Reviving Passenger Rail in Sarasota

City

BY TOM BARWIN SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JUN 15, 2019

My wife Mar and I recently took an Amtrak train, from Penn Station in New York City to Union Station in Tampa.   It was a 26-hour trip.   As relaxing and interesting as it was in our sleeper car, it was nothing like the smooth, fast, 275 MPH train I rode in China a few years ago, or the modern high-speed rail systems found throughout Europe.   As a country we are far behind much of the world when it comes to transportation choice.

With a sense of optimism our transportation planning initiative called Sarasota in Motion, kicked off last week with 2 public visioning sessions.   The early talk focused on pedestrian and bicycling safety.   Although wider sidewalks and protected bike lanes are vital, they will not reduce traffic much as Florida continues to grow.

So, a big important question remains, how to move people between cities?   Short of everyone flying around in flying cars (which firms are working on) a growing number of America’s cities are taking a page from the past and reintroducing various forms of modern rail into our transportation systems.  It's not just Disney doing it anymore.

In fact, a new train service called Brightline/Virgin Trains, recently went into service connecting, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with connections to Orlando now under construction.   Even Detroit has returned to rails with streetcars that run along historic Woodward Avenue. 

Although we have been without rail service in Sarasota for 48 years, since 1971, attitudes may be changing.   Just seven years ago Sarasota County halted rapid transit planning, and few were concerned.   But lately, residents are asking me why we aren't planning for dramatically improved transit.  That may be because now, nearly every new development in the region is being criticized, mostly due to traffic.    Since property right laws do not allow local governments to arbitrarily stop new development, and demographic trends will continue to result in population growth in Florida, it may be time to put as much energy into being for something as being against something. 

As we continue to work on a better transportation system for the future through our Sarasota in Motion initiative, Mayor Liz Alpert and I will be reaching out to leaders in our region to explore a future which includes better transit for Sarasota and Manatee counties.   Connecting our employment centers, our colleges, airports, hospitals and tourist destinations through transit, would seem to make good sense.    

Where there is no vision it will take a long time to get anywhere!   

Please feel free to email me at Thomas.barwin@sarasotafl.gov

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