Currently viewing the category: "Streetcar"

What if Miami’s vibrant light-rail system of the past existed in the Miami of today?

Let’s explore how the historic Miami Beach trolley route of the early 20th century would look through the Miami of the early 21st century.

MiamiBeachTrolleyRoute_Intro

Click on the video below. You’ll be taken on a virtual fly-through of the the no-longer-existing Miami Beach trolley line through the streets and neighborhoods of today. Please do enjoy for yourself and share with others!

Just imagine if this trolley were still up and running! Light-rail Baylink, anyone?

Also, be on the look-out for more TransitMiami geovisualizations in the near future!

Coral Gables Advertisement - The Miami News - Aug 23, 1925

Coral Gables Advertisement – The Miami News – Aug 23, 1925

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.

Biltmore Way, Coral Gables

Biltmore Way, Coral Gables

 

 

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.

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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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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…

lahood-streetcar

photo by mexiwi

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Believe it or not, transit is a reality in the greater Miami area. The Fort Lauderdale city commission just voted to pay for 25% of the downtown streetcar project known as the Wave. That means they will provide $37.5 million of the estimated $150 million needed for the project. The next step for the Downtown Development Authority is to secure $75 million in federal and $37.5 million in state funding. It seems like a challenge, but the important thing is that this was a unanimous vote of support for the project to proceed.
A little more information on the project: The map shown above, from page 2 of this PDF flyer, is not necessarily the most current plan; but it provides a general layout of the proposed route. The streetcar, shown in yellow, will connect to future FEC corridor transit (purple on the map) and East-West transit on Broward Blvd. (green) at the location of the current Broward Central Bus Terminal. The terminal will turn into a multimodal transit hub for all these systems. Also on the PDF map is existing Tri-Rail in dashed red, the FEC corridor in purple, and the Sunport people mover (Airport to Seaport) in orange. The likely deviation from the route on the map is that the streetcar will probably detour down NW 1st Ave. before crossing Broward Blvd. so it can stop at the Central Terminal.

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.

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With all the talk about Miami’s streetcar here, one would never have guessed that Fort Lauderdale is also planning one. The Sun-Sentinel today featured a detailed write-up and even a demonstration video on the project. They used the term “light rail” and “streetcar” interchangeably in the article, but the proposed system, called “The Wave”, sounds more like a streetcar. The Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority’s website includes some basic information on this project that has eluded the radar screen for seven years. This PDF flyer offers more detailed info, including maps of the proposed route alternatives that run from NE 6th St. to SE 17th St. The cost is expected to be $150 million for a 2.7 mile project.

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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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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The University of Miami is making a crucial investment in Miami’s Health District, expanding current facilities as it looks towards building a 1.4 million square foot life sciences research park. The new research center, pictured above, is a crucial part of Miami’s continued economic growth and diversity. The facility will serve as a catalyst for the Bioscience community while creating a wide variety of well paying jobs. This is certainly the type of growth our city needs.

“Life science companies such as Schering-Plough, Boston Scientific, Beckman Coulter, Cordis, Noven Pharmaceuticals and others contribute to the biotech economy in the county, said Beacon Council President and CEO Frank Nero. About 17,000 people are employed by more than 1,400 life sciences companies in the county, which contributes about $2.3 billion in total annual revenue, according to the Beacon Council.”

Private investment will flock around the Miami research facilities creating a local hub for biological, pharmaceutical, and chemical research. Our community now needs to take the necessary steps to integrate our up and coming facilities with the surroundings; by providing adequate rail connections to the surrounding neighborhoods with the Miami streetcar, easy access to the FAU Scripps research facility in Palm Beach, and creating affordable and accessible housing. Braman can moan all he wants about spending taxpayer money on infrastructural upgrades, but without these crucial forms of transit, the Health district and much of Miami will never reach their full potential.

Um is also planning on restoring one of Miami’s oldest structures, Halissee Hall, to its former grandeur. Originally constructed in 1914 by John Sewell a Miami pioneer and former mayor, the house will be home to the School of Medicine’s Faculty Club and will host receptions, conferences and lectures.

“Sandwiched between Highland Park and the Golf Links is a massive stone building, the residence of John Sewell, shoe salesman and the third mayor of Miami. Started on July 20, 1913 it was situated on the highest elevation in the City of Miami. Sewell called his home Halissee Hall [locator], “Halissee” being the Seminole word for “New moon.” In his book, Miami Memoirs, Sewell writes that Halissee Hall was built with “boulder rock grubbed up on the hill” with which he built “the best home in Florida, not the most expensive, but the best home, with eighteen-inch walls of solid stone and cement, three stories high, with a half-acre of floor space.” The original entrance to Halissee Hall, two pillars, can be seen just south of the 836 Expressway near NW 10th Avenue.”

UM could learn from MIT, who over the past decades purchased the land immediately surrounding the campus and constructed offices building to lease back to private companies. Industry soon moved into the area to harvest the brainpower of the faculty and utilize the resources of the student body.

