Get heavy hitters into the game for ballpark aerial transit
Written by Michael Lewis on October 11, 2016
The game of linking 5,500 Marlins Park parking spots to car-choked downtown’s Government Center via aerial cable is in early innings, too late for 2017’s All-Star Game here but still in time for the 2018 baseball season if the players hustle.
So far, however, every key player in this transit prototype still sits on the bench or outside the ballpark.
The heaviest hitter, Florida East Coast Industries with its now-rising Miami-Central station complex and All Aboard Florida, didn’t figure in the Metropolitan Planning Organization-funded study that just endorsed a hard look at bringing aerial transit to the railroad’s depot. The study team never talked with them and company staff didn’t speak at three public meetings.
Railroad passengers, employees and office tenants would benefit from 5,500 underused ballpark parking spaces just six minutes by aerial gondola from their downtown hub. Moreover, the company could clean up in a public-private partnership to develop the cable system.
All Aboard wasn’t the only no-show. The Miami Marlins, who’d gain as baseball and events patrons arrived by cable and also by reselling parking at other times in city-owned garages at hefty profits, didn’t talk with consultants or attend meetings, either.
Nor, it seems, did the Miami Parking Authority, which owns the parking and gets $10-plus off the top for every space. Imagine leasing 5,500 spaces every weekday to downtown workers who’d glide the last mile to jobs via aerial cable instead of fighting clogged city streets by car.
The other missing key player was County Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., a sparkplug for creative transit who actually requested that the Metropolitan Planning Organization fund the study.
Also not evident in these first few plays of a nine-inning bid to add an aerial mode that could someday feed passengers into light rail hubs were financial partners to spearhead development.
It’s so early in the game, the study team says, that nobody at the planning organization has even spoken to them about the study. Certainly, the planning organization has yet to act.
Michael Acierno of Pompano Beach, a financial consultant on the study who’s been at aerial transit so long that in 2002 he helped promote the never-built Miami Glide cable system to connect Watson Island to what is now Museum Park, knows how slowly government can move on transit.
So does his Denver partner in the current study, Roger Gardner of Eco-Transit Technologies, who with Mr. Acierno in 2004 studied for the Metropolitan Planning Organization an aerial cable system in Coconut Grove up 27th Avenue to Metrorail, though in that case they found it wouldn’t be viable.
Now, as aerial transit springs up in multiple places, Mr. Acierno calls a ballpark link “a bit more tangible.”
The Metropolitan Planning organization is at bat. It’s their study. They can shelve it in a dark corner or do something about it.
But all of the organization’s study money today is going to light rail, Mr. Gardner was told. The organization is scrambling to study six light rail corridors that it promised to work on simultaneously without a shred of funding assured for any of them.
That big promise assuredly will not be kept, but board members felt it was vital to help every county commissioner – all also board members – tell constituents that they would not be left behind. In reality, however, someone has to go first. And someone will.
Meanwhile, a relatively low-cost $40 million transportation system that could relieve downtown traffic almost immediately by up to 5,500 cars a day and could find a ready private partner to get it flowing shouldn’t be left to gather dust. It could be fast-tracked in 12 to 18 months with no impediments but the public-private deal to let it fly. Light rail takes far longer.
Mr. Bovo, the loudest proponent of getting something done quickly, is a logical player to get out ahead on this study that he requested.
A vital ridership look and public-private funding structure, Mr. Gardner said, would cost $125,000 to $250,000 to yield “ballpark numbers, pun intended,” on a route to Marlins Park.
That study could also revisit soccer next door. While the David Beckham team ruled out the site beside Marlins Park with the baseball team controlling all the parking, aerial transit at 4,000 fans per hour gliding each way might tip the balance.
Aerial cable transit systems were new when Mr. Acierno was planning a line from Watson Island to mainland parkland. “Now they’re popping up,” he says.
The most recent was last week in the Mexico City area when Ecatapec de Morelos opened a 2.9-mile system expected to carry 26,000 passengers a day in places where it’s hard to put ground-level mass transit.
Such systems can handle big numbers. La Paz carries more than 40 million a year, Mr. Gardner says, and Medellin 25-plus million.
With all the aerial transit rising globally, Mr. Gardner still sees Miami as one of the top 10 places for a system to win because of “traffic congestion and the inability to do large civil structures like Metrorail anymore. That’s just a long putt [because of] limited right-of way.”
The aerial system to the ballpark, he notes, would need only a small footprint on the ground – 20-square-foot pads spaced 400 to 500 feet apart and just two stations on government-owned sites. Mr. Acierno calls it “minimally invasive.”
As light rail plans are made and funding sought, there’s excellent reason to move forward simultaneously on aerial cable to relieve downtown congestion, add transit to and from Little Havana and create a prototype for potential aerial links from the ends of those light rail lines to harder-to-reach passengers who will eventually have to fill those rail cars.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization is at bat. And a ballpark parking link is a fat pitch to hit.