Study OK brings Beach step closer to trolley system
By Marilyn Bowden
A plan to introduce trolleys to alleviate some of the traffic crunch commuting from Miami Beach to Miami moved one step closer to reality with the approval of $1.5 million for a feasibility study, said Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin.
"This is reprogrammed dollars from the failed 1% transportation tax," he said. "Planning dollars for the east-west corridor were freed up and we `glommed' on to those dollars."
The county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees transportation issues, will issue a formal request for proposals for the study in early February, said Director Jose-Luis Mesa.
"It should take a couple of months to hire a firm," he said, "and a year or so to complete the study. We're talking around 15 months for the whole project."
The trolley's envisioned route would run across the MacArthur Causeway, possibly making stops along Alton Road.
Mr. Kasdin, who is spearheading the project, said the study would be comprehensive, covering everything from an environmental impact analysis to projected ridership.
He said the planning organization hopes to capture federal financing made available to municipalities through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
"There's a lot of competition nationally for this funding," Mr. Kasdin said. "We would like to see a good plan put together as soon as possible."
The Transportation Equity Act, enacted in 1998, provides a guaranteed annual spending level of $198 billion for the six-year period through 2003, a spokesperson for the Federal Transit Authority said.
She said metropolitan planning organizations must consider seven categories in their proposals for funding, including:
impact, energy conservation and quality of life;
and connectivity with existing systems;
management and operation;
of existing systems.
A new provision stipulates that the plan must enhance access for those without private automobiles, she said, rather than rely on park-and-ride trade. Poor accessibility for the carless has been an oft-voiced criticism of Miami's Metrorail system.
Last week the Federal Transit Authority announced four grants for transportation projects nationwide.
Chicago got $320 million for the complete reconstruction of its 102-year-old Blue Line. Minneapolis was awarded $334.3 million for the design and construction of a light rail transit line.
Pittsburgh got $100.2 million for stage two of the Pittsburgh Light Rail Transit project and Seattle won $500 million for the planning, design and construction of the Seattle Central Link, a light-rail line.
Michael Taplin, chairman of the Light Rail Transit Association, based in Bristol, England, defined light rail as "a flexible mode that fits between the bus and the heavy metro or conventional railway and can behave like either of them."
The association publishes Tramways & Urban Transit, an international light rail magazine.
In comparison with a bus system, he said it is more expensive to construct, but may be cheaper to operate and will have lower whole-life costs, higher speed, lower pollution and greater success attracting a ridership.
It's cheaper to build and operate than a heavy rail or metro system, he said, though not as fast, and can offer better penetration of urban areas, better security and less noise.
Tramway systems got their start in the US, Mr. Taplin said. The first, the 1832 New York & Harlem line, literally used horsepower.
By the 1920s, he said, "over 15,000 miles of lines crisscrossed the North American continent."
Now, however, the US lags behind Europe in adopting light rail systems, Mr. Taplin said, due largely to what he calls "the American love affair with the automobile."
While that affair may not be over, he said, by the 1960s "they at least realized that it was not possible to rebuild major cities to accommodate unrestrained traffic growth, either in social or environmental terms."
President Lyndon Johnson signed the first Urban Mass Transit into law in 1964.
According to Mr. Taplin, light-rail systems, first successfully introduced to the US in San Diego in 1978, have proven most popular.
"The success of these systems in attracting back to public transit motorists who would not dream of using a bus," he said, "led to a boom in the development of light-rail systems that is still going on."
He said there are 350 systems worldwide.
"If we are going to get serious about encouraging urban core development and discouraging suburban growth," Mr. Kasdin said, "this is where transportation dollars are going to have to be spent. People are ultimately going to have to get out of their cars and use alternate means of transportation."