Future is Bright for train travel in Florida

First ride: Aboard Florida’s new Brightline train

Lisa Broadt, The (Stuart, Fla.) News, Published 9:11 p.m. ET Jan. 12, 2018 | Updated 9:12 p.m. ET Jan. 12, 2018

 

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On the eve of Brightline passenger rail launching in South Florida, the railroad already is looking beyond its original goal of service between Miami and Orlando.

Brightline’s intercity system could be expanded within Florida to Jacksonville or Tampa and could be replicated in other states with similar demographics, including Georgia and Texas, railroad officials said at a media event Friday.

“Our vision doesn’t stop here,” said Wes Edens, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, Brightline’s parent company. “Our goal is to look at other corridors with similar characteristics — too long to drive, too short to fly.”

Brightline — the country’s only privately owned and operated passenger railroad — is to officially begin passenger service Saturday morning.

For now, trains will run between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. But the railroad will expand to Miami later this year, with full service to Orlando still two years away.

Elected officials and members of the media on Friday took the 40-minute trip on BrightGreen, one of Brightline’s five colorful diesel-electric trains.

It was a chance for the $3.1 billion railroad to show off the amenities they say will set Brightline apart from other forms of public transportation, including Tri-Rail, South Florida’s existing commuter rail.

Leather seats, wide aisles, bike racks, free wireless Internet — with two power outlets and two USB ports per seat — are among the amenities Brightline says will appeal to its target customers, which include tourists, business travelers and Millennials.

Friday’s event also was a chance for Brightline to introduce the staff that it says will provide world-class hospitality.

Train attendant Whytni Walker, 23, of West Palm Beach said she applied to Brightline because she wanted “to be part of something new.”

Walker said she believes the staff, many of whom are Millennials, are helping to create a vibrant atmosphere aboard the trains and in the stations.

“There’s energy everywhere,” Walker said. “Since training began, there hasn’t been a dull day.”

But even with the launch of service just hours away, Brightline officials on Friday were focused on the future.

The project’s successful launch — and performance in the coming years — could have implications for passenger rail nationwide, Edens said in an interview with USA TODAY.

To be economically viable, the railroad must capture 2% of the approximately 100 million annual trips between Miami and Orlando, according to Edens.

The private-equity investor and co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks said he’s confident Brightline will deliver.

“The service offering and the convenience and the expense of it are so compelling that 2% seems like a good risk,” Edens said.

The Brightline model could be replicated in other highly populated, highly congested city pairs, such as Atlanta-Charlotte, Houston-Dallas and Dallas-Austin, according to Edens.

The company has long said that its use of the Florida East Coast Railway — a Miami-to-Jacksonville corridor established in the late 19th century but currently used only for freight — was a key factor in making Brightline financially viable.

Similar infrastructure exists in Texas and Georgia and is, in fact, abundant in many areas of the country, according to Edens.

“The U.S. has very poor passenger rail, but the best freight system in the world,” he said. “The existing infrastructure is very usable in many of these places.”

Within Florida, Tampa and Jacksonville are among the most obvious expansion opportunities, Edens said, adding that each comes with unique benefits. Expansion from Orlando to Tampa, Florida’s second-largest city by population, would be aided by the fact that the state owns right-of-way between the cities, while an expansion to Jacksonville, the northern terminus of the Florida East Coast Railway, would have the advantage of the existing infrastructure, according to Edens.

Introductory fares between West Palm and Fort Lauderdale are $10 each way for Smart Service, Brightline’s coach class, and $15 for Select Service, its business class. Seniors, active military personnel and veterans will receive a 10% discount, and children younger than 12 will ride for half price as part of discounted introductory fares, according to Brightline.

Initial service will include 10 daily round trips on weekdays and nine on weekends between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Brightline ticketing and schedule information is available online and through the railroad’s new mobile app.

Miami’s New Vision as a Global City seeks to expand Economic Opportunity

The Miami Urban Future Initiative is a joint initiative with FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts and CCG sponsored in part by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation,  which will lead new research and mapping on economic, occupational, creative and technological assets in Miami, in partnership with renowned experts, to provide necessary data, evidence and strategy to grow a more inclusive, creative economy for a 21st century global Miami. Miami has reached a crossroads. Its economy – historically based on tourism, hospitality, transportation, and real-estate development – has deepened, diversified, and become more creative and idea-based, as banking, media, arts, education, and new technology-based industries have assumed a larger role. The region now finds itself at a critical inflection point.

While growing, Miami’s creative class — those who make a living by using their minds in arts & design, science, technology, law, & medical industries or academia, media, management, & finance — only make up 25% of the workforce, a much smaller share than regions like Washington, D.C. (44.6%),  Chicago or& L.A. (31.5% each). Miami also suffers from challenges arising from a rapidly growing urban center. This Initiative will develop additional research about Miami’s creative economy and divides, while working across the business, civic, and academic communities to shape a constructive, future-oriented dialogue.

Through this Initiative, they hope to provide the thought leadership and awareness required to guide Miami’s evolution as a global city through data-driven research and assessments of the key trends shaping the region, disseminate this information and inform the broad strategic vision for the region’s private and public stakeholders through ongoing local convenings and briefs and bring global thought-leaders and practitioners to bear on thinking about the region’s future through high-level events and convenings on issues important to Miami and global cities.

More than two decades ago, Alejandro Portes, now at the University of Miami, and Alex Stepick of FIU dubbed Miami as a “city on the edge,” with many assets and many challenges. The region’s transformation, they added, was a story of “change without a blueprint.” Miami has seen one of its greatest growth waves since that time, benefiting from the strategic action of visionary stakeholders, groups, universities and colleges, and mayors since. It is now time to renew the region’s commitment to a regional strategy and to engage a broad region-wide conversation about a more inclusive prosperity that takes into account the mounting realities and challenges that face the region today. The time to act is now: if it misses this opportunity, the region risks losing the economic advantages it has achieved.

To this end, FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts and Creative Class Group (CCG) created the FIU-Miami Creative City Initiative, an ongoing collaboration to better understand the forces that are shaping the future of Miami. Their aim is to build upon the strong foundation created by the region’s political, business, academic, and civic leadership and organizations over the past several decades to help identify the key things Miami can do to position itself as a more innovative, creative, inclusive, and prosperous global city and region.

Miami Urban Future Initiative Research Report: Miami Ranks 6th Among Large U.S. Metros on the New Urban Crisis Index

Miami’s rankings on the various equity metrics include:

  • Income Inequality. Miami ranks second among large U.S. metros in terms of income inequality.
  • Wealth Segregation. Miami ranks tenth among large U.S. metros according to its segregation of the wealthy, a measure of the residential segregation of households with incomes of $200,000 or more.
  • Overall Segregation. Miami ranks sixteenth among large U.S. metros on the Segregation Inequality Index, a combined measure of economic segregation and both wage and income inequality.
  • Housing Unaffordability. Miami ranks among the twenty least-affordable metros in the world in terms of its “median multiple,” or ratio of median housing prices to median household income.
  • Concentrated Poverty. 14 percent of Greater Miami households and one in five families with children lived below the poverty line.
  • Middle Class Decline. In Miami, the middle-class share of population declined from 51 percent in 2000 to 48.5 percent in 2014.

Walter Elias Disney: Transportation Visionary and Urban Planner

“I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin… how do we start answering this great challenge?” -Walt Disney

EPCOT, or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, began as Walt Disney’s idea of creating a better city. A utopian environment enriched in education, and in expanding technology. A perfect city with dependable public transportation, a soaring civic center covered by an all-weather dome, and model factories concealed in green belts that were readily accessible to workers housed in idyllic suburban subdivisions nearby.

The idea of having a perfect city was one of Walt Disney’s last projects. Before his death, in late 1966, Walt had bought up thousands of acres in central Florida, for an East Coast Disneyland, Walt Disney World. But all this was leading up to Walt’s true vision, a city without dirt, without grime, an experimental prototype city.

This idea of a perfect environment actually formed in Walt’s mind way before the actual thought of EPCOT. Disneyland is a perfect example. Its 25 foot Earthen Berm protects it from the outside world. With clean streets, and walkways, Disneyland was Walt’s first idea to have a better city, not like the 1950’s Los Angeles where Walt worked and lived.

Plans for the Florida Project, “Project X,” were being designed in a special room at the Disney Studios. This “Florida Room” had high ceilings and padded walls for pinning up plans. This room is where master plans were created for EPCOT, as well as Walt Disney World.

“EPCOT,” is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. WED Designer Marvin Davis said Walt created the phrase, he thought it was just right.

Shortly before Walt’s death, he made a film showcasing this new city. Before the filming he gave his presentation to a few friends, and afterwards asked “does this sound like a city you’d want to live in?” In the final product the EPCOT movie was a model for solving “today’s city problems . . . through proper master planning.” The movie continued, although, the city on the film was just a set, with a series of maps and charts. With a strong rhetorical image of wholeness, harmony, safety, and underlying order.

Unfortunately the EPCOT Walt Disney envisioned was never created. Walt Disney died of lung cancer at the hospital across the street from his studio. Work on EPCOT continued with fresh intensity. Although, the team would have to rely on the past thoughts from Walt; before Walt would come into the Florida room 2-3 times a week, bringing fresh ideas, and new excitement to the bunch. Marvin Davis recalls how “he designed the whole traffic flow around EPCOT on a little napkin.”

Roy Disney, Walt’s brother, was troubled by the thought of building a city. What did a Movie Studio know about water lines, power cables, sewer systems, and municipal government? When Marvin Davis presented his plans to Roy, they met with a sad, simple, answer. “Marvin,” Roy Disney spoke, “Walt’s dead.” So was the city known as EPCOT. So, plans then were shifted, first, to a Disneyland East- Magic Kingdom Park- a taller, and bigger park. Then a series of hotels, located on the edge of the property, to keep out unwanted intrusions.

Even though Walt’s dream of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was never developed, a World’s Fair type EPCOT does now exist. Although, a city truly new and experimental was designed, and is located on the Disney World Property, Celebration Florida is where remnant of EPCOT now resides. One wonders, what if Walt lived longer, would there have been an EPCOT? This question is inevitably unanswerable.

Walt Disney’s Vision of an EPCOT