TransitMiami can’t help but give a great neighborhood bar, The DRB, some unsolicited praise for its ingenious selection of an otherwise neglected downtown office building for its new location.
The building in question — situated on NE 5th Street and 1st Ave. — is surrounded almost exclusively by institutional land-uses (occupied by, e.g., federal courthouses, a community college, a church, etc.) and lots of shamefully vacant and/or completely undeveloped, prime-for-mixed-use-development downtown parcels.
When New Urbanists and other community design-oriented folks refer to the evils of homogeneous land-use configurations, the image most typically invoked is that of miles upon miles of single-family residential land-use. Indeed, monolithic residential land-use embodies the notion of ‘urban sprawl’.
Elected officials, planners, and developers must also recognize, though, that large areas of homogeneous institutional land-use in the downtown core is at least as toxic (if not more so) for our city as sprawling single-family cookie-cutter houses along the periphery.
We need more transit-oriented development (TOD) in Miami’s de facto government-institution district. That area already has a great combination of Metrorail, Metromover, and Metrobus access. We must augment this healthy transportation configuration with a healthier land-use configuration.
And we must certainly continue to push our elected officials to expand the public transit network. However, we must also push them to better incentivize more commercial in-fill near the highly viable sections of public transit we already have, especially in downtown. It’s the hustle and bustle of downtown that build’s a city’s personality.
Kudos to you, Democratic Republic of Beer, for selecting a site so wonderfully accessible by transit, foot, and bicycle. Now all those bureaucrats and college students have a nice neighborhood spot in which to enjoy one of your exotic specialty brews from one of the corners of the globe.
(This author recommends the Sri Lankan Lion Stout.)
As reported earlier this month by our friends over at Curbed Miami, the long-anticipated, long-stalled Brickell Flatiron Park has finally materialized.
Curbed Miami has extensive coverage of the park, with multiple images provided by Transit Miami’s own Craig Chester.
Here are a few more shots of the newly materialized public space. This section of Brickell now has a nice little wedge of accessible park space from which to peacefully gaze and reflect upon the dynamic urban morphology surrounding it.
With the incipient rise of Brickell CitiCenter just to the north of Mary Brickell Village, this northwest section of the Brickell neighborhood is truly becoming the new hallmark of Miami urbanism.
Now all that’s left is making sure Brickellite yuppies — for so long bereft of such an open public space to call their own — know what to do with their new neighborhood amenity.
Transit Miami’s advice: just sit back and enjoy the growing spectacle your city has to offer.
This piece originally appeared in the December issue of the Biscayne Times.
Think Big. It’s a mantra preached by entrepreneurs, politicians, business people, motivational speakers, and coaches. But is that motto really the key to releasing the potential of downtown Miami?
The “think big” catchphrase has played out quite extravagantly before our eyes in Miami over the past 15 years or so. Grandiose projects like the Adrienne Arsht Center, American Airlines Arena, Marlins Park, and mega-condos galore come to mind. The Miami Art Museum and Miami Science Museum are both under construction, and a downtown resort casino could be on the horizon. These projects represent tremendous investments geared toward turning downtown Miami into a cultural and entertainment hub on a par with those of other leading world cities.
When measured individually, the new cultural and entertainment destinations can boast varying degrees of success. But big, expensive projects are not a foolproof formula for urban revitalization. The vitality of a city isn’t measured by the annual revenue or number of visitors to a particular attraction. A city’s dynamism is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s often the smaller, finer grains of the urban experience that enhance the quality of a place and foster affection toward it.
There are a series of questions we should be asking about life in downtown Miami that are emphatically about the small and simple things: Are the sidewalks clean and inviting, or are they caked with old chewing gum and poorly lit? Are there public maps to guide people around? Is the transit system easily navigable? Are there attractive public spaces with places to congregate? Is bicycle parking readily available? Are there places for children? Pets? Adequate crosswalks and crossing times? Does walking feel safe and inviting?
