Transit planners on right track to halt streetcar express
Written by Michael Lewis on November 5, 2014
Miami-Dade transportation planners were right on track when they sidetracked support for a streetcar system.
It was the right track whether or not streetcars would really aid mobility, or whether a streetcar line running only north of the Miami River is wise, or whether it’s a good use of money.
It was the right track precisely because, as the Metropolitan Planning Organization decided last month, we’ve already got too many pieces of a transit jigsaw puzzle that don’t interlock into a unified whole.
As Miami Beach calls for a rail line from Miami and the City of Miami calls for a streetcar from the Design District to downtown, we’re way behind in finding ways to link transit we already have into the new modes we’re planning.
What if, for example, we devised new transit that not only had stations to interchange passengers with current lines but also was a mode that could actually hook into that existing transportation, so that a carload of passengers could roll down the tracks of one system onto the tracks of another?
That interlinking would create a true system rather than a patchwork of formats that might touch one another but would never be a part of each other because their structures are incompatible.
It’s probably true that we’ll never link everything we already have – different modes, from heavier to lighter rail to buses to rubber-tire trolleys.
But it shouldn’t be impossible to make everything that we add now link to something else.
If we added streetcars on tracks and a downtown-to-Miami Beach rail line of a different track format when we already have Metromover on a guideway and Metrorail on tracks and trolleys and buses on streets, we’d be enlarging the mix but not a system.
And a true system is what Miami-Dade needs most. If that is what the Metropolitan Planning Organization has called time out to explore, bravo. None of us is yet sure of the best answer, but we need the experts to at least try to find it.
We need a master plan to put all of our transit into a framework, but the framework should be a system, not another crazy quilt expansion that fills a vacant segment of mobility with yet another format that still stands essentially alone.
Ideally, one form of ride should go everywhere and link everyone – which is what we already get with cars on our streets, roads and highways. But that grid is nearly maxed out, with no hope of expansion. It’s the mass transit grid that we must now flesh out.
As the Metropolitan Planning Organization takes seriously its role of not only planning but prioritizing and interlocking our new mobility network, it must weighs other concerns – beyond, of course, the inevitable hunt for funding.
First, even if we add transit to get us where we want to go, we must be able to easily learn where those points are and how to get there.
A former Miamian now in London noted last week that while she took mass transit here rather than own a car and is intimately familiar with our buses, she has never figured out where the City of Miami’s on-street trolleys go. If a savvy commuter doesn’t know, how do we expect casual riders or tourists to climb aboard?
Second, riders might require mass transit at any hour. If you might work late and your train doesn’t run then, you’ll stay in your car. You don’t want to gamble on missing the last train.
Third, transit must be reliable. After 5:30 p.m. last Friday the county announced to the press that the Metromover was closing at 9 that night for repairs and that the Brickell and Omni sections would also close at 9 Saturday and Sunday. That notice was too late to plan for on Halloween, and in any event how would users know Metromover was closed until they arrived to ride it? Users don’t want a gamble, they want a ride.
A single integrated system is best. But if we’re going to patch it together, all the pieces have to run reliably all the time. We don’t need much transit past midnight, but we do need some service.
Agreed, we do need to move fast – very fast – to build transit. But just as Metromover stopped for repairs, the Metropolitan Planning Organization has halted to actually plan before it decides.
That plan shouldn’t focus on whether it’s Miami or Miami Beach that will get the next big hunk of rail transit, but instead on how to tie it all together.
Like waiting for a train, it can’t come too soon.