What can we learn from the Miami of the past?
With some extra ‘indoor time’ over the past few days due to tropical storm Isaac (when I wasn’t bike riding or taking photos of the devastation), I spent a good deal of time looking at old photos of Miami on FloridaMemory.com. It’s fascinating to observe the evolution of Miami and it’s environs; how some areas drastically transformed while others stay remarkably similar though the years. What’s also captured here is the insidious destruction the automobile wrought on downtown Miami through the 50’s and 60’s after the streetcars were town out, historic buildings were razed and parking lots sprouted like mushrooms after a spring rainfall.
I’ve been posting a few photos on our Facebook page, but without further adieu, here is a collection of my favorites.
Which are yours?
87 years ago today, an advertisement ran in the Miami Daily News promoting the sale of property in the Biltmore and Country Club VI Sections of Coral Gables. This ad offers a unique view of Miami’s first planned community, Coral Gables, designed by George Merrick during the 1920’s land boom. Coral Gables was developed entirely upon the City Beautiful movement, featuring grand civic spaces, public monuments, and prominent architectural symbols such as the Biltmore Hotel.
While at the time of publishing the Coral Gables Trolley line already linked the suburb with Downtown Miami via Flagler Street, Merrick had grander transit visions:
“These two fine sections will be linked inseperably with the center of Miami, and with the Riviera Section of Coral Gables, by the proposed Coral Gables Rapid Transit Electric Line which will run through the center of both sections.”
The Rapid Transit Electric Line was eventually built, and offered a faster route, along Coral Way, into Central Miami. Perhaps what is most interesting about this advertisement is to read Merrick’s vision for Biltmore Way:
“The outstanding feature of the Biltmore Section is Biltmore Way - an impressive 100 foot Boulevard leading off from Coral Way, at its Northeast corner and running into DeSoto Boulevard, the main drive to the Miami-Biltmore Hotel and Country Club on the West.”
“Biltmore Way from Coral Way to Segovia Street is traversed by the rapid transit rail line. It is one-half mile in length and is planned as the Fifth Avenue Business Street of Coral Gables.”
“Biltmore Way is planned as the shopping center for the discriminating women buyer or Coral Gables and Greater Miami. No stores in the Metropolitan district of Miami will excel in beauty or display the stores to be established on this boulevard. …such a thoroughfare could well be a composite reproduction of Fifth Avenue of New York, Michigan Avenue of Chicago, Rue de la Paix of Paris, and Old Bond Street of London.”
Merrick’s Vision is brimming with optimism. Influenced by grand boulevards across the world. Its no wonder that property in Coral Gables today remains one of the more sought after in the region. While Biltmore Way never achieved its full potential, he laid the foundation for a community that could grow and adapt to future growth, which is more than can be said for the current development ailing our urban fringes.
Last night, after several bottles of wine the conversation turned to the Metromover. At the table were several colleagues from my office. We all have at the minimum college degrees, so I think it’s fair to assume that we are of at least average intelligence. Dario, a Londoner, explained to me that the first time he rode the Metromover he ended up where he started from. Issiac, a New Yorker, also got lost the first time he used it. He figured out something was very wrong after he passed the same building twice. Mind you, he has ridden the subway in New York his entire life and has never gotten lost!
Most every time I use the Metromover, I find a lost soul seeking directions. Even as a veteran of the Metromover, I often have to study the map before getting on to ensure that I get off at the right transfer station. Or I have to strategically think about which station I need to walk to in order to avoid riding the Metromover aimlessly.
I do like the Metromover, it works for me. However, it is poorly designed. You need a Phd. in order not to get lost. Transit should not be complicated; the Metromover is. In order for transit to work efficiently, a first time user should have a clear understanding of how the system works right off the bat. So this got me thinking last night, maybe we need to abandon the Metromover?
However, before we abandon the Metromover, we need to replace it with a well thought-out streetcar. So what to do with the elevated infrastructure from the Metromover once it is replaced with a proper streetcar? Well, it should not be torn down. Instead we should consider converting it to an elevated bicycle path, a greenway in the middle of the city, much like the New York City High Line. In many ways it would become a bicycle highway in the middle of our city. Imagine the possibilities. What do you think?
