My lengthy reply to Mr. Frank Rollason:
It’s great to finally get some discussion going on this critical issue with some of Miami’s more prominent individuals such as yourself. I followed the election closely and was hoping that your campaign would have taken you a bit further.
The streetcar issue is a difficult situation to address. I’ve given this idea much thought and have tried to analyze its’ impact from all different angles. In the end, I concede that I am a bit of a realist when it comes to this sort of development but I find it difficult to think otherwise especially when I’ve witnessed and studied similar projects rise flawlessly around the United States and the World.
Placing cost the cost of the streetcar aside for a second, I’d like to first discuss the impact that the streetcar would have on the city, its residents, and the future of both.
As I mentioned previously, the streetcar would serve as an economic engine for the city, steering development along its corridor. You informed me that residents are against further development, a fact which I have come to understand from their perspective, seeing that all upcoming development within their neighborhoods is likely being improperly constructed to suit the needs of urban living elements such as the streetcar (see: New Urbanism.) Their stance isn’t unwarranted, seeing how terribly these buildings were designed and then approved by the hapless commission. Growth, however, is inevitable in every city. A stagnant growth stance by any municipality will in the long run lead to further economic strife for both the city and residents. I get the feeling that much of the anti-growth sentiment can be attributed to the lack of reasonable transportation options to offset the increase in traffic, general regulatory abuse by the city commission to approve every building, and overall disregard by the developers. Not building the streetcar, the area we’ll continue to witness truly devastating projects (ie. 2222 Biscayne, Bayview Market) rise throughout the district. A streetcar combined with the appropriate rezoning would severely alter the type and context of the development which will inevitably continue in the area. By placing better constraints on development within a close boundary of the corridor, I feel that the area citizens will fully benefit from the streetcar, truly creating an environment (detailed in this herald article from 2002) where people can live without the burden of owning an automobile. (Note: the constraints that I speak of are used in various municipalities and include: minimal parking requirements for buildings within a stated distance of the transit corridor, required building/street interaction elements like covered porticos and ground level retail, on street municipal parking, pedestrian-only zones, etc.) I would not endorse the streetcar if such constraints were not enacted simultaneously in order to guarantee its success.
The streetcar is much more than simply another form of transportation; it’s a critical piece of Miami 21 and a vital method of reconstructing our city in manner which caters to humans rather than vehicles.
Going along with the constraints I mentioned above, the economic benefit that the streetcar would provide the city is well worth more than its initial costs. Placing constrictions on developments within the corridor such as requirements for affordable housing in the form of rental units would not be unreasonable. Using principles outlined in Miami 21, the city can rezone the corridor to include areas which would favor the construction of mid-density and lower priced rental units or condominiums. The affordable housing units would be cheaper to develop given the lower parking constraints and thus construction costs while eliminating the burden of relying on a vehicle for some of the city’s neediest constituents.
The $200 Million price tag is certain to go up, a fact we can both easily agree upon. However, the state (according to recent reports) would front half the costs leaving the rest to be divided among the city and the county. The city has received $42 Million thus far from its’ share of the PTP, money which must be used for city transit options. MDT could also be sought to fund part of the streetcar. Given that a significant sum of the initial cost of streetcars nationwide is attributed to finding a facility to house and maintain the vehicles, the city could look to partner with MDT to build a joint facility which could accommodate the Miami streetcars as well as the upcoming Baylink cars, saving both agencies large sums of money in the long term. All in all, I’m not saying or thinking that any of this will be easy to accomplish, considering the limited discussion which regularly occurs between the city and county, but, it is definitely a reasonable project which in reality would not require such a grave commitment on the part of the city.
Traffic will only continue to get worse within the city, plain and simple. With the new developments rising and the plethora of interest remaining in the neighborhood, developers are going to continue to exploit the neighborhood. We’re going to continue to see buildings situated on massive parking pedestals and we will soon witness gridlock bring many streets to a grinding halt.
Running the streetcar in a lane of traffic would actually improve traffic flows along the corridors. Through improved signal timing and using technology pioneered in Toronto back in 1991 with signal priority timing, the corridor would feature advanced ITS which is endorsed by the USDOT. The Toronto study found that total corridor delay was reduced by 35% (better than with bus signal priority timing) and there were no significant impacts on side street queue delays.
The Bus “Alternative”
From the American Public Transportation Association:
The Transportation Research Board Special Report No. 1221, “Impact on Transit Patronage of Cessation or Inauguration of Rail Service” dated 1989, and authored by transportation researcher Edson L. Tennsyson concluded the following:
“Because transit use is a function of travel time, fare, frequency of service, population, and density, increased transit use can not be attributed to rail transit when these other factors are improved. When these service conditions are equal, it is evident that rail transit is likely to attract from 34 to 43 percent more riders than will equivalent bus service. The data do not provide explanations for this phenomenon, but other studies and reports suggest that the clearly identifiable rail route; delineated stops that are often protected; more stable, safer, and more comfortable vehicles; freedom from fumes and excessive noise; and more generous vehicle dimensions may all be factors.”
Click on this link, Transportation Research Record 1221, for the full text of this research report.
- Currently there are 26 existing streetcar/trolley lines operating in the United States and Canada with a whopping 61 other cities actively planning streetcar initiatives. There are over 200 municipalities vying for federal funding leaving funds scarce and competition fierce (Source APTA.)
- Since 1995, public transit ridership has expanded 25 percent (to 9.7 billion trips in 2005). From 25 in 2000, the country’s fixed-guideway (rail or bus) transit systems are likely to grow to 42 by 2030, adding 720 stations to today’s total of 3,349.
- Streetcars are experiencing a revival worldwide with new lines opening in Washington DC, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Bilbao, just to name a few…
- Streetcars were not dismantled due to a lack of ridership, many were dismantled by GM to push for the expansion of roads and highways…
Like I stated at the beginning, I may suffer from viewing things in an idealized fashion but the facts to support streetcars in Miami abound. I realize it will take a large amount of municipal responsibility and government oversight (something we have been known to skimp on in the past) to fully realize the maximum potential this project has to offer the city and constituents. The current arguments against the streetcar are weak, to place it as mildly as possible. Hurricane concerns can be overcome, development can (and should) be better controlled, and construction costs should not run amuck with city’s treasury. The time has come for the city to take transportation initiatives into its own hands to better provide for the upcoming growth we will continue to experience. Thank you for your time, I hope we can continue to discuss this topic further. I have many more reasons why you should support the streetcar including environmental concerns, job opportunities, and tourism…
Let me know if I may share this discourse with the readers of TransitMiami.com…
Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal
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