Transportation – Coordination, Anyone?
HART is considering actually coordinating with the TED PLC/Go Hillsborough/Whatever group:
“The bottom line is if we don’t have the money, nothing is going to happen,” said Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman, who sits on the board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.
Coordination. What a novel concept.
If county commissioners vote to put a 1-cent sales tax for transportation on the ballot in 2016, it would be the second time officials asked residents to approve a tax in order to fund transit and road improvements.
“We cannot go down this road again where we are throwing out and comparing two different plans,” Beckner said. “That’s part of the reason why things got derailed in 2010, because we had competing plans out there that confused the public.”
Yes (except there was no need to hire outside consultants). Why the board members who are already part of the TED PLC, etc., have no pushed HART coordination with that group before now is a mystery, though at least they see the issue now.
Regarding the actual service discussed in the article, HART has no plans for real BRT. (MetroRapid is not BRT and, if a drive on Nebraska and Fletcher is any indication, does not spur much development, urban or otherwise. Moreover, those who persist in saying it is are just being misleading).
Right. But let’s set aside the MetroRapid is not BRT for a moment. What are HART’s utterly uncoordinated plans for MetroRapid?
Now, HART has one north-south MetroRapid route and is designing an east-west route. Plans call for adding MetroRapid on Kennedy Boulevard to Tampa International Airport, a New Tampa route, a Brandon route and added rapid service on Dale Mabry and Gunn Highway.
(No one has defined “rapid service?” How is it different from MetroRapid? What distinguishes it from “BRT?”) And:
Murman and HART Board member Eddie Vance, a Temple Terrace councilman, said the agency should also revisit the idea of adding routes in south Hillsborough, where the county’s population is growing the fastest.
And that’s fine. There is a place for MetroRapid, a/k/a proper bus service, in a proper transit system. Of course, it should be coordinated.
Now, back to the fact that MetroRapid is not BRT. As noted, it is not so rapid, plus:
If HART adds the six MetroRapid routes it now has in its plans, it would cost $1.2 million to $2.1 million per mile. Begley said the money would go toward right of way, station construction and land for future stations or park-and-ride lots.
One of the scenarios the Policy Leadership Group rolled out to county residents this year at a series of meetings outlines a state-of-the-art bus rapid transit plan that calls for dedicated road lanes with fixed guideways at a cost of about $54 million per mile, which would include right of way.
That $54 million per mile of real BRT is actually a bit lower than the CTFastrack BRT in Connecticut that just opened ($567 million for 9.4 miles, and remember costs usually rise over time.) To sum up:
“Full fledged BRT has a different price point,” Eagan told the board. She said she will speak with her staff and upgrade HART’s transit development plan before meeting with the Policy Leadership Group in June.
If you actually want real BRT, say goodbye to $2 million a mile and get ready to pay. There is no way to do it right and still be cheap.
As we have noted previously, actual BRT (not repackaged bus service) can be as expensive, if not more, than rail depending on what you count. (see “Transportation – Bring on the Bus” and “Transportation – Inadvertent Truths” and “Transportation – More Muddle”)
There are a few points: 1) all the transportation planning should be coordinated (why would taxpayers agree to pay for something that is not coordinated?); 2) there is a place for MetroRapid, but it is not BRT and is not the spine or core of a transit system; 3) those who tell you that BRT is the low cost transit solution are not actually talking about real BRT in most cases; 4) if you look at the linked items above, you will see that the long term benefits of having BRT versus rail are questionable; and 5) if we are going to spend the money to make a transit system, we should do it right, and, so far, that does not seem to be on offer.
Going cheap will just mean having to do it all again for much more in the not too distant future while falling further behind those areas that actually did it right in the first place. That may serve some short-term political interests, but it is a disservice to the area and the people who live here.
Transportation – The Airport is Thriving
There was good news out of the airport.
Halfway through the fiscal year, passenger numbers are significantly outpacing projections due to strong holiday travel, more spring break traffic and a general strengthening of the overall U.S. travel market, airport officials said.
