Public transit has never been sexy in the state of Florida. For years the commuter car culture dominated the thinking of state planners despite the efforts of the political leadership in every major urban area. The opposition to high-speed rail from statewide Republicans and Palm Beach County Democrats (who represent the urban county with the least logical transportation planning and who tried to quit Tri Rail a few years ago) has never made any long-term sense for the state.
As the population has grown and the need to attract better jobs and a more educated population to Florida has increased, leaders in both parties have failed to make proper decisions in a timely fashion. Recent developments have been positive however. The initiation of Sun Rail in Central Florida and the continued efforts to develop light rail and other transport initiatives in the Tampa Bay area have been encouraging. But the reluctance of voters, conservative politicians and conservative bloggers to understand the need for more vibrant public transportation in major urban areas is distressing.
In the next year, Miami will become the first city in Florida to enjoy a central rail hub like so many northern cities. 150,000 plus passengers a day are projected to pass through Miami Central Station (which despite its name is NOT in central Miami but instead very close to Miami International Airport) once the station is fully operation. Miami Central opened in a limited capacity not long ago and provides a long-term transit solution for many south Floridians. Tri Rail will be complete to central station by April, providing a direct light-rail connection to North Dade, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, Fort Lauderdale, North Broward, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.
Metrorail’s Orange Line already begins at central station heading toward Downtown and beyond to Coral Gables, the University of Miami and Dadeland. The MIA Mover train takes passengers from central station to nearby Miami International Airport. Metrobus has several routes in and around the Dade County from the station and the facility is High Speed Rail ready, should our policy makers in Tallahassee ever get with the times and actually look to modernize Florida. A consolidated rental car center is also connected to the premises. By the middle of 2016, Amtrak’s Silver Star and Silver Meteor service which runs up the east coast to New York City will be rerouted and terminate at central station.
Changing the car culture of southeast Florida won’t happen overnight. But the investment by Miami-Dade County, which came after a referendum that raised sales taxes locally and the US Department of Transportation deeming this project one of “national significance,” is meant to make Miami a truly global city. Having already landed on a short list of most desirable cities in American by many Europeans and South Americans, Miami takes a leap forward with an attempt to have public transit that mirrors big cities and business centers around the planet. In time, we can hope Florida’s other urban areas are able to do the same and make a similar commitment.
Progressives in the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas have in the recent past made these sorts of issues a priority. In Broward, Palm Beach and Duval though the processes have been slower and the discussions less vibrant. Broward County, in the 1990’s seemed more committed to pushing mass transit than Miami-Dade (which at the time had many leaders that viewed Metrorail as “Metrofail” an expensive boondoggle) but eventually a change in attitude ensued and the issue has been punted on by so-called “progressives” at the county level. Envy of Miami runs high in some Broward leadership circles so perhaps Dade’s success will spur Broward to act? Palm Beach as we have pointed out before was the area that gave Jeb Bush and his allies Democratic cover with which to implement a devious plan to kill High Speed Rail which had been voted into the state constitution. Jacksonville’s people mover system which was ahead of its time when opened in the 1980’s, only attracts about 400,000 riders a year. By comparison, Miami’s downtown people mover system (Metromover) opened around the same time almost triples that ridership in one month, and enjoys thirty times the ridership in a year. Many in Jacksonville have wanted to expand the system or add a light-rail component locally but the hostility of the conservative editorial page of the Florida Times-Union as well as the ideological bent of the city have made it impossible thus far to expand non-bus mass transit in the area.
Miami Central Station will hopefully prove to be the first of many intermodal centers in major urban areas in the state.
“MIC Station” by DOMICH – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MIC_Station.jpg#mediaviewer/File:MIC_Station.jpg