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Front Page » Communities » Miami yearns for streetcar’s return

Miami yearns for streetcar’s return

Written by 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.

10 Responses to Miami yearns for streetcar’s return

  1. SEFTA

    September 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    I have long been advocating a street car/light-rail system in the area for years. I’m hoping this takes hold. It should be noted that the much hyped “Miami World Center” says “The Developer is not required to dedicate additional land from within the MWC District to the city for the construction of the streetcar route.”

  2. Snowball

    September 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Re: “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.”

    I’m concerned with a “fixed” circulator system. In Chicago, when I was young, the city had “street cars” on tracks powered by overhead electrical. They were torn down in favor of busses. That seems prudent. What if traffic and shopping patterns change? What is the repair cost in the event of a hurricane. (Busses can be sheltered).

  3. B

    September 17, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Thank you for your leadership on this, Mr. Sarnoff. However, may I suggest a better approach than introducing an entirely new system with completely incompatible vehicles and maintenance facilities?

    For one thing, mathematics would seem to dictate that at 5-10 mph, the trip from NE 1st st to Midtown would take a half hour to an hour, which is quite frankly useless and way too slow. Trains should be faster than the trolleys!

    My suggestion: simply extend the Metromover from Government Center directly north to Midtown and the design district, then west to the Metrorail at the Civic Center area. In the process, you can potentially help revitalize parts of Wynwood and Park West adjacent to the future Miami World Center. Connect with a transfer point at School Board Station (which makes the Omni loop actually be a loop, and provides a much needed quicker route from Omni station to Govt. Center, then most busses can stop at Omni and not get stuck in downtown traffic) then go straight up NE 2nd Ave.

    Also, another Metromover extension that would have high ridership is using the ghost platform at Govt. center west and do a loop around Little Havana and Marlin’s Park. This connection would seem more vital than the 20th/17th st routes, and could be done with a similar distance of track.

    Miami’s transportation problems are large, and we must think large to address them.

    • DC Copeland

      September 23, 2014 at 7:10 pm

      I agree. Plus street cars will clog Miami’s narrow streets and really clog them when they breakdown. Getting mass transit off the grid (or below the grid) is the way to do it right.

  4. Tom Veenstra

    September 18, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Readers might be interested to know that this new “idea” for a light rail system actually is history repeating itself. AC powered light rail streetcar service began with a link between downtown Miami and south Miami Beach via the median of the south causeway in 1920. Streetcar service expanded over the years until it was replaced by a municipal bus system. Service ended in 1940 with a ceremonial “funeral” parade for the last streetcar, draped in black bunting and a flower wreath, travelling slowly through downtown Miami on its last run. A timeline of the system’s history appears on the county transit website.

  5. gregory

    September 18, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Or they could extend the metromover to the design distract and charge a fee to ride. Also extending the metrorail would give people another option to commute to downtown. Upgrade the systems already in place before you add new ones.

  6. laz

    September 20, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    in my opinion is a great idea. the problem with Miami is that the City and the County do not communicate because there are two separate entities with different political ideas. In addition, you a have two different sets of commissioners that only think about their pet projects and not what is truly good for the community as a whole.
    When you travel to any big city you find a great transportation system well not Miami and Miami Dade County is the worse of all. You cannot depend on Public Transportation for anything.
    a concern citizen.
    thank you.

  7. Casey Piket

    September 23, 2014 at 8:33 am

    It would be very useful to include a route that goes to Marlin’s stadium and Little Havana. Cars and taxi cabs are still the most direct routes to both places if you live downtown or Brickell. Also, if you are interested in reading more about the history of the Trolley in Miami, check out the following Blog Post:

  8. Chris in Miami

    September 23, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Marc Sarnoff has been commissioner since 2006. If he wanted streetcars Downtown you better believe there would have been streetcars already.

    It’s easy for him to push for streetcars now that he is at the end of a 9-year career on the commission. It’ll be left to the next commissioner to really get the job done.

  9. Ivosan

    September 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Streetcars stuck in traffic? What a waste of money.

    Consider leveraging the current metromover infrastructure. APM can run headways tighter than any streetcar. No traffic interaction. No river bridges.
    Rubber tires are silent and can clear steep inclines. Maintenance yard and personnel are already there. Use double cars. Open the unused west platform at Govt Center. Charge 1$ to ride it.

    And wait until All Aboard Florida runs train every 30 minutes and tri rail comes to the FEC lines. Watch streetcars waiting for the train to clear crossings while the metromover (who currently ends a couple of feet before the tracks) can cross anytime