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Roundup 4-20-2018

April 20, 2018

Contents

Downtown/Channel District – Getting Going, Cont

Downtown – Finally, a Rendering

Transportation – A Week In the Slow Lane

— A Case Study: That Other BRT Project

— About Transit on the Interstate

West Tampa – What Will It Be?

West Tampa-ish – Expansion

South Tampa – First Approval

Temple Terrace – Still Nothing

Airport – Big Numbers

Built Environment – And Also the Trees

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_______________________________________________


Downtown/Channel District – Getting Going, Cont

A few weeks ago, we noted that SPP had said the Water Street JW Marriott was going to break ground this month.  Now we know the date:

Strategic Property Partners on Friday said the groundbreaking ceremony for the JW Marriott hotel will be held April 24.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for website

When complete in 2020, the JW Marriott is expected to have Tampa’s highest roof-top bar and biggest hotel ballroom, plus a four-story atrium and a full-service restaurant on the ground floor.

* * *

With 519 rooms at 615 S Morgan Street, the JW Marriott will add capacity that Vinik said Tampa’s market needs to host events like the Super Bowl, coming in February 2021, and the Stanley Cup playoffs, which is here now.

We look forward to it and hope more Water Street projects get underway soon.  Speaking of which, per URBN Tampa Bay:

SPP’s mixed-use condo and grocery store project set for Channelside Drive and Beneficial Drive has been approved and received a demo permit for the parking lot currently on the site. The residential utility permit has been approved and a commercial utility permit is in the process of getting approved.

The project’s stats are updated as well. The towers are still 26 and 21 stories, respectively. Now the shorter tower is 250 feet tall, up from 237 feet tall. The taller tower remains at 312 feet. The unit count has been reduced from 404 to 378. There is 40,000 square feet of retail space total including a grocery store among other retail spaces. There are 634 parking spaces in the project, well above the required 418. Presumably the extra spaces is to replace what is being lost and perhaps provide extra parking for the arena, but we would’ve liked to have seen the city cap the spaces at a lower number.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And then there is the new 5-star Edition Marriott hotel (website here).

An international boutique hotel flag known for its one-of-a-kind luxury properties is coming to downtown Tampa, anchoring a 26-story mixed-use tower in the heart of Water Street.

Strategic Property Partners, the developer of Water Street Tampa, said Thursday that it has secured the Edition flag for a 173-room boutique hotel across the street from Amalie Arena, at the northwest corner of Channelside Drive and Water Street. It will be the city’s first five-star hotel and is slated to open in early 2021.

* * *

The intersection where Edition will be built doesn’t yet exist; SPP is under construction on a $35 million infrastructure project that includes the extension of Water Street north from Channelside Drive to Cumberland Avenue.

* * *

Edition Tampa will include a rooftop pool with adjacent bar and restaurant as well as an expansive spa and fitness center. The upper floors of the tower will include a residential component, and an SPP spokeswoman said details on the residences are forthcoming.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Here is a screen capture from a promotional video which gives you an idea of how the hotel fits into the building:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for forum post

We are happy for a 5-star hotel.  Regarding design, there is not much we can say from those renderings. We’ll just have to see.

That area is going to be very interesting over the next few years. While we try to temper our enthusiasm on mere proposals, we are fine with getting excited when things start coming out of the ground.


Downtown – Finally, a Rendering

That is a lot of Water Street news.  Not to be outdone, the long-awaited Riverwalk Place rendering has been officially released:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for forum post

The rendering is quite similar to one that was floating around a few months ago (the biggest difference being the screening of the garage).  Our impression is essentially the same. We like the tower and the restaurants along the Riverwalk.  The covering of the parking garage is not great (that is the nature of garages), but at least it does not still resemble Noah’s Ark. And note that the tower will be substantially taller than the next tallest building downtown, but not as much as in the rendering.

As for timing:

A sales center for the Riverwalk Place Tower — 50-plus stories of high-rise homes, offices and restaurants — will open in 60 days. Construction is scheduled to begin next year and should take the better part of three years to complete.

That would make things even more interesting.


Transportation – A Week In the Slow Lane

Surprisingly, there was not that much news in transportation this week.


— A Case Study: That Other BRT Project

As regular readers will know, Pinellas County has planned a BRT line from downtown St. Pete, through Pasadena and down Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach to the Don CeSar.  The line would have dedicated lanes through most of St. Pete but run in the street in St. Pete Beach, making it basically regular bus in St. Pete Beach. (For information see here.)

From PSTA – click on map for website

The funding concept is 50% Federal money, 25% state, 25% local including money from PSTA, St. Pete, and St. Pete Beach. PSTA is trying to accelerate the Federal component. However, St. Pete Beach has not agreed to pay.

PSTA’s federal request lists $1.5 million from St. Pete Beach through ad valorem property taxes, but the city hasn’t agreed to pay it.  Most municipalities in Pinellas County assess a 0.075 millage rate on residents’ property taxes to fund public transit.  If St. Pete Beach agrees to that assessment, which it does not currently, it would bring in about $1.7 million a year, according to PSTA.  Instead St. Pete Beach enters into a contract each year with PSTA typically paying about $500,000 for service.

“To be honest, there’s no way in hell I’m going to give them $1.5 million,” said St. Pete Beach Mayor Al Johnson. “As much as I’d like to have it, it’s just not worth it to us.”

The BRT terminus at St. Pete Beach would be at the Don CeSar, but the route would not continue into the community.

The line may not run into the “community,” presumably meaning Pass-a-Grille, but it runs most of the length of the heart of St. Pete Beach.  It is not clear why the bus line is “not worth it” to St. Pete Beach, whether it is mere politics, an attempt to keep tourists on the beach or an honest feeling that it does not serve the beach (the latter being something that could be addressed in planning).  It seems quite clear that having a decent connection to downtown St. Pete would help tourists (and the hotels that try to attract them) and residents.  Regardless,

“If we do not receive the funding from St. Pete Beach, PSTA is looking at other ways to save costs to possibly lower the contribution ask of the city and to attract new private partnerships,” said PSTA Communications Media Liaison Ashlie Handy. “Having these conversations with our potential partners is the most important part and we don’t want to rush it.”

* * *

“We aren’t concerned about how we are going to get the $1.5 million,” Handy said.

The Federal Transit Agency doesn’t require funding from St. Pete Beach and also does not preclude transit agencies from using private sources.  St. Pete Beach is a tourist hot spot with dozens of hotels that could be interested in making sure their guests have a way to get from the beach to the myriad arts and cultural destinations in downtown St. Pete.

That is the proper attitude.  There is more than one way to fund transit, though we have mixed feelings about this whole thing.  It makes sense to have the line going to St. Pete Beach, and $1.5 million is really not very much.  If the line is that important, that should be relatively easy to find.  On the other hand, if St. Pete Beach does not want the service, maybe it should not get it, though that would not be good for Pinellas overall. (The problems of having to get multiple approvals for inter-city projects is something that should be considered when reading this opinion piece about having more incorporated cities in Hillsborough. )

In any event, the whole issue is an interesting microcosm of how this area functions and why good transit has been so hard to develop.


— About Transit on the Interstate

We have consistently said that having BRT or rail stops on the interstate is not optimal (it is usually just plain bad).  This week, URBN Tampa Bay had a post that illustrates what we are talking about.

First, the graphic:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And the comment:

Now, be honest… Would you ride a bus that requires you to walk or ride a bike to the interstate along busy arterials, where you will then walk up several flights of stairs, then across half of the interstate, and then back down stairs to finally reach the bus stop wedged precariously between highway traffic zooming by? Don’t stumble!

Additionally, you have to walk back under the highway to get to anything side that does not have the access – not to mention having to cross the parallel frontage roads.  Sure, there are probably elevators for some of the journey, assuming they consistently work and are not horrible, as they likely will be over time.  But there is a bigger point – the layout seems almost calculated to not attract riders.

Based on the picture, this appears to be a concept for an overpass at SR54 and US41, a very poorly designed and planned intersection in Pasco that FDOT has been trying to figure out for years (and, truthfully, Pasco has not really helped), not the regional “BRT” plan.  But that really doesn’t matter for the purposes of illustration.

The design makes little sense.  It is a long stretch of elevated road with a bus stop in the middle.  The logical thing to do is have a central platform with access straight down between the two portions of the elevated road to reduce the amount of walking/biking riders would need to do to get to either side. (See this Chicago train stop next to Wrigley Filed or this Minneapolis BRT stop in the middle of an interstate with stairs in the middle of the stop to the arterial road above – which is still quite barren but at least the stop layout makes sense)  Such a layout would also eliminate the need to go up, over the road and down again.  If they can take up space for stairs to go up, they can take up the same amount of space for stairs to go down.

The big question is why anyone would even propose this odd layout rather than a more direct layout that shows real interest in the people who would use the buses and what that says about so much other planning.  We are not for stops in the interstate, but, even though we think overall it is a bad idea, it does not have to be this poorly laid out.


West Tampa – What Will It Be?

This week, the Times had an article on West Tampa that focused on businesses struggling as the area transitions:

More than 2,300 people moved away in the past two years after the demolition of two aging public housing complexes — Tampa Presbyterian Village and North Boulevard Homes. Main Street lost its only bus route in November and the number of children at the local elementary school has dwindled.

Some business owners say it’s now like a ghost town, in danger of losing its soul.

Long-standing businesses like Fourth of July Cafe have closed their doors while others struggle to adjust to the loss of foot traffic as sales have dropped by as much as 50 percent.

New homes and stores will come eventually. The $350 million West River urban renewal project promises a walkable, mixed-income neighborhood of apartment blocks and neighborhood parks.

But residents fear that what emerges won’t be a place where you pull up a chair on the side of the street, where you can always find a neighbor willing to lend you a dollar.

And they fear they will be priced out.

(You can read the whole article here) The effects on present residents and businesses in areas that are redeveloping are always a concern, as we noted a few weeks ago. (See “Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida — Revitalization and Gentrification”)

And there had been little investment in the surrounding neighborhood over the past 40 years.

In 2015, when the city created a West Tampa redevelopment zone, it was one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods. The crime rate was 1 1/2 times higher than the city average and more than twice as many structures than average rated “fair’’ or ‘’poor.” Large areas lacked sidewalks and decent street lighting. The median annual income of people here — two-thirds of them African-American, 20 percent Hispanic — was less than $19,000.

The redevelopment designation means new property taxes collected from within the area can be funneled to sidewalks and street lighting.

So far, the taxes have brought in about $1 million in two years. But that money has largely remained unspent while a citizens advisory committee draws up a five-year plan for how to improve the area. The group is chaired by Joe Robinson, a local engineer and businessman who has lived in West Tampa since he was a child.

Robinson said West River will help provide needed affordable housing but points out that the project goes no farther west than Rome Avenue.

More investment will be needed in what he describes as the “rough” stretch of Main between Albany and Howard avenues.

That is also true.  Not much has been invested in the middle of West Tampa.  At least not yet.  To really make “West River” successful, that will have to be addressed.

Getting back to “West River” (note the City even gave a different designation to the plan):

Groundbreaking is scheduled for May on a seven-story apartment block for seniors with ground floor retail. Soon to follow is rehabilitation of the eight-story Mary McLeod Bethune senior housing tower. A third apartment block with 118 units at Willow Avenue and Main Street could also break ground this year.

This week, we got a look at the first building, the Bethune Residences I.  Here is a rendering:

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for forum post

And here is a site plan:

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for forum post

Yes, there is one retail spot at the corner of Rome and Main, though most of the gourd floor is taken up by parking (notably, at least on Main the parking will be hidden by a narrow stretch of the building). According to URBN Tampa Bay, the building will be stick construction on a concrete pedestal, which is pretty much par for the course.  There is also an open space to the east of the building that can be put to public use.

We are pretty neutral on the design.  It is better than previous public housing, but not really good urban design.  In other words, it is basically standard North Hyde Park (while not in North Hyde Park, the design of Encore, colors aside, for the most part is actually better).

We hope the development helps the businesses in West Tampa.  Certainly when more buildings come there will be more customers.  However, as noted above, that still leaves the gap between the commercial heart of West Tampa (around Howard/Armenia and Main) and the West River projects. That sorely needs to be addressed.


West Tampa-ish – Expansion

The previously mooted expansion of St. Joseph’s Hospital is moving forward:

St. Joseph’s Hospital has broken ground on a $126 million expansion at its site on Martin Luther King Boulevard in West Tampa.  

The project is slated to be complete in late 2019. A new six-story tower will feature a covered entry, 90 new private patient rooms, a two-story lobby with drive-up front entrance, and waiting and on-call rooms.

The 90 private rooms will be placed on three patient care floors with 30 private patient rooms per floor. Another floor for mechanical support will be included in the expansion as well as a connecting bridge to St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital across Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 

There will also be a connection to the existing main tower on the first, second and fifth floors and the basement.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is hard to speak of the overall architecture of many hospitals (including St. Joe’s) which often are jumbles of different styles as they are expanded over time, but the hospital has needed that bridge for a long time.


South Tampa – First Approval

Per URBN Tampa Bay, the City gave first approval to a mostly office building on Henderson.

On Thursday the Tampa City Council gave first approval to a mixed-use office project at 3815 Henderson Blvd. in South Tampa. The project features a 120-foot, 7-story office building, 2,000 square feet of retail space and a parking garage. The building also features a single 4,000 square foot penthouse condo.

We discussed this project previously here. In sum, we like the density and mixed uses.  The parking is a bit much.  In any event, it is an improvement over the office building next door.


Temple Terrace – Still Nothing

There was a report in the Times about Temple Terrace’s halting plan to build a new downtown.  When last we left it, Temple Terrace had basically given up on building a downtown and was trying to sell of the land they had previously designated for downtown to get some sprawl built.  The stated reasons were to remove the debt.  This week:

City financial advisor Jay Glover told the City Council that its chosen institution, Republic Bank, can cover only part of the $23.5 million debt the city must refinance by June 1.

Another bank, however, CenterState, is willing to lend the rest of the money so Glover recommended last week that the council pursue a combined deal.

“I think we’re all in agreement that this is the best course of action for the city,” said Glover, with PFM Financial Advisors in Orlando.

Temple Terrace borrowed the money last decade to buy and improve 29 acres on the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River, hoping to create a downtown environment.

After parting ways with three developers over 15 years, the city now is simply trying to get the best deal it can on the 22 acres it still owns.

You can read here about the loans.

Interestingly, The Times article online included this picture:

From the Times – click on picture for article

And this caption:  “The city of Temple Terrace is still striving to bring this vision of Downtown Temple Terrace, but to succeed it has to overcome a financial hurdle.”  While that might be an attractive vision, in fact, as the article notes above, no they aren’t.  They have given up.

The big question is why, when many cities in the area are finally getting it and are moving forward with some at least urban-ish development, Temple Terrace has had such trouble.


Airport – Big Numbers

The airport just reached a major milestone:

Tampa International Airport saw its busiest month ever in terms of passenger traffic.

The airport served a record 2,192,602 passengers in March, beating the previous high set in March 2017 by 213,358 passengers — a 10.8 percent jump, the airport said Monday.

Since the 2018 fiscal year began six months ago on Oct. 1, 2017, TIA has served 10,761,239 passengers, soaring 953,684 passengers, or 9.7 percent over the same period the previous year.

Both domestic and international passenger growth drove the strong performance. International passenger travel was up 12.3 percent. Meanwhile, domestic travel rose by 9.6 percent.

That is great.

In other news, the Times had an article about the new SkyConnect and rental car facility:

Smart design has kindled travelers’ love of Tampa International Airport since the days of the Nixon administration, putting TIA near the top of survey after survey of customer satisfaction.

But the romance has dimmed for at least a small percentage of fliers who have spoken up since the airport unveiled its biggest expansion in decades: a new rental car center, connected to the main terminal by the 1.4-mile-long SkyConnect train.

* * *

About 200 passengers have felt strongly enough to send the airport an email or post comments to social media about the changes. By comparison, more than 3 million people have flown in or out of Tampa International since Feb. 14, when the new projects made their debut.

The reviews have been mixed.

* * *

The top recurring theme was that fliers preferred renting a car in the old location, next to baggage claim. The rest of the five most common reactions were mixed: Some fliers said service had improved. Others criticized the train as too jerky and unpredictable. Still others preferred the train to the old shuttle buses. 

While that is not a huge number of comments, since the Times brought it up, we have to say there are a few things about the new facilities that could use some tweaking.  First, we do not prefer the old buses, but one of the great things about the airport is the commitment to not making walks too long.  The SkyConnect station at the landside building is a bit far from the heart of the building.  We don’t mind walking but, especially with luggage, it may be a bit much for some.  A moving sidewalk (at least on the 3rd floor) would be nice.

A bigger inconvenience is at the economy parking garage, where one used to go down to the ground floor and get a bus at the elevators.  Now, you must go to the ground floor, walk to another elevator at the west end of the building and take another elevator to the SkyConnect.  We are not sure why there are no elevators on the various floors of parking directly to the SkyConnect station without having to go to the ground floor first.

These are not huge things, but they would make the system work better and be in keeping with the ease of use that has been a hallmark of the airport since its opening.

 


Built Environment – And Also the Trees

A few weeks ago, a report came out regarding the tree canopies in cities:

In 1972, one of Joe Chillura’s first acts as a city council member was to draft an ordinance aimed at turning downtown Tampa more green.

Now, some 46 years later, that tree ordinance has helped Tampa garner worldwide recognition as the best tree city on Earth, according to a study by the website Treepedia.

* * *

Treepedia, run from an MIT lab, uses Google Street View data to measure and compare the green canopy in cities around the world, according to its website. Treepedia recently announced Tampa has the best green canopy of all the 27 cities ranked.

As you can see by a Parks and Rec tweet here and this Facebook post from the Mayor, the City took pride in the ranking. It should.  The tree canopy is a very nice feature of Tampa.

That is one reason that the moves to change the tree ordinance is interesting.

That code is now in the crosshairs of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s committee that is looking at ways to streamline regulations to make the city more business friendly. Environmentalists say the protections, some of the toughest in the state, have helped preserve Tampa’s tree canopy, which in turn conserves energy, boosts property values, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and generally makes the city a better place to live. Builders associations say the regulations are too cumbersome, costly and punitive and have come to epitomize the city’s reputation for being unfriendly to development. Buckhorn said agrees with the committee that the tree code needs to be less restrictive, though he had no specific recommendations. “Clearly things need to change,” he said. “The code had gotten too cumbersome, too restrictive and punitive. That doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice environmental concerns.”

Oh, wait, that was from 2011, when the City was allegedly “unfriendly” to business, as opposed to now, when the City is “business friendly” and the code is basically the same.  One other thing to note from the 2011 article:

Tampa requires a permit for cutting down a protected tree wider than 5 inches. Most permits are granted. City records indicate that of 211 requests to remove grand trees (at least 34 inches wide and more than 100 years old) from January to June, only six were rejected.

That does not seem like a big issue in what is a generally successful program. But anyway, now:

The city-county planning commission this week found a piece of the proposed revision to be inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, overruling a staff recommendation.

Monday’s decision cheered tree activists, about a dozen of whom attended the planning commission meeting clad in green and voicing fears that the ordinance would allow builders to clear-cut trees on private lots.

Builders scoff at that idea, saying they want only to streamline the often-expensive, cumbersome process of removing a tree.

* * *

Builders have been frustrated that the city has taken so long to revise its nearly half-century-old ordinance. In early March, the City Council approved a compromise that would allow removals without a review board hearing on lots up to 75 feet wide. The new system would apply to individual properties rather than zoning districts, and removals would have to be tied to a building permit.

That’s the version that the planning commission shot down Monday, saying it interfered with maximizing the mature tree canopy and residents’ quality of life, said David Hey, principal planner at the planning commission.

Tampa’s trees have long been a source of civic pride and political turmoil. As development has picked up in recent years, protecting trees from the development buzz saw has resurfaced. 

This truly is a messy issue. For the average resident, tree codes can be confusing.  They can also be too expensive to comply with.  On the other hand, developers are in the business and should understand the ordinances and processes.  Of course, they just want to make their business easier and lower costs (and it should not be excessively expensive for them to deal with the ordinance). However, the reality is that the ordinance has not seemed to hold building and redevelopment back.  It does not seem to have stopped tear downs in South Tampa.

It was another twist in a tangled issue that needs more time for debate, said council member Harry Cohen, who represents South Tampa, where the passions burn hottest.

“We’re back to square one again. Let’s go back to what we were going to do originally and do it holistically and get everyone involved in the conversation,” Cohen said.

We agree. We are ok with changing the ordinance but think the focus should be on making it more easily navigable (and cheaper) for the average homeowner to deal with trees that pose a danger while protecting the canopy and lowering costs of compliance.  Protecting the canopy is a good thing. Development will be fine.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

While FDOT and many local officials are focused on widening the interstate, in some places – especially in the core of Tampa – to ridiculous widths, many cities are trying to hide them.  Recently there was a report from Pew Charitable Trusts, entitled “More Cities Are Banishing Highways Underground — And Building Parks on Top” (you can read it here)

The most popular place to put a city park is, increasingly, on a highway.

