Light Rail

UPDATE – The light rail project is scrapped due to tremendous opposition from residents.

Light Rail information
Light Rail Report – Route, Cost, Pictures (39 pages)


Why Light Rail/ Modern Streetcar?
Studies conducted from 2003/2004, and updated in 2015 by the MPO and Miami-Dade County indicated the need for improved regional mobility between Miami Beach and Downtown Miami/Midtown areas. Demand for improved internal circulation was also documented. As a result of these studies, recommendation was made for an electrically powered light rail transit/modern streetcar system to connect Miami Beach and Miami via the MacArthur Causeway.

A Policy Executive Committee made up of elected officials of Cities of Miami Beach, Miami, Miami-Dade County and FDOT leadership was formed to provide guidance.

The Committee met on February 4, 2016 to discuss FDOT’s recommendations regarding approaches to expedite the entire project (Downton-MacArthur Causeway-Convention Center) while allowing each City to move forward with their portion of the project to the extent that it does not jeopardize Federal funding of financing for other portions of the project. At that meeting, the PEC endorsed moving forward with two separate projects, instead of the one-project approach recommended by FDOT. Each project has independent utility, but together make up the regional Beach Corridor project.

A Federal New Starts Project with Limits 2 from Midtown Miami (at or near NE 41 Street and NE 2 Avenue) to Transit Hub Connector located in the vicinity of 5 Street and Alton Road in Miami Beach under one National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document, under Miami-Dade County management (“Beach Corridor Direct Connection Project”);
A Non-Federal New Starts/Locally Funded Project with Limits from a Transit Hub Connector located in the vicinity of 5 Street and Alton Road to the Miami Beach Convention Center with proposed transit loop system to enhance connectivity, under a State Environmental process to be initiated and led by the City of Miami Beach (“Miami Beach Light Rail/Streetcar Project”).

What is the project called?
The Project is called the City of Miami Beach Light Rail/Modern Streetcar

What happens next and how long will it take?

The City of Miami Beach is underway with environmental studies required by the State of Florida and preliminary design of the light rail/streetcar lines. The preliminary plans will serve as the basis to select a contractor team late in 2016.

What is a “modern streetcar?”
A modern streetcar is an electrically powered transit vehicle that operates on steel rails generally embedded into the street. The streetcar acts as an urban circulator using the existing street system to navigate its travel. Streetcars generally have simple stops every several blocks.

How is a streetcar different from a bus?
A streetcar provides high capacity transportation beyond what a standard bus can provide. The quality of ride provided by the electrically powered vehicles operating on rails is inherently a smoother ride providing higher quality than buses on asphalt streets. A modern streetcar operating in an exclusive right of way provides a substantial improvement in the level of transit service. The streetcars will generally be unimpeded by traffic congestion, and will therefore provide improved reliability and travel time savings. Implementing the streetcar represents a significant infrastructure investment that helps to maintain and attract economic development.

How is the streetcar different from light rail?
The streetcar differs from light rail in its single car operation and smaller vehicle size. Light Rail is usually controlled by a separate transit signal system that is coordinated with the traffic control system.

How does the light rail/ streetcar get its power?
The light rail/ streetcar proposed for the City of Miami Beach will obtain power through a ground power system (GPS) which is a rail embedded in the street. The power system is activated only when a light rail/ modern streetcar vehicle is present over the embedded rail and the power is transmitted through a shoe mounted on the bottom of the vehicle. When the vehicle is not present, the embedded rail is deactivated. Power for the system comes from the local power provider and is routed through traction power substations located along the route and into the embedded rail.

The MPO suggested wireless travel, whether underground or charging at stations.

What is the project’s final route and why?
At this time, the proposed Light Rail/Modern Streetcar service is proposed to run on Alton Road, 5 Street, Washington Avenue and either 17 Street or Dade Boulevard, pending results of technical analyses that will be finalized by Fall 2016. The proposed light rail/modern streetcar route provides service to key destinations in the South Beach area and effectively links residential areas and hotels to commercial areas and the convention center.

Will we lose traffic lanes?
On certain streets proposed for the Light Rail/Modern Streetcar project, one travel lane may be removed:

  • 5th Street – one lane westbound will be converted to a dedicated left turn lane
    Alton Road – two lanes in each direction will be maintained; dedicated left turn will be converted to transit lane and median.
  • Washington Avenue – Consultants are completing technical analyses, incorporating community input, to assess the feasibility of a shared drop-off/pick-up lane next to the curb.
    Results will be made available by Fall 2016.Will we lose parking?

