We spent the day yesterday at the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust Transportation Summit learning about the big-picture plans for how we move around Miami. The summit was a wonky affair, with information on lots of big plans for the future, and you submitted a lot of questions for us to answer. We’ll be following up on your questions in the coming weeks and tracking all sorts of transit developments, but for now, we’ve pulled out 5 Miami transit projects you should know.
At the CITT Transportation Summit, the jargon vocabulary word of the day was “P3” — Public-Private Partnerships — in real talk, that means contracts with private businesses or nonprofits to provide public services. Officials repeatedly announced that Miami can’t count on federal transit funds to improve transportation, and they see these business arrangements as a key to funding new transit options.
Philip Washington, General Manager and CEO of the Denver Regional Transportation District faced funding head-on in his keynote address, sharing how the city revamped and massively expanded its transit system on with a “finance lasagna” of tax dollars, federal and state funds, and those popular P3s. The result is that Denver’s expansion is on schedule and on budget, with Union Station, a striking downtown transit hub, as its centerpiece.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez and County Commissioners Dennis Moss, Jean Monestime, and Esteban Bovo, Jr. came out with strong rhetoric on their commitment to implementing improvements in 2015. “Whatever we promise, let’s build it,” Bovo said.
All Aboard Florida
All Aboard Florida is a privately funded higher-speed rail line between Miami and Orlando. It’s the bright, shiny example of that P3 idea, and it’s such a big deal that the moderator introduced it as “the best thing to happen to South Florida since the Miami Heat.”
All Aboard Florida aims to capture fares for some half a billion trips a year between Orlando, West Palm, Fort Lauderdale and Miami each year. The project also includes transit-oriented development in the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando as more people move into the urban cores of cities and public preference for mass transit grows. “It’s more than a trend,” said P. Michael Reininger, President of All Aboard Florida. “We think its a mathematical certainty and we think it’s happening everywhere across the country and across the world.”
Construction is underway on trains, rails and stations, and the railroad is expected to open in 24 months, Reininger said. At completion, the project will include commercial and residential development integrated into Miami’s station, which Reininger called “a civic statement” for downtown.
Bus rapid transit
The Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization is studying bus rapid transit for four major corridors criss-crossing the county. Bus Rapid Transit calls for dedicated lanes for frequent bus routes that flow through densely populated areas. The system is cheaper, faster, and more flexible to implement than rail projects, said Benjamin de la Pena, director of community and national strategy for Knight Foundation.
The catch is that we’d have to fully commit for it to work, he said. That means sacrificing lanes on already cramped roadways, building well-designed stations, running buses far more frequently than we do now, and diverting left turns across the busway to keep the system running on time.
BRT has been incredibly successful in Latin America and around the world, but there are only five true BRT systems in the U.S., and none of them meets the highest gold standard, which implies service akin to rail and includes dedicated lanes, busway alignment to minimize traffic conflicts, off-board fare collection, intersection treatments and platform-level boarding. BRT may be cheaper than rail, but going for gold is an expensive proposition, and politicians and residents alike would need to make some hard commitments to make it work.
Beach light rail
The project formerly known as Baylink is still on the table to connect Miami Beach to the mainland through light rail, but there’s still a long way to go. Most importantly, no one seems to know exactly how we’re going to pay for it. The county is heavily pushing that beloved P3 approach, but no one mentioned any particular interest from businesses.
Officials have also floated the idea of using tolls toward the cost, but that plan is opposed by many western residents who pay the bulk of local tolls and wouldn’t see improved transit services in exchange for their money. “Frankly we need to open our wallets,” said Ysela Llort, director of Miami-Dade Transit. “Everyone who lives along that corridor needs to open their wallets.”
In addition to funding, the implementation plan must be approved, and environmental studies and the project development plans must be completed after that.
Tri-Rail currently carries more than 4 million passengers per year from West Palm Beach to Hialeah. The service is more than a year overdue to connect with Miami’s Intermodal Center, just east of the airport, and Executive Director Jack Stephens says the trains are in the station and the service should start “soon.” Meanwhile, Tri-Rail is getting new cars and locomotives, developing bike cars for every train to accommodate an “incredible” increase in bicycles, and installing and upgrading onboard wifi, Stephens said.
In the longer term, Tri-Rail Coastal Link will run 85 miles on the Florida East Coast railway from Jupiter to downtown Miami and provide rail access to the downtowns of most of South Florida’s coastal cities along the way. Coastal Link service could begin as soon as 2018.
The Underline will create a 10-mile linear park underneath the Metrorail line from Brickell to Dadeland South Station with protected bike lanes, pedestrian paths, landscaping, art and small parks near stations.
The vision is for the park to serve as a spine for other bike and walkability projects including the Miami River Greenway and the proposed Ludlam Trail. Upon completion, the project will be Miami’s longest linear park, and Friends of the Underline founder Meg Daly says it could rival New York City’s Highline in popularity with tourists and residents alike.
The project has funding pledged from Miami-Dade County, Miami, Coral Gables, South Miami, Knight Foundation, The Miami Foundation and the Health Foundation of South Florida, and it’s moving quickly toward implementation.