I am not convinced that an independent rail system in Miami Beach will reduce traffic. I am not even sure that a rail system to and from Miami Beach will help us get many cars off the road.
Even if we could snap our fingers and have a turnkey rail system in place overnight, we likely would be looking at logjams worse than we sometimes experience now. Our topography is not conducive to the reduction of travel lanes that likely would be required, nor are delivery services, Uber, valets, buses and/or trash collection.
At one time I was all-in on the idea of rail transit, as it was sold to many, including me, as a silver bullet (train) to reduce traffic significantly. It was another “shiny thing” making headlines. But as I start peeling back the layers I no longer buy it. Moreover, I do not believe the residents of Miami Beach will embrace several years of painfully disruptive road construction while knowing that the pot at the end of the rainbow may be both technologically obsolete and an inescapable white elephant.
I used to scoff at the staunch opponents to rail/Baylink, as I mistakenly considered them isolationists hell-bent on turning Miami Beach into a gated community. Over the past 10 months, however, I have met with many concerned residents and stakeholders, while researching the successes and failures of light rail in other states and countries. The opponents I once misunderstood? I’m now leaning their way.
Recently we deferred our vote on a nonbinding interim agreement to move forward (at the vendor’s cost) with the top-scoring bidder on the Miami Beach transit piece. For now, I will hold my nose to see what the studies and outreach bring, but I cannot see a path that leads to taking any further steps forward.
In our last budget cycle we earmarked tens of millions in capital funds for potential future application to an intra-city rail plan. I could rattle off at least 50 projects, including flooding mitigation, parks improvements and traffic-management initiatives, that are more deserving of these dollars. As a steward of both the public trust and our tax revenue, I cannot in good conscience move forward on any more rail-related expenditures at this time. Pun intended, we need to get back in our lane and focus on real solutions to solvable local problems.
Miami Beach traffic can be managed, but it can’t be “solved” or “eliminated.” Any service provider or politician trying to sell sweeping traffic solutions should fall the way of the snake oil salesman. Despite Miami Beach’s perpetual efforts to control overdevelopment, South Florida continues to grow steadily, with most of the surrounding municipalities naming “The Crane” as their city bird.
Successfully managing traffic flow has been priority No. 1 in Miami Beach. Expanding the trolley system, redesigning the commercial loading program, doubling traffic enforcement, creating safer bicycle/pedestrian corridors and implementing our Intelligent Transportation Plan all are real efforts to control the roads. A more-than $400 million rail system in our city will likely cripple us both during and after installation and make a currently manageable situation irreversibly unmanageable.
Although the light rail initiative was well-intentioned and I appreciate that these efforts are being partially made to push the County forward on its piece of the transit puzzle, we as a city should now be slamming the brakes on any more commitments that could lead to a shovel being placed in our dirt prematurely, or maybe at all.
Michael Grieco is a Miami Beach commissioner.