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Roundup 1-4-2013

January 4, 2013

End of the Year Polls

The Times/BayNews9 provided us with a slow roll out of polls at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013. We think a few are worthy of note, but before we discuss them, we want to point out that polls are imperfect snapshots in time of answers to specific questions.  (Hope you did not bet money based on the Rasmussen presidential poll)  Nevertheless, with that caveat – and the caveat that we did not take the poll – they are interesting.

     1. Rail

The first poll of interest is a poll about support for transportation/rail referenda. What did it find?

But a new poll sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay suggests there is now support for using public money for light rail mass transit.

The poll found a comfortable majority of residents in Hillsborough County would support using tax money for light rail. The question had even stronger support in Pinellas County, where officials are pondering whether to place a referendum on public spending for mass transit on the 2014 ballot.

* * *

The poll results seem to run counter to conventional wisdom, particularly since voters in Hillsborough rejected that very proposition by a 58 to 42 percent margin in 2010. The poll, conducted by Braun Research, a national firm based in Princeton, N.J., found almost the opposite result in Hillsborough two years later.

Residents were asked: “Would you be supportive of spending public or tax money to bring light rail mass transit to parts of the Tampa Bay area?” In Hillsborough County, 56 percent of those surveyed said “yes,” while 35 percent said “no,” with 9 percent unsure or declining to answer.

The result in Pinellas County: 60 percent answered “yes” while 33 percent said “no,” with the balance undecided or declining to answer.

Ok, we find that interesting.  Of course, as the article points out:

The pollsters surveyed the general population older than 18 rather than likely voters typically queried to predict likely election results. Another Times/Bay News 9 poll that did attempt to isolate likely voters before the 2010 referendum showed the transit measure passing 51 to 39 percent, which proved to be far off the mark.

What explains the difference between polls and election results?  Either the polls are all messed up, or the 2010 referendum “plan” was not appealing.  People can want rail but not want to put good money in the specific “plan” presented to them.

It seems that there is more evidence that the recent poll was not messed up.

Still, the more recent poll results do not seem out of whack to Ray Chiaramonte, director of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the county’s transportation planning agency. His organization conducted its own poll this summer that queried 806 active voters in the county, asking a variety of questions about transportation.

Told it would cost the average family of three about $15 a month, 48 percent of respondents said they would support a 1 cent sales tax increase to pay for transportation generally. When asked about a half-cent sales tax increase, support climbed to 57 percent.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents said demonstration rail lines should be at least somewhat of a priority.

So, it seems there is support in both Pinellas and Hillsborough, if there is a decent plan.  Just another reason not to pursue the potentially problematic city-only tax instead of coming up with a good, county-wide plans that work together to make an effective regional system.

     2. Rays

The Times also presented a poll about the preferred location for a Rays stadium. The findings, as presented by the Times:

A recent Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay telephone survey of 521 Pinellas and Hillsborough residents showed that the single most popular stadium option is simply to keep the team playing at Tropicana Field.

Even among Hillsborough residents, the Trop remains the favored site.

Much of this sentiment stems from fear that public money would have to underwrite any new stadium. Survey respondents opposed that idea 50 percent to 41 percent — even if their own taxes were unaffected.

Since it appears that 72 percent of Hillsborough respondents favor a site other than the Trop (downtown being 16% and fairgrounds 25%), saying that the Trop was the “favored” location maybe technically correct, but does not seem to capture the real finding of the poll.  Maybe the next poll should rank the top 3 site choices to get a more accurate picture of what people want.

We agree with the Mayor of Tampa when he says:

“Certainly the status quo is the safe position, which is why the numbers at the Trop are what they are,” he said. “But that’s not a realistic solution. Clearly, the Rays don’t want to be there. The business model doesn’t work, so I don’t know that that’s even available as an option.

Nor do the Rays want another suburban stadium like the fairgrounds, he said.

“There is a built-in critical mass in downtown Tampa that if you could walk to a stadium you would have a lot more people in the seats,” Buckhorn said. “You would energize downtown in ways we can’t even imagine.”

Nevertheless, we are willing to see what a full, region-wide study would show. However, that is all academic with the present St. Pete Mayor refusing to allow it. Of course, since the poll shows that a full study might support a stadium in St. Pete, we have to ask again, what is St. Pete afraid of?

     3. Mayors

Speaking of Mayors, the Times had polls about the Mayors of Tampa and St. Pete.

First, the Mayor of Tampa:

In a poll for the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News, 81 percent of respondents rated Buckhorn’s job performance as average, good or excellent — up from 66 percent in 2011.

Moreover, the number of respondents who rated Buckhorn’s performance as good or excellent rose from 39 to 49 percent over the past year.

(Of course, we do not think “average” is particularly good, but that is just us.)