If the answer to some of these questions is no, the solutions are usually simple, relatively inexpensive, and can offer a high return on investment. Their importance must not be dismissed, though it sometimes feels like these basic livability issues are hardly being addressed.
I spend a lot of time downtown and often imagine myself in the shoes of a first-time visitor. What is their experience like? One place new visitors frequently wind up is the Metromover, Miami’s elevated transit system. For a free service with a seemingly simple route network (three “loops,” as they are called), the Metromover can be fraught with potential misadventures. While the maps on the station platforms identify the three loops using distinct colors (blue, pink, and orange), the maps onboard the actual cars inexplicably abandon those colors, instead using three different shades of bluish-gray to demarcate the same exact routes. Confused yet?
As the train approaches, you need to make sure you’re boarding the right loop. A digital display on the platform is supposed to tell you this information, but when the screens are frequently unintelligible or not operational, this poses a real problem. A recurring sight is a confused rider sticking his or her head inside a momentarily stopped train to ask other riders which loop the train is on. The typical reaction is a lot of shoulder shrugging.
If you are fortunate enough to arrive at your destination without boarding the wrong train, many of the stations lack crosswalks at their exit points to the street. Roaring traffic is hardly an inviting welcome in an unfamiliar place.
Even as a self-identified transit buff, I find navigating the Metromover system maddeningly frustrating. Why must it be so difficult? The negative impression this experience has on visitors must not be underestimated.
Presently, popular destinations like the Arsht Center and American Airlines Arena sit on islands lacking any integration with their surroundings. Are people leaving the Arsht Center or the arena likely to visit the restaurants or shops downtown? Will they walk there? The answer is probably not, if the walking conditions are as uninviting as they currently are.
In 2009, Miami’s Downtown Development Authority drafted a master plan for downtown titled, “The Epicenter of the Americas.” It outlines a number of projects intended to “enhance our position as a business and cultural epicenter.” To the DDA’s credit, the plan addresses many of the smaller details that would elevate the downtown experience: improved pedestrian conditions, public art installations, more ways to get around (like trolleys and pedicabs), and enriched public spaces, among others. While the plan is well intentioned, progress has not exactly been transpiring at warp speed.
That is where ordinary citizens like Scott Douglass have stepped in. Douglass is a Miami resident and founder of the Miami Improvement Alliance, a group of Miamians eager to speed up the revitalization of downtown by executing low-cost but impactful projects on their own. Their mission statement is powerful: “We will be the manifestation of positive force downtown. Using both sanctioned and unsanctioned tactics, we will work to improve the safety, beauty, and prosperity of Miami’s core districts. The city must endure and thrive if it is to have a future; we are the agents of that success. Where bureaucracy fails, we will prevail.”
The group’s first project was the creation of “urban wayfinding signs” to encourage visitors to the recent Red Bull Flugtag event at Bayfront Park to venture across Biscayne Boulevard and explore what downtown Miami has to offer. While unsanctioned by any local authorities, the initiative had the blessing of many local business owners. The 11 wayfinding signs featured simple walking directions to things like public transportation stops, ATMs, cultural destinations, local businesses, and also featured a Twitter hashtag (#WalkMIA) so people could interact with the project.
“People tend to overestimate the amount of time it takes to walk somewhere,” says Douglass. “These signs showed people just how close things actually are.”
These types of interventions — quick, cheap, often temporary projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable — have a new name: tactical urbanism. Guerrilla gardening, converting parking lots into temporary parks, pop-up retail shopping, weed bombing (painting brightly colored “weeds” on forlorn lots) are all examples of tactical urbanism projects that ordinary citizens have recently executed in Miami.
While it’s easy to be seduced by the flashy mega-projects, they are not a cure-all for absent urban vitality. To truly unlock the potential of downtown Miami, collectively we need to take a closer look at the human-scale experience — how we interact with downtown on a daily, street-level basis — and perhaps follow the lead of Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who declared, “We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and planted trees. All our efforts have one objective: happiness.”
