Currently viewing the tag: "Streetcars"

Dear Santa,

Transit Miami and its readers have been good boys and girls this year. So below are just a few things that we would like from you:

  • Miami 21
  • Bike Miami Days
  • Well designed bicycle lanes
  • A protected and separated bicycle facility on the Rickenbacker, MacArthur and Julia Tuttle Causeways
  • Implementation of the Miami Bicycle Master Plan
  • A complete streets approach to designing our public right of way
  • Safer, better, and more crosswalks
  • Bay Link
  • Streetcar
  • Yield to Pedestrian signs around Brickell and Downtown Miami

With Love,

Transit Miami

p.s. Santa has been watching us and he knows who’s been naughty or nice. If you have any special requests for Santa please let him know in the comments section.  Santa reads Transit Miami on a regular basis.

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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.

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National: Streetfilms covers the technologically advanced Seattle  streetcar, and the investment it has attracted along its route (*ahem, Miami).

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood makes it official, DC’s Metro is expanding to Dulles Airport.

Oregonian columnist and Pedaling Revolution author, Jeff Mapes, tell us of a plan to tax bicycle ownership in Oregon. What?!

Local: Just over one year in, the recession economy slows the Miami Mega-Plan.

Riptide 2.0 stumps for building the Marlins Stadium at the Miami Arena site…a win-win-win for straphangers, the city, and the county.

Also, what happens when you don’t miss the bus, but the bus misses you? Well, we’re not sure either…

Finally, click here to learn how Jeb Bush helped derail, literally, high speed rail from Miami to Tampa Bay. Thanks Jeb.

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Photo by Flickr user jimfrazier
We already pointed out the resurgence of freight rail in this post in February, but now the rail boom is in the news again. This time a Harvard professor, John R. Stilgoe, is predicting the revival of rail for both freight and passengers. He points to indicators such as Warren Buffet buying stock in a freight railroad company, high gas prices driving people away from cars, and success of commuter rail systems.

We can point to our own indicators of a boom. The Florida House of Representatives’ budget includes $700,000 for a feasibility study for a freight rail corridor from South Bay to West Miami, which the Miami Herald referred to as the “Sugar Train“; the House also gave their support for a commuter rail system in Orlando. This is at a time when the state is cutting the budget everywhere else. The number of Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) being proposed around Tri-Rail stations seems to be increasing weekly. Sheridan Stationside Village, Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, and Delray Beach TODs are all pushing forward at a time when the housing market is dismal and even general development is being pulled down with it. Fort Lauderdale is funding their new streetcar system despite the property tax amendment cutting their revenues.

Overall, rail is looking up while the economy looks down. The argument that you cannot get Americans out of their cars is no longer valid. Now is the time to get people out of their cars and onto the rails. Wake up or miss the train.

Recall the post where I had the opportunity to interview Miami Beach chief of Staff AC Weinstein? Good, because here are some thoughts I drew up on the conversation, many of which I commented directly to AC throughout our first of many discussions on the future of Miami Beach…

Now, the first question on development, I fear, may have been interpreted a little bit too literally, but that is what happens when you try to be so precise with the wording of questions. The intention was never to correlate the cranes in Miami ensure economic vitality, but rather insinuate how in such a difficult market would Miami Beach continue to grow in order to ensure a steady tax revenue stream and thus guaranteeing the future economic vitality of Miami Beach industry. I was also hinting that height restrictions and true urban density should not be so interconnected with increased congestion on the Beach and that absurd limitations would only hamper future economic options for Miami Beach.

I was disappointed (not surprised) upon hearing Mr. Weinstein’s reply regarding Baylink, but was utterly dismayed when discussing the reasoning behind it. The basic arguments presented against Baylink (by the Beach) have been: Hurricanes, Washington Avenue, the Flexibility of Buses, and now apparently Historic Character. Hurricanes, we’ve addressed, this is a moot point considering all wires and structures will be built to hurricane standards and underground wires are not out of the realm of possibilities. Coincidentally, the reconstruction of Washington Avenue occurred at time when Miami Beach officials were beginning to object to Baylink (remember the famous quote around then: “Baylink will further enable those people to readily access the beach?“) Baylink would only further enhance the Washington Avenue streetscape, requiring only insertions of tracks while leaving much of the rest alone. My Favorite: “Flexibility of buses.” Miami Beach is like what, 11 blocks wide where most of the streetcar will be traveling? I doubt selecting any of these two streets will pose a problem when the streetcar will be virtually within a 4 block walk of nearly every address South of the Bass Museum. You really can’t go wrong. As for the Historic City comment, please look below at the Miami Beach Streetcar Map in 1928, or click here for some solid video evidence.
My qualm with the whole Baylink discussion was that the office of the mayor has yet to provide a legitimate alternative transit solution to handle the city’s current and upcoming demand. The reports I’ve seen both indicate that congestion will reach unbearable levels by 2011 (the economic vitality I was hinting at earlier would certainly suffer) all but promoting the idea of a longer termed solution. The office mentioned no plans to improve (or green) bus capacity, build transfer stations, or work with MDT to enable better signal prioritization along key corridors.

