The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority approved a plan yesterday to move forward with a local and express commuter rail along the famed corridor that once carried Flager’s train to Key West. The decision by the board will advance a “fast start” plan proposed by Tri-Rail administrators to leverage existing administrative costs and recently purchased locomotives to run service along the FEC line from Jupiter to Miami within 3-5 years.
The plan is an answer to FDOT officials who had previously proposed giving the concession to run trains directly to the FEC company in an effort to privatize the system. Tri-rail planners, though, say this is not necessary as they are already 80% privatized and can run the service for half the price as the proposed FEC plan. “For the same [capital] cost as the FEC- FDOT plan, we can provide 56 trains on the FEC between downtown Ft Lauderdale and downtown Miami, while also providing connectivity with the rest of the region,” said Joe Quinty, Transportation Planning Manager with the SFRTA.
Under the “fast track” proposal, which will now go to the tri-county MPO’s for approval and further cost feasibility, trains would use the FEC line from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami, with 7 stops in Miami-Dade County. Stops include 163 Street, 125 Street, 79 street, 54 Street, 36 Street, 11 Street/Overtown, and Government Center. As currently envisioned the plan would cost Tri-Rail an extra $15 million a year in operations costs by expanding existing contracts with Bombardier and Veolia. The FDOT plan would have cost $25 million a year and provided fewer stops in Miami-Dade County.
The project was approved 6-1, with the lone exception being FDOT District 6 representative Gus Pego. The plan envisions several types of service along the line, beginning with direct service between Ft. Lauderdale and downtown Miami. Regional service beyond Ft.Lauderdale will be established at Atlantic Boulevard, where a line connects the existing Tri-Rail tracks with the FEC service.
FDOT has been studying rail service along the FEC for years, with the latest SFECC Study looking at an integrated service, similar to what is being proposed, at a cost of over $2billion for the tri-county area. This plan hit a wall this spring when the Miami-Dade County MPO balked at moving forward with the study because of concerns over cost.
Tri-rail planners say that the fast track project is a way to get service running on the line as the South Florida East Coast Corridor study advances and addresses the MPO concerns. As currently planned, the service would not require any county or federal funds for operations or construction.
One third of the additional operational costs will come from farebox revenue from the new line, while the rest will come from a combination of Tri-Rail service adjustments, and yearly contributions from each of the 17 cities that will have stations of between $350,000 - $550,000. The capital cost to build the line is approximately $270 million, which will come from the Florida Department of Transportation.
Quinty went on to say, “We believe this new SFRTA is superior to FDOT’s approach, as it can be implemented quickly (by avoiding the Federal project development process), provides better regional service coverage, and will not require any additional county or FDOT operating funds.”
Last night I attended a meeting at Legion Park with representatives from the FEC and about 50 residents and business owners from the Upper East Side. Also present were Commissioner Sarnoff, a representative from the FDOT and a representative from the Port of Miami. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the upgrades to the FEC rail line which are currently underway and the establishment of a “quiet zone” from the port north to NE 71st Street. In order to qualify as a “quiet zone” the FEC will upgrade the rail crossings which will make blowing the train horn unnecessary. The FEC is also replacing the rail line with a quieter track in order to reconnect service to the Port of Miami in anticipation of the port expansion and dredging to accommodate the larger Panamax ships which are expected to significantly expand its cargo business.
Most resident where supportive of the FEC’s plans, but the conversation quickly turned to passenger rail. The majority of those in attendance wanted to know why passenger service was not moving forward. Commissioner Sarnoff was quick to point the finger at the Miami Dade County MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). He mentioned that both the Broward and Palm Beach County MPOs had already passed resolutions in support of passenger rail service. The FDOT representative confirmed this as well and she actually made it sound like her department was on board with passenger rail service on the FEC. (I was very happy to hear that the FDOT was supportive).