Cities looking to boost their downtowns, or to improve downtrodden neighborhoods, are creating “highway cap parks” on decks constructed over freeways that cut through the urban center. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Denver and Dallas have deck parks underway. Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis and Santa Monica, California, are among the cities considering similar projects.

In crowded cities, highway deck parks are a way to create new acreage and provide green space that can spur downtown development. Capping a highway to create a park also can reconnect urban neighborhoods sliced apart by the expressway building boom of the 1960s and ’70s.

“There’s been a sort of a sea change in the way people think about roads and real estate in general,” said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that focuses on land use. “If you design a city around cars, you’re going to get more cars. If you design a city around people, you’re going to get more people and places and better real estate value.”

The article goes on to discuss a number of projects in various cities that have buried highways.  We understand that burying a highway may not be very easy (or, in some places, even possible) in Florida. And we are not necessarily advocating for doing it.

On the other hand, this basic concept is valid: if you build for cars, you get more cars.  So far, every plan, even the “BRT” plan which tried to squeeze some buses into a plan for cars rather than creating real transportation options, is based on wider roads and building for cars.  It is not design for people.  If you cannot limit the impact of the highway by covering it over, you need to find other ways to limit and mitigate the impact (and make the interstate cutting though the city huge is not one of them).  Much more consideration should be given to how roads, and especially highways, affect the built environment.  So far it seems that this is just another planning, design, and transportation issue about which we are behind the times.

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Roundup 4-13-2018

April 13, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Some Other Stuff

— More Good Discussion

— Why Wait?

— Pinellas

— Selmon/Gandy Connector

— The Cost of Complacency

Governance – Where the Responsibility Is

Airports – Growing

Port – More Cruises

Economic Development – Good for the Schools

Rays – Developments

Economic Development – New York Times

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the County

List of the Week I I

List of the Week II

_________________________________


Transportation – Some Other Stuff


— More Good Discussion

The Lightning owner often has interesting things to say.  This week was no different.  He gave an interview to the Business Journal, and we’ll focus on his transportation comments.

We should learn from the Amazon proposal — we checked most of the boxes in terms of being an area where they want to be, and an area we didn’t check and probably eliminated us right off the bat and that’s transportation.

It probably did.  And all the people who care about the local economy – including County Commissioners and the legislative delegation – should take note.

But he had a broader take on transportation:

Our citizens, especially those without cars, face hardship due to our lack of transportation options, and this is across the board. Our bus service in Hillsborough — and Pinellas, too — is the worst in the country and it’s not even close. Only 18 percent of people without a car can get to work within 90 minutes and we need to have better transit to connect these people with jobs and supermarkets with fresh fruits and vegetables and to their doctors’ offices for their health. 

There is a bus rapid transit plan connecting [Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties along Interstate 275]. I think it’s important to have regional projects like that to get this region from point A to point B quicker.

Hillsborough County — all modes of transportation should be on the table in terms of providing connectivity for people and when I say all, I mean BRT, I mean streetcar, better roads, bike paths, the potential for autonomous vehicles and we should look at rail alternatives. I’m not sure they make that much sense in the current environment, but we have to look at everything.

If you look out 25 years from now at Hillsborough County, at the Tampa Bay region we should be one of the best places to live in the United States, not a doubt. We have everything going for us in terms of weather, in terms of things to do, in terms of people. It’s up to us to make that happen and we need to be able to move people from point A to point B.

We agree with most of what he said.  Our transit service is really bad.  It not only fails to attract choice riders, it fails to provide adequate service for riders who need it.  And it is important to have regional connections (though simply because a plan is regional does not mean it is a good).  We also agree that we should look at all transit solutions, including “gold standard” BRT that is really urban, mass transit.  We need a coordinated, synchronized transit system.  It is also true that the current political environment makes it difficult to get rail, though other areas have it and are expanding even now and even in traditionally conservative areas (there is nothing about being conservative that opposes good infrastructure investment), so it is not impossible.

One place where we seem to disagree is about the “BRT” plan as presented, though we tend to think he favors it because he wants something done rather than he thinks it is the best idea (though we could be wrong).  The plan splits the baby of real BRT and cost too much, making it neither really cheap nor really good. (And we doubt that a company that can go anywhere – like Amazon – would be impressed by the “BRT” plan.) Our position remains either make it real “gold standard” BRT mostly on arterial roads that promotes real urban transit and TOD or go truly cheap and fast, then focus on real transit.

And while we agree on the present political environment, the present environment is not permanent, and we can do a lot to shape it. We also believe that if rail or “gold standard” BRT was really pushed here – the biggest swing area of the biggest swing state – in a unified way, the environment might look a bit different.  (We get the local political problems, but that environment is also always in flux.) And if we are planning for 25 years, we have to plan for what we need, not settle, even if it is in phases – but that means a plan with clearly delineated phases.

What we like about the Lightning owner is that he looks to what we can be in the future and tries to move in that direction, even if we don’t always agree with all the details.  And he is honest enough to not try to sugarcoat everything.  The question is whether local officials will do the same or whether they will talk a good game and then settle.

And regardless of the discussion about the “BRT” plan, the larger point remains – we need transportation alternatives and real transit.  The lack of them inhibits our area.


— Why Wait?

We have been saying that the “BRT” plan can be done faster and cheaper (allowing a focus on true mass transit).  Last week there was news about a new HART proposal:

The proposal gives residents three options, all running on a seven day schedule from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. with a one hour frequency. Option 1 will run from Wiregrass Park-n-Ride to the Tampa International Airport; Option 2 will run from Wiregrass Park-n-Ride to the Marion Transit Center, and this option does not include an airport stop; and Option 3 will run from Wiregrass Park-n-Ride to the Tampa International Airport from Monday thru Friday with a shorter weekend route from Wiregrass Park-n-Ride to the University Area Transit Center.

According to HART, the 275LX route will be fully funded by utilizing the funds provided by the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Urban Corridor grants and is renewable. The route will replace the existing 51LX.

The overall consensus from the community members at the hearing, and from comments on HART’s social media channels, has been that this new route is long overdue. HART hopes to eliminate long waiting periods in between buses as it moves forward with the project.

Comments from the community will be used to decide between the three options and will be presented to the Finance and Audit Committee during their review in April. The new route is set to begin on July 1.

Obviously, even the longest route above does not go to Pinellas, and the frequency is far below what is needed (though the preliminary “BRT” plan is for 15 minute frequency, which, while better, is not very good for a robust system.) And, yes, the HART route will run in traffic.  But it is also not hundreds of millions of dollars. And note that the money comes from FDOT, not the County which still underfunds HART with no guarantee of properly funding in the future or properly funding a feeder system to the “BRT” line. (When will the County, which is spending hundreds of millions on roads, commit to properly fund transit?) Moreover, if FDOT has billions for TBX/TB(n)X, why can’t it fund simple bus service with proper frequencies?

The point is not that the HART route would be a complete replacement for the “BRT” plan.  It is that, while this proposal does not fill the void, we do not have to wait for years and Federal money to get adequate bus service that can serve most of the potential riders of the “BRT” plan while working to create a proper transit system.  It needs proper funding and political will to just do it (just like funding the St. Pete BRT plan or the streetcar extension).  The real problem is that local officials have just not prioritized it.


— Pinellas

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding Pinellas/St. Pete and express lanes.

For years, anger, confusion and controversy have swirled around the state’s plan to add 90 miles of toll lanes to Tampa Bay’s interstates.

Many opposed the toll lanes from the start, calling the fluctuating tolls “Lexus lanes” that only serve those who can afford them. Politicians said they were misled by the plan to convert a free lane to a toll lane on the new Howard Frankland Bridge. And residents decried the state’s plan to rebuild the downtown Tampa interchange by plowing through their neighborhoods, culminating in a bitter 8-hour meeting that ended at 2 a.m.

All of that opposition has stemmed from Hillsborough County.

True enough, though the local officials in Hillsborough were not misled by FDOT.  Most officials (and business organizations) reflexively supported the plan and either did not read the details or just changed position after it became truly public that FDOT was going to take a free lane from the bridge.  The true opposition was from citizens.

Meanwhile, across the bay in Pinellas County, elected officials and transportation experts have expressed a much different reaction:

They like the toll plan — and they want more of it.

Not only are they okay with toll lanes coming to Pinellas, but they’ve asked — perhaps even begged — the state to extend the toll lanes even further south into the county, right into downtown St. Petersburg.

“When we first heard they initially weren’t going to go all the way through to downtown, we were actually concerned,” St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Steinocher said. “We were nervous they were forgetting about us a little bit.”

First, note that the article is talking about local officials and “experts” wanting more express lanes, which is similar to Tampa.  Second, while we do not favor variable rate toll lanes:

Enthusiasm for paying tolls is a relatively new phenomenon in Pinellas. Voters decisively shot down a 1976 referendum that would have built a tolled expressway from St. Petersburg north to Pasco County, following 49th Street N and what are now McMullen-Booth and East Lake Roads.

That resounding defeat wiped out any hope of building Pinellas toll roads for decades. Meanwhile neighboring counties would go on to build the Crosstown Expressway in the 1970s (which was expanded and renamed the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in the 2000s) and the Veterans Expressway and Suncoast Parkway in the 1990s.

That sentiment seems forgotten now as Pinellas leaders and residents clamor for more options, more reliability and better connections.

We get they want more connections and options in St. Pete.  They are at the end of a peninsula and need them.  Of course, variable rate toll lanes are not new connections or real options, they are limited scope expansion of the same road that already exists, and they punish the average driver by giving them choice of very poor service or paying excessive tolls with no guarantee of better service.

DOT officials will spend the next year studying whether to extend the express toll lanes, spokeswoman Kris Carson said. The earliest construction would begin is 2021, with a projected opening of 2024. The St. Petersburg extension would also use the dynamic toll pricing, meaning the cost will rise and fall based on demand.

The added 5 miles of toll roads could cost anywhere between $200 to $400 million, Carson said.

Just note that the 5 miles of lanes will be designed specifically to not be used to their full capacity and sit mostly useless for most of the day (because the congestion will not be bad enough to justify a toll and people in free lanes cannot use them in normal traffic) and will cost close to the same range as the 41-mile “BRT” plan.

Forward Pinellas sent a letter of support to DOT in January. The board acknowledged that extending the lanes plus completing other highway improvements, such as straightening the interstate and reducing merging, would take up much of the space that any future light rail line along the interstate would use.

But voters rejected the Greenlight Pinellas referendum to pay for light rail in 2014. And the Forward Pinellas governing board believes that it’s worth the sacrifice to bring express toll lanes and highway improvements to the county, executive director Whit Blanton said.

“We’ve really had no opposition when I’ve mentioned it to public groups and at meetings,” he said. “The view is, ‘Let’s be practical, let’s be realistic, let’s make progress, and let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good.’”

There has been no proposal for perfect, and variable rate express lanes are not good, but whatever.  People say many things. (Pinellas also really isn’t built out, as the redevelopment of downtown St. Pete shows, but people still say it is.  Moreover, while we do not think light rail should run down the interstate, we wonder if St. Pete really wants to go all in on limited use roads.  One thing we do agree with is straightening the lanes of the interstate – the lane shifts in St. Pete are ridiculous and never really made sense.

Planners still need to address many questions, such as whether there will be one or two toll lanes in each direction. It’s also unclear how much right of way the lanes will require and what kind of impact that could have on surrounding neighborhoods and communities — exactly the issue that has stirred up Tampa’s urban neighborhoods.

* * *

It’s hard to pin down what exactly explains the different reactions. The impact in local neighborhoods could be part of it, Blanton said. Tampa residents knew what was planned while St. Petersburg residents don’t yet know. Some of it could also be ideological, he said, or rooted more in geographical realities than anything else.

“We are much more dependent on regional connections than many people in Hillsborough County are,” Blanton said. That’s because Tampa is the center of the region’s workspace, and Pinellas commuters will always need better ways to drive there and back.

This, of course, is a main point. No one knows exactly what variable rate toll lanes in St. Pete would involve so real reactions are still unknown.  Even the people who support the idea do not really know what they are supporting.  (And, it should be noted, that while we opposed variable rate toll lanes, arguably the interstate in St. Pete did not do the same damage to established neighborhoods to the same extent as in Tampa.)

Maybe St. Pete thinks that giving its citizens (and those who want to visit) a choice between completely inadequate roads and overpriced, often congested express lanes is the way of the future.  It is their choice, of course. But is that really the option they want going forward?  Wouldn’t they rather spend the money on real option, like BRT north to create a real BRT network with the east-west plan (for which they are seeking a mere $20 million from the Federal government)?

Pinellas is a peninsula on a peninsula, as Steinocher likes to say. And downtown St. Petersburg, especially, has seen high rate of growth over the last 10 years, increasing traffic and creating new bottlenecks.

“We want to make sure we’re planning ahead,” Steinocher said, “and that we’re seen as part of the regional experience.”

If St. Pete really wants to join in regional experience of bad transportation planning and not providing real alternatives to congested highways, we guess we can’t stop them.


— Selmon/Gandy Connector

There was news about the Selmon/Gandy Connector:

Overnight road closures are scheduled later this month as crews begin work widening lanes west of Westshore Boulevard up to the Gandy bridge. Widening won’t affect existing lanes along Gandy Boulevard, but are necessary to support future bridge infrastructure for express lanes above the existing corridor allowing commuters to avoid local congestion.

* * *

No lanes will be closed during daytime hours.

The construction is fine.

What is not fine is the bizarre rhetorical transformation of a long discussed extension of the Selmon into “express lanes.”  The two lane extension of the expressway/exit of the expressway is not “express lanes.”  It is part of the expressway that goes over Gandy. (We couldn’t find the words “express lanes” on the THEA Extension website.)  And this:

The new flyover lanes will be tolled. Existing lanes at street level will remain free. Construction on the project started this year. The new lanes are expected to open in late 2020.

The lanes are tolled because they are part of a toll expressway (and, at least based on what has been discussed, not variable rate tolled). The street level is Gandy Boulevard, something completely different than the Selmon Expressway, which has been there for a long time.  That has always been the understanding, primarily because it is true. To recast the extension of the Selmon as “express lanes” is really quite silly.


— The Cost of Complacency

The County Commission is fond of approving developments in south and east county.  Of course, that has consequences:

The once sleepy southeastern portion of Hillsborough County is sleepy no more and Hillsborough County officials are scrambling to keep up with infrastructure needs.

Meanwhile, motorists in the south county region continue to spend time fighting congested traffic to and from work.

Relief is coming, Public Works Director John Lyons says, but it will take time and a lot of money — and there are no guarantees planned improvements will keep up with residential and commercial growth.

Lots of money, and much of it from the taxpayers rather than those who have profited from all that development.

The county will need millions of dollars for an estimated 700 miles of new streets by 2045, said Melissa Zornitta, Planning Commission executive director. That doesn’t include money for expanding major roadway corridors, Zornitta said.

In addition to the Big Bend project, the county is fast-tracking expanding 42nd and 46th streets and 19th and 131st avenues in central and north Tampa, as well as Lithia-Pinecrest Road south of Brandon.

The plans do not address rapid transit projects to reduce pressure on roadways, county officials said.

Of course, development brings congestion, and poorly planned development relying exclusively on arterial roads and sprawling, unwalkable development brings really bad congestion.  The County has specialized in such development and, as often noted, completely neglected any alternatives to driving.  It has failed to learn from all the mistakes of the past: failing to change the model for development, failing to promote infill and proper use of its infrastructure, failing to properly run its impact fee system (we’ll see about mobility fees – though they will not fix the previous mistakes), and failing to stick to even the plans it creates.  And the burden for that falls primarily on the taxpayer (like the $800 million the County has set aside for roads, which, going from the article, is not being used very well and/or is inadequate to meet the needs their poor planning has created.)

“The elephant in the room is transportation,” County Commissioner Les Miller said. “Everybody cannot work in the neighborhood where they live. It is just not going to happen.”

And the elephant in the transportation room is bad planning, which the County Commission continues unabated.


Governance – Where the Responsibility Is

Speaking of the County, roads, and planning, there was an article in the Times about land use decisions that had a very unusual (at least for local media) angle:

Hillsborough County is running out of vacant land to develop. It is running out of money for new fire stations, roads and water lines. And it is running out of time to stop the culprit: sprawl.

County commissioners heard this message twice in the last three months — first from outside experts, then from in-house staff. Twice, a majority of them nodded their heads in effusive agreement.

Yet between those clarion calls, commissioners twice sided with developers wanting to build more homes outside the county’s urban boundary.

In each case, the man able to move them was Vincent “Vin” Marchetti, a Tampa land use lawyer and one of the region’s busiest lobbyists.

You can guess where this is going.  We are not going to write a long comment on it (you can read the article here), just note:

And many of those clients have cut checks to the campaigns of county commissioners in the past year. A Tampa Bay Times analysis found Marchetti and businesses he represented donated $127,000 to the four county commissioners running for re-election this year — Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White.

Here’s another way to put it: $1 of every $7 raised by commissioners this election cycle has come from Marchetti clients.

There’s “no correlation” between the donations and his success with the board, says Marchetti, a shareholder with Stearns Weaver Miller, a statewide law firm. Commissioners, he said, “review the facts of the case and make a decision that’s in the best interest of the whole.”

* * *

When Marchetti holds fundraisers for local politicians, his clients are often on the guest list. One for Hagan last year raised $50,000.

Hagan has received the most money from Marchetti’s clients, about $56,000 of his $472,000 war chest. Hagan did not respond to calls for comment. He also did not attend either county meeting about sprawl.

“I have fundraisers for candidates that I tend to support and I ask my clients if they want to attend the fundraiser,” Marchetti said. “They either come or they don’t.”

* * *

Crist said he was surprised when the Times informed him that the developers for the project donated $8,000 to his re-election bid. Of the $78,000 Crist has raised since opening his campaign last May, $22,000 are from Marchetti clients.

“That’s news to me,” Crist said. “I don’t look at who writes checks. I’ve got two little old ladies who give their time to handle that.”

(At the end of the article there is a list of how much each commissioner has gotten in campaign donations.)

While that last quote strains credulity a bit, it could be true.

While we don’t agree with everything the attorney in question says in the article, we also don’t disagree with everything.  And, like any citizen, he is certainly entitled to support candidates and, within the law, raise money for those he likes and advocate for positions he supports. That is not where the biggest issue is.

The onus is on the Commissioners to make good decisions for the benefit of the whole county.  Ultimately, the Commissioners are the only ones responsible for their votes. You can decide for yourself how they are doing.


Airports – Growing

There was news from the airport:

Tampa International Airport saw 12.5 percent passenger growth in February.

“You have to go back before the recession in 2005 to see that kind of growth,” said Chris Minner, TIA’s executive vice president of marketing and communications, adding that it was the highest monthly growth since 2005.

Minner, reporting airport results at the monthly meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which oversees the airport, said the increase was driven by two carriers — Spirit Airlines (NYSE: SAVE) and Frontier Airlines. Spirit was up 53 percent and Frontier a whopping 120 percent year-over-year.

International passenger growth was strong as well with a 13.6 percent surge.

But flights to Canada, among several airlines, have shown a 60 percent growth in seat capacity since 2011.

Air Canada was up 16 percent year-over-year. “Canada as a whole represents 57 percent of nonstop international traffic at Tampa International Airport,” Minner told the board members. 

* * *

Also on the international front, German carrier Lufthansa saw a 30 percent increase due to its additional flight. Copa Airlines, which focuses on Latin America, also performed well.

That is good to hear.  Hopefully, it will lead to more flights to more destinations.

Across the Bay, the news was also good (if slightly tainted by the reliance on one airline):

March was the biggest month in the history of St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, with 237,021 passengers, a 15 percent increase over the same month last year. Year-to-date, traffic at the Pinellas airport is up 13 percent.

Growth is good (with the usual caveat for St. Pete-Clearwater relying on one airline).


Port – More Cruises

The cruise business in Tampa is doing quite well, in line with the national tourism boom.  This week we learned:

Carnival Cruise Line announced Friday it will add 20 cruises from Tampa to Havana next year, bringing its total number of sailings to Cuba to 31.

The five-day voyages will leave Port Tampa Bay on Saturdays on the Carnival Paradise, which recently underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation, and include a call in Havana, plus stops in Key West, Cozumel or both.

Assuming Cuba stays open, that is good news, especially given that Tampa did not get another flight to Havana in the latest reallocation of flights.


Economic Development – Good for the Schools

There was encouraging news regarding Hillsborough County schools, which have all sorts of issues.

Hillsborough leaders consider the newly released results from the National Center for Education Statistics to be an accurate comparison of educational systems, despite structural differences between Hillsborough — a district that includes city and suburbs — and some of the others, which are more purely urban.

* * *

The district tied for first place nationally in fourth-grade reading and math. Eighth-graders tied for first place in reading and were in a group that tied for second place in math.

Charter school students were included, and the team that administered the test took care to include students in a wide variety of schools. Unlike state tests that measure every student, this test, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is given to a sampling of students.

We think that is great.  One can debate whether the results are completely accurate, but it is good nonetheless.

The results, announced today by the National Center for Education Statistics, the primary federal entity for analyzing education-related data, is part of a national initiative known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Students from 27 large school districts, including San Diego, Boston, Los Angeles, Houston and others, took part in what communities use as a tool for comparing their students with peers across the country.

In other words, the numbers are for 4th and 8th graders, not high school, and do not include richer suburban districts in other areas.  Nevertheless, it is good (and hopefully reflects improvement in the whole district).

But that is only step one. One challenge is to maintain that progress through high school.  The bigger challenge, as pointed out by the Lightning owner last week, is convincing those students to stay in this area after they are done with school.   If we can do that, it will really be impressive.


Rays – Developments

On the field, the Rays have not started the season as we would have wished, but there has been a lot of reporting about off the field action.  In reality, what is going on is the set-up for the debate that will is coming regarding the theoretical Ybor stadium.  As such, there is actually not that much to comment on, but we thought it might be helpful to just link to some articles.

First, there are the efforts among the business community to develop support for the stadium. (here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

As we have been told, how much money the Rays are willing to put up for the stadium is partially contingent on business support. For more on their potential share read here.

And, as one would expect, there is a debate about spending public money on the stadium. See here, here, and here.

Finally, here is an article about MLB team valuations and how the Rays are at the bottom of the list.  And, by any measure, including fan score, their attendance is poor.


Economic Development – New York Times

There was an article about Tampa (though they still included the “Fla” in the dateline) in the New York Times this week focusing on real estate entitled How Developers Discovered Tampa’s ‘Best-Kept Secret’. While it is not really an original article, has a couple of obvious errors, and is basically an ad for three developments in Tampa (mostly Water Street, plus Westshore Marina District and Midtown), it is nice exposure for the area.  You can read it here.

From the NY Times – click on picture for article

Some of the comments by local officials that were a bit impolitic, but we are not going to get into them.  Though one thing really stuck out to us:

Mr. Richard added that the market had been untapped for many years in terms of major construction, especially downtown. “The last thing you want to be, in terms of economic development, is a best-kept secret,” he said, “but we’ve managed to do that for decades.”

What he is saying about all the time and money spent on trade missions, advertising, and economic development promotion over many years and all the people involved in those efforts?


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the County

In Tampa, the City government was determined to remove the Bro Bowl (and build a copy hidden away next to the interstate where TB(n)X very well may make it even more obscure or destroy the recreation.  The administration had no regard for the historical nature of the Bowl or skateboarders in general.  Last week, the New York Times had an article on skateboarding entitled “Skateboarders Won: Skate parks, once considered a menace, are booming everywhere around the world. Now we head toward the first skateboarding Olympics.”

Steve Rodriguez, 46, a professional skateboarder and the owner of 5boro skateboards, helped build Ms. Sheehan’s ramp in 1995. A little more than a decade later, on the Manhattan side of the bridge, he helped organize the city’s skate community in order to save a portion of the so-called Brooklyn Banks, a popular spot for local skaters at the time. In this case, the city promised to eventually turn part of the area into a proper skatepark.

Skateboarding had gone from renegade to recreation. After decades of commandeering streets, sidewalks, parking lots and public sculptures, skaters entered the mainstream. Now New York City, the United States, and the world at large have all seen a surge of skate park development. With skateboarding entering the Olympic Games in 2020, the international growth of skate parks is likely only beginning.

* * *

In Harlem, a new skate park opened at Thomas Jefferson Park in September. The Bronx will see the completion of Williamsbridge Oval Skatepark in early 2019. Mr. Rodriguez recently worked on designs for a skate park currently under construction near the refurbished Kosciuszko Bridge. These new entrants follow the construction of Golconda Skatepark in Downtown Brooklyn, in 2016, and Cooper Skatepark in Bushwick the same year.

In Los Angeles, the highly regarded Stoner Skate Plaza opened in 2010 and features recreated elements of bygone local skate spots. The architect Anthony Bracali teamed up with skateboarders in Philadelphia for the 2.5 acre Paine’s Park, completed in 2013. The Seattle Skate Park Advisory Committee has spent the past decade advocating skate parks in that city, arguing that Seattle’s more than 29,000 skaters needed dedicated space to skate. Today, the city is home to a growing number of skate parks, as well as more than a dozen designated skate spots and “skate dots”: individual obstacles spread across the city designed for people to skate.

Just so you know about the LA recreations, unlike Tampa, they are not building replicas of historical bowls that the City destroyed:

Several local pro skaters also took part in designing the space. The names, according to sources, include: Colin Cook, Justin Cefai, Joey Brezinski, Chris Roberts and Aaron Snyder. California Skateparks and the local pros created the 20,000 square feet space to reflect landmark skate areas around L.A.

* * *

One part of Stoner mirrors an area of the West L.A. courthouse, while another portion mimics a popular skate spot along a Venice bike path.

Tampa is not mentioned in the article.


List of the Week I

Our first list this week is Newsweek’s Top 50 U.S. Cities Ranked by Quality of Life and Average Salary.  From the name of the list, the methodology seems pretty straightforward.

Coming first is Austin, followed by Denver, San Jose (CA), Washington (DC), Fayetteville (AR), Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, Boston, Des Moines, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Boise, Nashville, Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Madison (WI), Grand Rapids, Houston, Sarasota, San Diego, San Antonio, Richmond, Omaha, Portland (ME), Charleston (SC), Syracuse, Greenville (SC), Albany, Hartford, Portland (OR), Buffalo, Harrisburg (PA), Tampa (at #35), OKC, Winston-Salem, Little Rock, Rochester (NY), Orlando, Lancaster (PA), Chattanooga, Louisville, Phoenix, Jacksonville, Honolulu, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Melbourne (FL), and Atlanta.

Not that great.


List of the Week II

Our second list this week goes along with the first: U.S. News’s 125 Best Places to Live in the USA. Here is the methodology.

Coming in first is Austin, followed by Colorado Springs, Denver, Des Moines, Fayetteville (AR), Portland (OR), Huntsville (AL), Washington (DC), Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle, Nashville, Grand Rapids, Raleigh-Durham, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Madison (WI), San Jose (CA), Dallas-Ft. Worth, Phoenix, San Francisco, Lexington (KY), Charlotte, Boise, Ashville, Boston, Houston, Portland (ME), Omaha, Melbourne (FL), San Diego, Greenville (SC), Lancaster (PA), Reno, Sarasota, Honolulu, Columbus (OH), Manchester (NH), Charleston (SC), Albany, Ft. Wayne, Ft. Myers, Anchorage, Winston-Salem, Jacksonville, Harrisburg (PA), Hartford, Atlanta, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Lansing, Rochester, Buffalo, Pensacola, Richmond, Indianapolis, Columbia (SC), Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Springfield (MA), Greensboro (NC), Louisville, Worcester (MA), Oklahoma City, Knoxville, Little Rock, Springfield (MO), Tucson, Santa Barbara (CA), Spokane, Milwaukee, Lakeland, Chattanooga, Reading (PA), Myrtle Beach, Tampa, Augusta (GA), Santa Rosa (CA), Orlando, Port St. Lucie, and Las Vegas.

As you can see, both lists have a number of common cities at the top of the list.  They also have some odd entries. The other thing to note is that in neither list does Tampa do very well.  The largest cause of that seems to be low incomes, though, it is interesting that other factors do not lift us more.  As noted about the U.S. News list in the Business Journal:

Tampa’s overall score dropped from 6.6 to 6.4 out of 10. The lowest score was for value, at 5.1, which compares cost of living to median annual income. The highest score was for net migration, which is a measure of how many people are moving to a particular area.

That is not a large drop in overall score, which could lead one to suspect that other areas got better more than we got worse.

As with all lists, we do not think any specific ranking really means much, though, if you are consistently getting a high or low ranking, it is probably an indicator of something.

 

Do with both lists what you will.

Roundup 4-6-2018

April 6, 2018

Contents

Transportation – On and On

— Adventures in Transit Plans

— Change?

— About Those Options

— BRT the Letter

— Conclusion

– The Half Fix

— Streetcar

Economic Development – Truths

Downtown/Channel District – Getting Going

Built Environment/Planning – No Room?

Westshore-ish – Midtown Officially Announced

South Tampa – Maybe Not Closing Bayshore

Airport – A Small Sign

Time – What it Would Be Like

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Brightline

— Revitalization and Gentrification

_____________________________


Transportation – On and On


— Adventures in Transit Plans

As expected, there was new about the Regional Transit Study plan.

— Change?

First, one of the big flaws in the plan is the lack of dedicated lanes, with most of the project running on highway shoulders and part also in express lanes on the Howard Frankland.  Well,

Tampa Bay’s transit advocates have set an ambitious new goal: full, dedicated lanes for a bus rapid transit line connecting three counties.

That’s a step up from the previously announced plan to build a 41-mile BRT route along Interstate 275 connecting Wesley Chapel, Tampa and St. Petersburg.

In that version of the plan, the buses used several lane options, depending on the segment of the route. For some portions, the buses would have their own lanes, either on the shoulder of Interstate 275 or in the expanded median between Westshore and downtown Tampa. In other segments, they’d run in mixed traffic, whether in the managed toll lanes of the future or even with regular interstate traffic.

First, there are many transit advocates, and not all advocate the “BRT” plan. Setting that aside, the idea sounds positive, but what does it really mean?

But now the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority has a bolder vision. Chairman Jim Holton told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Wednesday that his group will now push for the buses to run in dedicated lanes — whether along the shoulders or median of I-275 — from Pinellas to Hillsborough counties. The final plan is still being developed. A team from Jacobs Engineering, which in January proposed BRT as the region’s most realistic transit option, will spend the next six months making presentations to the public and gathering feedback. They’re scheduled to deliver the completed plan in September.

Holton expects the firm will know by June whether or not the proposal will include exclusive BRT lanes running across the Howard Frankland Bridge. In the old plan, rapid buses would have shared the new toll lanes set to be added when the Howard Frankland is remade into an 8-lane bridge by 2024.

It appears to mean that the plan would have dedicated lanes on the Howard Frankland (and presumably the previously announced Westshore to downtown stretch) but still run on the shoulders or in full traffic elsewhere. The biggest problem with the plan (though it is a problem) is not the express lanes on the Howard Frankland.  Even bigger, for us, is the reliance on highway shoulders.  So what is he proposing?

“If we could make the shoulder a totally dedicated  lane, exclusively for transit … I would prefer to do that.” Holton said.

If you could do that, it would be interesting.  However, 1) there is no indication you can have truly (meaning without any other vehicles ever using them) exclusive bus lanes in the shoulder and, if you can, that it would be safe and 2) then there would not be any shoulders and any problem on the interstate would be that much worse (problems like here, here, and here which, as we noted recently, happen routinely around here).

Moreover, if the buses run in the median and then have stops on local streets, you either need expensive ramps to get off the interstate or the buses have to cross the congested traffic.  And, given that in much of the area, the “median” is really an inner shoulder, the same issues apply to the median.

And, regarding full-time, exclusive use of the shoulder, can it even be done? From URBN Tampa Bay:

This scheme to put buses on the highway to justify blowing billions of dollars widening the highway is called BOS, Bus-On-Shoulder. The “dedicated lane” FDOT refers to is the highway shoulder, not an actual travel lane dedicated to the full-time and exclusive use of buses. According to USDOT’s national highway policy, you can’t even legally operate a bus on the shoulder full-time, the bus is only allowed to use the shoulder when congestion is so bad that highway traffic is moving less than 25mph, and so then the bus is allowed to get on the shoulder and go 35mph, until traffic speeds up to 35mph, and then the bus has to get back into traffic. It’s not like the bus is in its own lane and if the highway gets congested, the bus can just keep humming along at 55mph unfazed. When the highway slows, so will the buses. (The feds tried that before, where the buses keep doing 55 in their lane, while the adjacent lanes crawl along. They soon stopped that because the speed differential was dangerous and people died.)

We did an admittedly quick search and could not find an official document that said full-time shoulder use was not allowed (which is not to say one does not exist; we just did not find it), but we did find a Federal Highway administration guidance document on bus on shoulder operation that was exclusively about part-time usage and stated pretty clearly:

It remains the policy of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that constructing and maintaining roadway shoulders along all major and minor arterials and freeways provides inherent value. Shoulder width is one of the controlling criteria that FHWA requires a formal written design exception if minimum design criteria are not met on the National Highway System.(1)

Aside from their structural benefits for pavement and drainage, shoulders provide refuge for vehicles in emergency situations, access for first responders, and an additional recovery area for drivers trying to avoid conflicts in the adjoining travel lanes. The safety benefits of shoulders are documented in the AASHTO Highway Safety Manual and other studies. Because of these factors, the decision to use shoulders for travel should be carefully considered and limited in both its application and time of usage.

(you can get it in pdf form here) In other words, if you have full-time, exclusive lanes for buses on the shoulder, for safety, you would need to build a new shoulder. (The document explains that the best bus on shoulder practice is basically Minnesota’s policy which we discuss here.  Hint – it is part-time usage)  For obvious reasons, not having shoulders that emergency vehicles, crashes and broken down cars, not to mention cars that are pulled over, can use is a bad idea.

But, even if you could do it, there is more.  We listed five obvious issues (other than frequency, funding, and synchronizing with the local bus services) that arise from the “BRT” plan:

  1. This is not BRT
  2. Running buses in the shoulder is problematic
  3. The connections to activity centers is weak
  4. Running a system in/on the interstate is definitely not optimal
  5. The plan will not promote transit oriented development

Even if you run the buses in dedicated shoulders, while you may partially address number 1, you do not solve 2-5 (the problem with the shoulder is there is no shoulder). And you do not solve frequency, funding, and local bus services.

Returning to the TBARTA Chairman:

If the bay area chooses to build a BRT system, Holton said, then “I have one fundamental role …  to make sure it’s real BRT. That’s what I’m dedicated to doing.”

That is one thing we agree with, though real BRT would run mostly in arterial roads with proper stops in the heart of activity centers to help develop ToD. That is the way to address many of the issues above.

— About Those Options

If that was not enough, an article in the Business Journal based on a discussion with the lead engineer or the study and the TBARTA CEO raised more questions than it answered.  First,

Talking points both for and against the plan as it is currently being presented don’t fully represent the challenge facing Tampa Bay regional transit.  The BRT route, if implemented, would create a spine to get riders from one general area to another, but once that connection happens, riders would still need to get to their final destinations.

That’s where local options come in that would be facilitated through either county transit agencies or others with implementing authority.

Setting aside that the “BRT” plan will not create a real spine, getting people to where they are going is a problem.  As we have noted, this whole plan is based on the premise that somehow people get to the “BRT” (which would require redoing local bus service), ride the “BRT”, then get to their destination using another connection.  While the article list some local connection possibilities in downtown St. Pete, downtown Tampa, and Westshore, those all need planning, frequency, and funding, the last two of which local systems have lacked for years.  And that does not include getting people to the “BRT” from where they live so they can get to activity centers. (And circulators are nice, but having a line that runs closer to/into more activity centers to which people can just walk is even better.)

It needs to be made clear that the “BRT” plan really serves commuters travelling a good distance to get to work, not local travelers. For the “BRT” to really work, all the feeders must be in place, not just at destination but to get people to the “BRT” in the first place.  So, in reality, the “BRT” and the local connection all form part of one big plan. A proper system would have more direct local transit connections to and from the line, especially in residential areas.  Leaving it up to the counties to plan out in the future is quite the act of faith.

But we knew that.  Even more interesting for us is this because it gets to the process and discussion:

[Jacobs Engineering Project Manager] Pringle and [TBARTA CEO] Chiaramonte met with the TBBJ to discuss ongoing transit plans and coordination efforts.  Pringle said he hears a lot of misconceptions from residents responding to the plan.

“It’s a draft.  We still have to do all the engineering, all the environmental planning.”  Pringle said. “These are things that can continue to be discussed.”

He reiterated the plan is a first step transit plan aimed at creating an attractive regional project that could draw down federal funding and that could make a strong case for future local connections.  The Howard Frankland Bridge, he said, will still be reinforced to accommodate light rail if that is ever part of the region’s transit plans.

Pringle also said his firm is considering a phasing process where more than one transit project is included in a series of steps.  Chiaramonte said TBARTA could include other projects in its transit development plan.

The two refuted complaints from transit activists that using existing CSX rail lines would be a better use of public funding saying the connection most frequently referenced – one connecting the USF area to downtown Tampa – would be a local project under the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority’s purview.

That last point is echoed by the Tampa Bay Partnership’s head in another Business Journal article:

“If [critics] want CSX going to downtown Tampa, that’s a Hillsborough County project that needs to be studied by HART [Hillsborough Area Regional Transit] and the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, and there needs to be a funding plan for it,” Homans said.

There is a regional CSX option that would connect Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, but some view that plan as cost prohibitive.

“If it is a regional program, then that requires so much more study because it’s a multibillion-dollar project at that point.”

Setting aside that the CSX tracks run throughout the area and any system using them could be expanded in phases throughout the region (and what is a regional transit study that does not study an obvious regional transit idea?), a few weeks ago, we were told this:

There’s nothing to stop Tampa Bay regional planners from moving forward with two transit projects in its plans for a catalyst project instead of one, according to the firm studying options.

Jacobs Engineering Project Manager Scott Pringle told the Hillsborough County Planning Commission on Monday that the results of the regional premium transit feasibility plan could include bus rapid transit and a rail corridor. Pringle acknowledged a CSX rail corridor between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa has its benefits, but his overall talking points still heavily favored what his firm is describing as bus rapid transit.

That certainly strongly implies that the CSX route could be included in the transit plan.  Even more telling was that the CSX line was included in the Regional Transit Study, and not just initially.  It was part of the big reveal of the “BRT” plan. (See here) and later (See here) If the CSX line could not be in the regional transit plan, why was it included in the study?  Was the CSX analysis just to set up a cost argument for the bus plan?

And saying that other ideas could be included in the plan is all well and good.  What are the options?  If not CSX, what?  What are the criteria for a project being included?  Does it have to cross a county line immediately or can it be part of the phased approach?

We get the cost argument of the “BRT” plan versus the CSX line. (We don’t think it is dispositive, but we get it – the “BRT” plan is cheap.)  We get the political point that it is easier to get Pinellas to support something that runs in Pinellas over something just in Hillsborough.  However, based on the study itself and the statements of the engineers, the CSX argument above makes no sense and makes one wonder.

— BRT the Letter

The Times featured a letter/column from the some leaders of the Tampa and St. Pete Chambers of Commerce on the “BRT” plan.  While it should be noted that both organizations have a history of adopting a “just do something, anything” approach, the letter makes their case, so we will discuss it (you can read the whole thing here).

The Florida Department of Transportation has invested in a study to address our transit woes. That study, dubbed the “Regional Transit Feasibility Plan,” validates concerns expressed across our region and for good reason. Over the next 20 years, local travel miles will increase by 51 percent — yet current plans provide for no more than a 19 percent increase in traffic lane miles, projecting a 220 percent increase in congestion within a region that already suffers from protracted delays.

We will accept that as true.

The first step of the plan was to identify top-performing connections and recommend a “catalyst” project to get us out of the gate. While other options are still being vetted, the project that has emerged as the front-runner is regional Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”) from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida to Wesley Chapel.

Actually, the first step was to study a bunch of historical studies, not our present condition, to identify which of the corridors identified in the previous studies would be able to give us the cheapest plan, or at least get us under the $10/ride threshold.  But, anyway, we will agree that we need transit.  That is not the question.  The question is whether the “BRT” plan proposed is what we need. Here is why they say the plan is good:

BRT represents a reasonable starting point; it is affordable, regional, timely and inclusive:

BRT may present a reasonable starting point, but the proposed plan is not BRT.  Setting that aside, let’s look at the points:

First, affordable – it is cheap.

Second, it is regional, which it is.

Third, it is timely, meaning we would not need to buy right of way, which is true, but is just another way of saying it is cheap.

Fourth, yes, many people live near the interstate but what reason would most have for using this service when it is not clear how it connects to local bus systems and feeder routes; it is not clear that it will be frequent; it does not actually go to a number of activity centers; and it will not create TOD?  So we give them the number of people nearby with those caveats (Plus it does not say they are within ½ mile of a station, just the route).

Finally, this:

Thirty years ago, our greatest regional challenge was transportation. And yet, here we are with no progress in sight. The time for ultimatums has passed. It’s time to move beyond paralysis toward consensus and meaningful progress.

Our businesses — and those considering a move to Tampa Bay — expect it. Our employees and co-workers need it. Our young professionals demand it. And our children deserve it.

We agree – progress has not happened. And we agree that companies that are considering moving to our area look for transit, but we think they are looking at the quality of transit and the willingness to invest in the improvement of the area. We question whether this “BRT” plan as the core system will have any effect on their decision-making.

Finally, we will reiterate: if a “catalyst” project 1) is not planned and executed exceptionally well and 2) is promoted by creating inflated expectations that stand little chance of being realized, it will catalyze nothing but opposition to future projects.  Right now, the “BRT” proposal runs the risk of checking both those boxes.

