Building a sustainability-friendly mass transit system

William Goetz

Is anyone aware of a county or municipality whose transit infrastructure was originally built virtually entirely to accommodate geographically spread-out residents driving individual vehicles, but which has now successfully built and converted at reasonable costs and logistics to a mass-transit system which residents enthusiastically use?

Like most of Florida, Fort Lauderdale,, Fl (pop. 175K), and Boward County have a transit infrastructure almost totally devoted to accommodate individual private and commercial gas or diesel powered motor vehicles. The roads and transit infrastructures were never designed to take into account pedestrians, bicyclist, or mass transit.

The city and county are making reasonable strides to accommodate pedestrians and cyclist.

However, because the business centers and residential areas are so spread out geographically, redesigning sustainable mass transmit to transport people from near their residences to their places of business is quite problematic, both financially and logistically.

This is particularly true for those who reside in the far western suburban housing developments 5-8 miles inland who must travel to the easterly located city center, itself about a mile from the coast. In addition, there are many residents in all areas of the county who must travel several miles north-south to their places of employment

One of the busiest ports in the nation is located in the city, and services extremely high volume passenger ships,, as well as container ships. There is no connecting east-west rail line serving it, so the container ships are serviced only be trucks..

One of the nation's fastest growing airports is located near the port (most cruise-ship passengers enter here), but there are currently no mass transit lines servicing it to the port or other areas.

Thee is only one mass transit rail system going north-south, which is located about 3-4 miles inland, and parallels an over-burdened interstate. The number of stops is relatively limited, as are the scheduled east-west bus routes serving the stops. Because of the economy, cuts have further limited some bus routes.

Another north-south rail line is closer to the coast, but at present is used only for commercial transport. Negotiations are underway to convert it to a mass transit line.

The county is instituting a dedicated fast bus lane system, that currently runs north-south along only one major inland county highway, but it is even further from the coast. East-west transfer travel off this line is also problematic.

Due to a high water table, underground transit is not feasible.

Only one east-west light-rail line has been proposed, but monies have not yet been allocated, and it is unclear whether it will ever be built.

To make matters more difficult, there are almost no sheltered bus stops, and many lack benches, forcing potential riders to stand in Florida's hot sun.

The whole thing seems like a macro-economic version of the chicken-egg dilema. Not to mention finances and logistics.

Any successful system off a similar infrastructure?

Any advice?

Dr. Bill


William Goetz

Addendum: A bicycle friendly system would be a possibility. It is problematic because the sub-tropical climate would cause considerable sweating during rides to and from work. It would necessitate public and/or private showers at or near destinations.

Alexandra Iannolo


I found some articles and study that may be a helpful start for your research.
This article, “Harnessing the Transportation/Land-Use Relationship,” discusses the balance between those two issues.
This report from the EPA and HUD describe transportation control measures that can be used to make systems more sustainable.
This plan from Sarasota County, FL details their sustainable plan for land use and transportation.
A similar report addresses the way in which municipalities must tailor transportation systems planned for cars to include pedestrians, bikers, and mass transit users.
This article details best practices for designing pedestrian friendly thoroughfares.
Detroit has considered creating a light rail system. You can read more about some of the issues that arose while planning their new system here.

Ali Iannolo
Knowledge Network Intern

William Goetz

Thank you very much for your prompt and extensive reply. I'll review them and see if they help. Thanks again.

Wayne Coutinho

Portland, Oregon is one of the best transit cities I have seen in the Canada and the USA. TriMet System .... The city re-hauled the entire system, and I believe had strong corporate support to minimize infrastructure costs to residential tax payers. The accolades certainly are well deserved. Quick, cheap, or in business core is free and comfortable. Convenient and bicycle friendly, and resulted in removing a lot of vehicle traffic. It should be a model for other cities.

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Jan 6 2012
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