I happened to be looking at the transit reports the other day and I noticed that the Metromover had its best month ever this past March (2011). I might be wrong, but I went pretty far back and found no other month above the 848,970 recorded this past March.
The Metrorail as well had one of its best months ever at 1,673,175.
You can find the reports at: http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/news_technical_reports.asp
Last night my wife and I took the Metromover from the 10th Street Station in Brickell to the Omni Station to check out Mama Mia at the Adrienne Arshet Center. As is usually the case when we ride the Metromover, we had to help several people make sense of the Metromover.
Transit needs to be user-friendly in order for it to work well. Unfortunately we make it difficult on ourselves when we can’t keep the Metromover maps consistent. The maps at Metromover stations are clearly marked with 3 distinct colors (blue, orange, pink); each color distinguishes the three different routes (Omni, Brickell, and Inner loop).
However, once you enter the Metromover car the colors of the map change completely. The easily distinguishable blue, orange, and pink routes become less discernible shades of grayish/blue. I can’t think of a good reason why we have two different maps; we need to have one easily understood map, not two.
One of our readers, TM Reader, suggested identifying each of the Metromover cars more clearly too. I’d like to take this good idea a step further. The Metromover cars should be painted blue, orange, or pink to reflect the color of each route. This would make transit easy to use.
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?
Announcing DawnTown 2009: Metromover! DawnTown is the annual international architecture competition for Downtown Miami. This year’s topic is a new station for Downtown Miami’s elevated public transportation system, Metromover. Full contest details are at www.dawntown.org.
- Terry Riley, Director of the Miami Art Museum
- Gillian Thomas, President of the Miami Science Museum
- Mera Rubell of the Rubell Family Collection
- Dennis Scholl, Miami program Director of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
- Harpal Kapoor, Director of Miami-Dade Transit
Prize are $8000, $4000, and $2000. The award ceremony will take place on Friday, December 4, at Marquis, the luxury condo and hotel tower across the street from the competition site.
For more information and to download competition materials, please go to www.dawntown.org
DawnTown 2009: Metromover is sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Miami Downtown Development Authority, Marquis, and Akerman Senterfitt. The competition is produced in partnership with the University of Miami, Florida International University, and Miami-Dade College schools of architecture, Design & Architecture Senior High, the Miami Art Museum, and the City of Miami.
The outer loop of the downtown Metromover stopped dead in its tracks early this morning, according to this article. Apparently, the service halt is due to a problematic switch.
Let’s hope MDT engineers can twist the right lug nut, or what have you, and fix it.
Miami worships parking. Indeed, we can’t seem to build an urban building without smothering it with suburban parking requirements. Usually this comes in the form of parking as base or parking as appendage. The garage under construction above — an appendage if I have ever seen one — is located at Northwest Third Street, directly across the street from the new US Federal Courthouse. Currently at 10 stories, this latest garage is ostensibly being built to serve the needs of Courthouse employees and visitors. There are three glaring problems with this development.
1) The Courthouse was finished long in advance of the garage, which believe it or not means that employees and visitors are miraculously finding parking, despite the non-existence of this new garage. What, with the acres of surface parking lots, street parking, and other garages in the immediate vicinity, how could they not?
2) One block to the southwest of this new garage is Government Center, where Metrorail, Metromover, and Metrobus all converge. If there was just one location in downtown Miami able to reduce its parking requirements, this would be it.
3) The garage is being built with ramped floors, meaning that conversion to another use, say office building or residential with retail on the ground floor, will remain nearly impossible. A better parking garage would have flat floors and floor to ceiling heights that allow for the conversion to a higher and better land use, as dictated by the market.
By requiring and building so much parking, Miami will continue to develop an auto-oriented downtown, make development more expensive than it has to be, and keep the transit that we have from reaching its potential. Sure, some parking is needed when building high intensity downtown uses, but implementing a more creative shared parking approach, along with reducing overall parking requirements, especially when in proximity to transit –as proposed in Miami 21–would make a far more efficient, transit-oriented, and walkable downtown. Until we do that, Miamians should expect that their downtown will never reach its full potential.
