April 30, 2013

Miami trolleys a hit, expanding south to Vizcaya, north to Wynwood, Midtown

A year since introducing its new trolley system, ridership has increased enough that the city is expanding its routes south to Vizcaya, and north to Wynwood and Midtown Miami.

Miami’s trolley system, a year old and gaining steam, has proven so successful that starting Wednesday, routes will be added from downtown south to Vizcaya, and north to the hip Wynwood and Midtown Miami neighborhoods.

The ultimate goal of getting people to use public transit downtown seems to be catching on, says Carlos Cruz, the city’s transportation coordinator.

“We’re trying to change the mentality of needing a car in the downtown district,” Cruz said.

Four new trolleys will be put into service to take riders to Vizcaya and Alice Wainright Park to the south, and north through Mary Brickell Village, Margaret Pace Park, and ultimately through Wynwood and Midtown. The city has already paid for them with the $5.6 million it spent purchasing 28 trolleys, some of which have never been used. Limousines of South Florida is being paid $2 million a year to operate the system.

Riding the trolley is free, as operations are subsidized with $2 million a year the city gets from a half-cent transit surtax.

Unveiled last year as a way to get to baseball games when the Miami Marlins opened their new Little Havana ballpark, the system at first was criticized for long lines and taking an hour to complete a 10-minute trip. But that was only during the heady, early days of the new Marlins Park, when fans searched for parking and traffic jams were the rule.

By summer, people had become more used to game-day traffic patterns and finding parking, and riding the retro-styled, air-conditioned trolleys became more pleasant. Ridership initially was averaging about 500 people a week on non-game days for people using it to get around on three other routes in Brickell, the health district and the Omni area.

Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo said the expansion was necessitated by demand, mostly due to growth downtown, though it was built into the system’s master plan. She called Miami a “car-centric” city whose residents need to focus on alternate methods of getting around.

As more condos have been sold downtown, and more people head there for work, ridership on the trolleys has skyrocketed. The Brickell route, which was originally projected to carry about 1,500 passengers a week, now boasts more than 2,500 each week, and often surpasses 3,000. The Allapattah route, which runs along Northeast and Northwest 20th Street, is carrying close to 2,000 people a day, when only 1,400 were projected, Bravo said.

The expansion routes are curly-cued. The south-bound one closely follows the Metrorail line, then meanders through The Roads neighborhood until reaching Vizcaya and returning north straight up Brickell Avenue to Biscayne Boulevard. The north-bound expansion above the Omni runs up Biscayne Boulevard to Northeast 20th Street, then cuts directly through Midtown before heading back south along North Miami Avenue, through Midtown again, then back to 20th Street and out to Biscayne Boulevard.

“When you look at the rate downtown is developing,” Bravo said, “people are moving toward not needing a car or having one less car. Ideally we can reduce parking demand downtown. It’s a quality-of-life issue.”

The trolleys run 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the week and Saturdays, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.

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