A Knave's Guide to the WAVE
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has come to the aid of the beleaguered WAVE trolley—the one designed to solve Fort Lauderdale’s downtown traffic problems with 1890s technology. Schultz was quoted in the Sun-Sentinel to the effect that killing the WAVE deal, as recently elected city commissioners have vowed to do, would be a mistake. She says the city would have difficulty attracting federal money for any future projects. She added that the trolley is needed to relieve traffic. She also said the city had an obligation to those who made investments in downtown based on the expectation that the trolley was coming.
The strength of Ms. Schultz’s opinions has been weakened since her embarrassing removal as Democratic National Chairman after her committee was accused of favoritism in backing a candidate in the last presidential election, but she is probably right about a refusal to accept federal money leading to difficulty getting money in the future. But she is definitely wrong in saying the trolley will relieve congestion. No vehicle that blocks a lane of traffic is going to spell relief. It would be a different story if the trolley had a dedicated lane for its tracks, as new light rail systems have in other cities. The trolleys shoot right past lines of cars, encouraging people to abandon those cars in favor of the faster mode.
And the argument about investors is wrong. It’s the other way around. The WAVE was used as an excuse for developers to get approvals for overbuilding without consideration for the traffic problems—on the spurious grounds that the trolley would enable people to leave their cars at home.
With so much time and money already invested in the WAVE, is there no way out of this mess? There is. The city should accept the government money and send those pretty artists' renderings up to Washington—pictures that show a futuristic trolley on lightly traveled streets—and say the system is up and running and is a great success. Only we need some more money because the electric bills are higher than expected, and there have been expensive lawsuits from families whose breadwinners have committed suicide when frustrated by gridlocked traffic when trolleys stop to discharge and board riders.
Chances are that with Washington in such chaotic condition, nobody will challenge this effort, but if they do, there are several options:
(1) Say that stealing from the government is traditional, as many in the Trump administration have been proving.
(2) If someone challenges that reasoning as problematic, say we were victims of fake news and really meant to say that the WAVE concept has had some change orders. These include giving up the idea of tracks in the street and overhead wires in favor of compact electric vehicles that can get out of traffic when serving passengers and run on well-publicized busy streets so often that as in Chattanooga or Atlantic City (the century old jitneys are not electric) you don’t need to follow a schedule because you can almost always see one coming a few blocks away.
That should certainly satisfy the U.S. Secretary of Transportation—if there is one—and the enormous savings of replacing the trolley with efficient electric buses would give the city money to use on something that the public really wants and needs—such as bringing back Maguires Hill 16.