Under current scenarios, the City will remove on-street parking on Alton Road and on Washington Avenue. Independent of this City project, the Commission has expressed a desire to replace on-street parking along major arterials with off-street parking in garages, to address traffic congestion along these streets caused by vehicles maneuvering between travel lanes and on-street parking spaces. Several garage projects along or near Washington Avenue and on Alton Road are in development.

The City confirms that the ultimate Washington Avenue proposal has not been defined, while further analysis is conducted. The recommendations resulting from these analyses will be available by Fall 2016

I would like to know about the collector parking lots that would encourage visitors to drop their cars off and utilize public transportation during their stay at the beach. Is this being considered as part of an overall mobility solution?
There are a number of existing and planned parking facilities along the proposed light rail/modern streetcar route. It is anticipated that many people will find it more convenient to ride the light rail/modern streetcar than to retrieve their car from a parking structure drive to their destination and try to find another parking space. The proposed light rail/modern streetcar is an important part of the overall mobility solution for the South Beach area because it provides a convenient option for travel from parking to a final destination.
Funded projects are currently at 16 Street & West Avenue/ 13 Street & Collins Avenue/ 10 Street & Washington Avenue/ 23 Street & Collins Avenue
Additional projects under consideration in the vicinity: 5th Street & Alton Road/ 9th Street & Washington/ 41st Street

How frequently will the trains run?
Frequency of service is still to be determined based on ridership studies. Typically, streetcars operate every 5 to 15 minutes depending on demand by time of day.

Will this project impact our roads?
The light rail/ streetcar will be constructed primarily within existing street rights of way. Because the system will generally operate in exclusive right of way, it will displace existing uses within the streets along the route. This will require modifications to the existing street system as well as modifications to the traffic control system. These modifications are being designed to maintain a reasonable level of traffic operations during peak periods and also support efficient streetcar operations. Any parking will be replaced outside the immediate area

A detailed traffic impact analysis is underway and presented for public review in Fall 2016.

Will the proposed light rail/ streetcar have a dedicated lane in traffic or can I drive in the same lane?
The Miami Beach light rail/ streetcar would run in exclusive right-of-way along the roadway median.

Will there be many station stops?
Station stops would be located approximately every 3 to 5 blocks along the route.

Will it eventually connect to Miami/ Downtown Area?
Yes. Just recently, and in large part due to the initiatives taken by Miami Beach, the Miami-Dade County Long Range Transportation Plan was amended to reflect that the connection across the MacArthur Causeway was approved as a Priority 1 project. Miami-Dade County, the MPO, Cities of Miami Beach and Miami, as well as FDOT executed a Memorandum of Understanding in July 2016 to undertake the development of the Beach Corridor Direct Connection Project. A copy of the Memorandum of Understanding, and a map that shows the proposed alignment for the ultimate Beach Corridor Direct Connection Project can be found here or on the ‘Beach Corridor Project’ tab of the website.

Is the project coordinated with county and regional plans for other new transit projects?
Yes, the light rail/ streetcar would initially serve the community of Miami Beach as an independent project. However, it will be compatible with plans of the City of Miami and the State to connect as one service linking the two cities via MacArthur Causeway.

How is the project going to be financed?
A wide range of public and private sources of funding are being investigated. A financial plan identifying the preferred types of funding necessary to construct and operate the streetcar will be developed in the next several months.

What is the Final Cost of the project? Who will be paying for this?
At this stage of project development, the “planning level” cost estimate is $387.5 million. This number will be updated, as the project design is refined.

The City of Miami Beach will finalize the funding plan over the next 6 months, in coordination with proposed funding partners. The project’s design, construction, future operations and maintenance charges (should this project be built) will be funded with City, State and County funds.

Why isn’t the City pursuing Federal funding? And why are there no Buy America provisions?
Buy America is a prerequisite for Federal funding. The City Commission decided to not pursue Federal funding so that we may build the project as early as possible, should the City decide to move forward. Implementation schedules for locally funded projects are generally shorter, as long as the necessary local funding is committed. There is intense nationwide competition for scarce Federal funding, combined with a lengthy, “stepped” application process that usually results in longer implementation schedules.