According to this recent press release, the Miami City Commission has approved the Miami World Center, an ambitious nine block, 25-acre redevelopment project slated for the Park West neighborhood, just north of Downtown. The glitzy pictures streaming on the project’s website promise a very sleek, but pedestrian-oriented district that, if nothing else, will transform this part of the city.
I am quite familiar with this area as I bicycle through it on my way to work, and again on the way home. At present, the underutilized surface parking lots and vacant buildings only seem to add to the area’s blighted image. And given that the project is being built using the principles of Miami 21, it seems that its mixture of uses, pedestrian orientation, and public spaces will become a living example of how large scale development should be undertaken. That being said, the architecture looks like more of the same, but I guess in that way it is in keeping with Miami’s current aesthetic.
Adjacent to the Metromover, and within walking distance of the Metrorail the project’s transit friendliness is evident and will give residents and visitors opportunities to move without driving.
I don’t know how liquid the development team is at this point, but given current market conditions, they will have to overcome much to get this mega-project built and occupied with residents, tenants and businesses.
If you are like some of us here at TM, then you have probably had your eye on a couple of very strategic vacant parcels in downtown Miami. Located between Southwest 8th Street and Southwest 7th Street, and bisected by South Miami Avenue, the two sites have sat fallow while high-rise condominiums sprouted like mushrooms. According to a recent Miami Today article the land was previously owned by Brickell CitiCentre, LLC (cute spelling, huh?), a developer with plans to build $2.2 billion worth of high-rise buildings, including the tallest building in downtown Miami. The sharp market downtown nixed those plans quickly, causing the BCC to sell the land to an undisclosed party, who paid an undisclosed price and who has undisclosed plans. So what will they think of next?!
The two parcels, comprising 5.65 acres, are outlined in orange.
Parcel 2, looking northeast
While high-rise, mixed-use development is surely warranted in downtown Miami, TM would like to disclose an alternate plan recommendation. Keep in mind we do not know what the new developer has planned, but we doubt it is a well-designed, well-programmed, well-framed usable urban square on at least one of the sites. Such a square could be simple in its layout, but flexible in its use–a farmer’s market, civic events, concerts, play structures, dog park and a nice water feature to help us all cool off. Such a program would be a nice place to start and invite people of all types to linger with family, eat lunch with colleagues, make-out with a loved one, skateboard with angsty friends, beg rich people for money and the myriad of other things people do in an almost messy, but truly successful public space.
Such a square would be well-connected to the existing bus lines and MetroMover, providing easy access to those living outside of downtown. It would also provide a much needed open space destination in the heart of our downtown, an area that has become increasingly privatized by individual condominium developers who provide all amenities internally. Such vertical cul-de-sacs surely allow great luxury for residents, but impoverish the public realm. A real shame, if you ask me. Miami deserves better. All great cities have a great park and a great civic square.
Whatever the next developer proposes, the City should consider the possibility of a public/private partnership. Such a deal could allow increased development capacity on the buildable site, a tax-break or other public incentives in exchange for one of the sites being turned over to the City for the development of civic space, like a square.
This would not only add tremendous value to those already existing nearby condos, but directly enrich the adjacent development parcel. If you have seen real estate prices next to other such sites in cities like Chicago, San Francisco or New York City, then you know the captured value is well-worth the land concession.
Unfortunately, with so much money exchanging hands, this is very unlikely to happen. I imagine the City of Miami could have at one point bought this land, reserving some for development and some for civic space. But they didn’t. And we understand we may be Johnny-come lately here, but later this week Gabriel will show us some good examples from other cities.
If you know of other great sites in the Miami for a square of similar type of public space, let’s hear about them!
