There has been big news in Orlando and the surrounding areas as Sunrail added four new stations. Most of them are in Kissimmee, and the community has already begun taking advantage. I personally am excited by the ability to travel to Kissimmee Lakefront and play Pokemon Go with ease. And plenty of the residents around Central Florida will gain direct benefits from these new stations.
However, I am pointing out the Sunrail to showcase how one simple change creates massive improvement. With this in mind, I want to talk about another important step. I am from Chicago, Illinois which is well known for its mass transit system. Much of said system involves subways which is not possible in Florida. The water levels in the state prevent building such tunnels because it might impact the environment.
However, there is a second aspect to the transit system in Chicago that is possible in Orlando. I refer to building light rail, in or next to the Tollways. When I mentioned this is a Smart Growth Group, I was met with attacks almost immediately. Thanks to constant points about how this system was doomed to fail, I decided to do some research. And while I found plenty of blogs that said that building trains near expressways are a failure of an idea, I did not find any of the citations and sources used to be credible.
Research aside though, what was more telling about the deniers and naysayers, was the fact that when I asked them for a more logical alternative, they did not give me an answer. In reality, I think the true problem lies in the fact that people are complaining without offering a real answer. Thus, whether building next to the expressway has some flaws or not is irrelevant in the face of other problems.
Let's talk about the problems of adding light rail. Either there must be a large amount of land available, or buildings will need to be demolished. A group of people collectively called "The Not In My Backyard" will fight transit expansions to their dying breath. I observed this in Illinois with State Route 53. Using the Highway means that the right of way is already there. "The Not in My Backyard" people are powerless.
Cost is most likely the number one issue that faces adding light rail. This is the most complicated step, and I am no expert on figuring out the best way to overcome it. I have ideas such as Universities and other affected parties fronting part of the cost since they are positively impacted by it. However, tax money will probably have to be involved. The whole country goes crazy whenever the word taxes is used. I will say again that funding is the part I am least knowledgeable on.
With the most important unknown addressed, I want to close out with an example of the positive impact. I am most familiar with the Toll Road 408 corridor that links the University of Central Florida to Downtown Orlando. I'll start with Central Florida Parkway, which is where this route would end. In addition to servicing students and faculty, there are plenty of neighborhoods and businesses within walking distance. Being elevated above the street minimizes impact to the environment, too. Some people might complain about some cloud cover on the street below, but this seems like a small price to pay.
The second stop would be close by at East Colonial Drive. Light Rail has stations closer together as opposed to heavy rail like Sunrail. This location has many restaurants and apartment complexes. The walkability in this area is high and is perfect for a station that pedestrians can reach.
Next would be a stop at Alafaya Trail as this hypothetical route follows 408 westbound. This is where Waterford Lakes is located. The neighborhoods and businesses in the vicinity also benefit. This is a very walkable area and would greatly benefit from a station being built into the bridge where the tollway crosses Alafaya Trail.
The next stop would be at the bridge between 408 and Rouse Road. This stop would service the many neighborhoods nearby as well as Lockheed Martin which has a headquarters just down the street. While not as walkable as the earlier station, it can still safely be reached on foot via the Rouse part of the bridge.
After Rouse Road would be another station at Dean and 408. While this stop would only service neighborhoods, there are plenty of them in this region. It is still possible to reach the Dean part of the bridge on foot, but like the Rouse Station, there is not as much walkability here.
The next couple of stations are where things get more complicated. 417, another toll road, crosses 408 soon after Dean and the extra land nearby would be a perfect spot for an elevated yard to store the cars for these light rail trains. Another important thing to note is that if we use the Toll Roads for alignment, it is possible that another train line will intersect with the 408 one here. A station could be built between Econlockhatchee Trail and 417 which would allow for pedestrians to reach the station. But as 408 and 417 are both tollways, getting here on foot from any other direction is difficult.
I need a second paragraph to explain this location because it is important to note that Valencia College has a campus right nearby. And while there could be a nearby station built into another line following 417 that could get closer to the campus, it would be logical to have one here as well. As usual, there are neighborhoods nearby as well.
Continuing with the complex placement of stations, it would be most logical to place the next one between Goldenrod Road and Chickasaw Trail, Having an exit at both ends allows service to multiple hotels, the Florida Hospital, and continuing a theme, many neighborhoods. Given the many nearby parks as well as Downtown Orlando coming ever closer. Every station from here and onward has at least decent walkability, if not better.
The next station is not a hard decision at all though. Semoran Boulevard is a major north-south road in Orlando that goes right to the international airport. While this station is nowhere near that location, this road also is host to countless shops and a smaller number of housing locations. Lake Underhill Road is right nearby and is a gateway to multiple parks and recreation areas.
Either Crystal Lake Drive or Conway Road makes sense as the most logical station. However, both bridges should not be used together because Lake Underhill is located between the two streets and building here could cause negative impacts to the environment. There are many parks nearby as well as the Orlando Executive Airport. While not exactly within walking distance, the Fashion Square Mall is only a mile away from here.
The next couple stops coincide with the Downtown Orlando Exits on 408: Bumby Avenue, Mills Avenue, Rosalind Avenue, and Orange Avenue. Downtown Orlando is located here and the closer one gets to the city center, the more walkable this region of stations becomes. Countless neighborhoods line the streets separating this region from the urban core slightly to the north.
The final station I want to highlight is where 408 crosses interstate 4. This location is extremely important for a couple reasons. The Amway center is right nearby as is much of Downtown Orlando. But the most important location nearby in regards to rapid transit is a Sunrail Station within walking distance. After all, rapid transit must connect to create a continuous means of movement so that users of the system can reach their destinations in an efficient time frame.
All in all, it is my hope that this simple outline of a smaller part of a bigger rapid transit plan will be helpful. Orlando is a growing city. And in this age where pollution and traffic congestion are problems associated with urban living and rapid transit that gets cars off the road is one of the most effective solutions. There is a double benefit of getting drunk drivers off the road as well.
I have provided a map that shows the area I highlighted.