As for St. Pete, the Times poll found the Mayor of St. Pete has support.

The reality is that the polls reflect the likelihood that a politician will get reelected, which can be based on a number of factors, like performance, expectations, media coverage, and the perceived alternatives.

Whether a politician may get reelected may be of primary concern to them, but what is of concern to us is whether what they do is actually good for the area (in other words – are they actual leaders).  As any regular reader will know – we don’t really care who is mayor as long as they do the right thing.

However, the mayor polls do lead to a few questions about the politics of our area. The poll numbers, when you include “average,” of the last mayor of Tampa looked like this:

In a similar Times/Bay News 9 poll last year, 79 percent of respondents rated Pam Iorio’s job performance as average or better. A solid 52 percent said she did a good or excellent job.

What is striking is the similarity of the last Mayor’s numbers with the numbers of the present Mayor.  From those ratings, it would appear that everything is proceeding swimmingly.

However, if the outgoing mayor’s performance justified those numbers (and we do not deny the poll had those results), why is the area still uncompetitive (why did the present Mayor need a competitiveness committee because city hall was a tough place to do business)? And why did the incoming mayor feel the need to spend over a year and a good chunk of change on master plans and consultant reports (See ULI and InVision Tampa)? And if the last mayor “changed the culture of Tampa’s bureaucracy,” why did the present Mayor have to change the bureaucracy again (see here and here)?

It is also interesting that while recent incumbent mayors in Tampa usually have high poll numbers and get reelected, none of the last four (going back to 1986) has gone on to higher office (yet) after being mayor.

Very odd.

Master Plan in a Box?

Speaking of doing the right thing, in the article regarding the poll about the Mayor of Tampa’s job performance, the Times noted a strong point in the Mayor’s rating:

Downtown redevelopment — a signature issue — where the percentage of those who said they were very or somewhat satisfied with Buckhorn’s performance rose from 59 to 75 percent from 2011 to 2012.

In the past year, Buckhorn has unveiled his InVision Tampa plan to guide the growth of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. He successfully lobbied for $10.9 million in federal funds to finish the Riverwalk, is working to bring a restaurant to Water Works Park and to redevelop 140 acres on the western bank of the Hillsborough River.

Yet, three days earlier, in an article in the Times regarding the danger of bicycling in the Tampa Bay area  there was interesting was this little nugget:

“Unless motorists and bicycles can share the lanes safely — which they haven’t — I think the answer is to get them separated,” Shirk said.

That is one of the recommendations in Tampa’s InVision plan, put together by AECOM, a global consulting firm.

In its report, released last month, AECOM included a multipurpose trail called the “east-west Green Spine” that would run from the V.M. Ybor neighborhood, down Nuccio Parkway, through downtown, over the river, past the University of Tampa and out to West Tampa.

The city still needs to discuss which InVision recommendations it will implement and how they will be funded, said Randy Goers, Tampa’s urban planning coordinator.

Setting aside the desperate need for a system of real, interconnected trails in Tampa and Hillsborough County, there is another point. As we said previously, despite the pronouncements, InVision is not an achievement. As the urban planning coordinator makes clear, despite the hype, there is nothing to say that anything in InVision will actually come to pass.  Only real urban development would be an achievement.

The ubiquitous master plans in Tampa remind us of the recent story of the man in St.Pete who thought he was buying an iPad for his wife, just to find out he had a box filled with legal pads.

Sadly, this is reminiscent of many plans and pronouncements in the Tampa Bay area.  They are a nicely wrapped box initially holding so much promise, but so often only amounting to metaphorical blank notepads.  Hopefully (and we mean that), this recent round of time and money spent on rehashing urban development ideas is just not another empty box.  Time will tell.

Of course, changing the code to require urban development does not require that much funding and could have been done long ago – and that would have been a real achievement.

HART/PSTA

Among much recent talk about studies regarding merger of HART and PSTA and the HART board’s opposition, there was a letter to the editor in the Times from the chairman on HART which said the following:

The HART board has taken only one formal position regarding merger: We would not support any change in governance of the agency or repeal of its charter that was not approved by voter referendum.

Great.  So there is no problem with further study of the possible advantages of consolidation or merger.  Glad to hear it.

Of course, the letter also had this, which appears to be contrary to the above quote and to show the Board has prejudged the results of any study:

We believe a regional transit system will be achieved by incremental service expansion steps such as these.

Maybe that is not a “formal position” but it certainly is a position that shows opposition to further study to see if public agencies can save money and provide better services to the taxpayer.

TIA-Downtown Bus – Still Waiting

As regular readers will know, the TIA Director has raised the issue of express buses between the airport and downtown.  This week the Tribune reported the findings of a consultant:

It doesn’t have to be that way. HART’s new Bus Rapid Transit system could speed passengers from the Marion Transit Center to the airport via Interstate 275 in a little more than 15 minutes, a consultant for the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization has reported.