A lot happened this week behind the scenes and between the lines. Here is a review:
Kudos to this editorial today from El Nuevo Herald columnist Daniel Shoer Roth. I think he did an excellent job in highlighting how mismanaged our transit system is. Accountability goes out the window when ten different departments and municipalities are ‘responsible’ for certain aspects of mass transit. I’m always talking about how our system is ‘mismanaged’ but that really isn’t the case at all. It’s a question of priorities, and transit has not historically been one of them.
Our planning priorities were on full display this past weekend in an insert produced by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that the Herald included in its Sunday edition. The insert describes work done to date and future projects. If you are not familiar with the MPO, it is a County run organization that is charged with coordinating the various transportation projects around Miami-Dade, as required by Federal Department of Transportation rules. Their mandate is described on their website is:
“…to have a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive transportation planning process that results in plans and programs that consider all transportation modes and support metropolitan community development and social goals. These plans and programs shall lead to the development and operation of an integrated, intermodal transportation system that facilitates the efficient, economic movement of people and goods.” (emphasis added)
Many worthy goals, but unfortunately their focus is more on expressway and road building projects than on balancing roads with mass transit. My favorite part of the insert is titled “Miami-Dade: Urban Travel Trends” which utilizes graphs, bright colors, and a lot of traffic engineer lingo (vehicle miles traveled, peak period speeds, etc), with only a brief mention of transit under a graph called ‘Transit Mode Share’. The text accompanying the graph states, “the countywide transit mode share in 2005 was approximately 2.5%” It goes on to say that share will grow, “albeit modestly.” Ok. I find it disillusioning that the organization supposedly responsible for coordinating our transit system is not very optimistic about the future growth of MDT.
Truth be told, after this week’s political farce concerning tranist fares and another half cent tax, I might tend to agree with the MPO. Our future transit does not look so good because the people responsible are alseep at the wheel. Commisioners Bruno and Barbs: wake up!! You have have been reaching in the dark these past few weeks trying to placate your constituents. I know this issue gets heated and personal. Let me be clear: this is not a personal attack. It makes it difficult for those of us who are transit advocates and who supported the first tax increase to justify anything you ask for now because of how the money has been squandered. Surely you can understand that. Next week I am going to work on a series of posts on how the People’s Transportation Tax has been spent to bring to light how that opportunity has been, and continues to be, botched.
If you really care about transit, and Commissioner Jordan I think you care about getting the Orange Line built, here are a few recommendations that can serve as confidence building measures that might make any fare or tax increase palatable:
- Make the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust the sole entity responsible for deciding what happens to that money. Give it back its teeth, and allow it to do its job.
- Charge veterans and the elderly. We can’t give away transit that doesn’t exist yet. Until MDT gets its house in order, they should be charged, albeit at a reduced rate that should be revisited when MDT’s finances get better. MDT needs income, and the Trust shouldn’t be responsible for giving it an allowance every month.
- Charge for the Metromover. Same reasons as above.
- Have MDT work with the Trust. Recent reports from Miami Today describe how the Trust is having a tough time getting cooperation from MDT with regard to budget issues. How is the Trust supposed to operate if it doesn’t know how much the system costs to maintain?? This is silly.
Note to Mayor Carlos Alvarez: the strong mayor powers you wanted came with responsibilities, ie. get MDT organized. How can they run the business of Miami-Dade Transit without a budget. Helloo?? Not to put all the blame on you though, as you’ve only really been in charge for a short while.
- Tie the 20% Municipal Transportation Plan funding to transit specifically, not transportation which has become synonymous with roads and expressways. A majority of payments to municipalities have been spent on roads, resurfacing, and other road related infrastructure. The PTP was marketed primarily as a transit plan. Spend money on rail, buses, and the infrastructure related to these much needed systems. Our roads are in fine shape. That way projects like the Coral Gables Trolley continue to get funding, while other money is free to be spent on, oh, I don’t know, maybe a few bus shelters (around International Mall maybe)?
- Increase fares to be consistent with our how efficient our system is. Don’t over do it. We want to pay for our transit, but we want to get something in return.