Kudos to Zyscovich and team for producing a forward thinking document in the Omni Redevelopment Plan. Commissioners will vote today in the CRA meeting to send the document to City Commission for approval. The Plan has many good elements, some of which are under discussion by Commissioner Sarnoff for removal (such as the reduced parking requirement and the streetcar). Commissioner, these are important parts of supporting a vibrant and pedestrian friendly downtown. If the streetcar is not being funded, it is up to you to find a way to make it happen - not defeat it by taking it out. In addition, raising parking requirements is a bad idea in our most dense and transit served areas. You said at the Miami 21 meetings that you don’t believe that reducing parking is a good tactic without adequate transit, but this area is served by transit, and would be even better served with the streetcar. As future head of the DDA, and the representative of the most urban part of our tri-county region, I urge you to reconsider your position on these items. You have to plan for the city you want, not settle for the city you have.
From the report:
As part of this redevelopment plan, the following transportation improvements are being proposed:
1) Miami Streetcar (Project 19)
2) 17th Street / FEC Crossing (Project 20)
3) 2nd Avenue Reconstruction (Project 21)
4) 2-way Conversion of One-way Streets (Project 22)
In addition to these improvements and consistent with the approved Miami Downtown Transportation Master Plan the following improvements should also be considered:
1) Free-fare Transit Zone – the zero out-of-pocket cost is certainly an incentive for users to ride transit.
There are also intangible benefits such as user’s convenience and elimination of delays by not having fare box.
2) Improve Transit Amenities – amenities for transit users are a key element of an effective transit system. Elements contributing to a high quality environment include; comfortable shelters, protection from the elements, adequate lighting, as well as clean and safe vehicles.
3) Develop Pedestrian Corridors - a systematic effort should be arranged to not only “accommodate” but actively enhance pedestrian safety and promote a pleasant walking environment. [awesome]
4) Develop a Baywalk – Margaret Pace Park presents an opportunity to create a baywalk that connects
the park with Bicentennial Park to the south. The baywalk will provide recreational opportunities,
increase connectivity between other areas of Downtown and provide an alternative for walking trips.
5) Reconstruct NE 2nd Avenue, NE/NW 14th Street, NE 17th Street and NE 17th Terrace.
My biggest criticism of the report is its relative lack of bike infrastructure. While it was made before the City’s Bicycle Master Plan effort, it should included as an addendum that takes into account the recommendations of the Bike Master Plan, and the currently funded bike improvements to NE 2nd Avenue and elsewhere in the CRA. These need to be reflected in the future plans of the CRA and will help create a truly multi-modal downtown.
Remember the much hyped City of Miami Streetcar? Last we heard about the much needed streetcar, City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz included it in his list of ‘shovel ready’ Federal stimulus money. The original $200 million price tag had increased to $280 million, but it didn’t really matter because the City only got about $4.5 million for its wishlist items (which included a rubber tire trolley first reported by Transit Miami.)
The original streetcar plan, conceived in 2004, called for $200 million in capital costs to be split evenly between the city and the Florida Department of Transportation. But, it was clear to Miami officials in spring 2008 that there would not be sufficient funds due to the economy and budget shortfalls, said Lilia Medina, assistant transportation coordinator in the city manager’s office. Since then, the city has been searching for another solution to give the project new life, she said. (SF Business Journal)
“I think it’s an essential project for the future of Miami,” Diaz told the Business Journal. “We have not done as good a job as we should have done with transportation planning. Sooner or later, we’re going to need a streetcar,” the mayor said. “Although it appears to be expensive today, it’s going to be a hell of a lot more expensive 20 years from now.”
Prior to that there was the infamous Global Agreement, that series of convoluted funding arrangements that extended the boundaries of the Overtown CRA to get funding for a bunch of infrastructure projects including, you guessed it, the streetcar.
