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Is Mass Transit Driving Urban Development in Miami?

Miami’s downtown core continues its unprecedented transformation into a densely populated residential urban hub. How is that development being served by the current and future mass transit systems, and will these systems be able to manage the population that will be living in this new “Manhattan of the South”?

One answer may be the ongoing effort by urban planners, developers and city governments to bring functional population movement systems to this major metropolitan area. It is an old but effective formula. Back in the day, when railroads began crisscrossing the nation, cities would spring up and coalesce around major railroad hubs due to the ease of moving people and products. While today’s focus is on moving people, the result is the same – location plus convenience equals population growth.

Take Downtown Miami, for example, arguably the King Kong of the urban development explosion in Florida. There are currently over 20,000 new condominiums planned, as well as the Miami World Center and Brickell City Centre; millions of square feet of concurrent office and retail projects intended to service this anticipated population, with mass transit offered as the best choice to deal with the anticipated traffic issues that will accompany this tremendous growth.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are questions as to whether even robust systems will actually be the solution to dense population growth.

For example, Downtown Miami is still serviced by its 1980s-built Metrorail system and its baby cousin, the Metromover. It was designed with a projected ridership of 200,000 commuters per year back in the late 1970s. Fast forward to 2015 and the average daily ridership has reached a high of 105,000 per year, almost half of what was projected more than 30 years ago. It is clear that projecting usage is a difficult task.

On the plus side, the expansion of the Metrorail into the Miami International Airport, along with the construction of new light rail systems connecting to the existing systems, adding buses to the streets as was promised in a half penny sales tax increase years ago, will go a long way towards increasing ridership and the perceived value and usability of transportation in South Florida.

City officials are also doing their part to make the urban mass transit dream a reality. They are seriously considering that new residential structures in Downtown Miami and surrounding neighborhoods (such as Wynwood, with its “Live, Work, Play” concept) and on smaller parcels of land within walking distance (500 feet) of a busline or Metrorail stop, may be built without any parking for its residents. The justification is that these soon-to-be dense urban areas are close to transportation choices, so the people living there are likely to reduce their reliance on cars and take advantage of alternative transportation options.

They may be correct, but it is also possible that city planners may have to build parking garages, at taxpayer expense, if those assumptions prove wrong. Only time will tell.

The reality is that there will be thousands of residents living in Downtown Miami and they will need to be served by some type of transportation other than cars.

Hopefully, a system that serves more residents will be the impetus for trollies and light rails, to interface with the current systems more efficiently.

One thing is clear: Miami’s Downtown urban core is experiencing explosive growth. There will be a significant increase in building density. Take a ride on the Metrorail/Metromover and see it for yourself.

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