An airport-downtown rapid transit bus would take 22 minutes from Whiting and Polk streets, which are closer to the downtown hotels than the transit center.

It might be true that a “BRT” bus could do that, but what is also true is that a regular bus (read a normally painted bus rather than a green one) driving nonstop from downtown to TIA tomorrow could also make the trip in close to that time assuming no traffic jams.  And a “BRT” bus very well could get stuck in traffic transitioning from I-275 to Memorial in a traffic jam anyway.

Moreover, airport “BRT” would take years to develop and fund.  What is going to be done now? How about just getting ridership projections and cost estimates for an express bus from TIA to downtown.

And for those pleading poverty:

In addition to spending much more on travel advertising and dangling incentives for pro soccer teams that train in Central Florida, the Florida Legislature’s $70 billion budget also sets aside money to help employees of area tourism businesses get to work.

One of the thousands of individual line items in the 422-page spending plan gives $1.2 million to Central Florida’s bus agency – Lynx – to subsidize a route between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World.

(For those who fear the mouse, please note that the service in Orlando is not for tourists.  It is for locals.)

Bass Pro Shops – a Little Less of a Destination Every Day

One more example of a reason not to subsidize a Bass Pro Shop in Brandon was provided recently when Bass Pro Shops announced they would be building a store in St. Johns County.   And unlike Brandon, the St. Johns store is going into a much more competitive environment:

Outdoors customers already have their pick of two Gander Mountain stores, Black Creek Outfitters and will soon have an REI, plus many smaller retailers that specialize in fishing or firearms and sporting goods giants like Dick’s and Academy.

If Bass Pro can build in the competitive location in St. Johns, they and the developer surely can pay for their own store in Brandon, where there are no outdoor big box competitors.

Riverwalk Restaurant

One of the Mayor of Tampa’s stated goals is to have a Riverwalk restaurant.  Well, one has been announced:

The Tampa Convention Center is opening a waterfront restaurant called Bay Bistro Riverwalk.

The outdoor/indoor venue is scheduled to open to the public on Jan. 16, serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

* * *

Aramark, the Convention Center’s food and beverage provider, will also handle food for Bay Bistro.

Given those hours and that supplier, we are not sure this restaurant is what the Mayor means.  We suppose it is a start, but why didn’t the convention center advertise an RFP for a full service restaurant?

Coming Out Watch

Ordinarily, this item might be our list of the week, but, because it deals with how people see our area and arose from the RNC, we’ll put it here.

Atlanticcities.com had an end of the year list of “The Best #CityReads of 2012.” There are such interesting reads as “U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs” (see why other countries do better – is it the UN’s revenge on the Tea Party?) and Why Don’t We Read About Architecture?.

Among the list, surprisingly to us, there is Salon’s August send up to Tampa: Tampa: America’s Hottest Mess.  Nice.

Urban is Richer

We ran across this article from the BBC about the benefits of urban development. The key takeaway for us:

The denser the city, the more productive, efficient and powerful it becomes. The theoretical physicists, Luis Bettencourt and Geoffrey West calculated that if the population of a city is doubled, average wages go up by 15%, as do other measures of productivity, like patents per capita. Economic output of a city of 10 million people will be 15-20% higher than that of two cities of 5 million people. Incomes are on average five times higher in urbanised countries with a largely rural population. And at the same time, resource use and carbon emissions plummet by 15% for every doubling in density, because of more efficient use of infrastructure and better use of public transportation.

This is more evidence of what seems relatively obvious – real urban is richer if you are comparing cities in similar countries.  It is worth reading, then driving around the Tampa Bay area to contemplate what is, what could have been, and what could still be if we really change our DNA.

More Urban Thoughts

We also ran across an article from the LA Times about LA’s strange urban shape.  If you read the article it talks about different shapes and styles of urban cores, but the key is street life and diversity of activities.  The article focuses on Wilshire Blvd in LA (you can take a Google maps ride here and image Kennedy developed that way)  We do not think LA is a great model of urban development, but it is interesting to consider what even LA does. Surface parking, buildings not built to the street, and buildings without real doors to the street – which are all abundant in Tampa – don’t really fit the bill.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week is Yahoo!’s most popular city searches. Las Vegas tops the list, followed by Chicago (nice town, but #2?), London, New York, DC, San Francisco, San Diego, Dubai, New Orleans, and Hong Kong.  Frankly, it is odd that the tourist meccas of Orlando and Paris are not on the list.  Despite the RNC, Tampa isn’t either.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is the very unscientific list of silliest bowl names – it is early January after all. Number one is, of course, the Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl, followed by the elegantly named San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.  Number 6 is St. Pete’s own Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.  We actually think that name is not nearly as silly as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, which did not make the list.

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