The airport experienced a 6.4 percent year-over-year increase in passenger traffic in the first six months of fiscal year 2015, which began in October. Tampa’s domestic and international markets both experienced significant increases. January and February were especially strong, posting 8.6 percent and 8.3 percent year-over-year growth, respectively.
That’s all good. (Could be even better, but it is very good). And international traffic is climbing rapidly:
The heavy passenger growth is partly due to a 15.8 percent increase in international travel with more frequent flights to Panama City on Copa Airlines and more Cuba passengers after U.S. travel restrictions were loosened in January. Tampa’s nonstop services to Zurich, Canada and London also increased, as did the airport’s domestic markets, which saw a 6.1 percent increase in passenger traffic.
That will get even better with Lufthansa at the end of summer. Once again, the airport administration is showing how to do things.
Now, if we could only get that San Francisco nonstop.
International Trade/Transportation – A Boat to Cuba
For years there have been proposals for ferry service from Tampa to Mexico, Key West, and, eventually, Cuba. Not much ever came of these. This week, the Federal government approved the concept of ferries to Cuba. One of the possible locations for ferry service is Tampa (or Port Manatee):
First, Tampa would be a natural home port for ferry service to Cuba once that nation agrees to receive U.S. ferries. The city has a large Cuban-American population and strong ties to the island nation. Many see it as the future center of U.S. relations with Cuba.
Second, it would introduce a brand new transportation industry to the bay area. Passenger ferries are used widely around the world, and some believe the ferry business could one day take off in the United States — and especially in Tampa.
Which would make sense, given the push – now publicized with some Tampa history in the New York Times – to make Tampa a center of any new trade with Cuba (Miami will always be a center).
Decades before Miami danced to a Cuban rhythm, Tampa’s Ybor City grew up and got rich to the sounds of Cuban-inflected Spanish as thousands of workers rolled cigars by day and plotted the island’s independence from Spain by night.
The city was America’s first touchstone for Cubans from the island. José Martí, the poet and the hero of Cuban independence, visited often during the 1890s to plan insurrection and to raise money from the successful cigar barons and their employees. A young Fidel Castro retraced Martí’s steps in the 1950s, hoping for a similar infusion of money and inspiration to boost his own revolution. Later on, exiles and former Cuban political prisoners streamed in, escaping Mr. Castro’s Communist grip.
Today, Tampa sees itself as pivotal to Cuba once again: The city is taking the lead in the Obama administration’s effort to rekindle diplomatic ties to Cuba, a move that runs counter to the anti-engagement orthodoxy of Miami and Florida’s state government.
In fostering closer ties to Cuba — a stance some here embraced long before President Obama’s December announcement — Tampa is positioning itself to one day reap the economic benefits of helping rebuild the crumbling country. Tampa’s port allows for a straight shot to Havana’s, giving it a major advantage if the United States lifts its economic embargo. Beyond that, city officials want to begin mending the historical kinship and once-powerful economic links between Cuba and Tampa that reach back more than six generations.
Well, some Tampa officials. The administration and Mayor are notably silent.
But in any event, the push is there – and there is some free publicity about the area in the New York Times with a sister article in the Miami Herald. The fact is that the policy is changing (even if slowly). This is an area that can distinguish Tampa in the eyes of Latin America (which generally opposed the embargo). While any policy is still up to the Federal government, why should we ask for permission from Miami regarding our economy and our future? The business and connections will eventually be there, why shouldn’t we get them?
Downtown – River Fest Thoughts
Last week was the first RiverFest. We attended and thought we would not a few things.
- It was very well attended. So well attended that it shows that there is such a market for urbanness that there are no excuses for the City settling for poorly designed projects.
- The area of the Riverwalk from just south of Curtis Hixon Park to past the Convention Center is nice, but there is nothing there for anyone to do. Basically, on the land side you are staring into parking lots (with the exception of MacDill Park, though there is nothing on Ashley across from the park). That just shows what all that settling has done. Even with a nice Riverwalk and big crowds, an area that could be truly thriving with activity is dead in terms of retail, restaurants, etc. (And it still needs more shade.) One more reason that there should be no settling.