You need to rebuild our confidence in your ability to provide us with a functional and growing transit system. Very soon public perception of transit in this community is going to turn from being a nonessential ‘social good’ to an indispensable and basic part of the infrastructure of the city. When that happens, when people start to feel like they have no choice but to get in their cars at $8.00 a gallon, watch out Commissioners and company. The mob will be ruthless, and the storming of the Bastille will seem like a trip to Disneyworld in comparison to your worth in the public eye.
The County Commission decided to delay its vote Tuesday on the proposed transit hikes. I commend Carlos Jimenez and others for seeing that the issue had to be reconsidered. As Gabe mentioned earlier in the week, the monthly pass really needs to be consistent with the size/reach of our transit system (not higher than NYC). Not to mention that the last thing you want to do when ridership is up is to increase fares, but the fact is that the system needs to be funded. Unfortunately I think that this discussion is just the latest in a series of bad management and planning decisions that keep our holding our transit back.
It has been a tumultuous time for Miami-Dade transit recently. The result of poor vision, bad management, and professional incompitance, the transit system is currently on life support. (This all with record high transit ridership on Tri-Rail reported today!).
The recent allocation of PTP tax dollars for the refurbishment of existing cars (and purchase of new ones) is indicative of the state of our transit. If the Trust hadn’t stepped in and bailed out MDT there would not have been anywhere to get the money from. In other words once the metro cars reached their lifespan they would have been tossed and we would have a really expensive piece of civic art. By not rehab-ing the cars some time back (as Baltimore did with its metro cars) the Commission basically put itself in a position where they had to buy new cars or close up shop. Not to mention the message it sends to Washington: that we aren’t serious about competing for transit dollars. As if the Orange Line didn’t have enough funding problems, this just adds to how disorganized the MDT is. When the feds look at our existing system and see that it is mismanaged, what incentive do they have to give us money when there are plenty of other cities out there that are serious about mass transit.
The Orange Line debacle is yet another indication of how flawed our system is. We are eligible for lots of free money to help build this line, and we are at risk of losing it because we don’t know if we can maintain the line for the next 30 years? Really?? Lets not even mention that the Feds are already miffed that we are going to downgrade our Tri-Rail service after giving us nearly half a billion dollars for track upgrades.
Whew. Where does that leave us with oil closing in on $150/barrel (and soon thereafter $200, and $250. and $300…)? We need our transit system more than ever. We need a successful transit system now, not under the 50 year plan, but the five year plan.
Truth is if our planners and elected officials were as serious about transit as they were about highway and road building we would already have a really great transit system. I think it would be a surprise to many here in our car-centered culture that plenty of other post-war suburban cities have developed amazing transit systems over the past fifteen years.
Incidentally, I had lunch with a buddy of mine named Dave who happily takes the bus everyday from his house in Kendall to work in Coral Gables. He tried to explain to me why transit works for him but not for his dad (who won’t take the bus to save his life). “Its really easy for me. It’s mostly a straight shot with one transfer. But my dad works five minutes away from his house. It’s easier for him to just get in the car and go. Transit can’t take us everywhere.” Now Dave is my friend so I didn’t reach over the table and smack him around, but that’s exactly the attitude that pervades our culture and is bred from policy decisions made at the top.
Our elected officials need to understand:
We NEED transit alternatives to the car.
We DESERVE multiple forms of transit that are safe, frequent, and far reaching without having to get into the car.
We need transit NOW.
This is the first of our new Guest articles section on Transit Miami…
London’s Docklands Light Rail System
Riding a transit system does more than give you a feel for the city you’re in; If you’re a transit buff, you also notice things about the system itself, and compare it to other systems you’ve ridden in other cities, and, naturally, to the one in your hometown. Sometimes, one even gets to compare 2 very different modes of Transit operating in tandem.
