Miami Beach considers streetcar proposal as alternative to BayLink
By Tanja Edwards
Miami Beach commissioners are considering a proposed streetcar system on South Beach.
Consultant HDR Inc. proposed the system during a hearing last week as a Miami Beach-to-Miami connector that is an alternative to the $48 million BayLink system proposed earlier by Miami-Dade County's Metropolitan Planning Organization.
A streetcar system, as proposed by HDR, would cost $24 million and have rails embedded in the roadway with cars that would flow with traffic. The electric cars would draw power from an overhead catenary, similar to what in San Francisco. Landscaping could serve as a canopy to partially obscure wires and cables, said Charles Hales of HDR.
Reaction to the proposal among commissioners and residents was mixed.
Supporters pointed out that power would be shut off if winds exceed 60 mph and the system would be designed to withstand winds of 120 mph - the speed of all but the strongest hurricanes. They said an electric rail system would cut down on exhaust and pollution.
Resident Marilyn Kramer argued that noise pollution would not be a problem like it is in San Francisco.
"Those have been there a long time. The ones we have been getting are new. We'd love for this to be our own village, but we're part of the world. We're in the 21st century."
Another resident, Blanche Weiss, said rails "have no place in our sweet little city. She said bus routes can be moved as needed while rail lines are fixed.
Mayor David Dermer said studies have shown that only about 8,000 riders would use a new transportation system, which could cost up to $40 million and would be financed with federal money and Miami Dade County's half-cent sales surtax.
Mr. Hales said more riders would use the system. Other cities that have built streetcar systems - such as Portland, OR, and Dallas - drew significantly higher numbers of riders than projected, he said.
Mayor Dermer said he doubted that the cost would be justified even if the system drew 16,000 riders.
Mr. Hales said a new transportation system would have to be a fixed-route system to be eligible for federal funds.
After the meeting, Mayor Dermer said he expects HDR to talk further with residents to answer questions about the proposal, which is scheduled for a commission vote Sept. 8.
"We wanted more time to digest this," the mayor said, "and make comment on it."