetcars of SF have always been there”. No they haven’t. Once they were built, people had to adjust to living with them just like any other city with any other new transportation infrastructure.

    → “S.F. is more like a west-coast Manhattan. Because it was mostly constructed in the 19th century (and yes, I know about the earthquake), it was constructed for people without cars. But Miami, like L.A., was mostly developed after the car had been invented, which is why streetcars don’t really work in these cities.”

    Sure it was, but after 100 years of autocentric transportation policy, San Francisco has changed a lot, just like NYC, Boston, Philly, and other industrial cities that initially matured in a transit-oriented fashion. Despite the high densities and large transit infrastructure, San Franciscans struggle everyday battling cars and the effects of car-oriented growth, so it’s wrong to assume that just because the city relied on transit long ago that it inherently means it should still function like that or even that it always will. Regarding the “streetcars not working in these cities” quote, I think you’re overlooking some key points. The proposed routes for the Miami Streetcar travel through two of the densest corridors in the region. These are places of relatively high population and job density, which screams demand for reliable, quality transit. It’s not like we’re talking about a random streetcar line out on Galloway Rd. or something. Plus, I’m not sure you realize this, but the City of Miami is one of the densest major cities in the US.

    → “We need rapid transit. Something speedy and something that will enable passengers to travel over the gridlock.”

    Of course we need rapid transit – and we’re getting it. MDT is trying to expand three routes; the Earlington Heights-MIC connector, the North Corridor (Orange line), and the East-West Line. The North Corridor and the East-West Corridor are two 10+ mile long heavy rail rapid transit lines. Believe it or not, it’s actually a big deal for a city/metro to be pursuing heavy rail expansion like that in today’s funding environment. The vast majority of cities seeking federal mass transit funding are doing so for LRT, Streetcars, and BRT. This puts Miami on par with cities like NYC and D.C. believe it or not – at this point all three cities are expanding their heavy rail rapid transit at comparable rates (e.g. 2nd ave subway & 7 line extension in NYC, Purple line near D.C.). My point is, as one of the other commenters pointed out, the feds don’t give out much money to transit (shamefully) and therefore are very stingy about giving any money toward heavy rail rapid transit because it is so costly. It’s a shame, believe me, but it’s reality for now and planners must deal with it accordingly. That means pursuing “lighter” forms of transit, such as LRT and Streetcars, which most major cities across the country are currently doing.

    → “A streetcar in Miami will mostly be a novelty. Hell, everything is a novelty down here. This is a city that is constantly reinventing itself.”

    How do those statements figure into a rational argument for or against the Miami Streetcar line?

    → “This is a city that has always tried to emulate the bigger, more cosmopolitan cities, like NY, Chicago, SF and LA.

    In this case, it’s trying to emulate SF.”

    Miami is not trying to emulate San Francisco with its streetcar (I’d really like to see any evidence of that). If there’s any city you could argue it’s trying to emulate, it’s Portland. This is not just because of the model Portland has been with streetcar growth, but also because the City hired Charles Hales, former Portalnd City Council member, engineer, and leader of the streetcar renaissance in Portland. Either way, Miami is in lockstep with national trends, so it’s not fair to cherry pick a city to compare Miami’s streetcar building efforts to without any evidence.

    → “But the difference between Miami and SF is that nobody is willing to give up their car. Everybody expects everybody else to give up their car.”

    You may have a valid point here, and it’s one of the more frustrating issues to deal with. But again, the comparison between Miami and SF is just not valid for this argument. More importantly though, if not a streetcar line, and if it’s completely out of the question to expand another Metrorail line (or two) over the proposed routes, then what’s the solution? Business as usual? Everyone keep driving everywhere? That’s completely unsustainable and terrible policy. The City of Perth, Australia was in a very similar position Miami is now 25-30 years ago. People were saying the same thing, “transit won’t work here”, “people won’t give up their cars”, etc. However, Perth refused to go on with the car-oriented business-as-usual scenario. Planners and officials pushed forward and have had incredible success transforming the city into a more pedestrian and transit-oriented place. The same can happen in Miami, it will just take some optimism, good policy, and a commitment to transit. Frankly we have little choice if we want to be a viable 21st century city. I recommend watching the videos “Auckland, City of Cars” we posted last week (you can find them through our search feature on the top left of the page).

    → “Streetcars in Miami would be a total failure. It would only cater to those people who live in the corridor east of 1-95.”

    OK, nobody is saying that the answer to Miami’s (never mind Miami-Dade’s) traffic congestion, mobility, transit, or livability woes will be magically solved by adding a couple streetcar lines. We’re not saying that blanketing the city/county with only streetcar lines is the answer. What we are saying is that in this particular context, along the proposed routes, the streetcar is the best and most feasible transit option available. So yes, the main line being proposed will indeed primarily cater to people living, working, or visiting along the north-south corridor east of I-95. That’s exactly why this line was designed. It’s not much different from complaining that a new Metrorail line will primarily cater to the people along the route. Well, yeah, of course it will.

