How much longer before we actually start to build Baylink?
No Miami-Dade corridor suffers more hours of intense traffic than the Mac-Arthur Causeway between Miami and Miami Beach. Think weekends and late nights, not just rush hours. Nowhere is need greater for rapid transit.
So Miami commissioners’ vote last week to join Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County to create cross-bay rapid transit was on point. That need has been apparent for decades. After all, ways to cross the bay are few.
To quote one government report: “A light rail line operating between the Cities of Miami Beach and Miami will offer both transportation and development benefits to the area. Transportation benefits will accrue to both residents and tourists/convention attendees.”
Miami Beach issued that report 31 years ago this month. And for 31 years, almost everyone has agreed something must be done, right now, to link the two cities with reliable rapid transit.
Even the decision to unite faltered three years ago, when Miami Beach fiercely pulled out of an agreement and decided to go it alone, then found it couldn’t and sheepishly wandered back into the fold.
Now Miami has signed on, agreeing to work with the county and Miami Beach. With all on board, all that remains are simply to decide where the route will go, what the transit method will be, where the money will come from, who will own and operate the system, when it will be built, and how it will link up with all the other modes of transit to make travel from one area to another as seamless as possible. In this case, “simply” is anything but simple.
Moreover, the Miami-Miami Beach route isn’t alone. It’s one of six corridors in the Smart Plan to stitch the county together with rapid, modern transit. And Baylink, to use the old nickname, isn’t at the head of the line: the Transportation Planning Organization, which plans mobility in this county, has voted to start with South Dade.
That’s fair enough: the South Dade connector will run on a current busway, so nobody has to agree on a corridor and government already owns it. Starting there is easiest.
A major difficulty with six corridors is that they could have transit modes that don’t mesh with one another or with the county’s existing transit. That makes seamless seem less likely.
Whether or not the routes connect, reaching agreements that go beyond the need for a link from Miami to Miami Beach and into the more difficult choices of transit modes, routes, costs, financing options, rights of way and timing will be prickly. Every commissioner and mayor in both cities and the county knows the “right” answer to most of the questions. It’s just that each one has different answers. So do many residents.
Think about mode of travel alone. Is it to be light rail? Express bus? Monorail? At grade or overhead? Personal rapid transit carrying two to four passengers per vehicle? Over land solely or partly over water? Lots of choices, all with proponents.
Probably lots of “right” answers, too.
But it has to be one choice for everything from mode to route to financing to ownership to timing. Then we have to consider the fragile bay environment, and the right of way that transit will share with the causeway’s auto traffic.
And on the Beach side, what happens when transit reaches Alton Road at Fifth Street (the preferred entry)? Does the line keep rolling north to the Miami Beach Convention Center? Or farther up the Beach?
All these points will be talked to death, as they have been for three decades plus. Which is why we didn’t have Baylink shortly after the 1988 Miami Beach report called for it. If we’d built it then, it would have been used for three decades already and be fully paid for.
Instead, traffic grows worse and worse, new attractions on Watson Island aren’t served by transit, Miami Beach parking is choked, a new convention center isn’t properly served, and we’re just getting around to formally agreeing to unite to find a way to meet an ever-growing need.
We can’t undo history, including the years that some on Miami Beach didn’t really want transit because it might bring in too many people – which happened anyway.
Now we need to build on near-total agreement on the need for better mobility.
The best way is to accept what might not meet everyone’s ideal picture of the “best” way to link the Beach and the mainland.
Other than connectivity, we’d accept a second choice of mode, route, financing or whatever rather than wait for an ideal choice that for decades has always been lurking just down the road.
The time for waiting is long gone. We know better technology will come along in a decade. Maybe by that time the Chinese will want to build us a system (or by then it could be Koreans or Germans or you name them). Maybe by then the US government will be funding 95% of every mass transit project.
If we wait, any of those things might be true. Or they might not. But one thing would certainly be true: we’d have lost another decade in the interim.
Waiting time is over – it should have been over in 1988. With everyone on board with the concept, it should be full steam ahead to a solution.
And, no, we don’t need dozens of town hall meetings or 20 resident surveys as to what they want or more charrettes or three more planning firms or to ask “Mother may I?”
Studies are already piled up, including the 1988 Miami Beach report, which wasn’t half bad. Why can’t the Transportation Planning Organization give itself, say, four months to make firm choices of basics and move forward? Even so, it would take years to have a Baylink, but we have to start sometime if we plan to have one ever.
Either that, or in 31 years someone will be looking at last week’s vote in Miami and asking pointedly why nobody ever did anything.