Broward News

Six Reasons Fort Lauderdale's Wave Streetcar Is a Bad Idea

Back in 2003, building a streetcar in downtown Fort Lauderdale seemed like a great idea. Las Olas Boulevard and the Riverfront area were growing more and more popular. It looked like it was only a matter of time before the city was overrun with people and, inevitably, more traffic. A study showed that the city should invest in better transportation and improve the pedestrian experience downtown. 

Meanwhile other cities, like Atlanta and Portland, had been installing new electric streetcars. Streetcars were marketed as a hip way to alleviate traffic and make an area more walkable. Fort Lauderdale bought in, and various city, county and state entities took on parts of the project.

But 13 years later, the Fort Lauderdale Wave Streetcar has yet to materialize. Its 2.7-mile track was designed to run from Sistrunk Boulevard/Sixth Street on the north side of the city to SE 17th Street on the south, with routes moving mostly along Andrews Avenue and SE Third Avenue. There would be 12 stops. After receiving federal funding in 2012, the project was slated to be completed this year.

That isn't going to happen. Under a new timetable, construction isn't slated to begin until 2017 and the streetcars will not be up in running until the end of 2020. Last month, the price of the streetcar project was upped from the original $142 million to $195 million. There's $22.6 million still to be raised, and the city, county, and Downtown Development Authority are being asked to come up with the funds. 

According to Chris Wren, the director of the Downtown Development Authority the funds have been secured and the streetcar will soon become a Fort Lauderdale reality. Wren said, "The partner agencies have discussed this and have agreed to commit the funds. The State has committed to half, the City 25% and the County the remaining 25% (minus $1 million for the DDA)."

But Fort Lauderdale resident and activist Cal Deal has been critical of the project and regularly sends out email blasts to the community. "I'm not so sure this thing is a good idea anymore," Deal says. "Streetcars are not living up to their promise in other cities. [Critics] are saying that they're just government subsidies for developers."

Public transportation is desperately needed in Fort Lauderdale, especially as traffic worsens. But the Fort Lauderdale Wave Streetcar is looking like more of a costly headache than any real solution. Here are six reasons the Fort Lauderdale Wave Streetcar is a bad idea:
6. The overhead wires will be an eyesore.
The Wave streetcar will run on electricity. Except for one segment of track where the streetcar will use batteries to cross a drawbridge, it needs overhead electrical lines for power. These wires would hang above the 2.7-mile track. Those wires are ugly. Even Mayor Jack Seiler is against the overhead wires, telling the Sun Sentinel: "I [keep] picturing Las Olas with overhead wires and trees coming down to accommodate streetcars... I'm frustrated by this too. It drives me nuts."

5. It will force trees to be trimmed or cut down.
The overhead wires aren't just an eyesore.  If trees were to grow into them, it could lead to electrocution or even a fire. To accommodate 2.7 miles of overhead wires, trees will have to be pruned and even removed. Officials with the Florida Department of Transportation have already marked one tree to be removed since it is too large to be pruned. It's located in the median near Andrews Avenue and SE 15th Street. 

4. Stops are poorly designed and will not create shade or shelter
The photo above shows renderings of current station stops. Since the roofs slant upward and are not very wide, riders could potentially get wet if it's raining. The renderings aren't set in stone, and officials are open to hearing about other designs from the public. 

3. In other cities, streetcars were found to be a waste of money.

Although streetcars have been built in cities like Portland and Atlanta, critics argue that they're useful only to a small number of people — like downtown business owners. One critic, Marc Scribner, a research fellow at Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., told NPR that streetcars are just "a government subsidy to property developers." For example, the D.C. Streetcar experienced years of delays and started running only last month, after a months-long extended safety test. In Atlanta, ridership was much lower than expected and plummeted when it began to charge a fare. 

2. The streetcar will be slow and unreliable since it shares the road with traffic.
Like a bus or trolley, the streetcar is not immune to traffic. It will ride along a lane of traffic and stop at stoplights. Traffic lights are supposed to be synced with the cars to minimize delays for regular traffic. Streetcars are supposed to come every seven to 15 minutes. But that will be hard to control if there's congestion. The streetcar will only make traffic worse when it comes to a stop to let riders on and off. The whole point of the streetcar is to alleviate congestion, but that won't happen unless ridership is high and it forces many cars off the road. Not to mention, riders coming downtown from the north, west, or south would still have to drive in and park their car before using the Wave. 

1. For 25 years, residents will have to pay $99 annually.
Residents living within a half-mile of the proposed track are paying a $99 annual special assessment fee. That's costing each household roughly $2,500. But now that the project has been delayed, residents are wondering why they are paying for a service they will not be able to use until 2020 at the earliest. 

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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson