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Publisher's Letter

Publisher's Letter - November 2017

“The more ordinary people complain, like boats against the current, the more developers bear us ceaselessly (and mindlessly) into the past.”

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” When F. Scott Fitzgerald was our English prof (he died in 1940), he liked that line in a paper we wrote so much that he even used it himself. We forget now how Fitz applied it, but we were writing, with a vision to the future, of The Wave, the Fort Lauderdale streetcar that won’t go away, no matter how many people oppose this strange and impractical idea bearing us into the past.

Fitzgerald was born in 1896, a time when streetcars, with tracks embedded in cobblestone streets and poles reaching for electricity in the sky made sense. It was a time when horse-drawn buggies and early automobiles crowded city streets and the streetcar could get people around faster than they could walk. Outside the urban core, these vehicles often had their own rights of way,  moving along dirt lanes, or through woodlands and farms, speeding commuters miles from the city. And, in the case of interurban, connecting cities, they helped invent what we now call suburbia.

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The concept still works. We have seen it in action in Denver and Sacramento, but there the systems are different from what is planned in Fort Lauderdale. In those cities the streetcars have dedicated lanes in city traffic; they move unimpeded past auto traffic on inside lanes that enable people to board directly from the sidewalk. Then they connect to existing rail lines and become conventional commuter trains, taking passengers miles to suburban communities or airports. 

Even in their heyday, when they were an essential component of urban transit, streetcars added to traffic jams.

But that is not the plan for Fort Lauderdale. Here the tracks will run in lanes shared by other traffic. Instead of speeding movement on the most congested downtown streets, they will only add to it, holding up lines of cars and trucks when they stop for passengers every block or so. The overhead wires will be unsightly for a resort community and vulnerable to hurricanes. It could create a dangerous situation if they came down. Finally, the vehicles won’t be able to move onto the FEC tracks, or any other right of way.

It isn’t as if there is not a more sensible, and vastly less expensive, solution to urban transportation. We have written in the past about the compact battery-powered electric buses in Chattanooga, a modern spin on Atlantic City’s jitney system that has worked well for 100 years. People don’t worry about schedules. There is always one in sight, and rather than causing traffic jams, they can avoid them by passing each other when necessary. 

What is puzzling about The Wave is that nobody seems to want it. Nobody except maybe developers who continue to build monstrous structures that nobody wants either. They argue for an idea that they say will relieve congestion they cause, when in fact it will only make it worse. The more ordinary people complain, like boats against the current, the more developers bear us ceaselessly (and mindlessly) into the past.