As a New Yorker who grew up riding subways, I'm all for mass transit. But the proposed Wave electric streetcar in downtown Fort Lauderdale sounds more like a massive boondoggle: A light rail loop that will go virtually nowhere and carry almost nobody, on tracks that will traverse crowded downtown streets. I can't wait for the inevitable car vs. streetcar collisions.
All for $83 million to build the initial 1.4 mile-leg, $59 million for a second 1.3-mile leg, plus a $50 million pledge from Broward County to subsidize operations for the first 20 years.
That's a total of $192 million. For that kind of dough we could buy 40,851 Segways, or 56,470 Vespa scooters.
Did I mention that a free trolley service that's covered the same loop over the past decade has been hard-pressed to get more than a couple hundred riders a day?
And that downtown Fort Lauderdale property owners will have to kick in for the Wave through a special assessment added to their property tax bills? In Tampa, where a similar streetcar system has daily ridership averaging 900 after 11 years, the annual assessment is $33 per $100,000 of taxable property.
So pardon my skepticism, but I'm not exactly catching Wave fever.
Wave backers say the streetcar will spur development and blend cohesively with a new wave of regional transit initiatives that will finally get people to ditch their cars.
Or maybe it will just be a circular Tri-Rail. Alone, disconnected, and mostly ignored.
"If it only goes a couple of blocks around in circles, then it's not worth doing," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler told me Wednesday. "But the thinking is it will connect to other modes of transit and eventually expand," perhaps going to Broward Health Medical Center, Port Everglades and the airport.
"You've got to start somewhere," Seiler said.
But why start here? If we're looking to bake a transit cake, shouldn't this project be the frosting at the end, not the batter at the beginning?
Then again, when it comes to transit in South Florida, things have always been half-baked.
Just look at Tri-Rail, the centerpiece of regional transit that's been running 24 years. Built on tracks along Interstate 95 from Miami to West Palm Beach, it's struggled to attract more than 15,000 daily riders because it's not convenient.
Here's what Broward residents really need: Rail transit routes that run north-south on the Florida East Coast railway tracks through the heart of coastal cities, and east-west on the I-595 corridor.
For now, all we'll get is express bus service along the east-west corridor, but commuter trains on the FEC tracks are finally closer to reality. An eastern Tri-Rail component is in the works, along with All Aboard Florida, a statewide service with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach before going to Orlando and beyond.
Maybe the Wave will crest to success with these other projects. But based on South Florida's shaky transit past, I'm expecting a wipeout.
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