When I was mayor of Miami Beach 16 years ago, I initiated Baylink, the light rail/streetcar plan to create a circulator servicing South Beach and downtown Miami and connecting the two.
The need and benefits, especially for Miami Beach were apparent; professionals living in South Beach could commute to jobs downtown and some of the large, principally service, workforce for the beach’s hotels, restaurants and shops could commute to their jobs, all without the need for cars; and tourists could use it too. It could have been up and operating by now, but for parochial politics and a lack of vision.
Today, both the Julia Tuttle and MacArthur Causeways are jammed at rush hour and weekends, largely because those who work on the beach or attend events do not have a transit alternative.
The current version of Baylink has shrunk to a single line running up and down Washington Avenue and Fifth Street. It does not circulate in South Beach and is missing the most important element of all, the link to downtown Miami. This link is more important than ever, with Tri-Rail and the Brightline intercity rail serving the new Central Station downtown in 2017 and with expansion of Metrorail and other transit service to downtown under Mayor Gimenez' SMART plan. This transit expansion will make it easier for regional visitors, workers and residents to get directly to Miami Beach by BayLink and not by car.
The current proposal is employing a technology, underground power, which is not used by any of the many streetcar and light rail systems created in the U.S. in recent years. This reduces the likelihood of a seamless connection to Miami in future years.
Is Miami Beach going to miss the boat again and strangle in traffic that can only be alleviated by transit, or will the city seize the opportunity to connect to the region and assure a sustainable and balanced community?
Neisen O. Kasdin,