39 Hours in South Florida to see the Brightline, March 4- 5, 2019

Posted: March 16, 2019 in Florida trips

$148.00 round trip nonstop (including luggage) from Raleigh/Durham to Fort Lauderdale on a decent airline (Southwest) was too good a deal to pass up.   It had been cold and rainy in North Carolina.   I could have two full days of bike riding down there with only one night in a hotel, because the departure flight was early in the morning and the returning flight was not until the evening.   I find South Florida fascinating but I prefer it in very small doses!

Also, I love trains.  I wanted to go to South Florida to check out Brightline.   No one but me seems excited about Brightline, which is in the process of changing its name to Virgin Trains.   While I am a big supporter of Amtrak, riding Amtrak is depressing.   Maybe because conservatives have been trying to kill Amtrak for forty-five years, workers and management seem exhausted.   With constant budget fights long range Amtrak financial planning is almost impossible.  When riding Amtrak the whole system seems befuddled.

Brightline is trying something else; an intercity passenger rail line done completely as a private business.    Their plan is to make this train financially viable the way railroads did in the nineteenth century, with side deals in real estate.    Because of this I question whether Brightline’s model will be duplicated elsewhere.  Brightline is a spinoff of Jacksonville based Florida East Coast Railway.  FEC owns and operates high quality tracks from Miami north to Jacksonville.  A hundred years ago the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach were essentially built around these tracks, and FEC apparently still owns a lot of prime real estate.    Because those three downtowns are currently in a building boom, Brightline is using its inner city location as selling point.   Live in downtown Fort Lauderdale without a car!   The plan is to operate trains all the way north to Orlando, which would require building a small section of new track.  The first portion, on existing track, has been operating ten trains a day Miami / Fort Lauderdale / West Palm Beach for about one year.   The FEC/Brightline tracks are parallel but better located than the tracks used for the existing Tri-Rail commuter trains that I have taken in the past.

I hatched a plan to fly into the Fort Lauderdale airport and upon arrival bicycle south twenty-five miles to Miami.   I would then take the Brightline that same afternoon from Miami north past Fort Lauderdale all the way to West Palm Beach.   I would spend the night around West Palm, then bicycle the next day the fifty miles south to Fort Lauderdale, and then fly home that same evening, without the opportunity to take a shower.   Press the plus sign to zero in on more detail.

 

The plane from Raleigh/Durham was scheduled takeoff at 6:50 AM.    I left mine and Tootie’s Chapel Hill apartment about 5:00 AM with the Bike Friday in a suitcase for the half hour drive to the airport.

 

I boarded the plane about 6:30 AM.

The plane arrived on time but it sat on the ground for a while, waiting for a gate to open up.   The luggage also took longer than necessary to show up.   I then walked with the suitcase down to the Delta terminal where there is a luggage storage business.   I spread my stuff around and put the bicycle together before checking the empty suitcase.   It was about 11:00 AM when I was able to bicycle away from the airport.  The weather was perfect, it felt great to be alive and outdoors.

 

I bicycled through the north Broward County towns of Dana and Hollywood, riding on residential streets as much as possible.  I passed by these interesting buildings.

 

 

 

 

I bicycled east across a causeway to the skinny north/south barrier island that comprises not only Miami Beach but a bunch of other “towns” with names like Sunny Isles Beach, Bar Harbour, and Surfside.

I followed Route A1A / Collins Avenue along the beach.  Sunny Isles Beach appeared mostly void of human life, even in the high season of early March.   There were very few stores or restaurants.  Does anyone live in these places?

 

 

 

I followed the Bicycle Route signs and decided to cross back across the bay towards downtown Miami.   The “bike route” includes the shoulder along I-195; a two mile Interstate highway across Biscayne Bay.    It was not really dangerous, but loud and very uncool.   I-195 dumps a bicyclist into the former slum that is now designated as “Miami Design District” just north of downtown Miami.    The pitch seems to be working and I give the powers that be credit for chutzpah, if nothing else.   There really are now all sorts of expensive looking designer storefronts.

A little further south must have been designated as a hipster district.  It all seems contrived but by Miami standards this building actually seems old.

 

I was still a mile or two from the Brightline rail station on the west side of downtown Miami, but I managed to see a Brightline train heading north as it passed through this grade crossing at an angle.

 

Brightline currently only stops at three places, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.   All three stations are brand new and use the same style of architecture, emphasizing these V shaped patterns.   I assume the railroad has a commercial stake in these tall buildings rising above the Miami station.

 

My journey to West Palm Beach would take an hour and fifteen minutes.  I could wheel the bicycle with me right onto the train.  I had bought a normal ticket for $ 25.00, but they offered me an upgrade to their business class for only $5.00 additional, and this included an alcoholic beverage and a snack.  Unlike Amtrak, you get an assigned seat.  The staff was helpful.  What’s not to like?

