Letters to the Editor

As Miami grows, will its transit lag behind?

Coming of age after the advent of the automobile, the majority of Miami’s population growth during the 20th century occurred in suburbs rather than in a condensed urban core. Fortunately, the past decade has seen a reversal of this trend, the result of smart, sustainable, vertical development that’s drawing an unprecedented number of residents, businesses and visitors to our urban core.

Downtown Miami’s population has doubled in size — from 40,000 to 80,000 — since 2000, according to a recent study by the Downtown Development Authority. A high percentage of these new residents are young professionals who increasingly are giving up their cars in favor of a more walkable, transit-oriented lifestyle.

With Miami’s residential and commercial patterns shifting at a fast pace, its transportation infrastructure must evolve to meet the city’s changing needs.

Downtown Miami already has the most developed public transportation system in Florida — with a series of alternative transit options throughout the district, including three Metrorail stations , dozens of CitiBike stations, several Miami Trolley routes, car-sharing services and a 21-station Metromover system, one of only three downtown people movers in the country.

A number of additional projects under way will bolster this infrastructure. All Aboard Florida, the public-private partnership that will connect Miami and Orlando via express rail, is set to begin operating in 2016. A transformed Flagler Street will introduce a pedestrian-friendly promenade in the heart of downtown’s central business district. The proposed Underline project, which traverses the Brickell Financial District, will create a linear park for cycling and walking.

But while more strides in public transit have been made in Downtown Miami than anywhere else in the region, Miami is still at the starting line when it comes to creating a livable and connected urban core. One of the most significant roadblocks to improving public transportation, not surprisingly, is funding.

We must increase efforts to connect downtown to other areas via the proposed Miami Streetcar, Baylink light-rail system, East-West Bus Rapid Transit line and Tri-Rail Coastal Link. Financial investments are only the beginning. Promotional initiatives must also be a focus if we are going to influence behavior and encourage use of these transit systems. Otherwise, our infrastructure will sit unused, traffic congestion will reach fever pitch and public-sector funding will be for naught.

Our public and private sectors are now in position to up the ante when it comes to shaping policy and identifying a clear path toward executing critical projects. Thursday’s Transportation Summit, hosted by the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust and Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, will be a fitting venue for getting started.

Javier A. Betancourt, chairman, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Strategic Partnerships Committee, Miami