    → “The only difference that a streetcar would be from the current bus system is that it would be “cooler” to take it.

    No no no. We’ve explained this maybe a hundred times before, so please, please take it upon yourself to read the HDR report I linked to in this post.

    Like the trolleys we have in Coral Gables. They’re nothing but a fucking bus, but they don’t look like a bus, so people can ride them and not be ashamed.”

    → Not really. The Coral Gables trolley is “successful” because A) it’s free; and B) it runs a predictable route along one of Miami-Dade’s largest (and fastest-growing) job and housing corridors. It probably helps that they are easily distinguishable from Metrobus, but other forms of transit could be much, much more successful along that corridor as well.

    → “Yes, that’s how people are down here. Very superficial.

    This is no S.F. And that is too bad.

    Cause S.F. is one of the best cities in the world.”

    Even though none of this pertains to an argument for or against the proposed Miami Streetcar, we finally agree that people can be very superficial in Miami. We also agree that Miami is no San Francisco, and that SF is one of the world’s great cities. So wouldn’t it be to Miami’s benefit, whether its intended goal or not, to try and physically and culturally (transit culture) resemble SF a little more?

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  10. Jim-Bo says:

    New Reader From Miami’s Uptown. You guys are on target we need a new for of real transportation

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Miami needs metrorail. The streetcar would be nice, but let’s not confuse luxuries with necessities. The highest priority transit destinations in Miami-Dade are for people to get to and from south dade, north dade, aventura, Miami beach, and west dade to downtown, and the airport…..

    Not from the design district to downtown. And yet, some would compare the costs and utility of streetcars to metrorail, an aples and oranges coparison if ever there was one.

    That our county officials have fast tracked the streetcar, while sabotaging the Orange metrorail line (whether on purpose, or by accident, one can never tell), speaks volumes about why we have only 20 percent of the system we need here in Miami dade.

    That’s why I’ve always referred to the Miami streetcar, and the Baylink project before it, as the 20% solution. Because it would be guaranteed to keep our transit system inadequate, by substituting a cosmetically pleasing streetcar or lightrail system for what we really need.

    When a city needs a real rapid transit system, nothing else will do. And miami needs METRORAIL!

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  12. Transitdave says:

    Right on!

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  13. transitdave says:

    I must confess I finally figured out how to nickname myself, after posting the above post under anonymous….

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  14. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    TransitDave- You missed the point where we specifically mentioned that this was City of Miami FUNDED project for the City’s own needs. Not Aventura, Not Kendall, Not Homestead, all separate, independent municipalities with their own issues. We don’t argue against the need for metrorail expansion and speak in favor of the North Corridor extension and E/W line, but here we’re discussing creating a dense urban core area.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    The area from downtown to midtown through the cbd is quite a large area to ver…Miami needs the stretcar as a solution to the develoment of those areas it is a necessicity not even luxuary at this point-it could have been a few years ago but now they are gonna face urgency.

    Miami sprawl and the car congestion is another issue that could be resolved by developing Metromover in different tranches and on a 10 year plan//like new york did with 2nd avenue metro extension on the east side.

    But today it is streetcar time and noone can stop it not even the old/the activists/the independant car sales owner

    It is time and the city needs to give answers and action or people won’t be able to move in those new areas in the city , business wont thrive like it was supposed to and taxes wont be paid (real estate /businesses) the area will stay as it is which noone wants to see hapen trust me.

    Eventually it is the whole extension of metromover that wont be able to be paid for

    If the first step is taken ie the streetcar..more will come development, business, people moving in those areas to be close to work and close to a brand new entertainment district..

    the whole miami economy will benefit..

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  16. Anonymous says:

    The area from downtown to midtown through the cbd is quite a large area to cover…Miami needs the streetcar as a solution to the develoment of those areas it is a necessicity not even luxuary at this point-it could have been a few years ago but now they are gonna face urgency.

    Miami sprawl and the car congestion is another issue that could be resolved by developing Metromover in different tranches and on a 10 year plan//like new york did with 2nd avenue metro extension on the east side.

    But today it is streetcar time and noone can stop it not even the old/the activists/the independant car sales owner

    It is time and the city needs to give answers and action or people won’t be able to move in those new areas in the city , business wont thrive like it was supposed to and taxes wont be paid (real estate /businesses) the area will stay as it is which noone wants to see hapen trust me.

    Eventually it is the whole extension of metromover that wont be able to be paid for

    If the first step is taken ie the streetcar..more will come development, business, people moving in those areas to be close to work and close to a brand new entertainment district..

    the whole miami economy will benefit..and metromover too at the end

    FrenchyMiami

       0 likes

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