We’re pretty excited the Mayor’s office created the Green committee, however we’re not quite sure what tasks the committee will be tackling or what the stated goals of the committee are. There aren’t any plans, yet, to push for mandatory LEED certification on new construction or considerations for alternative fuels, car sharing, or other equally progressive programs.

The Bikeways and expanded bike lanes were a breath of fresh air. It’s reassuring to see the city take the necessary steps to move in a bike-oriented direction and even require bicycle parking. I hope the city (and perhaps the green committee) see that the addition of transit will only further enhance the cycling options while creating a much cleaner environment along the beach.

All in all, my conversation with Mr. Weinstein proved to be beneficial to us here at Transit Miami, as well as with many of the Miami Beach constituents. Mr. Weinstein provided us with a glimpse of the mentality issues we’ll have to face in the coming years in order to see real public transportation options come into fruition while providing a fresh, new perspective on the bicycle/pedestrian improvements the Beach hopes to make.

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Add Los Angeles to the list of cities looking to resurrect their former streetcars. The Red Line (pictured above operating on SF’s Muni) is seen as a pivotal part of LA’s multi billion dollar plan to resurrect the Broadway Theater District. The “Bring Back Broadway Initiative” aims to rebuild a downtown corridor once bustling with entertainment, nightlife, and shops.

Bringing Back Broadway will create a plan for a vibrant Broadway district that provides entertainment, eclectic cultural amenities and diverse retail options for Downtown residents and visitors to one of Los Angeles’ most remarkable historic areas, while serving as a central focus for revived downtown streetcar transportation.

An innovative aspect of this project is the involved financial participation of private investements along the corridor. Immediately parallels with Miami’s Flagler Street come to mind. A corridor once filled with life, shops, and bustling with activity, we can learn from Los Angeles by creating public/private partnerships to redevelop this critical downtown corridor.
Much more fundraising is left to be done if the ambitious effort is to be realized, and of paramount importance is getting all property owners involved in their share of the rehab. Standing outside the Los Angeles after the presentation, Michael Delijani pointed to the $1 million in yearly assessments collected by the Historic Downtown BID as a sign that owners would do their part. He told how improved cleaning and trash collection have already bettered the Broadway streetscape.

The map below depicts the once far reaching tracks of the former Pacific Electric lines in Los Angeles:

Speaking of streetcars, this recent article makes it abundantly clear that this form of transit is again becoming very, very popular in US cities. You still don’t believe me? Check out some snippets from the article (or read the whole thing):
But they are making a comeback in several American cities, and more have plans in the wings, projects largely development-driven to revitalize sagging urban areas, and to serve a population segment, often baby boomers, choosing to move back to the cities and to simplify their lives when they do.

The streetcar Renaissance stems from planners who see them not only as people-movers but as engines of urban development dealing with, and encouraging, a gradual demographic shift back to cities by people, often older, who like the convenience, miss interaction absent in the suburbs and want to rely less on cars.

Charles Hales, senior vice president of the engineering firm HDR, which works on many streetcar projects, says as many as 60 American cities are in some stage of streetcar planning or development, “depending on how you count it.”

Portland ridership, initially projected to be 3,500 a day, now tops 9,800 and is growing at about 17 percent a year. The city is putting together about $75 million to match federal money to expand the lines from Downtown to the city’s east side, on the other side of the Willamette River.

The new lines no longer are the commuter systems they once were. They are designed to lure people back into cities, keep them there, and perk up decaying, underused and undertaxed, former industrial sites and similar areas. And it seems to be working.

Portland has seen about $2.5 billion in new construction, including 7,248 new housing units within three blocks of the line since the plan was announced in 1997.

In Little Rock, the figure is between $300 million and $400 million.

“It is not the only reason (for the construction) but most developers admit the streetcar is one of the reasons,” said Keith Jones, who helped design the system there.

“The line defines areas where things in the city are happening.” It extends to North Little Rock, which was suffering downtown decay. “It is having a higher impact there than in Little Rock, where things were happening anyway,” he said.

“We got 80 percent federal funding, something that’s virtually impossible to do now with the federal government generally limiting funding to 50 percent,” he said.

The 2.5 mile-line has carried about 400,000 passengers, beyond projections, since it opened in late 2004, and an extension is planned to the Clinton Library.

“Developers see streetcars as an indication of permanence when they make investments,” said Len Brandrup, director of transportation in Kenosha, outside Chicago. That’s not the case with buses, he said.

He said the past century has seen an “unhooking” of land-use decisions and transportation planning.

“Portland is ahead of the country in trying to rehook them,” he said, reducing auto use and parking space demands.

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