— Conclusion

After all the new discussion, the fact remains that the main thing going for the “BRT” plan is that it is cheap.  Simply saying it is a catalyst does not make it so.  Moreover, especially after the CSX comments, there are no known additional plans or next phases to be included.  Additionally, the relative silence about reorganizing and funding feeder systems (not just local circulators around business districts) is a major issue that is not being addressed.  To even for this plan to work properly, feeders have to be considered as part of the plan.  We need a coordinated, synchronized system.

We could support a well thought out, proper, “gold standard” (a term that has been apparently been dropped) BRT plan (even if it BRT is not our preference for a spine).  But, based on what we have been shown, this is not one.  We maintain that the same basic service and catalyzing effect could be served by a substantially cheaper plan that does not create false hopes and sure to be dashed expectations of having real transit solution, while, at the same time, the region works on real transit.


– The Half Fix

FDOT is moving ahead with the partial interim fix to the previous interim fix to the obvious numerous bottlenecks it built around the airport/Howard Frankland.

The Florida Department of Transportation is looking for firms to design and build strategic lane enhancements on State Road 60 around Memorial Highway and the Westshore area.

The department hosted an information session for interested firms this month and is collecting bids for the $3 million project. FDOT wants to extend existing merge lanes in order to eliminate bottlenecks through the busy corridor.

* * *

Firms would have to consider expanding shoulders to accommodate new lanes, according to draft documents, which are subject to change. FDOT asked in its request for proposals that firms not include any designs that require purchasing additional rights of way.

FDOT is also soliciting proposals for improvements to Interstate 275 near SR 60 both northbound and southbound. Requests for proposals on those improvements would go out at the end of April with letters of interest from engineering firms due by May 21. The department expects to give the go-ahead to a firm by the end of the year.

I-275 improvements would include an additional northbound lane between south of Kennedy Boulevard to just before Lois Avenue. They would add a southbound lane from Memorial Highway to south of Kennedy Boulevard. Traffic there currently bottlenecks into two lanes before becoming four lanes on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

Construction would likely include widening the existing highway, some resurfacing, ramp modifications and noise walls.

The I-275 improvements would cost about $25.7 million with construction spanning as much as 650 days.

As we have long said, they should just keep the four lanes going all the way through on I-275.  Adding one lane would keep a bottleneck, though not quite as bad as now.

As for Memorial Highway, one of the biggest problems is the need to keep changing lanes to get where you want to go.  This plan will not fix that, but whatever.  It would just be nice if FDOT stop having interim fixes that keep our area under construction.

And then there was this:

The two projects are what FDOT considers “near-term” because they leverage existing infrastructure and minimal funding. Other projects still in the works include I-275 at the Westshore interchange, the Westshore to downtown Tampa corridor and near the University of South Florida exits as well as the connection between Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and portions of Interstate 75.

FDOT planned these projects to enhance workforce development by leveraging investment in areas with high job concentrations. Once contractors are chosen, construction on SR 60 is expected to take about 235 days.

Enough with the “leveraging.”  These project do not leverage anything. FDOT is half-fixing poorly designed, inadequate roads at a point of congestion which exists, in large part, because there already is a high job concentration.


— Streetcar

Last week we discussed the plan to extend the streetcar to the Heights.  This week:

The city of Tampa and HDR, the consultants hired to facilitate the InVision Streetcar process, are making final preparations to send a preferred enhancement plan to the Federal Transit Administration for inclusion on its New Starts project development list, an early step in drawing down federal grant dollars to pay for the project.

Federal grants typically cover about half of a project’s cost with local governments or agencies splitting the other half. The streetcar overhaul is a $100 million project.

Tampa’s preferred 1.3-mile streetcar route enhancement would connect the existing streetcar route from Ybor through the Channel District and on to the convention center through the downtown core and into the Heights. The project would serve 16,000 jobs and 5,500 residents.

But progress on the streetcar has much bigger implicationsthan serving downtown businesses and residents. It’s an opportunity to create a crucial transit connection to a larger regional system.

As you can guess, the idea is to connect to the “BRT” bus system, which at least is part of planning the connecting routes.

The city’s original goal was to send its preliminary project goals to the FTA by the end of this month. Now the city and HDR are working to make sure the streetcar enhancements align with the Florida Department of Transportation-funded Regional Transit Feasibility Plan that currently recommends a 41-mile bus rapid transit route connecting downtown St. Pete to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275. 

Regardless of what you think about the “BRT” plan, that is reasonable. As important, if not more, is the need to address the failings of the streetcar, which is too slow, too infrequent, and too expensive as it is (especially if you plan on having people connect from a bus ride they just paid for).

The city hopes to have the project included in the FTA’s New Start project development this July with a goal of beginning service by 2024 if funding is obtained.

We will see.


Economic Development – Truths

While we do not agree with him on everything, we have made no secret of the fact that we like the Lightning owner (aside from just fixing the Lightning).  Last week he gave us another example of why:

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik told his love story with his adopted hometown to hundreds of local tech workers Wednesday.

But it was a message of tough love, too.

The Tampa Bay region is “behind Nashville by about 10 or 15 years,” Vinik said. Its startup community and angel investors are unknown to the business world and each other. The area’s well-documented transportation woes need answers. Still missing is an ecosystem to cultivate entrepreneurs.

“As a community, we need to take it to a higher level,” Vinik said.

The remarks came at the start of the Synapses Innovation Summit at Amalie Arena, a tech and entrepreneur conference now in its second year. Organizers hope the gathering can start to fill in the gaps Vinik laid out and connect disjointed, and often anonymous, technology and entrepreneur companies from across the region so they can build and grow together.

He is right.  As any regular reader knows, we agree that this area needs to take it to a higher level.  That includes planning and transportation.

The 40-acre, multi-billion development he has planned can’t thrive unless Tampa is able to retain its young talent, he said. He recalled a recent meeting with 50 local high school students, where he told them that if two-thirds left for college and never came back to Tampa Bay, “then we are failing.”

“By magic they are not going to stay here,” the former Wall Street investment manager said. “We’ve gotta give them a reason to keep them here.”

Some may say he is just trying to promote his development. Of course he wants his development to be successful, but there is nothing wrong with that.  And he is right about giving people a reason to stay.  Implicit in his comment is that we are still lacking in that area.  But he added:

The good news is no one else in Florida has stepped up to become the state’s center of innovation. And Vinik believes no other area is better situated than Tampa Bay to assume that mantle.

“It is ours for the taking,” he said. “We put our minds to it, together, collectively, as a group, five to 10 years from now we will be the leader in Florida, if not the leader in the southeast in terms of startup activity entrepreneurialism, which will do wonders for the culture of this area and the growth of this area overall.”

While he is focusing on entrepreneurialism, the point can be applied more broadly.  The fact is that this area has many positive attributes, but is often hamstrung by inertia, complacency, and settling.  We are happy that the Lightning owner is out there pushing.


Downtown/Channel District – Getting Going

Speaking of the Lightning owner, there was new about the Water Street JW Marriott:

The developer of Water Street Tampa will break ground on its JW Marriott convention hotel in the coming weeks.

Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday approved a height variance for the 26-story hotel. With that approval, Strategic Property Partners is “planning to break ground on the JW Marriott later this month,” spokeswoman Ali Glisson wrote in an email.

The hotel sits on Old Water Street, across from the Marriott Tampa Waterside Hotel and Marina.

The hotel’s grand opening is scheduled for 2020, she said.

 

From the Times – click on picture for website

We look forward to it.


Built Environment/Planning – No Room?

Last week, the Census Bureau released its latest population estimates.

Nearly 55,000 people moved to the Tampa Bay are last year, making it the tenth highest city nationwide in terms of population increase, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The 2017 census estimate places Tampa Bay’s population around 3,091,399 after tens of thousands moved here last year, making it the 10th biggest population gain by a metro area in the country.

That is a large increase.  Here are the top 10 metros by numeric change:

Top 10 Largest-Gaining Metropolitan Areas (Numeric Increase): 2016-2017

2017 Rank 2016 Rank Metropolitan Area 2017 Population 2016 Population Numeric Change
1 1 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 7,399,662 7,253,424 146,238
2 2 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 6,892,427 6,798,010 94,417
3 3 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 5,884,736 5,795,723 89,013
4 4 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 4,737,270 4,648,498 88,772
5 11 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 6,216,589 6,150,681 65,908
6 6 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 3,867,046 3,802,660 64,386
7 13 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4,580,670 4,523,653 57,017
8 8 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 2,509,831 2,453,333 56,498
9 9 Austin-Round Rock, TX 2,115,827 2,060,558 55,269
10 7 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 3,091,399 3,036,525 54,874

Source: Census Bureau

The Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater metro area includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando counties, so the top 10 counties for raw population increase are also interesting:

From the Census Bureau – click on chart for website

Hillsborough County accounts for almost half the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater growth.  Not to mention:

Right now the county has the largest employment base in the region with more than 772,000 people in the workforce. It’s also the largest workforce importer with 42 percent of the nearly 1 million jobs in the county filled by workers who live outside the county.

In other words, there are a lot of people; there will be more; and there are a lot of people who come to Hillsborough each day.  The really obvious conclusion is that Hillsborough needs much better and more diverse transit options (not just an express bus).  But there is something else:

Hillsborough County needs to update its economic development policies if it’s going to keep up with a growing population.

* * *

“We’re currently losing a lot of land that is currently designated for commercial and industrial space because there’s a lot of interest in housing and retail,” said Lucia Garsys, the county’s chief development of infrastructure services administrator.

The Planning Commission expects 400,000 more jobs over the next 30 years. Under the current development trend, the county would need to expand its urban core by 54,000 acres, according to an early look at the presentation. That kind of growth would require 700 miles of new streets to connect new development to the county’s existing grid.

First, the “urban core” of Hillsborough County is very small and pretty much all within the city limits of Tampa.  Even Tampa has a relatively small, if growing, “urban” core.  Most of it is built in a suburban fashion.  Essentially, all of Hillsborough County’s development is also suburban, if not exurban.  Hillsborough County needs to create an urban core before it considers expanding it.

As for losing land designated for commercial and industrial space to residential and retail, that is also a question of planning.  The problem is the County Commission which cannot stick to a plan and constantly approves additions to the sprawling mess it has created over decades rather than promoting infill, reuse, and more density that would leave land for commercial and industrial.

The Planning Commission is recommending the county take steps to limit the number of retail and housing developments in spaces that were originally zoned for commercial or industrial uses unless for some “extraordinary public purpose.”

* * *

Balancing residential growth with new job space could help county planners reduce the impacts of a commuting workforce by providing jobs close to where people live.

“If you can reduce the trips that someone takes to work you do a couple of things,” Garsys said. “You reduce the impact on roads and you give workers more time to spend with their families. It’s really about quality of life and fiscal sustainability.” 

That is a good idea, but reducing the trips would require rethinking how the area is developed, creating a more urban design rather than sprawling subdivisions with limited entrances/exits on arterial roads, and more mixed use development.  Those are things the County Commission has been loath to do, even though the reality is that if there is better use of land, there will be less need for more infrastructure.  It will save money and save land.

Commissioners will also have to consider how to accommodate growth. Urban land around Tampa and Brandon is nearly built out. Garsys expects robust discussions about whether to expand commercial and industrial space into areas that are currently more rural or to redevelop existing land to accommodate more growth. All areas of the county are currently underutilizing land under current county code.

Because there is basically no urban land in Brandon, it cannot be built out, but we will set that aside for a minute and just talk about suburban land.  Brandon (and most of the rest of the County) is not built out.  Much of the land is underused – much of it parking.  Proper redevelopment of underused land could accommodate much of the growth.  Certainly, if the County continues to allow 1980s building patterns, the mess will continue.  Once again, note:

All areas of the county are currently underutilizing land under current county code.

And that is with the sprawling plan the County already has.  Do not expand the areas for development and let the land be properly utilized.

The Planning Commission is recommending a hybrid of the two strategies.

They should reconsider.  There is no reason to expand the developable area.  All that will lead to is more of the same and we will be back, having the same discussion in a few years.  The County Commission has spent years promoting poor planning, poor development, subsidizing residential and retail, and underinvestment in proper transportation throwing the burden on local taxpayers.  We do not need more of that.  We need good planning that promotes and incentivizes more density and infill to use the infrastructure we have. We need the County to stop approving bigger development outside the urban service area. We need proper transit.

And if you are not going to make it better, at least stick to the mediocre plan for once.


Westshore-ish – Midtown Officially Announced

A few weeks ago, we discussed what was then known as Tampa Bay 1. (See “Westhore-ish – Tampa Bay 1”) Last week it was officially announced as “Midtown.”

Midtown Tampa, Bromley said Wednesday, will include 1.8 million square feet of new commercial space:

Bromley hasn’t disclosed what preleasing thresholds would be necessary to begin construction. The developer is planning to break ground in 2019 and wrap up construction by 2021. For both office and retail real estate, a substantial portion of the space typically has to have a committed tenant in place before a developer will break ground.

Given previous false starts, it will be interesting to see how fast they can fill up space.  At least the previously rumored Whole Foods move has been confirmed. So has this:

Tampa City Council will hold a public hearing on Bromley’s rezoning request for the property on April 12. Bromley has acquired additional acreage since its last plans were approved, and its expanded plans require a rezoning.

You can check out our previous discussion for a site plan, renderings (including the one “released” last week), and our discussion.


South Tampa – Maybe Not Closing Bayshore

A few months back, we discussed a WalkBike Tampa proposal to close Bayshore every now and then to make it basically a park and let people walk and bike without fear of traffic. We said:

. . .maybe it would be fine every now and then on Bayshore, but Bayshore already has walking and biking facilities.  We think the focus should be on other parts of the city, where the majority of people live – like East Tampa/Seminole Heights (say Nebraska or Florida or a cross street) or West Tampa.  Maybe there should be a rotating program. The rest of the City (and County) needs as much, if not more, focus on walkability and bikeability (as well as unifying events) as South Tampa.

This week, there was some action:

Hours after Tampa City Council members advanced a tentative plan to close portions of Bayshore Boulevard to cars some Sundays to encourage walking and biking on South Tampa’s waterfront, Mayor Bob Buckhorn squashed the idea.

“We are looking at other options, but for the foreseeable future, Bayshore will not be one of them,” Ashley Bauman, Buckhorn’s spokeswoman, said Thursday evening. “Even as a pilot project.”

* * *

[WalkBike] also has suggested making routes through Ybor City, Tampa Heights and New Tampa vehicle-free on a handful of Sundays between November and April. Those appear to still be on the table for discussion.

On Thursday, both sides sounded more conciliatory about Bayshore and the other routes.

“The city is open-minded to the concept and willing to discuss it,” said Jean Duncan, the city’s transportation and stormwater services director. But the city wants more details on how many police officers and other city services will be required, she said.

That seems mostly quite reasonable.

The proposal takes its organizing principles from the Open Streets concept, which originated in Colombia and has spread across the world in recent years. The movement is often linked to support for more bike lanes, wider sidewalks and other safety improvements.

If you have been to an Open Streets event, it is quite clear that the best place to do them is where there is something to do along the route where people can stop and interact.  While it is pretty, there are not a lot of activities along Bayshore.  Likewise, New Tampa would not really be a good location.  Ybor City or Tampa Heights (and other places in town, like Seminole Heights and West Tampa) would be better.

Once again, we like the idea.  We just think Bayshore is not the best place for it.


Airport – A Small Sign

There was news last week regarding Lufthansa’s flight to Tampa (and reported this week by the Business Journal here):

Lufthansa in recent schedule update adjusted Frankfurt – Tampa operation during winter 2018/19 season, effective from 28OCT18. Current CityLine A340-300 service is scheduled to be replaced by Lufthansa Mainline A340-300, resulting capacity increase for Premium cabin.

While it is not an increase in service, it is an increase in valuable seats on the route.  It is a small but important indication of the success on our international route.  Now, to make it daily.

And then there is general aviation:

For the second straight year, Sheltair’s Tampa facility rose to the top of the rankings in AIN’s annual FBO Survey. The location earned an overall score of 4.74, and was the only service provider to earn scores of more than 4.70 in each of the five categories.

Well done.


Time – What it Would Be Like

We are still trying to figure out the real cause of the rapid push to change the time in Florida (things usually do not pass the legislature with no real discussion and large bi-partisan margins).  In any event, the Times had a good graphic presentation on the effect of the proposed time change here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida


— Brightline

There was news about Brightline:

. . . construction on the second phase to Orlando is beginning soon, according to the Orlando Business Journal.

Buildout of office space for planning and engineering staff at the Orlando Airport is nearly complete, with staff to begin moving in as soon as this week.

Construction on the Orlando Airport property will begin in June/July, with a 30-month timeline from the start of work until service begins. An Intermodal Terminal Facility is already built, and a 70-acre Vehicle Maintenance Facility along with the actual rail is being added.

No news about connecting this area to the line.


— Revitalization and Gentrification

As older parts of cities get revitalized, there is always a risk of displacing the people who live there.  Interestingly,

As home prices spike near University of Central Florida’s emerging downtown Orlando campus, a group is launching a regionwide land trust that would start in Parramore with below-market rents and prices.

The Central Florida Foundation has worked with Orlando, Orange County, Florida Housing Coalition and other groups for more than a year on launching Central Florida Land Trust. The idea is to offer more affordable prices on select housing as the west side of downtown Orlando redevelops with classrooms, restaurants, shops and apartments.

“In Parramore, if people move there in force, the people who live there will be forced out,” said Mark Brewer, president of the Central Florida Foundation. “We’re making real estate affordable in the long term. Gentrification is not always a bad thing. It’s bad when you displace people in the neighborhood.”

Prices in the Parramore postal code have increased at quadruple the rate of other Orlando ZIP codes in the past year as UCF and Valencia College prep their new campus to open next year.

Here is how community land trusts work: Generally, nonprofit groups acquire donated or deeply discounted land and build houses or apartments there. The trust leases the land at a low cost, so residents’ only full-price expenses are for the home that stands on it, whether they buy or rent.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Roundup 3-30-2018

March 29, 2018

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 3-23-2018

March 23, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Round and Round

— Lessons About BRT

— Cleveland HealthLine

— Hartford CTfastrak

— Pittsburgh Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway

— Conclusion

— About Those Shoulders

— Let’s Talk

— TBARTA

— We Don’t Need to Reinvent Every Wheel

— Streetcar

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Expanding, Sort of

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

St. Pete – Rising But Not Exactly Like This

Governance – Elections

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— The Inevitable

— Library

_________________________________


Transportation – Round and Round


— Lessons About BRT

From time to time there are articles in the local media (most often about transportation) that are not exactly news.  They are more like lessons (or sales pitches), but often the lessons they provide are not exactly what is probably intended.  This week, the Times had one such article.

The article in questions was titled “What could BRT look like in Tampa Bay? Here are three examples” This was the idea behind the article:

Bus rapid transit has emerged as Tampa Bay’s latest transportation solution. Many, though, may still be asking: “What exactly is BRT?”

Unlike rail — the regional transit option that pro- and anti-rail forces have long fought over — BRT looks different in almost every city. Each system is built to meet the individual needs of its city, region and ridership.

Sometimes the routes are built in their own, special busways (dedicated lanes or tracks). Other times they’re additional lanes added to existing roads. Some have fancy stations where passengers board at ground level. Others have minimal stops, few and far between to speed up travel time.

Here in Tampa Bay, planners have proposed building what may be the longest BRT system in the nation: A 41-mile line connecting Pinellas to Hillsborough to Pasco counties.

Interestingly, even setting aside that the local plan is not BRT, the article actually provides zero examples of what the local plan might look like, but we’ll get to that below.  The three examples were:

Cleveland HealthLine

Hartford CTfastrak

Pittsburgh Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway

We will take them in order.

— Cleveland HealthLine

The first BRT line is the often touted Cleveland HealthLine which runs from downtown Cleveland to the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University and University Circle, and beyond.  We have discussed this before (actually four years ago, which shows how long these discussions last, here “Transportation – Inadvertent Truths” where there is also some interesting information on operating costs of BRT versus rail).  We also have ridden the HealthLine.  It should be noted that it is easy to get to.  You just fly into Cleveland, take the train from the airport to downtown (because Cleveland has rail) and then walk on over to Euclid Avenue, where the HealthLine starts (at a stop like the one here)

The first thing you might notice about the HealthLine is that, at least downtown, it runs down the middle of a major road. (Much like the St. Pete BRT plan). It does not run on the interstate shoulder or in express lanes.  That alone makes it not analogous to the local “BRT” proposal.  The next thing you notice when riding the HealthLine is that it is not like a train. (By the way, there is a train stop just east of University Circle where you can catch a train back to downtown.) It does not look like a train:

From the Times – click on picture for article

And it does not ride like a train.  But let’s set that aside for now.

We are told:

The bus stations are in the road medians, have real-time arrival displays and ticket vending machines.