Why can’t our Miami Dade County elected officials get their act together and actually do something that is in the public’s best interest for once? They need to stop playing politics and do what is best for the South Florida community. Last night’s meeting clearly showed that residents and businesses desire passenger rail. Providing passenger rail service on the FEC is really a no-brainer and will make the South Florida region more competitive. For some reason, that is beyond my understanding, our Miami Dade elected officials can’t seem to figure this one out.
Passenger rail is fundamental to our economic success. Young, talented and educated job seekers (as well as employers) are in search for cities that provide a better quality of life. They are not interested in spending countless hours commuting in bumper to bumper traffic. Passenger rail will spur development opportunities for real estate developers to break ground on walkable, mixed-use, transit oriented developments. This is progress, not futile road expansion projects that destroy communities rather than making them stronger.
Safety Issues for Pedestrians Along the FEC
Wendy Stephan, former president of the Buena Vista Homeowners Association, asked the FEC representative if they intended to make the area surrounding the tracks more pedestrian friendly. In particular she cited the area from NE 39th- 54th Street along Federal Highway which does not have any pedestrian crossings. She pointed out that people cross these tracks (including her mother-in-law in her pearls, lol) to get to the Publix and Biscayne Boulevard from Buena Vista and the surrounding neighborhoods because there aren’t any proper crossings for 15 blocks.
One of the FEC representatives then began to refer to the people crossing the tracks as “trespassers”. I took issue with his statement and I quickly pointed out to him that the FEC cannot possibly expect for people to walk 15 blocks out of their way just to cross the tracks to catch a bus on Biscayne Boulevard or purchase food at Publix. Further north we find the same problem from NE 62nd –NE 79th Street where we there is only one crossing at NE 71st Street which the FEC has asked the County to close, but the County so far has denied this request. Its worth mentioning that I see small children crossing the train tracks from Little Haiti every morning on their way to Morning Side Elementary School on NE 66th Street. There are numerous schools along the FEC corridor from downtown north to NE 79th Street and nearly not enough pedestrian crossings. An FEC representative basically said this was not their problem. Commissioner Sarnoff said his office would look into building bridges or tunnels for pedestrians to get across the tracks safely. Instead, I think we should look into at-grade pedestrian crossings (see below) rather then spending big bucks on tunnels or bridges which will most likely not be used by anyone besides drug addicts.
How about an FEC Greenway?
Friend of Transit Miami Frank Rollason asked the FEC representative about their responsibility of being a good neighbor and properly maintaining the right of way (ROW). He pointed out that there were homeless people living on the FEC ROW, people using drugs as well has hiding stolen goods in the overgrown shrubbery. The FEC representative snubbed Frank and said, “We do maintain it”. (Yeah right).
I told the FEC representative that the FEC could be a good neighbor by including an FEC Greenway into their plans. An FEC Greenway would root out homelessness and drug use as joggers, walkers, parents with strollers and bicyclists would discourage undesirable activities with their presence. I was also snubbed by the FEC representative and was basically given a look that said “yeah right kid, good luck with that, looks like you are smoking crack with the crack heads on the FEC line, there is no chance we are putting a greenway on the FEC.”
Overall the meeting was very positive. The FEC and the City of Miami need to work together to find solutions to add more crossings for pedestrians. Pedestrians shouldn’t be forced to walk 15 blocks to cross the tracks. The City of Miami should also press the FEC to incorporate a greenway into their plans. A greenway would deter crime and improve the quality of life for everyone that lives near the train tracks. That being said, rail is the priority. The FEC has 100ft of ROW; if they can somehow safely squeeze in a 10-12 ft greenway they should.
Lastly, we must all write a quick email to our County Commissioners and tell them to stop playing politics with our future economic prosperity. We need local and commuter passenger rail service today, not in 15 years. You can find our recommendations for passenger rail service on the FEC here. Let’s make this happen South Florida!
In the fall of 2008, Tri-Rail was running near record ridership corresponding to higher gas prices. They never beat the record of over 18,000 riders from Miami Heat’s victory parade in 2006, though. While we came close to another Heat victory this year but didn’t quite make it, Tri-Rail still scored a ridership victory. On June 16, with free Tri-Rail rides for Dump the Pump day, Tri-Rail smashed their all time record. 19,731 people rode the commuter rail yesterday. Check their press release here. Let us hope many will continue to ride even when they have to pay the fare.
