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Written by Adam Schachner - Special to the BT   
March 2013

The Purple Line, a new urban installation, imagines what commuter-train travel in Miami could look like

MPix_CommNews_PurpleLine_1iami waited almost 30 years for the Metrorail system to upgrade its destinations. This past July, county transit launched the Orange Line, and Miami’s elevated train started rolling toward the future; the formerly two-dimensional county bisector now sports multiple routes.

The Orange Line is a pragmatic addition to an aging line, branching off the standard railway for a quick jaunt to Miami International Airport. The program is direct and efficient, yet it represents the stunted progress that is characteristic of Miami’s vision for growth.

After all, the Orange Line is just one more stop on a limited line. Though useful and forward-thinking, the extra station is a baby step toward integrated transit reaching the expanse of Miami’s neighborhoods and demographics. A majority of communities are still inaccessible by train.

Commuters may have noticed some subtle changes. One particular aesthetic addition at each station: green and orange dots painted on the station benches. These spots are reminiscent of the markers for multiple transit lines at stations and hubs in transit-oriented cities. The dots are informative and attractive, but seem subdued when placed next to Metrorail maps detailing the two-directional route.

Now imagine one more splash of color on the two-tone map: purple, as in Miami’s Purple Line.

The new station opens on Friday, March 8, in the Design District. A unique terminal will join Midtown and Buena Vista, and will offer the amenities and attractions of a proper central station. Food, vendors, and business space will provide commuters with services, while entertainment and commercial opportunities will keep the station lively.

The space is not just a mode for movement; it is a gathering place. Music, galleries, educational workshops, and outlets for civic engagement will make the Purple Line station Miami’s revolutionary transit hub. This innovation is a community fixture unlike any Miami has seen.

Perhaps this is because Miami-Dade Transit has no actual Purple Line in the works. The experimental station is part commuter activism, part civic engagement, and part pop-up art experience, illustrating what many Miami commuters crave: a transit stop with a cosmopolitan feel.

Go to your computer and Google the transit maps for train routes in major cities such as New York, Moscow, Tokyo, or Paris. All have railway cartography featuring multi-colored lines and circuits. These maps are as much informative commuter guides as modern art; they’d look beautiful framed and displayed in your living room. Miami’s map, by comparison, shows a lonely line, running up and down the county like an afterthought.

Pix_CommNews_PurpleLine_2The Purple Line draws attention to the life our transit map lacks.

On March 8 and 9, the Purple Line will convert the Design District’s Parking Lot 54, on NE 2nd Avenue under the I-195 overpass, from urban waste space into a Florida East Coast Railway terminal.

The project is primarily supported by the Miami Foundation, and initially conceptualized by urban planning graduate students from Florida Atlantic University. Anna McMaster, a student leading the effort, defines the Purple Line as a civic experiment and “educational exhibit in which people can tangibly experience, touch, and interact with an improved public space.”

Among the attractions provided by this installation is a chance to imagine Miami’s potential. A festive atmosphere will bring together a cross-section of Miami’s creative thinkers.

On one end of the station, the community-engagement network Catalyst Miami hosts a think tank they have dubbed a “civic innovation hub.” This will include “Lot 54 Imagine(d),” an art installation and lecture series on growth and progress in a city eager to develop.

Walk across the terminal and you will encounter students from the Miami Arts Charter School creating transit-themed artwork and poetry. An exhibit from Wynwood’s Brisky Gallery will maintain the spirit of revitalization by retrofitting cargo haulers into usable art displays.

Meanwhile, the Purple Line will be temporarily added to the City of Miami trolley service’s monthly art-walk route, delivering people throughout downtown, Wynwood, and the Design District at no cost.

The idea for a pop-up transit stop evolved to demonstrate ways to improve Miami’s underutilized urban areas. The Purple Line envisions a sample city space as the Grand Central Terminal that Miami is missing.

The concept is inspiration in action, according to Marta Viciedo, the visionary who brought together various local groups and businesses to develop the Purple Line. “You bring people, life, and light,” according to her overview, to “transform the space with a very small investment. It doesn’t require a lot of money, just effort among people working together.”

This is not the first time Viciedo and McMaster have collaborated to reimagine a cityscape. In June 2012, the two helped conceptualize Better Block Fort Lauderdale. This project closed down a warehouse street in Flagler Arts Village and improved the landscape by adding handcrafted bus benches, galleries, artisan vendors, and even garden space. A mundane storage district became an epicenter of urban renewal.

Meanwhile, Viciedo and McMaster had their eyes set on Miami. They approached Emerge Miami, a community group that creates social ties among activists. Using this network to brainstorm potential blocks for revitalization, Viciedo noticed a pattern in their discussions: “Every spot we came up with was right next to the train line. It was serendipitous; everything that spoke to us was by a railway.”

From that observation, all other components took to the tracks. Conceptualizing a transit future evolved into an opportunity to show Miamians an alternative to the car. The Purple Line aims to make that alternative into a tangible destination.

In Viciedo’s estimation, Miami’s current transit stops lack the liveliness of commuter hubs. She notes that “the primary connection the Metrorail and Metrobus make with people is emotions of frustration. What we want to do with the Purple Line is create comfort and inspire connectivity with people and community, and provide services that facilitate access to commerce, food, entertainment, and simple things, like a cup of coffee. There is something that provides a ‘homey’ connection.”

The Purple Line represents large ambitions. Given the organizational effort and diverse participants, the experiment provokes Miami commuters and officials to contemplate the future. Are we so satisfied by current roadway conditions that we are willing to continue overlooking a convenient mass-transit alternative?

Viciedo challenges this complacency, suggesting that “living in a city where you are forced to have a car limits true freedom.”

When the Purple Line opens for business, it will offer more than an experimental train station. It will be a vision for Miami’s transit future, as long as commuters are willing to do more than simply imagine it.

 

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