Which is true downtown, but not as you get farther out of downtown. When you get farther out, it does not even have a dedicated lane. (as you can see pretty clearly here) But, whatever.

Ridership on the HealthLine is pretty good, but, it has to be noted, it runs through downtown and on to probably the strongest part of the Cleveland economy these days, the Cleveland Clinic.  Which brings us to this:

Transit-oriented development has followed, generating $6.5 billion of development along the corridor, according to Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority CEO Joseph Calabrese.

There has definitely been some investment along the line.  However, some of it is renovating buildings downtown, the cause of which can be claimed by a number of investments.  Moreover, as we said the other end goes through University Circle.  According to this website promoting the area:

University Circle is a unique mix of world-class higher education, cultural amenities and health care that has become Cleveland’s “second downtown.” The center roughly four miles east of Public Square has enjoyed a renaissance for more than a decade, having attracted $3.65 billion of investment since 2002.

* * *

The Regional Transit Authority built the HealthLine in 2008 to connect Downtown Cleveland with the medical institutions of University Circle. The mass transit expansion has triggered more than $3.2 billion in economic development, which is the highest ROI of any public transit project in the nation. University Circle also is benefiting from the Opportunity Corridor Project, a $331 million three-mile boulevard designed to connect University Circle to Cleveland’s southern boundary and open up hundreds of acres for future development.

Regardless of the HealthLine, there was going to be development of expensive facilities in around the clinic and university.  And we are not sure how that all adds up, but, as we said, it is not relevant because the HealthLine runs down an arterial road and the plan here decidedly does not.

— Hartford CTfastrak

Next on the list is Hartford, which chose BRT over rail, even though it sits in an area crisscrossed by different passenger rail services (including actually useful intercity rail) which is expanding. In fact, CTfastrack uses an old rail right of way:

The 9.4-mile route was built in existing right-of-way along a railroad line. No other vehicles run in that space.

The transit agency said it continues to improve the service, recently adding heaters to stations and comping passes for university students.

A lot of thought and energy went into developing the 10 new stations, Solenksy said, such as making sure they had adequate lighting, seating and landscaping. Seven also have free parking on site.

As for the parking, if you look at the google maps version of the route (here) and click on the stations, most have very little parking.

Even with the right of way and short length, the project cost $567 million for 9.4 miles (not much cheaper than the studied CSX line in Tampa).  As noted, ridership is relatively good, though giving university students free rides probably helps. While the Hartford line does not run on an arterial road (and it is probably too early to know if there will be much transit oriented development), it does run on a dedicated right of way.  Once again, that is not like the local proposal.

— Pittsburgh Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway

The final example of what our plan might (but won’t) be like is in Pittsburgh.   Pittsburgh also has light rail, though it used to have a more extensive streetcar network (like most US cities). Due to its geography, which is very hilly, running rail can be an issue in many places and would likely involve a decent amount of tunneling, which is very expensive. Given the historical economy of Pittsburgh, that was unlikely. So, back in the 80’s they took an unused rail bed and turned it into a busway – unlike in the local plan, a fully dedicated busway (do you sense a theme?).

As the Times tells us:

Pittsburgh is home to one of the oldest BRT line in the nation, opening in 1983. The city actually has two busways, with the East Busway being the oldest.

Both run along railroad tracks, generally hidden from view and the communities they pass through.

Because BRT was built in a time when jobs were in decline and people were moving away from the city, development project manager Breen Masciotra said the agency didn’t see a lot of development around the stations.

That changed a few years ago with the redevelopment of the East Liberty Station. Through a lot of elbow grease, that project now has almost 20 different funding sources, Masciotra said. The redevelopment has helped connect the station and route with the community, and the agency said that has raised ridership.

While the line might not be as connected to the community as in other cities, officials said its strength lies in its frequency. Buses run every 3 minutes in peak hours, making it a reliable and speedy option.

Because the buses are essentially on their own highways, so they’re able to go as fast as 75 mph between stations.

Having also ridden this line and knowing other people who used it daily, we can attest that it is useful getting downtown, especially because it has its own right of way. However, it is very much a bus.

Additionally, here is the East Liberty station noted above, which is on the busway, not local streets. There is development around it.  The article makes it seem like the busway was the catalyst for development, but he cause of the development around East Liberty is a little vaguer than the Times article makes it out to be:

Indeed, East Liberty has become something of a tech hub, said Luis von Ahn, the co-founder and chief executive of Duolingo, a language-learning platform company with its headquarters in that neighborhood. Google Pittsburgh, with its more than 500 employees, also has part of its offices in East Liberty, as does AlphaLab, a start-up accelerator.

So it can be reasonably argued that the development is connected to the growing tech scene, but we will give the busway some credit.  You can live near it and get downtown effectively, and it is a half mile walk from the busway to Google’s offices.

It should also be said that other stations do not have the same amount of development as East Liberty, often because the busway serves much like an interstate cutting through a neighborhood rather than connecting it (and note the East Liberty station has the major road over the station/busway). In other areas it runs by already developed area making it difficult to know whether development is inspired by the bus or just the neighborhood.  Pittsburgh is working on getting more development, but we’ll have to see how that goes.

All that being said, however, once again, the Pittsburgh busway is a dedicated busway and not like the plan proposed here.

Notably, Pittsburgh (where the old HART CEO went) is also considering building a new BRT line, this time down arterial roads (at least until you get out of the middle of town). It will also use electrified buses, so it is more fixed, unlike here. (see here and here) Once again, they will not use highway shoulders.

— Conclusion

The fact is that the three examples of BRT held out in the article are attempts to do it right, and they are not at all what we would have here under the local proposal.  What we would have here is express buses on the interstate.  Lesson learned.


— About Those Shoulders

The plan proposed here proposes running buses on interstate shoulders.  We have noted that there are problems with that. In the last week and a bit there have been a number of examples of the problems inherent in that idea, specifically accidents (see here , and here, and here).  In all cases, an interstate was shut down in one direction after an accident (unfortunately, in one incident someone died)  And in all the “BRT” service would be completely disrupted. (And there was the accident on the Skyway that is not in the proposed path but continues to make the point especially about using lanes with mixed traffic on a bridge. )  That is not to say that other transit in dedicated lanes would not have disruptions.  It would.  But interstate disruptions are almost constant around here.  It is a major weakness in the plan.


— Let’s Talk

There was also an article in the Business Journal about the Tampa City Council’s reaction to the Regional Transit Study plan.  Admittedly, the article did not give the comments from the whole City Council, but here’s what it said:

Some Tampa City Council members are calling on more transit reform in the region than what is currently being proposed under the Jacobs Engineering Regional Premium Transit Feasibility Plan.

Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Beth Alden presented those plans during a meeting Thursday.

“I don’t have a problem with the plan per se,” said Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez. “If we’re going to spend that much money … let’s look at more [urban connections].”

The regional transit plan, which is still being updated based on public input, currently recommends a 41-mile bus route along Interstate 275 between St. Petersburg and Wesley Chapel. Suarez said he’d like to see stops along that route planned at street level so residents could have better access by foot or bike and to encourage transit-oriented development around stations.

Which drew this response:

The Jacobs plan lists 19 of its 21 planned stops along the 41-mile corridor as along city streets, but the plan isn’t final, and critics worry that won’t actually be the case. Alden touched on the issue Thursday, pointing out that stops off the highway would require buses to exit, navigate city roads and then re-enter the highway, costing valuable time along a route.

She suggests a combined approach, using local bus service along routes like Florida and Tampa avenues from downtown and Fowler Avenue from the University of South Florida to I-275, to complement local trips.

Now let’s look at what the engineer said last week:

Addressing complaints that the route wouldn’t be faster than driving and would do little to attract new ridership, Pringle said the route could be set up with some express services, where the bus would skip stops to connect major employment centers like USF and downtown Tampa quickly. He said all but two of the 21 planned bus stops would be off the highway in and around neighborhoods, to provide better access to communities while also encouraging transit-oriented development.

In other words, what the engineer says will help the plan, the planner says will hurt the plan.  We agree with the planner about stations on local streets slowing the system down.  And the plan won’t really help TOD anyway.  As for having local bus routes on Florida and Tampa, that requires frequent, useful connections, which will take money (not every 15 minutes at peak times like in the Regional Transit Study discusses for the “BRT”, see pg 35 of this pdf).  Changing buses also takes time.  And we are not completely sure why only Tampa and Florida are the focus.

In a separate presentation to the council Thursday, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority interim CEO Jeff Seward said the agency is studying those routes for potential bus rapid transit.

Fine (though the study is too limited, as we have noted before), but why spend money on the highway when you are going to just parallel it a few blocks away? Why not just run BRT up them instead of the highway?

Alden emphasized the value offered. The 41-mile bus route would require highway expansion and improvements by creating dedicated lanes through some corridors, express lanes in others and hardened shoulders along some spans. The Florida Department of Transportation is tentatively planning to include those necessary enhancements into its interstate modernization process currently known as Tampa Bay Next.

“We believe that FDOT’s offer … is a very valuable offer and we shouldn’t pass that up,” Alden said.

Arguably, it would be more valuable overall if FDOT did not have to spend some or all of that money to accommodate buses on the highway and spent it on proper transit on arterial roads.

And, from another Council member:

Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen said gridlock throughout the region will get worse over the next several decades and transit is a crucial part of solving that problem.

“It’s not a question of which [transit mode,]” Cohen said. “It’s really a question of how do we utilize all of these.”

And we could not agree more.  That is why we are all for going cheap on the express bus plan and focusing on real transit done properly.  Pretending that the express bus plan is in any way transformative or catalyzing is, in our opinion, wasting effort.  The fact is this is the Regional Transit Study plan is not “gold standard” BRT.  It is not really BRT at all.  As the plan exists now, it will not both be fast and promote TOD (It likely won’t promote TOD at all).  Why hold it out as “gold standard” BRT and then, almost invariably, not live up to the expectations of “gold standard” BRT? How is that catalyzing?

We don’t doubt that express buses are useful to some, but they are not our biggest need.  And if part or all of the bus plan can be pulled off the highway onto arterial roads to make it much more like real BRT so we do not waste money on highway work that may just be paralleled a few blocks away, then so much the better.

In any event, good for the City Council at least starting a real discussion.  Whether they get anywhere remains to be seen.


— TBARTA

TBARTA got some money:

The Florida Legislature installed TBARTA as Tampa Bay’s regional transit facilitating arm during its 2017 legislative session, but didn’t provide funding to expand the group’s scope. The $1 million allows TBARTA officials develop a business strategy to implement regional transit.

The funding was a legislative priority for several local groups including the Tampa Bay Partnership and local chambers of commerce.

And let’s review, what is the money for?

TBARTA is required to submit a Regional Transit Development Plan highlighting service needs for the next 10 years to the Florida Department of Transportation. The agency will start the process to select a consultant to guide it through technical work and the public engagement process of developing a regional transit plan.

Public outreach will start in late spring and finish in fall 2019.

That’s all well and good.  We are well acquainted with public outreach and consultants.  Their record is mixed at best.

But, setting that aside, there was something interesting in the Business Journal article for those who were considering the CSX idea, there was this nugget:

A $25 million ask for alternative transportation funding through TBARTA died in the legislature.

Just in case you forgot, this was part of the ask:

The bills could be seen as anti-rail. They would create the Statewide Alternative Transportation Authority to replace the Florida Rail Enterprise.

This week’s Business Journal article is not entirely clear who was asking to make it harder to develop rail in favor of “alternative transportation” (from which, as we explained previously the bills’ language probably excluded BRT and express buses, though it is not entirely clear. See “Transportation – Jumble – The Legislation” ).  However, the article this week seems to imply TBARTA was asking for it, which would be a little odd if the CSX idea was being considered.  But, as we said, it is not clear.


— We Don’t Need to Reinvent Every Wheel

There was also other news about transportation:

The city of Tampa is partnering with the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research to use educational projects and research to find solutions to transportation problems facing the community.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed a memorandum of understanding with USF on Tuesday, solidifying the city’s commitment to use innovation to make government more effective and efficient.

One of Tampa’s primary challenges in attracting new businesses and the talent to run them is a lack of access to transit and what is becoming stifling traffic congestion.

What does this all mean?

The agreement does not obligate either USF or the city of Tampa to pursue specific partnerships but does stipulate that representatives from each entity meet “on a regular basis” to discuss potential projects as well as strategies to implement and monitor them.

Tampa Director of Transportation and Stormwater Services Jean Duncan and CUTR Director Robert Bertini will serve as representatives in the partnership.

Any project proposals that come out of the collaboration would still be subject to City Council approval. There is no financial obligation to the city as part of the collaboration.

Essentially, it means nothing specific.  We have nothing against consulting transportation professionals in an ongoing process to see if there is anything that can be done about local transportation.  Really, that is something that should always be happening.  So, in that aspect, this agreement is fine.

However, there is one thing:

Through its partnership, the city hopes to showcase itself as a vibrant, innovative and sustainable community through new technologies and methods, according to the MOU.

We have nothing against innovation.  However, sometimes it is also better to use tried and true methods that have been refined over time and, when done properly, work very well.  The goal should not be innovation (and it certainly should not be to just to try to appear innovative), it should be fixing transportation.  (If the goal is a vibrant and sustainable community, you need proper planning and proper infrastructure.)  Some of that will be innovative, but some of it likely will be off-the-shelf ideas properly applied.  Maybe doing that, in and of itself, would be innovative.


— Streetcar

There was a report on abcactionnews.com about the streetcar:

The City of Tampa’s transportation department has released it’s [sic] year-long study on one way to try and fix downtown traffic jams.

* * *

In a presentation Wednesday to Hillsborough County’s Metropolitan Planning for Transportation – city leaders showed maps of the three tracks they want to add.

This was the map:

From ABC Action News – click on map for website

About which it was said:

Maps show that the streetcar would go in a “Figure-Eight” plan that would take people on Tampa Avenue, Florida Avenue and Franklin Avenue.

Actually, the map comes from an earlier document (here) and shows two different alignments (Franklin Street and Tampa/Florida).  However, we can understand why someone would be confused.  Both alignments are marked in what sure appears to be the same color (even in the map key), which, it has to be said, is unique cartographical technique.

Hopefully, the actual planning will be clearer.


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Expanding, Sort of

The folks at SPP officially got control of more land this week.

The developer of Water Street Tampa has struck a deal with Port Tampa Bay that gives it control of a surface parking lot next to Channelside Bay Plaza where a new mixed-use building is planned.

The port board of directors on Tuesday unanimously approved a sale and land lease agreement with Strategic Property Partners for the Garrison lot, which is at the intersection of Channelside and Beneficial drives.

SPP, the real estate company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, will pay $9.86 million for a 20,000-square-foot portion of the Garrison lot — the northwest corner of the lot that’s farthest away from the port’s cruise terminals and closest to Channelside Drive.

SPP will control the remainder of the Garrison lot via a 40-year land lease at a cost of $517,667 per year.

So what are they planning?

A 362,000-square-foot mixed-use building that includes residential and office space — part of the southern bookend of the $3 billion Water Street, which stretches from the Channel district waterfront into the central business district — is planned on the Garrison lot. That building is shown in a conceptual rendering that SPP released in August 2017.

Bryan Moll, an executive with SPP, told the board that the developer’s vision for the Garrison lot property includes “lower-scale buildings along the waterfront with ground-floor retail and outdoor dining,” as well as “one or two” residential buildings.

That vision, Moll said, is “simply conceptual” and will be finalized in the next 18 months as SPP pursues entitlements for that portion of the development.

And

. . . Still in the conceptual phase, the development could include two residential towers – midrise or high rise, SPP director of development Bryan Moll said, with anywhere from 350 to 500 total units.

So, they (and, therefore, we) are not sure exactly what will be there.  Nevertheless, SPP has stuck relatively closely to their early announcements, so far. So it will likely be something of that sort.  This is the conceptual site plan:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

With the caveat that we are lacking details, it seems ok.  But this is a little of an issue:

The port also approved concessions for the developer to operate the port parking garage as well as two surface lots near cruise terminals Nos. 3 and 6. Changes in parking fees will require the approval of the port board.

(The concession is to SPP subsidiary CBP). While it is good that the Port has to approve any fee increase, so far local government has not said “no” to SPP (not that we thought they would, given how much SPP controls).

. . . Under the agreement, CBP will keep 37.5 percent of parking revenues collected, with the rest going to the port.

To be honest, we are not sure if that is a good deal. (Or, if as we would like, there is a plan transform the bottom of the garage facing Channelside into what it always should have been – retail space.) Up until now, the Lightning owner and SPP have been good citizens.  We have no reason to think that won’t continue, but we are not sure that the Port should have included the garage, especially with little or no real truly public discussion.


Downtown – Riverwalk Place

There was news about Riverwalk Place:

A developer whose portfolio includes two 50-plus story condo towers in Miami has joined the Riverwalk Place project in downtown Tampa.

Two Roads Development, based in West Palm Beach, is now the residential developer in Riverwalk Place, the 53-story, mixed-use tower that will stack luxury condos on top of office space on the last developable parcel on the downtown waterfront, at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street. It is slated to include ground-floor restaurant retail space, seven stories of parking, 14 stories of office space and 31 stories of luxury residential units.

* * *

Two Roads replaces Tampa-based Intown Group LLC as the residential developer. Intown Group sued Feldman Equities over a breach in contract in August 2017. Feldman filed a motion to dismiss a month later on the grounds that Intown has not invested any money or capital in the project.

That litigation is ongoing, but Feldman said that lawsuit “is not in any way, shape or form anything that can stop this project from going forward.”

Is there any news on breaking ground?

Typically, a condo developer has to secure deposits on a certain number of units — in some cases, up to 60 percent of the building — before breaking ground. Boren said that the dollar value of presales, not the number of units, is what will drive construction.

“There are quite a few construction lenders out there that would let us go vertical with few sales, and that’s not our typical MO,” Boren said. “Presales are not all the same. If we sold the top 30 percent of the most expensive units, we’ll feel better than if we sell the lesser expensive units. It’s a function of dollar coverage to the loan.” 

In other words, not really.  There are a number of rumors floating around, but they are just that for now.  But the Times gave us this timeline on information:

Feldman said the noted architectural firm Gensler is about 80 percent finished with design drawings of the tower, which will have several restaurants, about 10 floors of office space and more than 200 residential units over 35 floors. The tower will be “two to three grades” architecturally above any other high-rise in Tampa and will rival those in New York, London and other major cities, he said.

* * *

Plans are to release renderings within the next 90 days and open a sales center in the nearby Wells Fargo tower, one of several office buildings Feldman owns in the Tampa Bay area.

Needless to say, we are very curious.


St. Pete – Rising But Not Exactly Like This

St. Pete has just recently gotten a new tallest building, ONE St. Petersburg. For a while this week, it seemed that it may soon get another.  As St. Pete Rising reported:

In the heart of Downtown St. Pete at 400 Central Avenue, a 2-acre plot of land sits ready for development. Historically, this site was home to the Pheil Hotel and Central National Bank building which spurred commerce along Central Avenue in the 1950s. In the 1960s, an aluminum facade was added to the buildings which prompted locals to refer to it as the “cheese grater” building. By 2006, the complex was abandoned and remained that way for over a decade. 

Then in 2016, the site was put up for sale and in July of that year, it was announced that John Catsimatidis, a Greek-American businessman from New York City with deep family ties to St. Petersburg, would purchase the entire city block at 400 Central Avenue for redevelopment. Among Mr. Catsimatidis’ businesses is the Red Apple Group, a real estate company.

* * *

. . . the preliminary plans reveal a 610 foot, 52-story tower that will feature a hotel, condominiums, and retail. Over 23,000 square feet of retail space is planned for the Central Avenue side of the ground floor, which does not include a 3,600 square foot hotel restaurant located on the west side of the block. An additional 13,000 square feet of retail is located on the 2nd floor.

The proposed hotel will occupy six levels (8th through 13th floor) and condo units will fill the top 37 levels (15th through 52nd floor) in addition to a few low-rise condos on levels 3-6.

 

From St Pete Rising – click on picture for website

You can see more renderings at St. Pete Rising (here).  St Pete Rising noted:

While these plans may not reflect the final version of the project or what the Red Apple Group ultimately proposes, the size and scale of the development cannot be overstated. If these plans, or anything remotely similar, come to fruition, 400 Central Avenue will be the 3rd tallest building in Florida, outside of Miami, and will dwarf St. Pete’s current tallest building, ONE St. Petersburg, by over 150 feet.

Not only, if built, would it be St. Pete’s tallest, it would be the area’s tallest until (if it happens) either Lafayette Place or Riverwalk Place get built in Tampa. (At least there are cool renderings to contemplate, unlike Riverwalk Place)  Unfortunately, as reported in the Times, this is not the proposed design:

“Fake news,” Catsimatidis said Tuesday of the images of a mixed-used tower soaring 52 stories and dwarfing everything else in the city. The blog, St. Pete Rising, got the images from an anonymous source and posted them because they had been done by Hill West, a prominent New York architectural firm.

