The Miami streetcar seems to be generating plenty of controversy. Before we convince ourselves that it’s good or bad, perhaps we need to look at another streetcar. Seattle’s streetcar, nicknamed “S.L.U.T.” for the South Lake Union Trolley, made its debut Wednesday to large crowds of riders. It also generated its share of controversy (even to the point of sabotage), so lets look at some of the issues.

The Seattle streetcar apparently does not use signal preemption. It has to stop at all traffic lights just like a bus would. This is rather ridiculous, as even Bus Rapid Transit usually calls for signals to change to give priority to the bus. An effective Miami streetcar needs to have signal preemption.

Bicyclists don’t like it and organized a protest. Seattle put the tracks on the right side of the road, precariously close to the bicyclists’ paths. Rails in the road parallel to a bicycles direction of travel are a recipe for disaster. As a bicyclist myself, I share their concerns. Streetcars like Seattle’s carry a lot more people than bicycles, and that should give them at least a slightly higher priority. At the same time, streets need to accommodate as many modes as possible-especially if we ever hope to implement a decent bike sharing program. The needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, transit, and auto all need to be considered carefully in the design of Miami’s streetcar. One alternative that has been used before is to put the rails down the middle of the street.

Seattle’s streetcar is expected to help retail business. That’s probably an accurate expectation, but we’ll have to wait and see the numbers. Most rail transit systems have increased local business, and we could probably expect the same in Miami.

There’s one unique issue that Miami will have to worry about. Every time there is a hurricane, the overhead electric lines will have to be repaired. We all know how often that happens! This makes it worthwhile to consider alternate technologies such as Innorail, which have the added benefit of removing unsightly overhead wires.

It sounds like Seattle’s streetcar was packed the first day, just new like light rail systems. Charlotte’s Lynx light rail is exceeding projections in its first weeks. Surely Miami’s streetcar would do the same.

7 Responses to Seattle and Miami Streetcar

  1. cascadiatransport says:

    As a rider on Seattle streetcar’s first day operation (on the car that hit the ball bearing in the flangeway) your points are taken — but not well. The streetcar isn’t on a major bike route (that’s Dexter Ave two blocks west), it follows old unused industrial RR tracks for much of its route. I’m a bike commuter sometimes and have no problem with the S.L.U.T.s tracks (at least the streets are concrete and a lot smoother that the usual rain caused potholes.
    But no hurricanes — we get sustained winds of 60+ knots that could cause a problem to the OCS except there aren’t a lot of trees along the route.
    And — overhead wires aren’t unsightly, IMHO they are beautiful.

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  2. JMD says:

    Another point about bicycles and the tracks. I think it is just a matter of getting used to. Someone pointed out in an email I saw that bicycles and streetcars go hand in hand in most cities in Europe.
    The bicycle community needs to work with the transit community for the good of all.

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  3. JM Palacios says:

    cascadiatransport, do you ride a road bike or a fat-tired bike? Also, can you clarify the pic above? It looks like the streetcar rails are in the same lane that cars travel in, on a two-lane road, but it is not clear enough for someone who has never seen it. If that is the case there or elsewhere, though, then the road is unusable for bikes. You’re supposed to ride as far right as possible, which would put you between the rails. With a road bike, you would be unable to cross the rails while you are following them, as your tire would get stuck in the 2″ gap between the rail and the roadway. So where are you supposed to ride your bike down that street?

    That said, transit and bicycle modes should work well together. I would just as soon stick my bicycle on the streetcar as long as I don’t have to wait too long for it to show up. If someone else would rather bike, though, they should still have the option. Since in Florida bicycles are under the same laws as cars, they need to be accommodated on all our urban arterials and connectors.

    As far as overhead wires go, I wasn’t commenting on Seattle’s specifically, just pointing out that they can look ugly. So if Miami buried them it would eliminate the slightest possibility.

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  4. serial catowner says:

    For many years I commuted on Westlake using a Peugot 10-spd with narrow tires. The whole bicyclist thing here can be summed up as follows-

    The bicyclists want to use Westlake because it has been entirely resurfaced due to the streetcar installation. One block to the west is Dexter Ave, actually a superior road for bikes in either direction. To the east of Westlake are cut-up streets and dead-ends, complicated now by new construction, hardly even walkable, let alone bikeable. (The whole area is a 40 year old Gordian knot of traffic problems.)

    No cyclist in Seattle is going anywhere fast unless they a) learn to take their lane and ride in traffic as the vehicles around them, and b) KEEP THEIR DAMN HEADS ON A SWIVEL.

    Yes, I have taken some bad falls on railroad tracks in Seattle. Frankly, if you don’t see the tracks, and you don’t see the trolley, why would I think you’ll see a sign warning you about them?

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Seatte streetcar is not usefull for commuters unfortunately. It already was involved in an accident with a vehicle. It barely has any passengers, eventhough it’s free. It crosses very busy congested arterials and backs up rush hour traffic while crossing empty.
    There is enough confusion on South Beach streets as it is, this is not the best option, unless it has its own right of way. I’d rather see the Metromover extending to South Beach. It doesn’t use overhead wires and never was damaged by hurricanes.

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  6. serial catowner says:

    Anon on 12/27 is just being silly. The South Lake Union Streetcar was never intended to carry any commuters. The streetcar was involved in an accident with an SUV that was running a red light. The pictures on the web show that the free trolley was packed with passengers.

    As for “backing up rush-hour traffic”, that traffic has been totally backed up and stop-and-go for 35 years. The streetcar could hardly make it any worse.

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  7. Greg Nickels says:

    Nobody in Seattle calls it the “streetcar”. It was originally and will always be the S.L.U.T. As the story, when the local Powers that Be began their extensive and overwhelming redevelopment of the Cascade neighborhood in Seattle, they decided to rename the 100 year old neighborhood South Lake Union. One of the major projects slated for the area was the S.L.U.T., the South Lake Union Trolley. However, once the Powers that Be realized the unfortunate and embarrassing acronym this created they quickly scrapped the trolley label opting to call the new train a “streetcar.” However the long time denizens of the Cascade neighborhood took a liking to the original name and decided to keep it. Thus is this somewhat silly yet endearing story of wealth and power gone slightly awry. Check out http://www.ridetheslut.com for all the details.

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