(Warning: This article contains a short, but shameless plug for the company I co-founded.)
Brightline Launches Express Service Connecting Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach
South Florida, comprised of Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties, is the fifth largest urbanized area in the United States with more than five million residents. Within the next 20 years, South Florida’s population is expected to grow to nearly eight million people.
As one of the fastest growing regions in the nation, South Florida faces the challenge of how to maintain the region’s economic competitiveness. A multimodal transportation system that provides mobility for existing and future residents and visitors is key to the region’s economic vitality and quality of life. South Florida needs a regional transportation system now more than ever that connects the Central Business Districts along the South Florida Coast.
Last month Brightline, the only privately owned, operated, and maintained passenger rail system, launched express service connecting Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach along the FEC corridor.
Florida East Coast Industries, (FECI) the parent company of All Aboard Florida, which operates the Brightline, has successful operations in real estate, transportation, and infrastructure. They also happen to own 351 miles of mainline track (right of way) from Miami to Jacksonville. Brightline service will extend to downtown Miami upon completion of Miami Central Station and there is also future service planned to Orlando.
The Brightline will hopefully become a public transit catalyst for South Florida. Once Miami Central Station opens, you’ll be able to hop on a train in downtown Miami and arrive in West Palm Beach within 60-minutes – all while sitting in comfortable seats and being productive with onboard wifi. There are even food and beverage options. Forget about sitting in traffic on I-95 for 75+ minutes.
If you’re commuting between Miami and West Palm Beach, the Brightline just became a great option if you can afford it. This is a huge first step, but the reality is that the Brightline is probably out of reach for many people. A round-trip ticket between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach is $30.
Expansion of Tri-Rail Coastal Link using FECI’s right-of-way Needed For Real Change
The real game changer would be the expansion of the Tri-Rail Coastal Link using FECI’s right-of-way. The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) along with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), the Southeast Florida Transportation Council (SEFTC), and South Florida and Treasure Coast Regional Planning Councils are working towards this goal. Unfortunately, this cannot happen soon enough for South Florida, at least using traditional urban planning and design tools.
Transit Oriented Development (TOD); what is it, and how does it relate to zoning?
Urban planning professionals define TOD as the proper and sustainable mixture of residential and non-residential uses within walking distance of a major public transportation station. Of course, applications and intensity of methods are managed by zoning. So what’s so difficult about that concept?
The definition of “proper and sustainable mixture of uses,” because there is no magic formula or secret recipe for that. The appropriate mixture in Miami will be different than in Delray Beach and different than Jupiter. Actually, it’s pretty safe to say that every TOD station will be different if they are expected to perform and be successful. The correct mixture and intensity of uses must be carefully selected based on each location’s history, density, culture, style, and environment.
According to Reconnecting America the benefits of TOD include:
- Increased transit ridership and fare revenue
- Potential for added value created through increased and/or sustained property values where transit investments have occurred
- Reduced household driving and thus lowered regional congestion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions
- Walkable communities that accommodate more healthy and active lifestyles
- Improved access to jobs and economic opportunity for low-income people and working families
- Expanded mobility choices that reduce dependence on the automobile, reduce transportation costs and free up household income for other purposes
The SFRTA is proposing 28 new station locations in the tri-county area along the FECI corridor. New transit service would have a dramatic impact as to how real estate developers plan their next big project if municipalities with proposed new stations can get their act together when it comes to zoning. The SFRTA has a “suggested” Transit Oriented Development Policy that they are introducing to all 19 municipalities with proposed stations.