2010 was an ambitious year for MDX. Open road tolling really took off, and MDX had its planners busy working on ways to turn our County into an expressway wonderland, where everyone is only a block away from smooth rides; all the while, as our friends at rollbacktolls.com report, MDX ran a $2.4 billion debt through 2010. While we at Transit Miami do not think that tolls are the problem, we support others’ efforts to put MDX under a magnifying glass - after all, they act with complete impunity when it comes to planning and operating the expressway system in Miami-Dade County. And it would seem that their long-term strategy is to dismantle the few bits of premium transit we have in this region.
Take for example the plans they released in July (2010) to build a double decker expressway on top of Tri-rail, in an effort to connect all the major expressways in Miami. Insensitive to the fact that building a highway directly on top of a major regional transit system would only compete for riders, sources within MDX even admit that the likelihood of obtaining federal funding for the system is low considering the feds gave SFRTA several hundred million dollars only two years ago for Tri-Rail Upgrades. How backward can these folks be with regard to the true transportation needs of Miami-Dade County?
Now the latest assault on Miami-Dade Transit: the effort to dismantle the South-Dade Busway and create lexus lanes for the wealthy residents of Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, and Pinecrest. MDX planners are meeting with area residents to get buy-in for the project, but what they won’t tell people is that this is part of creating a parallel highway to US1 that reaches South Dade.
The irony is that the busway was conceived as low cost alternative to bring transit to the mainly underprivileged residents of South Miami-Dade County along existing train tracks built by Henry Flagler. The busway was never meant as a limited access highway for the wealthy residents of suburbs that have developed since then. Be that as it may, MDX is moving full speed ahead preparing plans to convert the bus-only transit way into an I-95 style lexus lanes expressway with elevated intersections.
What does MDT get in return for letting MDX rape its only premium transit service to the residents of South Miami-Dade County? A big fat nothing. No shared toll revenue. Faster travel speeds say MDX, but at the expense of accessible and convenient transit. On a line that already runs beyond capacity most peak times, the only transit oriented upgrade to the busway would be to make true BRT improvements, increase frequencies and headway, and eventually to extend the metro-rail south; what they should not take apart a thriving transit service.
It’s time for a change in transportation planning in Dade County. We cannot allow MDX to continue to expand highway capacity at a time when most Miami-Dade residents are clamoring for expanded transportation options that will help them out of their cars. The myopic car-centric decision making at MDX will only continue to degrade transit service until one authority is made responsible for uniting the managerial know-how and Right-of-Way MDX posses with MDT’s transit mandate. Until then, it is open season for MDX, and the drive to expand roadway capacity will continue at the expense of transit ridership.
City Spotlight Series:South Florida Regional Transportation Authority / Tri-Rail Regional Transit Planning Initiatives / Station Area Improvements Location Tigertail Lake Park (adjacent to Bass Pro Shop) Address: 580 Gulfstream Way, Dania Beach, FL 33304 Date: Thursday, March 25, 2010 Time: 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. (light lunch provided) Speakers: Joe Quinty, AICP and Brandy Creed, P.E., D. WRE Cost: Free RSVP: email@example.com, space is limited – please RSVP Transit to Event: Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport at Dania Beach. Depart Golden Glades on Train P622 @ 11:43 a.m. (Free tickets provided) AICP: BAPA will apply for 1.5 CM Credits
Starting today, Tri-Rail is now using biodiesel fuel in all their conventional trains. The Diesel Multiple Units (DMU’s) will continue to use regular diesel because of their warranty, but the rest of the trains will now be reducing their impact to the environment. Of course, I’m sure cost was the main issue here, with biodiesel costing enough less than regular diesel to offset the reduction in efficiency. Read Tri-Rail’s press release here.
I, for one, can’t wait until next week when I get to ride a train that smells like french fries. It’s got to be better than the diesel fumes that assaulted ones nose every time a train pulled in to a station before.