Hill West did come up with some plans, which apparently were leaked by an intern working for the company, Catsimatidis said. But his Red Apple Group has decided to go with Miami-based Arquitectonica instead.

A rendering will be made public soon “but we want to refine it first,” Catsimatidis said. Plans still call for a hotel and condos although the number of stories has yet to be finalized.

Setting aside that St. Pete Rising is a very good website and that, as clear from the quote above, “fake news” is inaccurate in this case, that is too bad.  We like the concept above.  Arquitectonica can do good work, but they also designed the disappointing Manor Riverwalk. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.


Governance – Elections

There was a column in the Times this week regarding election turnout:

Pinellas County held municipal elections in a dozen cities last week, and barely 20 percent of the registered voters participated.

Somehow, the news manages to go downhill from there.

You see, another seven cities canceled their elections entirely because they didn’t have enough candidates to field a competitive ballot.

* * *

Now these percentages are neither surprising nor new. When compared to larger counties around the state, Pinellas actually has better turnout than most.

It’s just that odd-year and local elections are typically hard sells. We can go from a 77 percent participation rate for a presidential election, to 57 percent for a gubernatorial election down to 27 percent, and worse, for municipal elections.

And that baffles me. You have a better chance of actually knowing the candidates in a local election. And you have a much greater chance of affecting the outcome of a race.

It is a fair point.  But it should also be pointed out that the elections are held on neither primary nor general election dates.  In essence, they are almost planned for low turnout.

Which brings us to Tampa:

Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer has asked the city to lengthen its runoff period between the first round of city elections to comply with an existing Florida state law that requires supervisor of election offices to send ballots 45 days before each election to overseas and military voters. Tampa has more than 1,100 overseas and military voters, said Gerri Kramer, Latimer’s spokeswoman.

* * *

Although the city charter currently requires the mayor and council members to be sworn in on April 1, it could be changed by ordinance — not referendum — to May 1, Territo said.

Pushing the final vote back would also mean that the qualifying period wouldn’t change and March 5 could remain as the first round election day, he said.

The other option would be to shift the first round of the election to early February, which would also move up the qualifying period, Territo said.

That could be a logistical nightmare as much of the first round campaign would take place in December and January.

“I don’t know how many people want to campaign during the holidays,” Territo said.

It has never been logical to have municipal elections in March/spring when major primary and general elections are on other dates.  The reality is that if you want turnout (which is not necessarily the goal of people setting the dates), the elections should be when major elections are.  And if municipal elections were the same as everyone else, the Supervisor of Elections would not have the same issues (and the added expense of more elections). Maybe it is time to rationalize the process.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— The Inevitable

We are often told that autonomous vehicles are going to dominate the future.  We are told they will be safer, faster, relieve congestion, etc. And they might.  But they might not. There were a few items this week that should be considered.

First, sadly, a woman was killed in Arizona by a self-driving car. (See here for more) That has inevitably caused a number of companies to suspend their testing, at least until what happened can be sorted out. That does not mean that designers will not learn from the accident, but to just assume safety is questionable.  In fact, there is an argument that they are not really much safer (at least not yet) than human drivers.

And, of course, the legal issues have just started.

Another thing to consider is this:

Now, however, a new information layer is destroying the nudging infrastructure that traffic planners built into cities. Commuters armed with mobile mapping apps, route-following Lyft and Uber drivers, and software-optimized truckers can all act with a more perfect selfishness.

In some happy universe, this would lead to socially optimal outcomes, too. But a new body of research at the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies suggests that the reality is far more complicated. In some scenarios, traffic-beating apps might work for an individual, but make congestion worse overall. And autonomous vehicles, touted as an answer to traffic-y streets, could deepen the problem.

You can read the article here.  Essentially the apps are sending people around traffic, and on side streets that planners have long tried to get people off.  When the algorithms take over and trip planning, it is likely to get even worse.  How are people going to react to heavy traffic on their residential streets? Will there be new laws that restrict what roads cars car drive on?  What effect will they have? Really, no one knows, but it needs to be addressed.

We are not saying that autonomous vehicles aren’t coming, but, as with a lot of other technology, the changes that may come are probably going to be different that the futurists (and investors) predict.  In some ways the changes will probably be more significant, but, in other ways, they may be much less.


— Library

A while back there was a discussion about what to do with the library downtown.  In an idea world, we would favor building a new one.  One new library is in Austin.  We are not going to get into detail, but if you are interested, there is an architectural write-up here.

Roundup 3-16-2018

March 16, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Like It Ever Ends . . .

— It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

— TBARTA Money

— Going Cheap, Step One

— Meanwhile, Back at the Interstate

— Costs of Car Ownership

— Legislation Follow-up

USF – Hope It Works Out

Channelside – Hooray Beer

Westhore-ish – Tampa Bay 1

University Area – Uptown?

Tourism – High Impact

Airport – More Rankings and Records

Economic Development – Chasing Apple

Time – Some Thoughts

________________________________


Transportation – Like It Ever Ends . . .


— It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

Since the Regional Transit Study Plan came out, we have been asking that, “Yes, it is cheap, but why else is it good?” One of the issues we have highlighted is the lack of potential for transit oriented development (TOD) due to the location of the route, the location of the stops, and the plan overall.  The engineers subsequently said they would talk to ULI about TOD.  Then, last week, there was this in the Business Journal:

The company charged with establishing a regional transit plan in Tampa Bay told attendees at a transportation meeting on Friday that access to transit-oriented development is not being considered when deciding which projects are fiscally feasible.

During the Tampa Bay Area Transportation Management Leadership Group, Scott Pringle with Jacobs Engineering said the cost estimates for various transit projects take into consideration current demographics and don’t look at the potential for future land use development.

That’s a problem for many who look at the millions, sometimes billions of dollars that can be harnessed by creating hubs of lucrative, taxable development around transit stations.

Federal Transit Authority guidelines recommend a transit project’s cost per trip come in at no more than $10. Meeting that benchmark is key to attracting federal grants. Jacobs Engineering studies of different rail corridors in Tampa Bay using existing CSX tracks all came out above that — some more than double.

* * *

Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7 Secretary David Gwynn said the FTA guidelines don’t assume future ridership because the agency fields grant requests from cities and states across the nation.

“They make this very descriptive process so other places can’t conflate their numbers,” Gwynn said. The FTA guidelines keep the playing field level by forcing everyone to play by the same rules.

If projects don’t meet those guidelines, they aren’t likely to attract federal dollars.  

Whether he means “conflate” or means “inflate” rather than “conflate,” the potential problem with conflating numbers would be inflated ridership numbers giving potentially inaccurate pricing numbers.  But setting that aside, there are two issues involving TOD. First,

“If you’re not showing [transit-oriented development] I’m going to tell you you’re dead wrong because that cost per trip should go down,” said Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano.

Mariano wants a regional transit plan to include a CSX rail corridor as part of the solution, but so far, the Jacobs plan is recommending a 41-mile bus rapid transit route along Interstate 275 connecting St. Pete to Wesley Chapel.

Mariano, along with vocal CSX supporter Pat Kemp, a Hillsborough County commissioner, asked Pringle during a February meeting to come back with an update on how much it would cost to create rail routes including between downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida and another north to Pasco County.

A 45-mile route connecting Tampa and Brooksville would cost as much as $2.62 billion serving nearly 5 million riders each year at a cost of about $28 per trip — nearly triple FTA guidelines. But the ridership estimate doesn’t take into consideration future development around rail stations. New development would increase population density and ridership; as ridership increases, the cost per trip decreases.

Incorporating future development, Mariano argued, would bring the CSX project closer to FTA guidelines.

The point by the Pasco Commissioner (yes, Pasco) is sound in that if you have a system that creates density, you increase usage and ridership numbers so costs per ride go down making a plan more competitive.  On the other hand, we understand why that might be questioned as overly speculative.  It is not clear at what rate development might occur and people might be tempted to pad the numbers.  Of course, potential car traffic numbers, ridership numbers, tax estimates, and a whole host of other predictions are also speculative.  But at least we understand the argument, even if it has some holes.

The back and forth on how to calculate ridership and cost per trip is indicative of the overall problem facing transit development in the Tampa Bay area. Local elected officials have repeatedly hit walls trying to fund transit improvements. One-penny sales tax initiatives failed in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in 2010 and 2014, respectively. The “No Tax for Tracks” groups responsible for squashing those efforts argued against the high price tag for rail and comparatively low ridership projections.

The BRT plan leverages existing infrastructure to bring the overall price tag to about $500 million with a per trip cost estimated as low as $8.

The plan has earned broad approval among elected officials and boards that will ultimately be responsible for implementing it, including St. Pete City Council and the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, Forward Pinellas. Their support is based on the idea that the BRT “catalyst” project is attainable and would be the first in a long line of projects — one to get the ball rolling on others.  

Here are a few of problems with all that.  First, it is not leveraging existing infrastructure.  The hardened lanes, express lanes, segment with dedicated lanes, ramps on and off the highway, and stops do not exist yet.  The money spent by FDOT on all that could be spent on other transit projects. If anything, it is piggybacking on other projects and in existing rights-of-way.  Moreover, the plan still costs hundreds of millions of dollars even when you do not count all the money spent on the interstate expansion.

Second, what are those other projects that will be “catalyzed”?

Third, it is entirely unclear how an express bus plan with poor TOD prospects, not that much connectivity, and a number of other issues, will make people pine for real transit or catalyze a movement for it.  It is also unclear how, if the anti-rail faction is so strong, any further projects including rail (or even true BRT) will get support even if the express bus plan is implemented.  (More likely is the argument will be made that express buses are fine (or a waste of money), and we don’t need more.) And, of course, there is the wholesale revamp of the local bus systems that must occur to make the express bus idea make any sense. (Not to mention does anyone really think major corporations are going to be impressed by the express bus plan?) And, finally, there is the question of whether one county will support a project exclusively in another county even if there is a chance of expansion some day to more than one county.

But let’s accept the TOD valuation argument above at face value for now.  Even with that argument, it only explains why they did not choose the CSX tracks – because it is cheaper not to.  It does not address any of the issues with the bus plan nor tell us why it is a good plan other than being cheap (and it does not tell us why essentially the same result could not be obtained without being even cheaper and not falsely claiming that the “BRT” – read “express bus” – plan is a spine around which a true transit system can be built). One of those issues with the “BRT” plan is still the problem with not having TOD potential and plans, regardless of whether you count TOD in cost estimates.  The “BRT” plan likely will not create TODs (and if it does, they likely will not be extensive) which will limit ridership, limit the potential of the plan, and generally make the plan less worthy of consideration – and less likely to inspire support for the unnamed constellation of other plans it is supposed to catalyze.

Which leads to this from the engineers this week:

Addressing complaints that the route wouldn’t be faster than driving and would do little to attract new ridership, Pringle said the route could be set up with some express services, where the bus would skip stops to connect major employment centers like USF and downtown Tampa quickly. He said all but two of the 21 planned bus stops would be off the highway in and around neighborhoods, to provide better access to communities while also encouraging transit-oriented development.

That is interesting because the whole point of the plan seems more aimed at connecting residential areas to offices for commuters (it is not very good for just moving people around the area as they go about their business), so just connecting employment centers would not necessarily be useful.  Additionally, taking buses off the highway to stop would just slow them down, while stops next to the highway would still be next to the highway and would either require the buses to go back and forth under the highway slowing them down or to drop people off at the side of the highway leaving the highway as an impediment to TOD.

That fact is that real BRT should be in a dedicated roadway along surface streets.  Trying to do it on the cheap like this plan, you just don’t get the benefits of proper transit, including good conditions for TOD.

Not to mention, from a few weeks ago:

He said his firm is in the early stages of working with the Urban Land Institute to address concerns about transit-oriented development.  The urban design standard among industry professionals asserts transit-oriented development is successful when created around fixed guideways because it provides investors with certainty that the route funneling business into the area wont’ go away.

The bus route won’t do that, critics argue.  Proposed dedicated lanes could be converted back to general use lanes if BRT is not successful.

Pringle said he’s hoping ULI can serve an as independent panel to offer pointers on hot to increase development opportunities.

That hardly sounds like TOD is a feature of the plan or that the engineers are already convinced about the TOD opportunities of their plan.

Though, it has to be said, we don’t actually blame the engineers for that.  They were basically told to find something cheap.  They did that.  TOD is not an element of the bottom line calculation.  Even acknowledging that, yes, it is cheap, but it is not clear why the plan is good otherwise.  The problem is the task they were given in the study, and, it seems, they might recognize that:

There’s nothing to stop Tampa Bay regional planners from moving forward with two transit projects in its plans for a catalyst project instead of one, according to the firm studying options.

Jacobs Engineering Project Manager Scott Pringle told the Hillsborough County Planning Commission on Monday that the results of the regional premium transit feasibility plan could include bus rapid transit and a rail corridor. Pringle acknowledged a CSX rail corridor between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa has its benefits, but his overall talking points still heavily favored what his firm is describing as bus rapid transit.

* * *

“What would preclude merging the two plans?” Planning CommissionerShaun Metzger asked. “To me it seems like a good marriage of the two because they sort of serve different constituencies.”

“We feel that both are competitive for federal grant dollars,” Pringle said. “When we’re looking at CSX, we do still have to have that conversation [about obtaining right of way]. So it’s going to take a little bit longer. … 275 is most ready to go today.”

The I-275 bus project would run on existing and improved infrastructure rather than requiring entirely new bridges and overpasses. The buses would run on shoulders in some areas, in express lanes planned for the Howard Frankland Bridge and in dedicated lanes. Leveraging the Florida Department of Transportation’s highway improvement plans saves money to the tune of about $800 million, according to Jacobs Engineering’s analysis.

The cost estimate for the 12-mile CSX route is $780 million and would require negotiating track acquisition with CSX, a process Pringle said could take up to 10 years.

It is true, regional planners could have two projects going at the same time (though the bus project is not a catalyst).  In fact, we have already said that the bus project could be made cheaper and accomplish essentially the same thing while the area focused on real transit.  The CSX project has a far higher likelihood of catalyzing more transit given where the rest of the CSX lines run in the area (though, yes, negotiating with CSX is an issue). Of course, that would require regional buy-in to what would initially be an essentially local Tampa project.  And rail opponents would come out in force.  But if this area ever wants real transit, it will have to deal with those things anyway.

While it is small progress that the CSX idea is being bandied about, the discussion of the merits of the bus plan itself is still not really going anywhere. Yes, the plan is cheap, but, as we have argued, you could essentially get the same effect for less money without losing much if anything from the existing plan and also not hurt future prospects for transit by pretending that express buses are the spine of a real transit system.

The more we hear the more we are convinced that we should go cheap on the bus plan and focus on real transit solutions.  Whether there is political will to do that remains to be seen.


— TBARTA Money

One of the biggest problems with TBARTA has been a lack of money.  It seems that it is probably getting a little:

The Florida Legislature has approved $1 million for the recently revamped Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority to create a 10-year plan for transit projects in the five-county area.

Known as a Regional Transit Development Plan, the clunky term refers to 10-year plan that would outline what projects the region should focus on, such as bus rapid transit, streetcars or rail, and when they should be built.

Last year, the Legislature restructured TBARTA to focus solely on transit. That decision also narrowed the scope of member counties from seven to five. Citrus and Sarasota didn’t make the cut. The agency and its 10-year plan, instead, will focus on Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas.

This appropriation, should Gov. Rick Scott approve it, gives the agency $1 million to hire a contractor. Michael Case, Principal Planner and Project Manager for TBARTA, expects the project to take about a year.

That means it will wrap up around the same time as a state-funded initiative to chose a preferred regional transit project. Planners are still refining that concept, but currently a 41-mile bus rapid transit line between Wesley Chapel, Tampa and St. Petersburg is the lead concept. 

While it is something, it is not much.  Nevertheless, theoretically, TBARTA could give us some of the other projects (in fact, they should focus on other, real transit projects), though there still would be money and support questions.  We doubt it will stray too far from the Regional Transit Study, but one can hope.

Then, there was this:

TBARTA’s 10-year plan compliments the regional premium transit feasibility plan, Case said, which could take as long as 40 or 50 years to complete.

We’re just going to assume that is a typo and should be 4 or 5 years.  Otherwise, it is not even worth discussing.


— Going Cheap, Step One

As we said a few weeks ago, if connections to the airport are a priority, there is nothing stopping anyone from providing them now (except lack of funding and political will).

Pinellas County will finally get a direct bus to Tampa International Airport starting this summer.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller announced the new route Friday to a group of politicians from Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties who had gathered at the airport to talk about regional transportation options.

* * *

The service will start in June and operate out of the Gateway area. There is currently no bus from Pinellas County to the airport.

The bus route will only run during peak travel times on the weekdays.

Miller stressed this is not an ideal service. But it is the kind of service PSTA can launch as quickly as possible.

“The number one thing that service is lacking is more frequency,” Miller said. “It will be a great start, but in order to serve more air travelers it will have to operate on Saturdays and Sundays and later in to the evening.”

We are not sure a bus from Gateway to the airport is the best route from Pinellas, but it is a start.

And there was also this:

A Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority committee voted Wednesday to accept funds from the Florida Department of Transportation to pay for extending an existing route. The downtown connection fills a transit gap that has existed for decades.

FDOT agreed to pay PSTA $234,000 annually to cover the cost of expanding the 100x route currently serving mid-Pinellas County, South Tampa’s Britton Plaza and downtown Tampa over the Gandy Bridge. The expanded route would extend to downtown St. Pete along Fourth Street with another extension north of Gandy Boulevard to the Gateway Mall near Ulmerton Boulevard.

* * *

The PSTA board is expected to make its final approval of the June route change at a meeting next Wednesday. The change has not faced opposition because it won’t cost PSTA any money, the agency would use its existing fleet and there wouldn’t be any other capital costs.

Though frequency will still be a problem:

However, service frequency would not improve under current plans. The 100x route doesn’t run on nights or weekends and provides limited service on weekdays.

“There’s a lot of frequency that needs to be added to make this viable for a lot of people,” said PSTA Chief Development Officer Cassandra Borchers.

PSTA ultimately hopes to increase service to seven days a week from 5 a.m. until midnight.

The fact is, if this area can’t fund basic, frequent, daily service with normal buses, what makes you think that it can build a useful fancy system? Going back to the airport route:

Though its a barebones service that will need additional funding to expand, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the ability for PSTA to launch a direct bus to the airport was a challenge to other counties in the region. She also serves on the board of Hillsborough’s bus agency.

“I think the takeaway from me is that we need to step up our game,” Murman said,  “because we need to pass you.”

That is a nice sentiment.  Talk is abundant, probably because it is so cheap.  Let’s see some action.  The County Commission should fund HART properly.  We look forward to seeing the budget proposal.


— Meanwhile, Back at the Interstate

There was also news about Tampa Bay Next and FDOT.  First,

The agency is also no longer considering express lanes north of the downtown Tampa interchange along Interstate 275, District 7 Secretary David Gwynn told the Tampa Bay Business Journal Tuesday.

It is also not considering the boulevard concept north of downtown for now, which we get.  While it is an intriguing idea, there are a number of questions about it we discussed previously (See “Transportation – On the Boulevard”).  Setting the boulevard idea aside, what does that mean for those neighborhoods?

Eliminating express lanes north of downtown in the new Tampa Bay Next concepts reduces the amount of land FDOT needs because the agency wouldn’t be adding additional infrastructure to accommodate more lanes.  However, under some scenarios FDOT could still add a general-purpose lane without expanding its existing footprint.

In fact, adding a lane could easily be done.  Just drive down that stretch of road and see how much space there already is. Of course, that could easily have been considered in the first place had there been the desire to do so.

Anyway, a bit closer to downtown (and, note, the concepts are not really new):

One Tampa Bay Next option would force FDOT to buy between 30 and 50 parcels of land, far fewer than any other concept.  The agency would be able to keep right-of-way acquisition low by elevating express lanes, which could be tolled or not, and keeping the existing infrastructure in place.

The lanes would go from I-4 over the downtown interchange and then continue west toward St. Petersburg.  That plan would spare most of the right-of-way needs in the Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights areas north of downtown proposed under the original Tampa Interstate Study on which TBX was based.  The Mobley Park Apartments for low-income residents would also remain untouched under than option.

There would be some drawback.  FDOT would have to acquire land around Perry Harvey St. Park and the adjacent skate park, but that acquisition would not affect either other than by building a fly-over bridge above it.

First, the lanes should not be tolled.  Second, that would be good for Mobley Park, but also shows that moving the Bro Bowl was ill-advised in terms of preservation.  Putting it under a highway would not be preserving it.  Nor would it be good for Perry Harvey Sr. Park.  Regardless, there is another option:

Interruption to the two parks could be avoided with a similar fly-over concept that would place the overpass to the north of I-275 rather than the south, but that version would mean Mobley Park would be in the wrecking ball’s path.

Those two concepts have received the widest support during public meetings, according to FDOT.

Obviously, that option would be good for the park but bad for the apartments.  Is there anything else?

Another concept would include the express lanes at the same level of the rest of the highway and would require FDOT to obtain 130 to 150 land parcels including in Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights.