- The City needs to do something about the complete lack of grass in Curtis Hixon Park. With success come issues – because it is used so much, the grass is trampled and it is not looking so good. (And also we heard complaints about the organization of some events and lines. That needs to be looked into.)
- Given the crowds, it makes clear that transit that people will use is necessary and, given proper development, would work. Parking was hard to come by and clearly not everyone was from downtown. There needs to be a good way to get people into and out of the area.
- We really need a Riverwalk on the west side of the river – this time created with activities fronting the river and without settling.
- Why did it take so long to actually finish?
Channelside – Changes Coming
There was a hint at changes coming to the Channelside complex.
Franklin Street, which Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik hired to oversee the leasing and management of the plaza, will market the property at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ national convention May 18-20.
“We are planning on going there with a renovation plan that’s inspiring. People aren’t going to believe what we’ve been able to plan there,” Franklin Street CEO Andrew Wright said Tuesday. “It won’t look like a remodel. It’ll look like a totally new building.”
That is not hard to imagine (see Baywalk). In any event, what is the plan?
Wright said that 40,000 to 50,000 people — retailers, restaurants, entertainment concepts, brokers and developers — are expected to attend the national ICSC convention. The renovation plans will include more public space and better connectivity to the port authority parking garage — a “total redesign of the look and feel of the property,” he said.
So there will likely be a skywalk to the parking garage, which was proposed before. (We would rather the parking garage it made more conducive to pedestrian activity on Channelside Drive – the present design is a mistake). As for more public space, apparently some part of the complex will be demolished – hopefully opening the complex up to more water views/access.
Any changes to the property are subject to approval by Port Tampa Bay, which owns the land the plaza is built on. Wright said the port is being kept informed of the plans, but the board won’t have time to formally approve the plans before ICSC.
We doubt the Port board will do anything other than rubber stamp what the Lightning owner proposes – do they really have much choice? We will just have to wait for details.
Seminole Heights – A Change and a Question
A new development in Seminole Heights is making a change.
There’s such an overwhelming demand for apartments in Seminole Heights that the developer of the Warehouse Lofts is ditching his plans for a storefront in the building and using all of the available square footage for residential space.
The redevelopment of an old warehouse at 4513 Florida Ave. began in February and is still slated for an Oct. 1 completion. But with 182 people interested in 48 units, developer Wesley Burdette has decided against a 3,300-square-foot retail space and instead will add six studio units to the project.
We understand the reasoning. We are not even completely against the change, though storefronts on Florida in a residential building would make the project much better – it would then really contribute to making the street more urban (and encourage more urban development on Florida).
The question we have arises more from how this change was made. Why does the process of approving developments not require that when changes of use are made, there does not have to be a new approval? Sure, we think this change would be rubberstamped because the City Council rubberstamps most things anyway (and this development is pioneering anyway), but requiring new approval could help with some quality control should the City ever decide to exercise any control (though we are sure developers will complain). And it would stop the occasions of bait and switch which definitely happen.
Economic Development – Staying Down
A week after we pointed out that the City’s plans for West Tampa seem to lack an element to actually help the low income people living there now, there was an article in the New York Times this week about a new, very large study on upward mobility which was also covered in the Tribune.
A study on upward mobility highlighted on the front page of Monday’s New York Times ranks Hillsborough 98th out of the nation’s biggest 100 counties in terms of potential earning power for low-income people. Every extra year spent in Hillsborough reduces a child’s earnings by 0.67 percent, the study found.
That would equal a loss of $3,510 in income for someone who spends 20 years in Hillsborough compared with someone who lived in a state with average upward mobility. That’s about 13.5 percent less than the U.S. average level of household income at age 26 of $26,000.
Well, that is pretty horrible (and barely better than Baltimore) though not that surprising. (You can see the New York Times info on Hillsborough County here.) Is anything being done about it?
