Wave It Off
There seems to be some excitement around here for a bad idea. We refer to the Wave – a streetcar planned for downtown Fort Lauderdale. What we are doing here is going forward to the past – to an idea discarded in most major cities 50 years ago. The idea is a trolley that runs on the same space used by cars, bicycles, drunken pedestrians, etc.
The idea of a vehicle running on tracks is not bad, but it was decided years ago that having the vehicle on the same space as other traffic did not work. You just had a trolley filled with people moving as slowly as everything else, even slowing traffic while it discharged and loaded human cargo.
Now, into the 21st century. In many places there are still streetcars, but they run on dedicated lanes, usually the one closest to the curb. Anyone who has been to Denver, New Orleans, Sacramento, or Portland, Ore., needs no explanation. Those cities have streetcars that have their own alley, so to speak. They stop every four or five blocks, and streetlights are geared to give them a right of way. In Denver those streetcars connect to the railroads, carrying passengers 20 or more miles away, quicker than a car can make the same trip, especially at rush hour. Thus a fast, efficient way of moving large numbers of people.
The price paid for this luxury is giving up a lane of traffic. So the idea won’t work on say, Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale or Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. Those streets are too narrow. Where it would work, however, and Florida has many examples, are broad, three-lane highways. U.S. 1 is a prime example, up and down much of the Gold Coast. Major east-west arteries also have room to add a dedicated lane on the inside. You could run a streetcar, also known as light rail, from Plantation to downtown Fort Lauderdale, and connect to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, headed north or south (think airport), and that would be a most useful line.
It is surprising, with so many examples to copy, that our planners come up with an idea that history has negated. The Wave is a good idea on the wrong track. Wave it off.