We have no idea why express lanes downtown would have anything to do with Seminole Heights (and if they do, that is unacceptable).  Setting that aside, we appreciate not having express lanes on I-275 north of downtown, but none of the options around downtown is particularly good. If we have to have express lanes, the flyover idea is better than massive widening.

Finally, it is also certainly noteworthy that the Mobley Park Apartments and Perry Harvey Sr. Park, both attempts to rebuild and/or revitalize a traditionally active African-American part of town that was ruined by the original interstate, might be destroyed, or at least messed up significantly, by the expansion of the same road.  (Nothing like honoring Central Avenue by putting the park that honors it in shadow of a flyover.)  Funny how that works.


— Costs of Car Ownership

As we have noted many times, income in our area is quite low relative to major metros (as if most of Florida).  It also lacks real transit options (and even well-funded buses) and transportation alternatives.  That leads to costs, including car ownership.

Premiums are rising and have increased by 3.4%-7.4%. As a vehicle reimbursement solution company, CarData has seen these rates affect their clients and drivers across the nation.  Below, CarData reviews the states with the highest premiums and discusses the reasons behind the rates. 

Florida is a no-fault state, there is mandatory $10,000 PIP Personal Injury Protection coverage accounting for one-fourth of the insurance premiums. Hurricanes and tropical storms necessitate increased comprehensive coverage and with the most recent hurricane these rates are expected to continue to climb. Florida is second in the nation for uninsured drivers on the road at 24%, and there is more car insurance fraud than any other state with con men attempting to take advantage of no-fault laws. The city of Miami tops the charts for Florida with premiums for a salesperson with a speeding ticket, a not-at-fault collision and business use insurance at $4,050. West Palm Beach, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale are right behind.

And, according to Zebra.com, Florida has the fifth most expensive auto insurance.  (Somehow, North Carolina is the least expensive) While it is certainly true that some people are perfectly happy to be wedded to their cars and their cost, others are not.  We need real alternatives.  Moreover, the high cost of insurance and lack of reasonable alternatives needs to be factored into the cost of living and the competitiveness of the area.  We doubt the express bus plan or Tampa Bay Next will do much to change that.


— Legislation Follow-up

A few months ago we discussed a proposed bill to basically defund the Florida Rail Enterprise and replace it with a fund for “alternative” transportation. (See “Transportation – Jumble” and “Transportation – Legislation, Cont.”) It did not pass this session. It is likely the bill will be back in some form.


USF – Hope It Works Out

The USF consolidation is now law.

Surrounded by top Republican lawmakers and students, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Legislature’s two sweeping education bills reforming K-12 and higher education on Sunday that included a provision to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its accreditation.

* * *

It also eliminates USF-St. Petersburg’s autonomy by merging all of USF’s campuses, including a campus in Sarasota-Manatee, into one system. Sponsored by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, the move to strip USF-St. Pete’s separate accreditation was touted as a move toward getting all campuses under the “preeminent” status that USF is expected to achieve this year.

Preeminent status is a category of increased state funding and prestige, based on metrics like graduation rates, designed to attract better faculty and better programs.

The reaction was as expected:

“The mayor is not surprised by this disappointing bill,” said Kriseman’s spokesman, Ben Kirby. “This thing was cooked up a long time ago in secret by (USF President Judy Genshaft) and her Republican allies in the Legislature.”

The problem with the plan was that it came out of the blue and had little discussion.  The problem with the objections is that they did not really address whether the plan was good for the students.

As was the case all along, we do not have a position on the move other than we think it could have been handled better and that our biggest concern is for the students.  We hope it benefits them.  Time will tell.


Channelside – Hooray Beer

Work is set to begin soon on the temporary project that replaces one of the buildings in the Channelside complex.

A waterfront park with a beer garden and pop-up restaurants in shipping containers will open at Channelside Bay Plaza later this year, creating a new destination for downtown residents and visitors on the southern end of Tampa’s urban core.

Tampa-based EWI Construction has filed permits with the city to begin construction on the park, which replaces a 27,500-square-foot building that once housed restaurants Hablo Taco and Thai Tani. The park is 42,400 square feet — nearly 1 acre.

The pop-up restaurants are slated to include everything from coffee and doughnuts to tacos and smoothies, according to the construction documents, and should be open by late summer.

The “pop-up” restaurants will look like this:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It should be nice, and at least it open up the waterfront. We will be interested to see the permanent replacement plans.


Westhore-ish – Tampa Bay 1

The long planned Tampa Bay 1 project seems to have some action.  Among rumors of retail signings (including possibly Whole Foods moving there), a large number of documents have recently been uploaded to the Accela database (search for 3717 W Cypress St).  So here is what we know.  This is the site plan:

From City of Tampa Accela database, click on picture for larger version

Doing some quick addition from the filings, it appears that the project, as now described, includes about 750,000 sq ft of office, 200,000 sq ft of retail, movie theaters, 390 units of housing and a 225 room hotel. Here are some elevations.

From City of Tampa Accela database, click on picture for larger version

It appears from another document that the tallest height allowed is around 250 feet.  Here are some renderings of the open space in the middle of the project you can see on the site plan above.

From City of Tampa Accela database, click on picture for larger version

Aside from a lot of surface parking, including some facing Dale Mabry that appears, from the site plan, to be permanent and a huge garage in on the north side that does not appear to be integrated with anything, the project looks pretty good.  It is certainly more internally walkable than most anything we can think of in Westshore (though a surface lot on Dale Mabry is not good and we are not sure what will face Cypress itself).  The internal walkability is good.  The open space in the middle is good.  The circulation could be a little more direct going east-west, but it is not fatal.

We do not know for sure if these will be the final plans (there is a rezoning application), we do not know about any leases, and we do not know if they are indeed ready to move forward.  This project has been around in various forms for a long time.  We shall have to see what happens.


University Area – Uptown?

There was news about the slow-moving redevelopment of University Square Mall:

The New York developers who own University Mall have purchased the Sears department store on the property, calling it a “significant milestone” in the redevelopment of the beleaguered enclosed mall.

RD Management paid $7 million for the 144,941-square-foot Sears box, which was owned by Sears, Roebuck & Co., according to a Hillsborough County deed filed last week.

“The acquisition of the Sears property marks a significant milestone in the transformation of the entire University Mall site,” Roger Hirschhorn, RD Management chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We are excited to include Sears in the dynamic, mixed-use center we’ve always envisioned for this extraordinary community of educators, scientists, caregivers, students, businesspeople, and hardworking and inspiring neighbors.”

That all sounds very positive, though the key is what they will actually do with it. First, they are changing the name:

Sears will remain open during the redevelopment, the developer said Tuesday. It is rebranding University Mall as Uptown, which will “be a multistory, open-air, development showcasing retail, entertainment, hospitality, education, medical, office and residential uses.”

While it is true that University Mall is north of and higher in elevation (it is, this is Florida after all) than downtown, “Uptown” seems to imply that the area is somehow upscale (and maybe urban), which, right now, the area decidedly is not.  However, the name is not the most important thing.  What is most important is what they are going to do:

RD Management did not immediately reveal a date for beginning construction. The redevelopment of University Mall into a mixed-use, open-air center has been floated for years, since RD bought the mall in late 2014.

In January, RD Management hired Chris Bowen as chief development strategist to oversee the mall’s redevelopment. Bowen told the Tampa Bay Business Journal in mid-February that RD Management was gearing up to release a $1 billion redevelopment plan.

If they actually build a billion dollar development with real density, some sort of grid that makes the development more urban and, maybe, fix up some of the area around it, then maybe Uptown will be fitting. Regardless, the idea of spending a billion dollars on the redevelopment is intriguing, but, until we actually see something, we will withhold judgment.


Tourism – High Impact

Hillsborough County officially passed the threshold to add another percentage to its bed tax.

Hillsborough County generated more than $600 million in hotel revenue last year, making it one of just nine counties to pass the threshold for becoming a “high-impact” tourism destination in Florida.

With the designation, the county is now allowed to raise the tax on overnight stays from 5 percent to 6 percent.

* * *

The county generated about $644 million in taxable hotel revenue last year — or about $700 million before taxes.

That sent bed-tax revenue past Visit Tampa Bay’s $30 million goal at $32.3 million — an 8 percent increase compared to 2016. Pinellas County beat the same threshold in 2014.

While tourism generally has been booming, it is still a solid accomplishment.

Those numbers also qualify Hillsborough to be designated a high-impact tourism destination, which in turn would allow the Hillsborough County Commission to consider raising the tourist development tax or bed tax from 5 percent to 6 percent. The money generated by the bed tax is earmarked for promoting tourism, paying down debt on Raymond James Stadium and maintaining Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center. 

Do not be surprised if the extra percentage gets added on and a good portion of it is earmarked for a potential Rays stadium. (It should be noted that, by statute, bed taxes have limited uses. , though, that may soon change.)


Airport – More Rankings and Records

Airports Council International came out with their annual rankings of airports by various categories. (See also here)  In the North American airports with 15-25 million passengers per year category, Tampa International was rated the best.  Good job.  Hopefully, we will move up to the larger category soon.

And in more news,

At Tampa International Airport, this past February was up 12.4 percent over February 2017 — the largest increase since 2005. 

Meanwhile, officials at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport saw its largest passenger numbers for the month of February. At 172,790 passengers, this represents a 14 percent increase over the same month a year ago. Year-to-date, the number of passengers at PIE is up 11 percent over 2017. 

That is good to hear.  Maybe we will move up sooner rather than later.


Economic Development – Chasing Apple

While we did not get to it last week, there was an odd article in the Times that came seemingly out of the blue about Apple.

For the Tampa Bay area’s economic development team, going after Amazon’s second headquarters was like running a hard race uphill against fast competition.

In contrast, going after Apple would be less like a race and more like, what, a puzzle? A treasure hunt?

Whatever it is, it involves a blindfold.

Of course local officials would love to pitch the region’s benefits to Apple. But at the moment there’s no organized pursuit of Apple’s planned campus the way there was for Amazon’s HQ2 project.

That’s because the maker of the iPhone, the world’s biggest company by market value, has yet to say what it’s looking for — how much property it needs, for example, or what kind of or how many employees it’s seeking.

“We are certainly prepared,” said Craig Richard, president and CEO of the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “Right now no one knows what this project is, except for Apple. There hasn’t been a process outlined like Amazon, and honestly, I don’t expect it to be that way.”

In mid-January, Apple announced plans to build a second corporate campus somewhere in the U.S. and hire 20,000 workers over the next five years.

Sure, it would be nice to get an Apple campus.

If the company is looking to create a headquarters that houses everything except its top officers, Richard said Tampa already has proven to be a successful landing spot for corporations like Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, USAA, MetLife and Bristol-Myers Squibb. The city was even a finalist for the relocation of Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. headquarters.

“We have all of their operations: legal, accounting, real estate, HR, everything but the C-suite,” he said. “We have a strong track record in the event that Apple follows a similar model… Once they disclose what they’re looking for, we would love to be part of that process.”

We grant you that we are really good at back office operations.  So how realistic is the idea of Apple here?  Well, no one really knows because Apple is going about its business quietly, but Bloomberg did an analysis. (It has a bunch of nice graphics here )

In January, Apple Inc. announced plans for a fourth U.S. campus—a down-payment of sorts on its commitment to hire thousands of Americans and redeploy billions of dollars stashed overseas and now being repatriated under the Trump administration’s new tax law. The company hasn’t said how many people will work at the new facility, but it’s probably fair to say it will at least be in the hundreds.

That is a little different than the Times article, but anyway:

The iPhone maker has said the new facility won’t be in California or Texas and that initially it will house call-center staff. Apple has no plans to create an Amazon-style public bidding process, but cities from Sidney, Nebraska, to Orlando, Florida, have already expressed interest in hosting the facility.

In an effort to narrow down potential sites for the new campus, Bloomberg considered several criteria: regions where Apple already has a strong presence, proximity to suppliers, local business conditions and costs, concentration of educated talent and adjacency to transportation hubs.

So what did they come up with?

When you consider all these factors, Apple seems likely to choose among northeastern states such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and upstate New York; North Carolina and Florida in the southeast; and Midwestern states like Illinois and Wisconsin. The East Coast has one obvious advantage: the ability to provide customer support before existing call centers in Texas and California open for the day, as well as its proximity to hundreds of suppliers. The company could also consider the northwest, where it has a couple of offices, including an R&D center for cloud services in Seattle, and several suppliers.

That is not all that helpful.  Interestingly, if you check their graphics though, you see that in Florida, they list Miami, Orlando, and Jacksonville (and apparently West Palm Beach and Melbourne).

 

From Bloomberg.com – click on picture for article

We are ignored.  That does not really mean anything substantive, but it is interesting in terms of perception, especially as we are so full of call-centers.


Time – Some Thoughts

As most people probably know, there is a move to make Daylight Savings Time permanent in Florida.  It got a lot of support in the legislature:

The Florida Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act on Tuesday, three weeks after the state’s House of Representatives, and sent it to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature or veto. (Asked on Wednesday whether Mr. Scott would sign it, and why or why not, his press secretary, Lauren Schenone, said only, “The governor will review the bill.”) The margins of victory in both chambers were overwhelming — 33 to 2 in the Senate and 103 to 11 in the House — and the measure has considerable public support.

Though, as the New York Times pointed out:

Often, these complaints take the form of calls to eliminate daylight saving time altogether. But Florida wants to move in the opposite direction: permanent daylight saving time.

Why exactly?  We are not actually sure but here’s what some of the reporting tells us:

Senate sponsor Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, has said he got the idea after walking into his local barbershop last fall, shortly after the clocks changed from Daylight Saving to Standard Time.

“One of the barbers had young children and it had such a negative impact every time they set their clocks back [that they had trouble] getting their kids up for school,” he told the Senate Community Affairs Committee meeting last month.

But consider what a local meteorologist pointed out (and which is obvious):

Elementary school starts at 7:40 am next year in Hillsborough County. If year round #DST is approved by Congress, kids will travel to school and have most of their 1st period in the dark. In January, sun would rise between 8:17 am and 8:22 am.

We are not sure it would easier for kids to wake up (or stay awake) when it is dark through their first class. Not to mention this:

…more crazy year round DST impacts. #Bucs home games in November and December would likely start at 2 pm or 5 pm to line up with rest of east coast. #Lightning games on west coast would start at 11:00 or 11:30 and be over well after 1:30 am #Florida time.

And games in other states will start an hour later (MNF at 9:20).  Here are some other reasons given for why the change would be good:

People in the tourism industry also complained that as the days got darker in Standard Time, “they can’t keep their shops open,” he said.

Reps. Jeannette Nunez, R-Miami, sponsor of the House version of the bill predicted that the time change would boost the economy, save energy, improve road and public safety, and reduce crime due to the fact there is more sunlight in the evening hours.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, another House sponsor, predicted it will improve mental health and simplify life.

We could see more justification if the entire east coast did it, but, as it stands, for half the year we will be synched with Halifax and out of synch with NYC, DC, and all the eastern time zone.  Tourism does not seem to be struggling in Florida and mental health in the winter does not seem that much worse than the summer.  Would the change really be good for us?

It should probably be discussed a little more.

Roundup 3-9-2018

March 9, 2018

Contents

Built Environment/Planning – Choices

– East County

— Dunkin

Transportation – Potpourri

— Bus Plan, Another Editorial

— USF Area Circulator

— Actual BRT

USF – What Is It

Walking Violation

Ybor City – Old Maybe New Again

Port – You Want Competition

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the State

___________________________________


Built Environment/Planning – Choices


– East County

Last week, we discussed a request to allow denser development beyond the urban service area in Hillsborough County. We said:

We would not be surprised if the change is approved.  The County has routinely failed to enforce its plans for decades and then pleads poverty about unmet needs. That has, to a large part, led to our transportation woes and long list of needs, transportation and otherwise.

It is all about choices.  In this case, there is a boundary and a plan established by the County. The County should enforce it.

Of course they should, but:

In one of the first tests of Hillsborough County’s stated commitment to fight sprawl, commissioners are giving a green light to a contentious new suburban development in east county.

The 5-2 decision allows 131 new homes on 164 acres of rural land off Lithia Pinecrest Road just east of FishHawk Ranch. The change in land use from agricultural to residential means the number of homes that can be built there will increase by a factor of four.

The circumstances of the vote were somewhat unusual. The property in question was purchased decades ago by a Michigan couple as a retirement investment. The couple said they didn’t know the county lowered the allowable homes-per-acre in 1998 and the five commissioners who voted yes said they were righting a wrong.

But for the commissioners who voted against it, Pat Kemp and Stacy White, and the residents who oppose the project, the decision was a signal that it’s business as usual for a commission that just three months ago appeared ready to hold the line on further suburban sprawl. And challengers to several commissioners seeking re-election this year say the vote is evidence that change is needed.

* * *

On Thursday, Murman and Crist said their vote was about property rights, and didn’t reflect their commitment to changing growth policies.

“This is merely an unusual situation in a part of our county where (the landowners) were wronged,” Crist said.

The righting a wrong argument is quite poor (and disingenuous), as explained by the Times in an editorial:

Several commissioners who bought into the fantasy of this being a hardship case didn’t bother to substantiate their theories for the record. After all, the government modifies land uses all the time. The county did nothing wrong nor concealed the changes taking place. And it’s not the government’s job to ensure that land speculators make a profit.

If it were a valid argument then anytime the County (or any part of government) took any step that did not increase the value of property you own at the rate you planned for it to grow, it would be a wrong that needed to be righted.  But it just isn’t.  You invest hoping that the asset appreciates.  There are no guarantees.

In any event,

Commissioners are fooling themselves but not the public by describing their action as righting a wrong. At least Commissioner Ken Hagan had the honesty to explain his vote by declaring that more homes were appropriate “given the dense development in the neighboring property to the west.” In other words, sprawl is fine because sprawl is already there, so let’s keep going. The two commissioners who voted no, liberal Democrat Pat Kemp and conservative Republican Stacy White, showed by rejecting this line of thinking that the issue is about smart policy, not partisan politics.

Exactly.  We are not sure why those Commissioners persist in pretending that they care about decent planning. They should just be honest and say they don’t care if the entire county is covered in sprawl and has no possible way to pay to maintain the needed services. . . oh wait, we already don’t have enough money because of the Commission’s horrible planning, lack of concern about spreading sprawl, and bending over backwards to ignore good governance.

As the editorial says:

It’s also the complete opposite message from what the Urban Land Institute hoped to send after its meeting with the commission in December. The ULI urged the commission to act now to guide growth by holding a line on its Urban Service Area, where most roads, utilities and other infrastructure is already located, while developing new live-work-play clusters to serve hordes of new residents. Several commissioners who embraced that message only months ago reversed course with their votes last week. Why did the county bother paying ULI $135,000?

Defenders are quick to point out that the commission’s vote does not expand the county’s urban service boundary. But it has a similar effect by extending these public services into rural areas that had been walled off from suburban encroachment. These decisions will change only when voters make sprawl more of a political issue, and once they connect the value of rural lands to the local ecosystem and to the county’s quality of life.

It is all about choices.  Last week the County Commission continued its longstanding practice of making bad choices that will just increase the cost in the future.  Ask yourself: did you really think they wouldn’t approve more sprawl beyond the urban service area?

We have held out hope that someday they may actually care about the mess they have created and are creating and change their ways to actually provide decent governance.  We keep hoping, but we are not blind to the fact that, as a group, they show no signs of doing so, or even considering it.


— Dunkin

As many know, Tampa now has a Burger King downtown completely with a surface parking lot and drive through.  It is completely against the idea of what downtown is supposed to be developing into, but that is Tampa.  No one ever bothered to fix the code, and no City Council approved the Burger King.   The City just doesn’t care enough.

Over in St. Pete:

Business owner Sarah Arrazola delivered the rallying cry Wednesday for those opposing a developer’s bid to open a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through in downtown:

“Please don’t Fort Lauderdale St. Petersburg,” she told the Development Review Commission.

The Orlando developer, Jonathan Moore, defended the project from charges that it would dilute the city’s local charm.

“National chains are already here,” he said, “and they’re not evil.”

The commission sided with the more than three dozen people who opposed the project, denying the developer’s drive-through after 90 minutes of debate and discussion at City Hall.

She should have said, “Don’t Tampa St. Pete.” Really, we don’t care about Burger King as a chain (there used to be a Burger King on Franklin Street that was fine).  We care about the building they are in and whether it helps or hinders having a proper downtown now and in the future. And whether downtown should have drive-through restaurants at all (they shouldn’t).

It is all about choices.  St. Pete made the right one.  Tampa made the wrong one.


Transportation – Potpourri

Would it be a week here without it?


— Bus Plan, Another Editorial

The Times ran another editorial about the bus plan. (here) Here is the core:

A state-funded consultant’s study recommends that the region build a bus rapid transit system, or BRT, along the I-275 corridor as the first link in an expanded mass transit network across the Tampa Bay area. A tri-county transportation panel, comprised of elected officials and transit agency executives from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco, largely embraced the finding when it was unveiled in January. But in the past several weeks, several officials, notably Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp, have questioned the proposed route, projected cost and ridership assumptions, and other key details. Hillsborough’s mass transit agency, HART, voted last month to withhold giving the plan its imprimatur, with the board majority questioning whether it was bold enough to make a dent in the area’s traffic congestion or serve as a tool for economic growth.