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said his city is addressing the issue, in part through its relationship with the Tampa Housing Authority, which has been relocating residents and rebuilding public housing. The latest example is the city’s plans for the North Boulevard Homes project, which is scheduled to be demolished for a $300 million commercial and residential development.
We are in no way opposed to breaking up the large housing projects and letting people move to different locations, but that is only a small part of the issue; it is important to note that letting people move already happened with the Encore site with apparently limited results (apparently because our we are still 98th years after it was done) – so it cannot be the only policy. And, regardless, there are a few caveats to that strategy. As the Tribune article tells us:
The authors of the study, Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, concluded that offering low-income families housing vouchers and assistance in moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods has substantial benefits for the families themselves and for taxpayers. They said it also appears important to target such housing programs to families with young children, perhaps even at birth, to maximize the benefits.
“More broadly, our findings suggest that efforts to integrate disadvantaged families into mixed-income communities are likely to reduce the persistence of poverty across generations,” Chetty and Hendren wrote.
The researchers found five factors across the country associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime and a larger share of two-parent households.
That is partially accurate, but ignores this:
The places most conducive to upward mobility include large cities — San Francisco, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Providence, R.I. — and major suburban counties, such as Fairfax, Va.; Bergen, N.J.; Bucks, Pa.; Macomb, Mich.; Worcester, Mass.; and Contra Costa, Calif.
These places tend to share several traits, Mr. Hendren said. They have elementary schools with higher test scores, a higher share of two-parent families, greater levels of involvement in civic and religious groups and more residential integration of affluent, middle-class and poor families.
Although most places with better odds of escaping poverty have higher rent, the researchers did identify some counties as “upward-mobility bargains.” These include Putnam County, N.Y.; parts of the Pittsburgh and Altoona areas in Pennsylvania; and, if only relative to surrounding areas, Contra Costa.
In other words, just moving people to another low income neighborhood with the same kind of schools does not really accomplish anything. (And note that upward mobility is still ridiculously low even though some Hillsborough Schools – mostly IB schools – are well regarded.) It is not clear the Housing Authority plan will provide for anything else. Mixing people is good, though the West Tampa/North Boulevard Homes plan is not clear about creating a mixed neighborhood or allowing people of limited means to move to better areas rather than just moving the people who are there and building a more expensive neighborhood. And then there is transportation, which was found to be as important, if not more, than the other factors. That has to be taken into account in any plan to move people. And, of course, the jobs with better pay are key.
As we noted last week, this is a complicated problem. Part of it is social, part is economic, part has to do with where people live. Fixing up West Tampa is a good thing, but there needs to be a more comprehensive plan. What is clear is that Hillsborough is failing badly in upward mobility and needs to get on the ball.
Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida
— Miami On the (Cutting) Edge
There were a couple of interesting articles about Miami last week. The first discussed eMerge Americas, a tech conference:
All eyes will be on Miami as more than 10,000 entrepreneurs descend on our city to take part in the global tech conference, eMerge Americas, beginning this weekend. Now in its second year, it is a stark reminder of Miami’s continued maturation as a global city – one that is no longer simply a place where the affluent come to play – but rather a true urban metropolis where real money is being put to work in the form of new business ventures, new development and new ideas.
Rather than look to compete with more established cities like New York and San Francisco, Miami is leveraging its proximity to Latin America, relatively low barrier to entry, influx of young millennials and thriving urban core to set itself apart for startups looking to break into global markets.
In the last 18 months, Miami has established and cemented many of the key components critical to creating a healthy tech ecosystem. These include the formation of collaborative workspaces such as Pipeline; entrepreneurship incubators such as Endeavor Miami and Venture Hive; and venture capital firms such as Richmond Global, XP Securities and Scout Ventures that have relocated and expanded into Miami to tap into our growing technology sector.
Yes, this was a column and probably had some hype, but the numbers tell the story – 10,000 entrepreneurs and also some Venture Capital firms in Miami. Yes, the Tampa Bay area is developing, but it needs more exposure and more local money – which seem to be present in Miami.
