Monday July 30, 2012

Riding Metrorail to the new Miami Intermodal Center and the airport

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The Metrorail opened in 1984. This weekend, the track that connects it to the Miami International Airport finally started transporting passengers. Let’s take a ride, check out the route, the new station, the Miami Intermodal Center, and how it all connects to the airport. And yes, let’s complain about the fact that this took 28 years.

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We begin our voyage downtown, on the Metromover. Take that to the Government Center station, where you transfer to the Metrorail. What’s new here is that there are two “lines” running: the orange line and the green line. Right now the trains are just marked with laminated signs, but there is a redesign of the station signage that will eventually include the trains too. The green line is the original course. The orange is the one that goes to the airport. I got on the green line, but it was no problem: I just got off at the Earlington Heights station, where the two lines diverge, and waited for the next orange line train.

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It’s just one stop to the Intermodal Center. The train passes through some beat up and funky parts of town and there is not a whole lot to see. Just before we arrive, though, we pass the old Miami Jai-Alai.

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If you had to pick one word to describe all the other Metrorail stations, it would probably be “box.” Arriving at the new station is a refreshing change: it’s a tube. (I got to ride shotgun on this one; normally you wouldn’t really see the station from its business end like this.)

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The inside is sleek and futuristic. It recalls the South Beach Mothership Publix in a way.

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Here’s the station from the escalators that connect it to the Miami Intermodal Center. (This is the view you’d see if you were an arriving tourist.

But you know what? Let’s take a break from looking around for a minute and consider some of the, like, ramifications of what’s going on here.

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Here’s a diagram of a subsection of the Metrorail line that I whipped up. The blue line is the original course, the red is the extension that runs to the Miami Intermodal Center (which we’ll visit in a second), and the yellow is the shuttle from the MIC to the airport itself. The black dots are the existing stations; Earlington Heights is the one along the east-west stretch of track. The MIC is the white structure where the yellow and red lines meet, and the airport is of course at the bottom left of the photo.

We’ve got approximately 2 miles of new Metrorail track here, plus approximately one mile of MIC shuttle track. It’s inexplicable enough that the original Metromove route didn’t include the airport. It’s simply stunning that it took 28 years for this three-mile extension to be built to the airport in a city 38 million tourists visit every year, spending $17.1 billion.

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But back to our trip. We’re on the platform, and this is what we see: a glassed-in entry vestibule with escalators.

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They’re a little tricky to photograph, but the glass panels enclosing the entry area are covered with etchings by Michele Oka Donor, a rather wonderful artist who’s done large-scale public works at both Ft. Lauderdale and Miami airports and is generally all around awesome. The forms are based on free-floating ocean lifeforms. (There’s an easel posted nearby with information on the artist and the piece.)

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Another view of the vestibule.

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Now we move through several large open spaces, including the ticketing area.

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And we arrive at the heart of the Miami Intermodal Center, which is basically a huge food court for car rental companies. I began covering the MIC in 2006 and was aghast at the $1.4 billion price tag. It’s actually cost $2 billion so far, with construction ongoing. The Jetsonsness is as advertised, but I’m still not convinced. In any case, there is also a bus terminal, parking garages, and a little shuttle (“MIA Mover”) that runs between the MIC and the airport.

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Here’s the entry area to the MIA Mover. (This is actually the airport end, but they look similar.) The train pulls into an enclosed area, and doors open on the building and train at the same time, sort of like getting onto a huge horizontal elevator. Lots of modern airports have shuttles like this, but this one is ours.

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Off we go. The trip takes a couple of minutes. Sort of like the Metromover, but with more stuff to steal and fewer people to do the stealing.

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And we arrive at the airport. MIA is shaped like a horseshoe. The shoe itself is the terminals, with airplanes on the inside and parking garages on the inside. The MIA Mover arrives in the exact center of the garages, and moving walkways connect it to the terminals.

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Another entry vestibule, another art experience. Where Michele Oka Donor’s is subtle, this knocks you over the head.

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There is a soundtrack of ambient jungle sounds and soothing music playing. Sound and Fury. Death be upon him that enters Miami without realizing he is in The Magic City. Or something. Now let’s have a look at some graphics, and then we’ll head back over to the Metrorail station and have a good look around. Update: The sound/light piece is not identified with any signage, but it’s by Christopher Janney. Thanks commenter Miartmi!

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An ad for, of all things, the Orange Line. I’m not quite sure what they’re advertising… The new stretch of track? The new station? The concept of going to the airport? I also have no idea what I’m looking at here… there are architectural elements that match up with things inside the station, but I don’t recognize the place, and for sure the colorized orange trap looks photoshopped in, and looks like something to do with the high-voltage business end of the trains. This was just confusing.

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This is inside the airport. You’re invited to go upstairs, where more moving walkways help you zip through the airport and to the MIA Mover. This feels temporary (pink vinyl over the textured walls?!), and presumably eventually there’ll be lots more escalators leading up to level 3. But it sure does get your attention.

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Pretty decent new transit map. My insert just shows the “Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre” Station still with the old name, “Santa Clara,” even though it’s correct elsewhere on the same sign. Update: Not true. I’m an idiot. Their map is fine.

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OK, so let’s give the station a good look. This is the money shot, from the walkway into the MIC.

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A view from the stairway leading down to the bus level.

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Vew from the ground looking up.

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Here’s the back end of the station, with the tracks just extending a couple of hundred feet out. The rendering shows a lot more going on here. Who knows.

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The view off on the right is the bus terminal.

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River stones under raw weathered steel is the order of the day.

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More expansion coming soon!

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The underbelly. The whole thing is shiny and new and generally dazzling and awesome. The only thing that takes some of the joy out of it is knowing it’s $2 billion worth of awesome, and it’s 28 years too late. Other than that, let’s jump and shout.

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And on that note, I’m out of here.

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