Huh? Underline is to rapid transit as a fish is to a bicycle
As three planning committees this week begin to examine adding foot-and-bicycle-park Underline to the county’s six-corridor Smart plan to build vital rapid transit, our reaction is – huh?
A 10-mile Underline directly beneath the fast Metrorail may add secondary mobility, but the in-the-works Smart plan to add rapid transit to serve far-spread Miami-Dade County is another world.
A recent move spearheaded by county Commissioner Raquel Regalado to meld the two together is like planting apple trees in an orange grove – they’re different.
To quote the Transportation Planning Organization, “The Smart plan intends to advance six of the [People’s Transportation Plan] rapid transit corridors, along with a network system of Bus Express Rapid Transit service, in order to implement mass transit projects in Miami-Dade County.”
The key words are “rapid transit” and “mass transit” – a foot and bicycle park, even a linear park, doesn’t fit.
Money is still lacking to do all six Smart plan rapid transit corridors that have a specific aim of linking areas that now lack any rapid transit. Why split those scarce funds with a path directly beneath very functional mass transit, the Metrorail?
The most likely reason is grants, as federal billions are about to go to transit and other infrastructure nationally.
Commissioner Eileen Higgins was clear about that at the Sept. 30 Transportation Planning Organization meeting that discussed shoving the Underline into the Smart plan. There might be opportunities to get grants intended for the Underline, she said, “so, there’s some funding that could come from it rather than costs the county might commit.”
But more likely, grants would flow from building Smart corridors for fast commuting to a footpath, as well perhaps as a large chunk of the county’s half percent sales tax for transit.
Commissioner Regalado says “the idea is to add this to the Smart plan so that every time we’re developing these Smart plan lines, we consider the mobility pieces for pedestrians, cyclists and scooters and all things related to micro mobility.”
Then again, Metrorail is already running right over the Underline, so why consider the Underline when developing the Northeast Corridor or the East-West Corridor or the transit linking Miami Beach and Miami? Sounds like an excuse rather than a reason.
Don’t get us wrong: we love the Underline. The High Line in Manhattan – the inspiration for the Underline – is a very pleasant walk. The Underline should be the same, or better.
But to be politically incorrect, the Underline has far less to do with transit than with parks. Some may walk or bike to a destination, but for most users the Underline will be not transportation but recreation. Other than for exercise (the park component) very few people will walk or bike miles on the stretch from the Miami River to Dadeland to actually get somewhere. They’ll just turn around and head back.
Calling the Underline a transit route is like calling a cruise ship a transportation vehicle. Cruise passengers sail, have fun, and get off where they started in a single trip. A cruise is not transportation but recreation.
In fact, the 1.45-mile-long High Line is run by a parks department, not transportation folks. Users are mostly looking for recreation. Underline commutation, trips to the store or visits to grandma will be few.
The bid to add Underline to six awaited rapid transit corridors is an exercise in looking for gold by mining something entirely different. That is understandable, but not logical.
Transportation Planning Organization Chairman Oliver Gilbert III was correct at the Sept. 30 meeting in insisting over Ms. Regalado’s objection that the organization look at the potential fiscal impact of adding the Underline to the Smart plan. That’s what this is all about – money.
Sure, all mobility can mesh together – a walk home from a bus stop is mobility that aids mass transit. If you want to look at the Underline like little Joey riding his bike around the neighborhood – mobility – fine. There are lots of ways in which the transit planners can view the linear park.
Just don’t try to stick the Underline into six underfunded but vital high-speed corridors aiming to link the county together.
If commissioners want the Underline to seem important in the world of mobility like bicycle paths, fine. It fits well there.
But for high-speed transit around the county, shoving in the Underline is a really bad fit, as three transportation planning committees should quickly discover. This idea is off track.