Given this reality, the City Commission authorized staff to assure the widest possible choice in technology and vehicles, so that the City may select the best possible alternative to move our public transportation service forward in a timely manner. A key consideration of this approach is the direction from the 2015 study, as well as from the City Commission, that the system operate without wires in the City of Miami Beach to ensure that the system would be compatible with the urban context and not cause visual impacts to our historic buildings, especially in South Beach. Currently only one wireless system is in operation in the United States, but approximately 10 systems using wireless technology are in use worldwide.

What will it cost me to ride the modern streetcar?
The fare will be determined at a later date. This will be developed in coordination with the regional transit fare policy in effect.

Will the streetcar be environmentally friendly?
Yes, the streetcar is powered by electricity and significantly more beneficial than gasoline. It also provides a quite ride.

Is the street car loud? I’m concerned about noise pollution.
The noise generated by a streetcar is generally compatible with an urban environment and is generally less than what is typically experienced from cars, truck and buses operating on the street.

Vehicle motor noise – streetcars are electrically powered and the streetcar motors are very quiet and generally indistinguishable in an urban environment
Wheel/rail interface – streetcars operate on a steel wheel on a steel rail. The noise generated by the wheel/rail interface varies depending on the speed of the vehicle; noise increases with increasing speeds. At the relatively low operating speeds anticipated in the CMB, wheel/rail noise is very low; generally less than adjacent traffic noise from cars, buses and trucks.
Ancillary equipment – compressors, air conditioning, controllers generally no more than anything else operating in the current environment.

Audible warning devices – Because streetcars are relatively quiet, there is a need for audible warning devices (bells, horns) to alert pedestrians and patrons.

A detailed assessment of potential project noise and vibration impacts under way and presented for public review by Fall 2016.

Why such a rush?
The need for this has been identified as far back as 1969. Traffic congestion is one of the top priorities in Miami Beach. We cannot afford to delay the pursuit of a built solution to address congestion, as this will affect the City’s economic well-being and competitiveness.

What is the construction impact of the streetcar?
A Light rail/ modern streetcar systems are typically simpler to construct in comparison to light rail, requiring less construction and time. Streetcar construction is usually confined to the track work and requires minimal, if any right of way, keeping the sideways largely intact during the construction.

How is the project going to be built?
The light rail/ streetcar will be built along the median within existing street rights of way. The streetcar construction will involve excavating the existing street, repairing/replacing utilities as necessary, track construction, and street reconstruction.

When will construction begin?
Construction is expected to start in 2017 and is expected to take approximately two years.

Would the trolley car system be coordinated with the streetcar? If the streetcar drops me five blocks from my final destination, will a trolley car be available to take me the rest of the way?
The city will continue to implement the Rail project and to provide comprehensive mobility throughout Miami Beach. There is a possibility of using the existing trolley car systems into feeder buses into surrounding neighborhoods.

Will existing MDT bus routes serving the City be eliminated?
The rail project will include a comprehensive look at the bus services in the area. Some routes could be modified to take advantage of the street car services. Other routes will remain unaffected.

How much will the streetcar cost to ride?
Fares will be determined later, but would anticipate them to be competitive with MDT bus fares.

Who is going to operate the project?
The City is seeking a concessionaire to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system.

Will it be ADA complaint?
Yes. In addition to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, the project will provide easy access for wheelchairs, strollers, elderly transit riders and users with physical disabilities through “level boarding” from the platform. Light Rails/ Modern streetcars offer low-floor design with easy access from the street as well as interior layouts without steps or ramps.

Will the light rail/modern streetcar cause an increase in crime?It is a common misconception that public transit brings about crime. With the success of many other projects across the nation, we anticipate the creation of jobs and accessibility of transit to be a positive impact on our community.

Related Studies/Cases:

  • A similar study of the SkyTrain transit system in Vancouver also concluded that crime along the transit line decreased, click here.
  • A study in Los Angeles concluded, “the transit line has not had significant impacts on crime trends or crime dislocation in the station neighborhoods, and has not transported crime from the inner city to the suburbs”, read more here.
  • The safety of the light rail/modern streetcar system is of paramount importance and maintaining a safe environment on and around the system will be a primary consideration in the system design.  The system will be monitored with closed circuit television.  The system will be designed for high visibility and lighting for pedestrian spaces. In addition, fare enforcement and security personnel will be present on the vehicles and at stops.
  • A study in Charlotte, North Carolina found that crime in the vicinity of light rail stations decreased after opening of the Lynx light rail line, read more here
Who do I call if I have questions?
You may contact the City of Miami Beach Department of Transportation at 305.673.7514 or