The report chose BRT over rail as the first project recommended for the region. It said the 41-mile bus rapid line would be cheaper and faster to build, less costly to operate and likely more competitive for federal matching money. But the plan calls for buses to mix with cars along most of the route, both along Interstate 275 and on Tampa streets under the interstate where most of the bus stations would be located. By not dedicating a reserved corridor for buses, the buses could only move as fast as the cars traveling ahead of them. Some proposed stations are not at major transit connections, and the sheer number of stations — while boosting ridership projections — also means a longer ride between the three counties.

* * *

The consultants will spend the spring and summer floating this plan to the public. The core issue here is what does the bay area hope to achieve? While federal funding is a vital component, the plan — the first out of the box — must be meaningful enough to change the transit equation. It is essential that the public knows what the buses would — and would not — do, the costs and why a dedicated corridor that could serve buses or light rail has to be a priority. That’s the only way to make an informed decision about a key strategy for this region’s future.

They should add that, not only are some of the stops not at transit connections, but some activity centers supposedly connected have no actual stop. We really think this gets to the core of the issue:

While federal funding is a vital component, the plan — the first out of the box — must be meaningful enough to change the transit equation.

So far, we have heard nothing that would lead us to believe it will make such a change. Which makes us wonder about this:

Members of the tri-county transportation panel that serves as the key stop for vetting this plan, which meets Friday, have smartly reset the conversation. While continuing to correctly insist on a regional transit spine and better transit connections, they have raised their expectations for the vetting process, calling for closer examination of the proposal and a peer review by outside urban development experts. The plan is currently in the public feedback stage, and members insisted that this process be serious, transparent and welcome to public input.

We are not sure what the editorial is actually talking about.  The conversation was reset by people who pointed out the faults after local officials lauded the plan at the unveiling.  That was the first feedback.  As for feedback in the future, we hope it is, but in this area most conversations about transit get completely muddled, if not hijacked.

The place to start a conversation about the plan is to say why it is good other than being cheap. And, even setting aside the fact that the flaws have been pointed out clearly, the burden of the argument is on those in favor of the plan.  We are still waiting.


— USF Area Circulator

Somewhat related, there was an article in the Times about a long rumored USF (Tampa) area circulator:

Former County Commissioner Mark Sharpe wants to get people who live and work in the University of South Florida area out of their cars and on to public transit.

He hopes a new circulator connecting the university to nearby medical centers and Busch Gardens will help convince people to ditch their personal vehicles when going to lunch, stopping by the mall or grabbing drinks after work at World of Beer or other nearby options.

It could take years before people are willing to give up their cars. But Sharpe said this project linking the traditionally gridlocked area between Fletcher Avenue and Busch Boulevard could give a region full of commuters a taste of mass transit.

Of course, part of the reason the area is gridlocked is because the grid is not really a grid at all.  Most traffic is forces onto a few arterial roads where basically everything has been built for cars.  There is little chance for anyone to walk on Fowler or Bruce B. Downs (Fletcher is a little better in places, but just a little).  But we’ll set that aside for a minute:

The 7-mile loop is set to start running this summer, ideally in June, said Sharpe, chief potential officer for Tampa’s !P, a 6-year-old nonprofit that started as the Tampa Innovation Alliance. And, at least for the first few years, it will be free.

This is not a short-term, one-shot pilot, but instead a new transportation option for one of Tampa’s poorest neighborhoods. The high-percentage of working poor in the university area coupled with tens of thousands of college students makes the area prime for transit use outside of just business workers looking to grab lunch.

The circulator also aims to be one of the region’s first true examples of a public-private partnership for transit: while Florida Department of Transportation and Hillsborough County have agreed to cover some of the $850,000 price tag, the success of the project is dependent on !P’s anchors, like Moffitt Cancer Center, USF and the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital chipping in, Sharpe said.

* * *

Many of the details for the circulator still need to be refined, but Sharpe said the University area circulator plans to use smaller, potentially hybrid or electric vehicles, that seat about 14 people. Passengers can jump on at one of approximately 22 stops and take the shuttle in either direction. The goal is for the circulator to run every 20 minutes.

But as with any transit project that has been proposed in the bay area over the decades, two main questions dominate conversations: who will ride it and where will the money come from?

Sharpe imagines riders of all sorts: USF students who work at Busch Gardens, Moffitt employees who park on one hospital campus but work at another, tourists who want stop by the mall or the Yuengling Brewing Company, professors who have meetings off campus but don’t want to cross Fowler Avenue on foot.

Eng said there are about 17,000 jobs and 12,000 people living within a quarter of a mile of the stops, and the thousands of daily visitors, workers and students. That number could only grow when factoring in planned development at University Mall, the VA, Moffitt and other anchors.

* * *

The project is expected to cost around $850,000, Eng said, to be split amongst the state, county and local businesses.

The Florida Department of Transportation and Hillsborough County are willing to contribute more than $500,000 to pay for the project, as long as Sharpe and others are able to secure additional money from private investors, Sharpe said.

* * *

Sharpe said Yuengling and Moffitt had already committed, but he couldn’t say for how much. Sharpe is also going to connect with smaller businesses, like World of Beer, to see what sort of investment they’d be willing to contribute.

That’s all fine.  We are not clear why the County Commission and FDOT are being stingy (they should want there to be relatively cheap transit), but having private partners is fine.  The conditions and lack of enthusiasm also shows us the issues that will arise making any sort of express bus plan relevant to most people.  Without the circulators, the express bus plan won’t work, but the County and FDOT are not all in on circulators in the first place.

Sharpe imagines riders of all sorts: USF students who work at Busch Gardens, Moffitt employees who park on one hospital campus but work at another, tourists who want stop by the mall or the Yuengling Brewing Company, professors who have meetings off campus but don’t want to cross Fowler Avenue on foot.

We are sure some people will find circulator useful and ride, especially on good point to point connections and especially people who cannot drive.  Whether putting some small shuttles (which is what it sounds like now) on Fowler will really make a dent in traffic and congestion is another question, not to mention the fact that the circulator will be in said traffic.  In any event, URBN Tampa Bay was pretty much on the mark with their comments (including the comment on the ineffability of the organization’s name, which we do not quote):

We’re very interested to see the proposed route, expected trip times and vehicle before offering much in the way of an opinion on this.

We will say they’re off on the right foot by planning this to be fare-free. No fumbling for payment when you need to board people quickly so the circulator can start moving again. And if Busch Gardens is actually supporting this at all, let alone contributing to it, that in itself is newsworthy. Busch Gardens has historically loved parking revenue a lot more than they care about congestion.

Two big questions weren’t even mentioned in the article… How will this tie into HART and the heavily used Bull Runner? 

Without knowing more it is hard to really assess the circulator’s potential – and to see if, at some point in the future, it could serve as the actual connection between the express buses and USF.  Maybe it can, maybe it can’t.  Hopefully, they will at least try to use best practices for an urban system.


— Actual BRT

Meanwhile, St Pete is pushing forward with a plan that is actual BRT, for the most part.

Representatives of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority are heading to Washington, D.C. later this month to lobby federal officials for help funding the proposed Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg to the Gulf beaches.

* * *

PSTA is asking the Federal Transit Administration for a $20 million New Starts grant to pay for a little less than half of the $42 million project. The agency is poised well for the grant because the FTA recently gave the BRT project its second highest ranking, “medium-high.”

* * *

Darden, along with other representatives from PSTA, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Bay Partnership, will meet with members of the Tampa Bay Area Congressional Delegation and the FTA to garner support for the funding. They’ll also take in a portion of the American Professional Transit Association’s legislative conference.

So what is the plan exactly?

The route would run in a dedicated lane along First Avenues North and South, making it what’s known as “gold standard BRT.” That’s more than can be said for the 41-mile BRT route a regional transit plan is recommending between downtown St. Pete and Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275.

This really isn’t that complicated: having a dedicated lane is necessary to be “gold standard” but does not by itself make it “gold standard.”  There are other factors.

Nevertheless, as we said, at least the St. Pete plan is actually BRT for the most part, as opposed to the Regional Transit Feasibility Study express bus plan.  And it is a route that makes sense and runs on arterial roads, so there is a possibility of actually having at least some development along the route.

In fact, while we are fine with asking for Federal money, we are unsure why Pinellas/St. Pete does not seem to have a contingency plan to just pay the extra $20 million.  Hopefully they do have such a plan and are not telling.  We shall see.


USF – What Is It

The week, the higher education bill passed the legislature.

The Florida House of Representatives on Monday approved a higher education package that includes consolidating the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the Sarasota-Manatee campus into one accreditation by July 2020.

The House approved a version of the bill already cleared in the Senate. The measure now heads back to that chamber for its final nod before hitting Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for his approval.

Now that it has passed the legislature, there is actually a bit of a discussion about whether consolidation of USF is actually good for students:

A few lawmakers spoke out about the USF consolidation idea, which appeared in the House higher education package mid-January and immediately prompted outcry in St. Petersburg, where campus loyalists and locals said a merger would just turn back the clock on a flourishing campus. Some in St. Petersburg recalled years of bitter tension, when they said local leaders had to claw for independence and money from tight fists in Tampa. Separate accreditation, achieved in 2006, granted St. Petersburg a measure of autonomy when it came to budgeting, hiring and programming, and strengthened its separate identity.

But that relative independence could also cost USF St. Petersburg, some lawmakers say. As USF Tampa reaches greater heights in state rankings, and rakes in bonus funding, the honor and wealth won’t trickle down to students in St. Petersburg or Sarasota. Removing the barriers means a rising tide lifts all boats, consolidation backer Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, has said.

“Those preeminence dollars that they receive would most likely only be spent on the Tampa campus,” said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. “If we move to one consolidated accreditation, it is our belief the preeminence dollars would be spent across all three campuses and that all students would benefit from it.”

* * *

Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, said he’s watched USF St. Petersburg blossom under its current setup, but is optimistic about the money and student opportunities that could soon flow to the regional schools.

“All I keep hearing about is what this person didn’t like, what that person didn’t like,” Newton said. “But nobody’s talking about the students.”

Operating in silos isn’t good for anybody, he said.

“Is it perfect? Probably not,” Newton said. “But the opportunity to be able to afford more resources for the students that look like me and my district on all three of these campuses, I think that’s a good thing.”

There has been far too little discussion of the actual utility and possible implementation of consolidation, but now (unless someone can get the Governor to kill it) it has to be made to work.  That will require cooperation, good will, and focus on the students.

There was another odd article in the Times last week that we think is actually tied into the multi-campus, separate accreditation, amorphous structure of USF (and, no, it wasn’t the aborted plan to build a giant Picasso, which we think they should have done. They really couldn’t raise the money? We’re not that surprised.):

Turn in on LeRoy Collins Boulevard, past the gold university seal and the stiff serif letters that announce the University of South Florida, and signs point the way in muddled shades of green. Scattered Bull logos and mismatched block letters dot the campus, adding up to — what?

Online, the sense of USF’s identity is even less coherent. On the school’s homepage, four students chat in the grass. Except for their T-shirts in Bulls green, they could be anywhere in Universityland, U.S.A.

“It doesn’t have a theme,” said USF’s chief marketing officer Joe Hice. “It doesn’t really say anything.”

That’s why Hice has scrawled a phrase in green marker on his office whiteboard, a phrase he hopes will play a leading role in uniting USF’s fragmented sense of self: BE BOLD. BE BULLISH.

The slogan is the seed of a major rebranding campaign set to launch in the coming months as USF tries to sharpen its brand image, which is lagging behind as the university makes serious academic strides.

“Why don’t people know we’re $500 million-plus in research? Why don’t people know that we have great students?” Hice asks. “Because we haven’t been telling the story.”

Rebranding is always tough, even if it is needed. (Just ask people trying to promote the Tampa Bay area.) Have you ever noticed that Alabama, USC, Michigan don’t change their football uniforms?  Why?  Because they are (or at least have been) successful (yes, in football, but it is something recognizable) and created a real brand.  Everyone knows what they are instantly. USF is a little vaguer.

By the time he was brought aboard six months ago, bringing experience in corporate and higher education marketing, USF had decided the time was right to rehab its image and attract more students. Leaders commissioned a survey of 1,000 people across the nation, with findings that just rekindled old headaches.

There’s the albatross of USF’s name, for one. Students and parents still think USF must be in Miami or Fort Lauderdale — or even San Francisco. Some write it off immediately.

“Sounds like a party school,” one parent said.

Most parents outside of Florida couldn’t say where USF is located. Nearly a third had never heard of it. And when they had, they just talked about its affordability, not its medical school or strong job placement rates.

Meanwhile, faculty wring their hands, frustrated that the momentum of their research is going unseen. Administrators lament the specter of USF’s reputation as a commuter school, once derided as “U Stay Forever,” even as residence halls keep sprouting and graduation rates keep climbing. Fundraising is up. Incoming student GPAs are up. Rankings are up.

“It’s about time our reputation is as strong as our objective performance,” USF System President Judy Genshaft said in her fall address, her Bull U earrings glinting in the stage lights.

In some ways, USF is an underdog trying to claw its way into the standings of schools — like the Gator Nation — with a 50-year head start. It wants to deepen its roots, beyond being the source of talent for Tampa Bay employers. It wants to be the hometown team. It wants loyalty, even love.

Setting aside that Florida (1853) is about 100 years older than USF (1956), the whole Gator Nation slogan is largely irrelevant.  Florida is old, highly ranked, not regional, well-connected and has enthusiastic alumni.  And “direction” schools always have a disadvantage.  The article goes into some of the history, which we will not.  We will go straight to ideas for change:

One thing being considered, said USF trustee and advertising executive Jordan Zimmerman, is referring to USF as “the University of South Florida Tampa Bay.”

That just rolls off the tongue.  Not to mention making the main campus (if not the whole school) sound like a branch campus.  How many premier schools have that many words and two geographic signifiers and/or locations in their name?  How about a motto?

USF hasn’t locked into “Be Bullish,” but it’s the frontrunner among ideas including, “Be Herd,” “The speed of USF” and “Let’s build something.”

USF has been using “Unstoppable” for its fundraising campaign, but the phrase has gone quiet of late since the $1 billion goal was achieved.

The winning slogan has to work across a system made up of three institutions and 50,000 students. It needs to work for engineering and fine arts, police and lacrosse. It has to work on hoodies and billboards and Twitter.

Perhaps even more important than a rallying cry is the push for a unified theme. Last year, Hice showed school officials some of the 80-plus logos across campus. There was a shiny gold USF Health logo in retro 3D, a Bull U with a stethoscope, a parade of clip art bulls.

The audience groaned.

“Coca-Cola has one mark,” Zimmerman said. “We as a university have to have one mark that lives dynamically through every aspect of our university: The same look, the same feel, the same type, kerned the same way, so we speak with one voice.”

Genshaft has said the push will require serious discipline, “so people do know, right away, the iconic view: That’s the University of South Florida.”

From TBO.com – click on picture for article

We like the Bull U logo (though we do not understand why the U’s do not slant in the same direction on a football helmet. And, unlike the helmets, in recent years the ostensibly gold color on the jerseys is more hummus than gold. We like hummus and we like Bulls football, but we do not think that is the optimal way to combine the two. The allegedly gold part of the jerseys should probably be actually gold-colored.)  Frankly, we don’t understand why it is not universal.

And we have to say that the fragmented structure of USF does not help.  Is USFSP USF or is it something else? And, if so, how much something else, how much USF?  When a high school student gets recruiting messages from USFSP and USF, why shouldn’t they be more confused than from UCF which is a single entity?  But that stems from something else: the whole mission of the school is confused because our local officials are confused about what they want for this area – is it regional or is it each city/county first?  Is it do something that works or everybody just gets their cut no matter the harm?  Is it one region or just a cluster of different pieces stuck near each other?

USF is a fine school that contributes a lot to this area and whose graduates do fine work, but no one should be surprised that there is branding confusion.  It just reflects its home and its history.


Walking Violation

There was a very strange article in on WFLA’s website about pedestrians.

Most of us do it without thinking. We cross a street mid-block, or cross when the signal is red. 

On Wednesday night, a car slammed into two people scurrying across Highway 19 in New Port Richey, critically injuring them.

St. Petersburg police are watching for all kinds of violations.

“We should not be on our phones or any other instrument while we’re driving or operating a bike or as a pedestrian. We get too distracted and when you’re not paying attention, that’s what leads to accidents,” said Sgt. Bill Burris.

Setting aside that crossing the street while talking on a phone is not really a best practice, it is legal to talk on the phone while driving or walking (or standing on a sidewalk, as pedestrians often do).  That is not a violation . . . at least as far as we can tell.

Sobering statistics show why police want to educate people by stepping up enforcement. In St. Petersburg in 2017, there were 25 traffic fatalities. Ten involved pedestrians and two involved bicycles.

“If we can reach one person and educate them and prevent them from getting hurt or worse, we’ve done our job,” said Sgt. Burris.

A citation or a warning? It’s up to officers.

Education is fine. We are not going to complain about that.  And we are not going to complain about trying to stop people from just walking into the middle of the road nowhere near a crosswalk, which happens far too often. But we don’t know how useful this whole plan is unless the plan is to ticket pedestrians to push them into their cars where they likely will not be ticketed for ignoring pedestrians. No pedestrians, no pedestrian safety problem.

As URBN Tampa Bay pointed out, it would be nicer (and probably more effective) if local officials would actually properly account for pedestrians and cyclists in planning and permitting in the first place.  We would also like to see the police could stand on a corner under cover and ticket drivers who ignore all manner of rules to protect pedestrians.  After all, pedestrians do have the right of way.


Ybor City – Old Maybe New Again

URBN Tampa Bay has an interesting, if small, item about a slightly out-of-the-way building in Ybor.

A new office building is proposed for 2201 North 15th Street in Ybor City, to replace a burned down building. As you can see the project salvages the facade shell that still stands on the site. The developer is seeking a variance to reduce the parking from 8 spaces to 4 spaces, and we support that variance, since parking minimum laws should not exist.

This is the proposal:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The reason this is interesting is that the building housed one of the first clubs/bars in the rebirth of Ybor starting in the 80’s, the Impulse.   At some point, there was a major fire, and the building has just sat there since.

It is nice that they want to salvage the façade and save a little history, even if few know it.

There is another new proposal, per URBN Tampa Bay:

A four story office building has been proposed for 1309 East 6th Ave in Ybor City. The project is called Renaissance Ybor.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This proposal is somewhat a mystery.  The architects usually do good work, but the building seems strangely bland.  If you read the notes on the rendering, there are different materials used on the façade, including some brick.  There even seems to be provision for some canopy, though it is not clear on the drawing.  From what we can see on this drawing, the building does not fit Ybor standards.  Based on the architects’  other work, we are willing to wait for more details before firming up our opinion, but the design needs to be better than what we have been shown.


Port – You Want Competition

We have said for a while that we think the local ports should work together, if not just unify, so maximize their advantages in the broader competition against other areas.  That is unlikely to happen in our political environment.  In fact, as seen with fruit imports, there is actually more competition, wasting resources.  Well, from Fox13:

The port has become known for its cargo, but Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras sees the opportunity to attract thousands of tourists with a cruise ship operation. 

“It’s a matter of timing it right,” he said. 

There are six ports that serve cruise lines in Florida: Five on the East Coast, and only Tampa on the West Coast.  That could make Port Manatee attractive to potential cruise lines. 

“It just makes sense that the cruise lines would be interested in having a second port. The demand on cruise and terminals is almost unlimited,” said Buqueras.

Do we think this is also a waste of resources?  Yes.  Both our ports are behind other state ports in containers and cruises.  Arguing amongst themselves is not going to get us anywhere, but neither port seems inclined to pool resources.  That is not surprising, but it is unfortunate.

In other news, on a trade website, there was a little article about some smaller ports along Florida’s Gulf Coast.  It is worth remembering that there are a number of ports closer to the rest of the country than we are, and there are a number of ports looking to take some business from the area (they don’t care which port).  Just another reason not to have counter-productive local bickering.


Meanwhile, in the Rest of the State

There was an interesting article in the Miami Herald about the intersection of tech and media in Miami.  It is a rambling, but interesting, article that highlights social media (and other media) growth in Miami.  You can read it here. Needless to say, Miami is a bit ahead of us in that field.  But what really caught our attention was a quote that encapsulated a really positive attitude that we rarely see here:

These developments are helping Miami fulfill its promise as a tech hub — just as Miami’s tech growth is drawing new media, says Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council.

“Tech is Miami’s next big opportunity,” he said. “I don’t want to describe Miami as ‘the next big’ anything, but our growth curve in the tech space has been pretty impressive.”

We really like the tone of that quote.  It has a proper mix of acknowledging the good without hyperbole, but injecting some humility and realism.  It is a very healthy approach.