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Miami Streetcar – 2012
10.6-mile system of lines in and around Downtown Miami
Three general alignments:
--North-South, from Government Center to the Miami Design District
--West-South, from Government Center to Civic Center/Heath District
--North-West, from Miami Design District to Civic Center/Health District
$200 million cost
7,400 to 17,400 projected daily riders.
Construction currently postponed indefinitely.
Relevant article on the Transport Politic: Rebuilding Connections in Miami’s Urban Core, 4 November 2009.
Goals of the Miami Streetcar Project Conceived in 2004
Originally, Mayor Manny Diaz added the $280 million project to the U.S. Conference of Mayors' wish list of infrastructure projects vying for federal dollars under President-elect Barack Obama’s expected public works stimulus plan. Of the $3.2 billion in federal funds the city is requesting, the streetcar plan is the second most expensive project, falling just behind the $300 million requested for an extension to the Florida East Coast Railroad.
The city estimates the project would create 560 jobs.
“I think it’s an essential project for the future of Miami,” Diaz told the Business Journal. “We have not done as good a job as we should have done with transportation planning.”
Though he’s the current president of the mayors’ conference, Diaz said it’s hard to predict which of Miami’s requests may win federal money. Congress is expected to consider the stimulus sometime in February.
The original streetcar plan, conceived in 2004, called for $200 million in capital costs to be split evenly between the city and the Florida Department of Transportation. But, it was clear to Miami officials in spring 2008 that there would not be sufficient funds due to the economy and budget shortfalls, said Lilia Medina, assistant transportation coordinator in the city manager’s office. Since then, the city has been searching for another solution to give the project new life, she said.
The city hoped the streetcars would be running by 2010, but the date is up in the air now.
Boosting mass transit and development:
The preferred streetcar route would start at the Design District and run south to First Street in the downtown area. Cars would run through Midtown, then further south along Northeast Second Avenue until forming a big loop at 20th Street that encompasses all of downtown. Also along 20th Street, tracks would head west past Interstate 95 until forming a loop around the medical complex surrounding Jackson Memorial Hospital.
The idea behind the plan is to alleviate traffic congestion through mass transit and promote long-term development around the tracks. Streetcars do that better than buses because business owners know streetcar routes don’t change, like buses, and they attract a much broader ridership, Diaz said. Also, streetcars run on electrical lines, which don’t generate the diesel fumes or noise associated with buses.
“People are much more inclined to use a streetcar than to use a bus,” Diaz said. “I don’t know why that is, but it’s a fact.”
A city study in 2007 projected the system would attract between 7,000 and 12,700 daily riders, assuming a $1 fare. A September 2006 study analyzed 28 bus routes along the proposed streetcar corridor and found an average of 3,021 weekday riders. The streetcars would promote more Metrorail and Metromover usage, but would replace many existing bus routes, Medina said.
“The idea is to take the Metrobuses away from the downtown area as much as possible,” she added.
Though their capital costs are much higher than those of buses, streetcars are touted as offering a much greater long-range return on investment.
A 2006 study by Reconnecting America, a nonprofit group that promotes mass transit, reported that Portland, Ore., saw a 1,795 percent private return on the city’s 2001 $55 million public investment in a 4.8-mile streetcar line. Portland boasts 12,000 daily riders.
The study also said Tampa got a 1,970 percent return on the $48 million it spent to install a 2.3-mile line in 2003 - even though its line isn’t meant for commuters and has poor ridership.
Given budget concerns, some, including Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, have questioned the economics of streetcars versus the cheaper alternative of adding buses. Moving people should be the first priority considering the city’s already-strained transit system, he said.
“That said, I’d love to see federal dollars come to the city of Miami for any transportation project – including the streetcar project,” Sarnoff added.
But, Diaz stressed that the city will need streetcars in any case.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to need a streetcar,” the mayor said. “Although it appears to be expensive today, it’s going to be a hell of a lot more expensive 20 years from now.”