Miami Beach’s return to team approach key to Baylink rail
Written by Michael Lewis on December 20, 2016
Miami Beach’s U-turn on a rail link plan over the bay offers hope for actually building a Baylink that will carry thousands of passengers, get cars off roads and speed travel.
After a year of wandering by itself in the transit wilderness and vowing to do its own thing regardless of what the county and City of Miami do on the mainland and causeway legs of the rail line, Miami Beach has halted its hurry-up offense and awaits a county vote to move forward.
That’s a full reverse for Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who got so frustrated a year ago with slower partner governments that he went rogue and decided the city would do its own thing first and later see how that leg of rail up the island could connect to whatever technology the county and City of Miami came up with at the other end of the line to roll across the bay to a Beach terminal at Alton Road and Fifth Street.
But bravado that the Beach could go faster and better alone met up with the reality that getting Beach activists on board any transit route, technology or financing is the equivalent of herding disgruntled cats. The mayor didn’t do any better than the first big-name Baylink proponent, then-Mayor Neisen Kasdin.
In fact, in the year since the Beach broke away on its own, Baylink has lost support of the Florida Department of Transportation, which until April had led the drive to win federal funds for the long-awaited rail line but said it wouldn’t lead any longer because all local governments weren’t on the same track.
Mayor Levine pooh-poohed the push for US aid when he led the Beach to break with the consortium, which wanted to do Baylink in a single system with a single technology, single purveyor and single passenger seat from one end of the line to the other.
We would hope that with the Beach back in the fold, all the agencies would return, hats in hand, and ask the respected state transportation department to again take the lead to win federal funds. The department is a great advocate that we sorely need to get the project funded and finally built.
The year of Beach-alone rail planning also ended with the city choosing a rail system purveyor and a second-choice bidder still actively lobbying for a contract.
Commitment by the Beach on whatever level to a new rail configuration complicates vital efforts to minimize diversity of formats as the county and Metropolitan Planning Organization try to add six legs of transit – one being Baylink – to complement our incomplete Metrorail and Metromover.
As the county now openly says that it would like to continue Metrorail on street level, and as others discuss extending Metromover over the causeway to Miami Beach, we already have two non-continuous methodologies. If at all possible, we don’t need more formats that don’t connect as single-seat rides.
Miami Beach’s year in the wilderness ended inelegantly, with Beach commissioners agreeing last week that they won’t play in any Baylink system with anyone else unless, after all the governments have struck a unified deal, Miami Beach voters go to the polls and agree with that deal.
That means that while government agencies everywhere else in Miami-Dade will decide about rail routes, financing and methodology, Miami Beach voters will get veto power. That can slow vitally needed transit links to await a Beach election and, potentially fatally, could derail Baylink after funding is available and everyone else is aboard.
That veto card might also make it harder to get federal or state participation for a Baylink plan.
We welcome Miami Beach back aboard the rail line local run, and hope that negotiations restore the full Miami Beach loop that was formerly trumpeted rather than the now-offered rail stub that no longer heads north of the Miami Beach Convention Center. If rail is vital, it’s needed by more than just visitors – residents up and down the Beach need it too.
With everyone back at the table, governments must agree on the fewest possible operating systems and the principle of a single-seat ride countywide.
We hope that Mayor Levine was not so badly burned in his go-it-alone year that he’ll be unwilling to push for a united, unified approach to rail on the Beach and elsewhere. His leadership will be needed.
The mayor, after all, spearheaded a recent survey that said 71% of Beach residents favor rail. He needs to be sure that as the final step of a Baylink deal, 71% say so in the voting booth.
Baylink has always been a great concept. In today’s traffic glut it’s also a great need. We welcome the City of Miami Beach back aboard the Baylink Express with the rest of us.