WAVE It Off
You can see it now. Motorist I, in heavy downtown traffic, is late for a meeting with the boss. Motorist I sees the unprintable streetcar blocking his lane of traffic half a block away. He veers sharply to the left, hoping Motorist II in that lane will let him in. But Motorist II is one of those angry types who does not ever let anybody get in front him. To do so would be an affront to his manhood. He accelerates and hits Motorist I, who is now truly late to see the boss.
Motorist II is out of the car, screaming at Motorist I. Motorist I senses a foreign accent in Motorist II and calls him an unprintable racial slur. Motorist II understands enough English to be offended and makes a threatening gesture, and Motorist I, citing Florida’s “stand-your-ground law” reaches into his car for his Glock. Too late. Motorist II crouches and gets his .25 caliber Beretta out of his ankle holster and shoots Motorist I in the groin before the latter can even aim.
Staggering back in pain, Motorist I fires. He misses Motorist II but the bullet hits a pregnant woman coming out of a building across the street. Motorist II, getting over his road rage when he realizes the incident might lead to his deportation, runs to his car and tries to flee. But he can’t move in traffic because the streetcar coming the other way has everybody blocked. Panicking, he takes off on foot.
Suddenly thinking like a lawyer, he throws his gun away, aiming for a trash basket across the street. Under the stress of the situation, he forgets to bend his knees as on the foul line in his native Montenegro and hits the aerial of a car. As the weapon falls to the street, the impact causes it to fire, and the bullet goes up in the air and strikes a traffic helicopter rushing to report the scene. Unfortunately, it hits the chopper pilot, who loses control. The chopper plunges down and strikes the streetcar that started all the trouble. There is a fiery explosion. Fortunately, the trolley car is as usual almost empty, and only four people die. Unfortunately, none are attorneys.
OK, that series of events is not likely. Such things only happen in television ads. But it is not unthinkable that a streetcar blocking traffic could lead to some inappropriate decisions by motorists stuck behind it. And that would be the least of the problems associated with the proposed WAVE Streetcar in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
The real problem is that the proposed streetcar is a very expensive idea designed to help the rapidly worsening Fort Lauderdale traffic situation, but it more likely will just make things worse. Public opinion has been building against the idea, and Fort Lauderdale Commissioners are increasingly conflicted. Mayor Jack Seiler has pointed out the problems. Let’s hope his colleagues listen and wave off the WAVE.
This is not a bias against streetcars. We actually like them. Growing up in Philadelphia, we lived on a cobblestoned avenue that had two streetcar lines. They rattled in our dreams. Even as the original concept of sharing lanes with other traffic has been long abandoned around the country, streetcars still survive with the right concept. Where they are useful are new systems that provide dedicated lanes in congested downtown settings, combined with newly constructed tracks reaching out to suburban locations and high-traffic destinations such as airports.
Denver is an excellent example. Its electric vehicles have exclusive lanes (shown above). They move around faster than cars in the downtown, and then connect to existing railroads, or new rights of way, to serve communities outside the city. The airport connection makes six stops on the 25-mile route. It takes 37 minutes.
Fort Lauderdale’s application would make sense if the streetcars had dedicated lanes. But they won’t. Even the planned expansion to places such as the Davie education complex would share the road with cars and trucks. And it isn’t as if Fort Lauderdale has no alternative to reducing downtown traffic. More effective, infinitely cheaper and available without delay, would be the Chattanooga, Tennessee model. For decades a downtown shuttle has used small electric buses to solve the same problem as Fort Lauderdale faces. They are free in theory, although people can, and usually do, make a 25-cent contribution at a box at the main terminal at the railway station.
They produce no exhaust in a city with a serious air pollution problem, do not hold up traffic and are fun to ride. That idea is hardly new. Atlantic City has had its famous jitneys for a century. Like Chattanooga, they run so often that riders can almost always see one coming down the street. They also pass each other if they have no riders getting off. It is a popular and efficient system.
Fort Lauderdale’s problem seems to be a reluctance to back off after much time and planning has gone into the system. And apparently developers are pushing for it because it will ease parking requirements for their new (and traffic generating) high-rises, which only these developers seem to want.
Happily, Fort Lauderdale taxpayers seem to be getting the message—slowly. One hopes those in charge will do the same. Pray they have the good sense to WAVE it off.