Miami yearns for streetcar’s return
Written by John Charles Robbins on September 17, 2014
Streetcars for downtown Miami are again gaining traction with commissioners.
Marc Sarnoff resurrected the idea at the Sept. 11 commission meeting and won support from Francis Suarez, who vowed to lobby for streetcars in the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).
The idea for a streetcar system in the heart of downtown first surfaced in 2006 and gained support, but when the economy tanked it was the end of the line.
Mr. Sarnoff led off his push for streetcars by lamenting the nightmare of driving in Miami.
Traffic congestion is as bad as it’s ever been and not getting better, he said.
Mr. Suarez is the city’s representative on the MPO, which does area transportation planning. Mr. Sarnoff said the streetcar project remains in the MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan – but just barely.
The streetcar is listed as a Priority Six unfunded project, which Mr. Sarnoff said means it’s “more than 20 years away.”
With the record growth downtown, he said, the city can’t afford to wait.
“With the construction currently under way, we’ll have an additional 85,000 residents by 2016,” Mr. Sarnoff said. “This represents an increase of 16% from 2011… [and] an overall 100% increase from the year 2000. Downtown daytime population is over 200,000 with [an] influx of employees and people attending events. If the streetcar was deemed worthy of a significant conversation in 2006, we certainly need it in the near future given this population growth.”
The city, Mr. Sarnoff said, needs the MPO to make the streetcar a top priority – as it once was – to demonstrate to the Florida Department of Transportation that the streetcar is a local funding priority.
“In 2006, the MPO made it a Priority One project in the Long Range Transportation Plan, to be built in the first five years, and agreed to fund half the project,” he said. The state’s commitment was for $100 million, but the downturn in 2008 doomed the project as the state was forced to cut the funding, Mr. Sarnoff said.
The free rubber-wheeled trolleys are helping ease congestion, but they’re not enough, he said. “Unless we do something transit-related, more cars will be coming to downtown, and there won’t be any additional lanes or capacity to receive them.”
Mr. Sarnoff also cited passenger rail customers expected in downtown via the planned All Aboard Florida line, saying the city needs to improve transit so those people can get to their final destinations without renting cars.
Mr. Sarnoff asked Mr. Suarez to champion streetcars with the MPO, and he asked the city staff to consider what the streetcar alignment would look like today based on developments in the pipeline and future developments.
Mr. Suarez spoke of a great need to act now to improve mass transit for the next generation.
“Mass transit is a quagmire in our city, and we owe it to that generation, or even to maybe my children’s children, to get the ball rolling in solving that quagmire.” He said it’s one vital goal to reach to becoming a great city.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re doing right now that are going to help us get there, including Miami Worldcenter, but one of the main components that I don’t know that we dedicate enough time to is mass transit,” Mr. Suarez said. “If we don’t do something now, it will not happen – that’s a guarantee.”
Chairman Wifredo “Willy” Gort agreed, stating: “We certainly need that.”
The 2006 proposal called for a streetcar system between Government Center downtown to the Design District and the Civic Center.
Two routes were planned on existing roadways. A 6.75-mile north-south loop between First Street and Northeast 41st Street would have run primarily via Northeast Second Avenue, with some north-south segments along First and Second avenues.
A second route of 2.89 miles consisted of an east-west loop to the Civic Center area – also known as a health district – via 20th and 17th streets.
The streetcar was planned as a local area circulator that could hold up to 130 people, 100 standing and 30 seated, and run an average 5 to 10 miles an hour with a top speed of 30 to 35, propelled by electrical motors powered from wires strung about 20 feet overhead.