4. Streetcar Project (the “Streetcar”): The Streetcar will provide an energy-efficient and convenient alternative mode of transportation connecting the City’s most densely populated and urbanized areas, including Downtown, Overtown, Omni, Wynwood/Edgewater, Midtown, Design District and the Civic Center/Health District. The Streetcar service will promote mass transit use and connect with Miami-Dade Transit (Metromover, Metrorail and Metrobus). The Streetcar circulator will substantially address the City’s need to comply with State Bill 360, the Growth Management Act as a multi-modal project improving mobility and meeting transportation concurrency.
Unfortunately, while the Global Agreement said that CRA money could be used for the streetcar, it didn’t actually allocate any current or future money for its construction. Keep in mind that the agreement calls for the city to pay $88 million a year from CRA revenue through 2030 for the Port Tunnel, when our commitment for the streetcar would be a one time expense of $140 million. Then, there is this minor proviso at the end of the agreement:
In consideration of these increased revenues to the County General Fund, the County agrees that, beginning in fiscal year 2014, it make a $20 million contribution to the City to be applied toward the funding of the Streetcar project, once approved by the State of Florida and the MPO. [emphasis added] The County’s Streetcar project contribution may be made in a lump sum or in annual installments sufficient to issue tax free municipal bonds with a debt coverage dictated by the market commencing on the date of substantial completion of the Project.
Lame. While the administration has ‘supported’ this project, they don’t think it is important enough to fund. Meanwhile, it would only take one year of CRA contributions (diverted from the Port Tunnel) to make it a reality. (With our half of the construction costs in hand, the State would then cough up the other half). When are our elected officials going to stop placating us with empty platitudes about how cute transit is, but how it is not a priority? When will it become a priority? It seems that the thinking in the City of Miami is that transit is a luxury that comes after other more important things. Like a useless tunnel. Or a useless baseball field.
If you support the streetcar let the two Mayoral candidates know.
The blogs are aflutter with Ray LaHood’s visit to Portland, Oregon yesterday. Among other things, he was stopping in to help celebrate the completion of an American made streetcar. The car made by the Oregon Iron Works is the first to be produced in this country in the last sixty years. We can all hope this points to a burgeoning industry.
Oh, and the car will be used for the city’s new streetcar line, which received $75 million dollars in stimulus funds so that it may come to fruition. At least some cities are spending wisely…
photo by mexiwi
Streetcars, Trams, Light Rails. Call them what you may, but these devices resolve the simple task of effectively moving people around densely populated urban centers. In the spirit of keeping the Miami streetcar alive (which I assure you will not resemble the picture below) this week with a swift defeat of Norm’s frivolous lawsuit against the Miami mega plan, we bring you today’s Pic o’ the Day. Can anyone name this city?
The Boston (MBTA) Silver line illustrates the proper way transportation should be integrated into up and coming areas, not yet ready to be serviced by regular rail transit. The Silver line will eventually create an “Urban Transit Ring” connecting much of the transit in the city of Boston and establishing a BRT to service areas which could sorely benefit from regular fixed transit. The Buses used on the silver line operate using engines on regular streets, but operate under electrical power (transferred by overhead wires) when operating in tunnels or streets with existing electrical infrastructure (similar to streetcars and LRT.) The eventual objective of the silverline is to serve as a placeholder for future rail expansion while cultivating proper transit oriented development and ridership along the route…
Contrary to what bloggers like Len Degroot or Alesh Houdek might be inclined to believe, Fort Lauderdale is neither dreaming nor out of touch with reality. With gas prices skyrocketing, people want alternatives to cars. Transit has never looked better.
Tuesday at noon, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the city commission will meet in City Hall to discuss funding. The Sun-Sentinel seems to be the only source of information on this meeting. If I didn’t have to work I would be there.
Perhaps it’s worth noting that there is at least one representative from a car dealership on the DDA Board, Gale Butler from AutoNation. Since the DDA is responsible for this project, it looks like the auto dealerships are more inclined to see this project happen than Miami’s streetcar. Let’s do The Wave!
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