Join us to participate in the upcoming 2019 City:One Challenge. 

Miami Trolley Trails

Hiding in plain sight are green corridors which can be retooled to add new parks, jobs, bike & walking trails, and light scaled rail transit

Photo of Ernest Bellamy
3 9

Written by

Full description

Miami is one of the flattest cities in the U.S. with one of the most generous allotments of Rights of Way (ROW’s) to utilities and infrastructure. This flatness has allowed for the ingenious engineering of land, from canals to tame the Everglades, railway corridors which, either heavily used or abandoned, remain sacred space, to high tension power lines that elegantly traverse urban and wild tropical landscapes equally. These ROW’s are also underutilized. What if these vital arteries were expanded to do more and give more to the people, and link us in new and interconnected ways? There’s currently 65 mi. of canals, 30 mi. of FPL high tension elec. corridors, and 50 mi. of average speed railroad corridors, all with ample ROW width that could accommodate more uses. These corridors could provide new bike & walking trails, new parks, and an alternative transit system powered by locals. Instead of scraping the original 300 metrorail cars being replaced this yr. we keep them all, train local residents how to retool them to run! Power them with solar power, and automated them to pick up people along these arteries, on demand through the power of an app, to take them as close as possible to their final destination, linking up with a last mile provider to reach where they want to go. With trails that accommodate all pedestrian uses we could not only have new green spaces for bike trails & leisure but a new supportive transit infrastructure that can complement the existing system.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Peter Hutchison

HI Ernest,

I like the idea of riding along canals. I do it when there's the option as it can be relaxing (in London). Could you share a pic of what they canal-side paths look like?

The "30 mi. of FPL high tension elec. corridors, and 50 mi. of average speed railroad corridors" with ample ROW all look interesting as well.

Photo of Ernest Bellamy


Thanks! The conceptual photo shown is how a canal bank could be expanded to be a space the public could inhabit and use for recreation and transit.

If this idea makes it into the next round I'll gladly share more photos of existing conditions and proposed conceptual ideas for all three cases, along with highlighting the corridors which have enough dedicated ROW for multiple uses and could be connected to create a cohesive system across the entire county.

For now, I will say that there are some current walking rails along some parts of the canals we have in Miami but no cohesive system. The Canals which have a protected ROW are the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) managed canals which average between 30, 50, and 100 feet on one bank of the canal or both, depending on the canal. I grew up living near the Snake Creek Canal which maintains 100 feet on both banks for a majority of its length. Some municipalities along the these canal's have a pedestrian/bike path but they end at their city limits. Mainly throughout Miami-Dade County, these spaces are undeveloped.

The High Tension Electrical line ROW corridors which our local power utility provider, Florida Power & Light (FPL) have running throughout parts of Miami Dade County, do have in some locations a park, parking lot, or golf course running underneath them, but for the majority of the FPL ROW corridors they are vacant of any planned space or trails.

Similarly, the railroad corridors which are underused, abandoned or used for freight (which in comparison to other cities in the U.S. isn't that frequent 1 to 2 trips per day) have about 30 feet of ROW which could provide alternative use access for parts of the day or 24/7. There are railroad corridors where this won't work for safety reasons, our higher-speed private rail corridor (The Brightline), has rail service that is too frequent and fast for other uses to coexist safely, and our regional public rail corridor (Tri-Rail) also has freight rail running throughout the day. Just like the FPL and SFWMD ROWs, there are efforts to convert rail corridors. For example, there is a trail/park being planned for an abandoned railroad corridor called Ludlam Trail but the planning of this corridor doesn't consider how it could add to the transportation ecosystem beyond a bike and pedestrian trail.

The greatest part of this proposal which I'd love to see happen is the adaptive reuse of the existing rapid transit system (Metrorail) rail cars. They are old, and the new rail cars being built are a needed upgrade, but I believe instead of scrapping or making artificial reefs with the old rail cars, we could repurpose them for other uses in the metropolitan area. The industrial and technological creativity of local residents paired with the innovations we've made into automation technologies could spur a new locally based industry which constantly creates and enhances automated solar-powered rail cars that could roam the county and move on demand for whoever needs them along these trails, as well as sync with other automated uses like rideshare providers, and public or private transit services.
This could spur a whole new local cyclical industry of rail-car refurbishers, mechanics, and automation techs who love to focus on maintaining the safety of pedestrian walkers/runners, bicyclists, trail park users, and passengers.

Overall, Miami's flatness is it's greatest potential. While other U.S. and global cities were built with these ROWs operating on separated levels (whether underground or with elevated viaducts), Miami's newness (122 years), rapid growth, and apprehension to funding high-cost infrastructure could be a benefit for a low-cost investment that adds back to the community levels of quality life like this.

Photo of Peter Hutchison

Thanks Ernest,
Sounds interesting, and also sounds like you've put a lot of thought into this idea.
Best wishes,