Is streetcar skipping Brickell off track?
Written by Catherine Lackner on October 22, 2014
Miami’s Downtown Development Authority joined the City of Miami last week in endorsing a plan to develop a streetcar system downtown, though some board members voiced serious objections to a downtown streetcar line that doesn’t cross the river to the Brickell area.
City commissioners called the project a priority late last month.
The streetcar plan began in 2004, said Alice Bravo, assistant Miami city manager. “It was well-received then and there is a greater need now.” The Florida Department of Transportation had agreed to foot half the $200 million cost but withdrew with funding during the economic downturn.
Now it’s on the horizon again, and supporters are urging the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization and the state to fast-track it.
The streetcars would run in a one-way, 7-mile loop from downtown to Midtown and the Design District, northbound along Northeast First Avenue to about Northeast 15th Street, then on Northeast Second Avenue to Northeast 36th Street. The southbound route would run along Miami Avenue to Government Center.
“It was crucial to connect with Government Center, because that will be the hub of all transit,” Carlos Cruz-Casas, Miami’s chief transportation manager, said after the meeting.
The streetcars would be at street level to facilitate handicapped access, with an expected 14,000 total riders each weekday. In addition to Government Center, the line would connect though Metrorail to Miami International Airport and also to the proposed Baylink rail line to Miami Beach.
“Downtown has grown, but there has been no additional capacity added to the transportation network,” said Mr. Cruz-Casas. “We talk about bringing people in; we deserve this system.”
But authority directors balked over the route, concerned that it did not cross the Miami River to include Brickell.
“The CBD [Central Business District] will not be anything without Brickell,” said board member Jose Goyanes, owner of Metro Beauty Center, Churchill’s Barbershop and Tre Italian Bistro. He suggested Brickell be added in the next phase.
“I think it’s wrong” not to include links to Brickell, said board member Alan Ojeda, who is president of Rilea Development Group. He likened the plan to the Metrorail Orange Line, which goes across the street from, but not into, Miami International Airport, and suggested a redesign.
“We’re looking at a timing issue with the state,” Ms. Bravo replied.
“I think we should heed Alice’s advice,” said authority Vice Chair Neisen Kasdin, who is office managing shareholder of the Akerman law firm. “If we could connect downtown with the Arsht Center, the museums and Miami Beach, that’s huge.”
The routes aren’t set in stone, Mr. Cruz-Casas said, and the state will seek feedback from the community. But, he said, it’s important to take this first step to get the project rolling.
The current rubber-tire trolley system would stay, Ms. Bravo said, but the city would consider asking Miami-Dade County to pull its larger buses off downtown streets.
“This is the ideal solution for the urban core,” Mr. Kasdin said, “and it’s going to work very well.”