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Famed ride from the past may have future in Miami


Electric streetcars, a staple of Miami life from 1915 until the 1940s, are poised to make a comeback along some of the very same routes in redeveloping areas of the inner city.




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Everything old is new again: Miami leaders are accelerating plans for a sleek streetcar system that would bolster the development boom in neighborhoods north of downtown, running along some of the very same routes where clanging trolleys prospered 80 years ago.


Transit planners are hoping to create a quick, safe, clean option for the tens of thousands of new residents who will be moving into high-rise condos between the Performing Arts Center and the Design District.


''The only issue with this is timing. I think the timing is yesterday and not tomorrow,'' said Commissioner Johnny Winton, whose district would benefit from the rail system.


``This city is exploding in high-density development. We will not grow if we continue to rely on things with rubber tires that roam around the streets of the city.''


Unlike the elevated Metromover, the electrified, air-conditioned streetcars would operate at street level. Most stops would be on the right side of the street.


The preliminary route is designed to augment the downtown Metromover and connect with Metrorail at Government Center.




Streetcars and trolleys, which disappeared with the rise of post-World War II car and bus culture, are enjoying a renaissance in dozens of U.S. cities.


Charles Hales is a former Portland, Ore., city council member who pushed for the popular streetcar system that opened there in 2001. He said Miami is among the last of the fast-growth Sunbelt communities to turn to streetcars to spark interest in redeveloping urban areas and to relieve gridlock.


''If you look at Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte and now Miami -- they're all looking to streetcar systems to help get people out of their cars and give them a safe, clean, quiet, efficient way to move around the city center,'' said Hales, now a consultant on the Miami project.




The Miami streetcar is far from a done deal.


Consultants and city planners will provide commissioners with a detailed financing plan in October. The city is considering using its $10 million annual share of the half-penny transit sales tax, local-option gas taxes, a special-tax district and other options to raise between $120 million and $130 million for the first phase.


Commissioners Angel Gonzalez and Arthur E. Teele Jr., who reviewed the proposal on Thursday, said they generally support it, but not if its construction is at the expense of maintaining, repairing and upgrading streets in poorer neighborhoods. Gonzalez and Teele represent some of Miami's poorest neighborhoods.


''This city has historically responded to the Gucci-driven neighborhoods,'' said Teele, calling some streets in his district `` third-world quality.''


''Once we bring all the city to a minimum standard of curbing, sidewalks and drainage, then I'll support it,'' said Teele, whose district would not receive streetcar service under phase one.


The proposed streetcar corridor is currently served by several well-used Metrobus lines and jitney services. But transit experts, citing several ridership surveys that they have conducted, say the same young professionals willing to abandon their cars for a streetcar would never board a bus.




Mirroring the example of cities like Portland, city leaders are hoping to cobble together a financing package without turning to Washington for matching funds. Federal approvals, they say, can add years and millions of dollars to mass-transit plans.


Boosters are trying to get the streetcars rolling by 2007 or 2008, when several of the larger high-rise condos are slated to open in the area.


Planners have tentatively placed three stops on the central boulevard of midtown Miami, where 3,000 high-rise condo units, 900 apartments, street-level shops, cafes and 100,000 square feet of offices are being built at the old Buena Vista rail yard between Northeast 29th and 36th streets.


The streetcar is also being designed to link with Miami-Dade Transit's longer-range plan for BayLink, which would use the same type of streetcar to connect downtown Miami with Miami Beach for tourists and locals alike.


But BayLink is in the early planning phases, and county transportation managers are concentrating for the moment on starting three new Metrorail lines.


This means Miami's streetcars could be rolling in the next three to four years, but riders may have to wait another 15 years to ride the rails to South Beach.




If the city doesn't get the streetcars in place at the front-end of the condo boom, Winton said, Miami risks immediate downtown gridlock.


''Do we want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg?'' Winton said. ``I say, let's feed the goose.''



I would like to see this program also included to tie in Little Havana. Imagine having this service there that would allow you to get from the Ballpark, to the OB, to the MetroRail station, to the parking garages, to Calle Ocho, to Downtown, and to the Airport possibly?

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Guest Moneyball

i think this should be moved to the ballpark thread.


i read this in the miami herald this morning. it wouldn't be a bad idea. as long as the trolley makes no stops through the bad neighborhoods.

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This would be excellent. In fact, I never stopped to think about it - but in Europe, they still use streetcars. In Rome, they are quite nice, actually. It is the answer to the much more expensive Metro Rail. And it would help Miami's terrible public transportation system - which is very impractical and all but non-existent.

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