Months After Civil Rights Violation, Petitioners Hope to Bring Trolley Service to the Grove

Three months after the federal government found that Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami and Coral Gables had violated the Civil Rights Act by building a trolley garage in West Grove, some folks are trying to bring the transportation service there. A petition posted Tuesday has collected more than 250 signatures so far.

After a woman named Clarice Cooper complained last April, a Department of Transportation investigation found that building a garage in the historically black neighborhood without providing its residents service was a violation of the law. Coral Gables and Miami are now supposed to come up with a plan to see if there is a better location for the garage -- one that doesn't affect a neighborhood "on the grounds of race, color or national origin," according to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Although those behind the petition don't cite the feds' decision, it seems like the push could help advance a situation that's been in behind-closed-doors litigation since November.

Not so, according to Ron Nelson, chief of staff of Commissioner Marc Sarnoff. While he can't comment on the status of the offending garage, he thinks adding trolley service is not the answer, because it would be superfluous in an area already serviced by two metro stations and the circulator -- a little, stubby bus that goes between them.

"It's a cute idea, but implementing it, funding it, and making it inclusive is important," he says. "We have a number of different modes of transportation already. The concept is to have a more global picture and make a network of different ones like they do all over the world." He also says there would need to be four or five trolley cars added to make sure no one ever had to wait more than 20 minutes for a ride. The existing trolleys, which were purchased with stimulus money, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.

M. Peggy Quattro, who spoke on behalf of the petition push, says she was unaware of the federal investigation or its finding that the trolley system is discriminatory as is. When she moved back to the Grove two years ago after raising kids in Aventura, the local business owner was looking for something to protest, she says.

Quattro measured the distance in her car, so she knows it's only 1.2 miles from the center of Coconut Grove to Mercy Hospital, where the trolley stops. A little extension, she says, would mean people looking for a night out could venture to the village without having to contend with its notorious lack of parking. She also doesn't like being skipped over.

"I know it probably sounds silly to people outside of Coconut Grove, but to people here, it means a lot. We pay a lot of taxes here, so why can't we have a trolley? It's supposed to be a public service."

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.