Miami’s Metrorail and metro mover systems provide such an opportunity for Transit buffs, but London’s Underground and the Docklands light rail system provide another, more intense comparison, for while Miami’s transit systems are arguably under-utilized, London’s are anything but.
London’s Underground and DLR also represent perhaps the 2 most innovative transit systems in the world, operating with great connectivity with one another, Yet it’s important to note the distinctions between the two systems, because they so closely reflect the different environments in which they operate, and it’s a reminder of why it’s a good thing to see such systems in action, rather than simply read specifications and surf the web looking at pictures and route maps.
The London Underground, a workhorse (mostly) underground heavy rail rapid transit system, is built for speed and moving massive amounts of people across a sprawling, densely populated metropolitan area. When the underground was built in the 1870′s, it was the world’s first urban rapid transit system, and London was already the world’s largest and most densely populated city. Then as today, investment in public infrastructure tended to lag behind population growth.
The Docklands Light Rail, or DLR as it is referred to, was a major investment conceived in the 1980′s to help stimulate the re-development of the Docklands region, the centerpiece of which was, and is the Canary Wharf financial district, which has grown to one of Europe’s finest and most modern business districts. The DLR provides a direct link to Central London from The Docklands region, which straddles the River Thames, and curves southeast of City of London, the oldest and most historic part of Central London.
The Docklands is a world away from the fashionable west end and stately neighborhoods and parks of Victorian London. It’s an area of many Riverfront Warehouses and factories, relics of England’s industrial age. It’s also an area which bore the brunt of the Blitz in World War II, and deteriorated for many years after as factories closed, and trade via the Thames dwindled. As Canary Wharf has grown into a shining, modern business district, the docklands area has seen many old riverfront factories and warehouses adaptively re-used for residential and commercial uses, and that process is far from finished.
Commuting on the DLR
As a veteran subway rider, I was already very familiar with the London Underground, it being the first subway I ever rode, and have ridden it extensively on a half dozen trips to London over the years. Last September I spent 6 days near Canary Wharf, and got to see and ride the Docklands LRT for the first time, commuting to Central London and connecting to the Underground on several occasions, and also to Canary Wharf from my hotel near the Excel Convention center.
In riding the system I marveled at it’s high ridership, which averages 200,000 commuters per day, impressive numbers for a light rail system by US standards, yet a small percentage of the overall ridership for Greater London. Even so, contrasting the Docklands area to other areas of densely populated central London, the DLR is very well suited for it’s lighter, but no less important share of London’s Transit load. To put it’s scale in perspective, the system length totals only 31 KM, with 38 stations, 8 of which transfer to Underground stations, 2 of which are northern terminus stations at Bank and Tower Gate, a short walk to the Tower of London. The system’s growth continues, however, and the Docklands area will be the site of many Olympic venues when the Olympics
come to London in 2012.
The DLR serves a smaller and less-densely populated area then the Underground, but with more frequent stops, and at necessarily lower speeds. It also utilizes existing freight railway rights of way to a large extent, often operating on at-grade-seperated railbeds, with station walkways straddling the DLR and Freight tracks.
The trains themselves automated 4-car trainsets, with compact 4 car platforms, and completely dedicated rights of way, mostly elevated, some at grade, and small sections of underground, most notably at the northern Tower Gate terminus.
Stations are unattended for the most part, with automated ticketing machines, and a modern, if slightly utilitarian appearance, in contrast to the victorian-era feel and appearance of the average underground station.
In it’s brief 20 year history, the Docklands light rail has grown from a single line into 4 seperate corridors, with additional infill stations added, and 6 additional transfer stations to the underground in addition to the original two, which also reflect the continuing growth of the Underground into southeast London as well.
The evolution of the DLR can be shown to pararell the re-development of the Docklands area, and as such, it provides a model for how a modern transit sytem can evolve and grow as a city grows, and serve as a stimulus for a highly urbanized area’s redevelopment. This lesson has many applications in North America, but the FEC corridor comes immediately to mind when visualizing how a similar system might work in a South Florida setting.
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