It somehow always seems that when Transit/Development news flares up, so do events in our personal lives. In any case, here are some of the top news stories this week, some of which we’ll get around to commenting on:

Local:

  • The next phase of the Metrorail extension hasn’t even broken ground and already the cost overruns have begun. This time Parson’s is looking for an additional $13 million in “Consultant fees.” I’m not specifically implicating that Parsons has something to do with this, but, I find it intriguing that nearly every project they’ve worked on locally (Miami Intermodal Center, MIA North Terminal, MIA South Terminal, PAC, Boston’s Big Dig, etc.) has come in way over budget. Is there something we don’t know, or is it really that easy to bilk the county out of money once you’re hired to do contracting/engineering/management work? I guess choosing the French construction giant Bouygues Travaux Publics, wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
  • Top issues for Kendall this year? Forget Cityhood, how about congestion, lots of it. It’s only getting worse too as years pass and opportunities for real transit come and go (Tri-Rail Kendall link anyone?) If the Kendall community fears Tri-Rail trains traveling down an existing ROW behind their houses or an “unsightly” elevated rail down Kendall drive is going to lower their property values, just wait and see the nose dive congestion will cause. At least the recent efforts have paused (momentarily) foolish FDOT hopes of expanding Killian to 6 lanes west of 137th Avenue. Perhaps Kendall residents are beginning to realize that the car isn’t a viable solution…
  • Like him or not, Manny Diaz has a Vision. We’ll dig into this much more in depth soon…
  • I’m liking the looks of a final panel report on the UDB. Key part of this would require 3/4 of commissioners to move the line for projects and would bring in an outside firm to redraw the line.
  • Live Nation is set to bring yet more events to Bayfront Park. Can’t a Park just be a Park? I’m not arguing against the Museums, those are neccessary, but why does Bayfront need so many attractions to make it successful? I think the park would induce more local use if there was less cement and far more shade trees, just a thought…
  • The Federal DOT has given MDT a grant to purchase 16 hybrid express buses for the new HOT lane project on I-95. The buses will travel from downtown Miami to Ft. Lauderdale. Now can we please modernize the system and implement farecards (and new machines) that are transferable on all 3 local agencies?
  • Don’t ride Transit, Buy a BMW…No seriously, Norman Braman wants you to buy a BMW and skip out on urban life…Oh, more on this soon…However, please follow this link for some laughable signs of hypocrisy…
  • Gasp! This first paragraph says it all: “The [Palmetto Bay] Village Council approved a special permit allowing a new commercial development to put all of its parking spaces on the street at a zoning hearing Monday.” Note: A special permit. I know this is a young, incorporated bedroom community and all, but seriously, can we get some logical planning oversight around there? (In Case you missed it, we’re glad to see the use of on street parking in this and other bedroom communities…This shouldn’t be a special instance, but, rather the norm….)
  • Watering rules in effect now till forever. Green lawns aren’t a necessity folks…
National:
  • Cape Cod wind farm moves one crucial step closer to disturbing a bunch of rich folks’ “pristine” views…
  • Northern Virginia (and Atlanta) is getting closer to funding a new streetcar. Not enough BMW dealers in the area I guess…

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The trolley above once ran down the streets of Miami, from 1925 to 1931. Anyone recognize which street? Automakers killed streetcars like this by buying up the transit companies and shutting them down. That was before my time, but it seems sensible to say that the streetcar died because of the automobile. The last thing we would want to see is the same mistake made again. Recent criticism of Miami’s votes to fund the streetcar point to the same phantom raising its ugly head again. Norman Braman, owner of Braman Management and its car dealerships, has come forward with sharp criticism of the plan to fund the port tunnel, Marlins stadium, and streetcar.
One could point to the port tunnel and stadium as Braman’s main beef, but his past actions indicate the possibility that he is chiefly against the streetcar. According to this Miami Herald article, he was behind an ad campaign 8 years ago against the penny sales tax to fund transit. So this is not the first time this car dealership owner has come out against public transit. We cannot pretend to know his motives, but the fact is, we have someone with vested interest in getting more people to buy cars trying to shoot down a system that will reduce people’s dependence on the automobile. One of his dealerships is in downtown Miami, where it could sell cars easily to the new residents that will be pouring into all the condo towers. The Miami Streetcar, when added to the existing transit options, will only make it easier for these residents to live without a car. So it is in Norman’s best interest to sue the county to keep it from getting funded. Even if Miami-Dade County eventually wins the suit, taxpayers will still be stuck with the legal fees and all these projects will likely get delayed while the suit is pending.

Braman also plans to launch an ad campaign against the latest resolution about these projects. Short of launching our own ad campaign, one thing we can do is be prepared to counter the ads whenever friends or family see them. If you want to take it a step further, I’m sure you can suggest some good ideas. If someone wants to keep Miami in the dark ages of car centered design, then we must fight back.

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