I recently had the chance to spend a whole day riding Tri-Rail (Fully Work Related) and finally got a good glimpse at the quantity of commuters who depend on this rather primitive commuter rail system daily. Last week, Tri-Rail averted a major financial crisis that would have slashed daily service from 50 to 20 trains and completely eliminated weekend service, thanks to only a 10% budget reduction by Palm Beach and Broward Counties. Another year of near optimal operation should allow the former fastest growing transit agency in the nation (2006) to continue to attract riders, in a time when public transit infrastructure is of paramount importance.
Ridership is up already 45% over June 2007. May saw a 25% increase, April 28% and March 22%. More than 157 companies signed up for the authority’s employer discount program in May — about 881 riders.
While travelining along the line, I noticed a few key areas where tri-rail could drastically improve its bottom line and service:
TOD: Currently Inexistent. This is my major focus in Regional Planning studies. Often times, I find that our problems are not necessarily the fault of poor transit policy but rather what we choose to do with the land around our transit centers. In Miami, this usually equates to fences, poor access, and inappropriate uses.
Parking: Currently free and very limited. Potential revenue source? There are several reasons why free parking poses many problems, even at transit stations.
Employee Parking: Seriously? This parking is largely unused and unnecessary.
Tri-Rail has received a year reprieve in which it must continue to attract a larger share of riders while working to better integrate itself with the South Florida Landscape. Most of the land use issues are largely out of the control of the agency but must still be addressed regionaly if we ever hope to make a sliver of change in our very autocentric lifestyles.
Have you checked out Google Transit yet? It sounded good back when it came out: use Google Maps to plan your transit trip. It’s definitely better than the official South Florida Regional Transit Trip Planner, but we didn’t have any local transit systems on there. Until now.
We can’t be certain when that changed, but Broward County Transit is now on the official list of Transit systems that Google searches. A nice feature is that if you search for directions on Google Maps, it offers a “public transit” option as well as a drive option for areas that are on Google Transit. It’s never been easier to compare your public transit alternatives to driving.
Photo by Flickr user Steve Rhodes.
If the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority is forced to cut trains, the authority — and even the state, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — could face a $275 million lawsuit by the Federal Transit Administration, Tri-Rail officials fear.
Only in Miami/South Florida does a transit agency face a lawsuit from the Federal Transit Administration for reduced local funding for transit. How do we think this decision will affect Miami-Dade’s attempts to secure funding for the north corridor? Let’s ask “Pepe” Diaz what he thinks:
“If we’re cutting routes locally,” [“Pepe” Diaz] said, “where are going to get the funding for Tri-Rail?”
That’s the spirit, justify the Tri-Rail cuts with our own local stumbles.
Follow this link to send emails to our local senators in support of Tri-Rail…
- Free Rides on Tri-Rail all day with this voucher…
- Free Rides on MDT, only if you win a T-shirt on El Zol or Hot 105… Come again? What’s up with MDT’s lack of participation this year?
- BCT is encouraging participation, no free rides…
- Palm Tran is M.I.A.
- LYNX is M.I.A.
- JTA is M.I.A.
- Free Rides on LeeTran (Fort Myers)
- MCT is M.I.A. (Monroe County)
- RTS is Participating (Gainesville)
- SCAT is participating (Space Coast)
- HART is Participating (Tampa)
- Free Dunkin Donuts on Thursday if you participate in the Commuter Challenge Day by riding Tri-Rail…Or, you could just print this voucher and go to your nearest Dunkin Donuts, but I’d still recommend giving the train a try…
- On that Note, with regards to Ryan’s Post on the absence of a regional farecard system, Larry Lebowitz, the transportation Guru at the Miami Herald, has informed me that MDT, BCT, Palm Tran, and the SFRTA are working together to implement such a system soon. Apparently the hold up is coming from the SFRTA. I’ll be working to obtain more information on the subject…
- Great Ideas, now just agree to build the darn thing downtown…
Photo courtesy of Flickr account: Andrew M Butler
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