 

 

The first part of the journey ran through the same inner city neighborhoods that I had just bicycled through.   I am reminded of the difficulties high-speed rail faces in America.   The tracks had constant grade crossings (street crossings with gates).   The tracks are not fenced off at all.   I could see people standing along the tracks waiting for the train to go by so they could then run across them.   Walking on the tracks has already caused several people to be killed by Brightline.

These Miami neighborhoods were a mix of rich and poor.

 

Once out of the central city the train moved faster.   A fellow passenger determined from an I-Phone app that we went as fast as 80 miles an hour.

 

I had no complaints when the train pulled into West Palm Beach.  Brightline is a well run operation and a pleasant experience.   I have not taken a train in America so clean and futuristic looking.   I still had a three mile bike ride to my Airbnb but had to hurry as it was getting dark.

 

The only drawback to this trip was that lodging in West Palm Beach was expensive.  I did find an Airbnb for $ 88.00 with tax.   It had good recommendations on the website but clearly was not in the toniest neighborhood.

As I biked away from downtown some kind of event letting out.   I liked these people’s Palm Beach sense of style.

After cycling for a while through poorer areas I pulled up in front of the house that matched the address from Airbnb.  I saw only a front porch stacked with junk.

 

I called the guy and he said that I need to walk to the building around back.   There were dead Ford pickups parked in one corner.

 

 

Inside the back gate was a small terrace.

The owner had left a key on the table by the lamp.   Once inside it was quite nice, like a renovated tool shed with the interior ambiance of a 1950’s mobile home. (Dave and Gail: it was like the inside of your trailer!)  Everything was very tidy.  Really.  He had left the air conditioner going.   I turned it off and opened the window.    The breezes were pleasant and I did not hear a sound outside all night long.

With only a bicycle I was somewhat remote from restaurants.   I have a new lighting system and was comfortable biking a short distance in the dark.    About a mile or two away over residential streets were a few restaurants, including the Rhythm Cafe.  Built out of an old drugstore almost thirty years ago it seems to be a place where the upper crust of Palm Beach can go slumming.    With $ 25.00 entrees it certainly was not cheap.   My very helpful and friendly bartender (an ex-lawyer now working mostly on LGBQT issues) told me that people have to get reservations there weeks in advance during prime March dates.  I luckily got a seat at the bar.   In contrast to Miami where things look multicultural to the extreme, here it looked like a Midwest well to do country club or retirement home.   The guy to the left in the picture below asked for a glass of milk halfway through his meal.

 

 

The dinner was delicious, butternut squash soup followed by some Florida fish covered with roasted onions, accompanied by New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

The next morning as I started off early this was the view across the street from my Airbnb.

 

I bicycled south along the western shore of the bay, across the water from Palm Beach proper.  Even on this side of the bay the scene was ritzy, including having this Ferrari parked outside someone’s house.

At Lake Worth, just a few miles south of where I had stayed the previous night,  I turned east and crossed a causeway over to the barrier island that is Palm Beach.    This thin island stretches all the way south more than forty miles to Fort Lauderdale Beach, passing through Boca Raton along the way.

I keep coming down to South Florida because this is such a super bike ride.  Highway A1A has mostly slow moving traffic and a shoulder.   If you do this ride, I recommend planning carefully so that you take the Brightline against the the wind and only bicycle with the wind at your back!

Occasionally the highway goes along the oceanfront.

This ride is a guilty pleasure, looking at rich people’s gross excesses all along the way.

In one “town” there were these signs posted about every 100 yards.  Someone was freaking out that someone might raise someone’s taxes.    There clearly is not money enough in this town.

 

I pointed the bicycle back across the bay towards the mainland for a late breakfast but the drawbridge was open.  I stood around and watched the boats go by.

 

At 9:45 AM I had quiche and grits at the East Ocean Cafe in Boynton Beach.

 

The rest of the ride south to Fort Lauderdale was a mix of residential streets and high rises along A1A.

A year ago I had had a memorable alternative take on salade Nicoise at a restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale called Foxy Brown.   I excitedly got there this day about 2:30 PM but the server said that they had taken that item off the menu just last week!   Still, a poke bowl with raw salmon, avocado, pickled onions, garbanzos over faro was quite good.

 

There is a lot of building going on in downtown Fort Lauderdale.   After lunch I biked over a few blocks to a coffee house.   I could read and stare at the frenzied construction across the street.

The Fort Lauderdale airport is actually quite easy to reach by bicycle.   You can bike there from downtown in about half an hour.   At the airport I retrieved my suitcase, disassembled the bicycle, and made my flight with no problems.

Comments
  1. Paco,

    Do the Brightline passenger cars have bike racks? bike hooks? for transporting your bicycle? Do you have a picture of the bicycle carriage facilities?

    If I could find a $148 round trip fare from my north coast city (Rochester NY) I could fly down to Florida for a fun time in the sun! I’m surprised you didn’t stay at the Mar a Lago Club!

  2. Great photo. You sold me on the brightline. As you said, what’s not to like? I liked the old guys in West Palm Beach drinking milk.

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