Condo boom may mean more Miami gridlock

As city prepares for an influx of new residents, its transit woes have real estate industry’s attention

Oct.October 01, 2014 07:00 AM
Researchers rank Miami seventh among U.S. cities with the worst gridlock

Researchers rank Miami seventh among U.S. cities with the worst gridlock

When residents finally move into the new condos under construction in the Miami area, many will end up stuck in traffic.

Miami transportation options lag behind other major metropolitan areas, an issue likely to become more pressing as the condo boom continues. Already, drivers commuting on I-95, Florida’s Turnpike and the Dolphin and Palmetto expressways must deal with bumper-to-bumper tie-ups. A recent study by GPS device maker TomTom ranked Miami seventh in a list of U.S. cities with the worst gridlock.

Yet, Miamians are not giving up their cars anytime soon. In July, data mining website FiveThirtyEight ranked Miami ranked 44th among U.S. urban areas for number of annual public transit trips per capita, well behind comparably-sized cities like Washington, D.C., which was third, and Philadelphia, which was 10th.

There are several major public transportation projects on the table: All Aboard Florida’s express commuter train that would stop in Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami; Tri-Rail’s Coastal Link, which would add six stops in Northeast Miami-Dade County; and BayLink, a light rail project linking downtown Miami to Miami Beach that met stiff opposition from residents when it was first proposed more than 10 years ago.

Still, developers and real estate brokers don’t seem worried that buyers will be turned off by Miami’s lack of a subway system like New York’s.

High-end buyers shopping for luxury penthouses simply don’t care about mass transit, according to Philip Spiegelman, a principal with brokerage International Sales Group.

“They are more concerned that their unit comes with a parking space for their Lamborghinis and Maseratis,” Spiegelman said. “The high-end buyer will put up with gridlock because they get to enjoy driving their luxury vehicle in a city with waterfront views and perfect weather.”

Miami land-use attorney Carter McDowell claims buyers and renters are looking to move to downtown Miami, Midtown or Edgewater because those neighborhoods are centrally located and have adequate public transportation. In Miami’s urban core, the Metrorail, free Metromover system, the city’s free trolleys and public buses are reliable alternatives to cars, he said.

“I have a good friend who lived 25-to-30 years in Pinecrest,” a suburban village south of Coral Gables, McDowell said. “After her kids went to college, [she] and her husband sold the house and now rent an apartment in Midtown. That’s a pretty dramatic example of how [Miami residents] are changing their lifestyle.”

McDowell notes that All Aboard Florida, one of his clients, an expanded Tri-Rail and the possibility of BayLink will go a long way toward alleviating some of the mass transit shortfalls. “I’m not suggesting more can’t be done,” McDowell said. “But some progress is being made.

As of now, All Aboard Florida is the only one of the projects that has the go-ahead. The high-speed train would start near Miami-Dade County’s Government Center in downtown Miami and connect with the Metrorail and Metromover systems. Renderings show a futuristic downtown hub with three towers sitting on 9.5 acres owned by All Aboard Florida.

“We want to give the community more options,” said Ali Soule, the project’s spokesperson. “We want to take more cars off the road and make downtown more pedestrian-friendly.”

The trains would take three hours to reach Orlando, including the stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, traveling on railroad tracks owned by Florida East Coast Railway, All Aboard’s sister company. Plans call for 16 trains running southbound and 16 trains running northbound on a daily basis.

However, ridership surveys Soule provided suggest the trains would benefit tourists more than locals. Julie Edwards, All Aboard Florida’s chief marketing manager, said the company is still not sure how it will help commuters with the “last mile” — the final leg of the journey that drops them off at their place of employment.

The projected price for a train ride is also prohibitive.

While the company has not released the cost of a train ticket, Edwards said it would be calculated based on the federal government’s 56-cent-per-mile reimbursement rate and the cost of tolls. That means one trip from Miami to West Palm Beach could run between $30 and $40.

Yet All Aboard executives insist the trains will draw a large number of commuters. “We know there’s a market to turn these three metropolitan areas into a mega-city,” Soule said.

Until All Aboard Florida and other mass transit options begin operating, some real estate industry professionals are doing their best to make Miami’s current public transportation services part of their sales pitches.

L.J. Rodriguez, director of sales at the condo building Midblock at Midtown, tells potential buyers that they don’t have to own a car. He touts the city trolley that runs between Midtown and the financial district as a reliable mode of public transportation for people who work downtown.

“On the weekends, you don’t have to leave the neighborhood,” Rodriguez said. “Everything is within walking distance. People buying or renting in Midtown are trying to get away from the car lifestyle.”

Rodriguez has his sales staff ride the trolley regularly.

“Typically, it’s about 20-to-25 minutes into downtown and Brickell,” he said. “I’ve been here about a year and a half, and I have definitely seen an increase in trolley use.”

Mitch Friedman, principal of affordable housing developer Pinnacle Housing Group, claims his company is developing the only project in the Brickell area for the type of buyers who are most likely to use public transit.

Located near the Brickell Metrorail and Metromover stations, Brickell View Terrace is a mixed-use project featuring retail space on the ground floor of a 23-story residential tower with 176 affordable housing and market-rate units.

“Placing affordable housing and market-rate housing where people can have viable alternatives [to a car] makes a lot of sense,” Friedman said. “Especially when land for transit-oriented developments is very, very scarce.”

Harvey Hernandez, managing director of Newgard Development Group, which is building the downtown Miami condo tower Centro, said the lack of mass transit beyond the coastal communities of Miami-Dade is driving renters to the city’s core.

“We see people moving into urban areas because they want to be closer to the action and don’t want to commute from Doral to Brickell,” he said.

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