The second article on Miami was about design culture:
Thanks in part to the sophisticated international crowd that regularly attends Art Basel in Miami Beach, the demand for residences and hotels commensurate with their tastes have upped the ante on Miami’s architecture scene. Savvy developers such as The Related Group, Swire Properties, and Terra Group, who understood the value of name-brand designers as marketing tools for their new developments, began enlisting top names to create their buildings. Now, not only are there arguably more world-class architects designing luxury hotels, signature condominiums, high-profile cultural institutions, and even landmark garages here than anywhere else in the US, but flocks of wealthy North and Latin Americans, Europeans, Russians, and Chinese have been arriving in droves to partake of the first-class city Miami is becoming, partly as a result of their influence.
To sate this sophisticated crowd’s appetite for high design, new waves of furniture, product, and fashion designers from all over the globe are setting up shop in the rarefied Miami Design District as well as in the edgier and more affordable Wynwood and Ironside enclaves nearby, expanding the nexus of the design community north and south along Biscayne Boulevard. Solidifying Miami’s ascendance in the global design firmament is the arrival of Maison & Objet Americas, the preeminent French decorative arts trade show, which launches in Miami Beach this month.
Once again, there is some hype in the article, but there is no question that Miami is far more developed in terms of design than the Tampa Bay area, which has very little in the way of design. The reality is that design, urban vitality, and innovation go together. Almost all truly thriving innovation hubs have a developed design scene (and music scene). It is part of being cutting edge and also contributes to cross-pollination between various disciplines, which helps innovation. As we have said, design matters (and not just in architecture).
— Checking In On SunRail
This week marks the year anniversary of SunRail service in Orlando.
But with heavy construction now starting a six-year occupation of I-4 through downtown Orlando, many of those drivers could make the switch to SunRail, which in March carried a daily average of nearly 4,100 fare-paying riders — just below the first-year goal of 4,300.
So, yes, ridership is a little under projections, but not much. And there are plans to expand the service. (It actually got a Federal grant for expansion last week.)
Before SunRail, people argued no one would ride a train to work, he recalled. Now, Dyer said, the biggest criticism he hears is about the restricted hours of the 31.5-mile system. It runs Monday through Friday every half-hour during the morning and evening rush hours, then every couple of hours until about 10 p.m.
She said she would love to take the train to downtown Orlando or Winter Park from the Sand Lake station in south Orange County, but it does not run often enough during the evening or on weekends, when she would like to use it.
SunRail has experimented with some free, weekend and specialty service, and it ferried an estimated 26,000 people to and from the Winter Park sidewalk art festival in March. Sponsors covered the $32,000 operating costs.
So, why doesn’t it add service?
Opening up on weekends could cost as much as $19 million for more trains and equipment and an additional $10 million in annual operating and maintenance expenses. The annual budget for five days a week is $35 million.
And there are plans for a link to the airport.
One thing to remember about SunRail is that it is commuter rail. (which is not what we think Hillsborough County should build) That is different from local transit. (which is what Hillsborough should build) Nevertheless, as the weekend service shows, there are definitely people who want to use SunRail. It remains to be seen how successful it will be in the long run. One thing is for sure, it should be studied so that whatever mistakes it made are not repeated here.
Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country
— What Does a Billion Dollars Buy?
As part of our regular review of billion dollar projects (matching the advertised price of the Lightning owner’s project) to keep things in perspective, we bring you a few more. First, is a project that is actually being held up in the courts in Hollywood (CA). That should not be confused with this billion dollar project in downtown LA. Then there is one in Boston. Finally, there is a billion dollar proposed expansion/redevelopment of a major hospital in Indianapolis.
— Portland Does Not Have the PTC
Portland (OR) is a wacky place but, without question, it is prominent in the usual suspects that score highly on most important lists and attracts high paying jobs (and has a billion dollar investment featured previously). It also does not have the PTC:
Uber allows prospective customers to use a phone app to hail and pay a driver who uses his own car. It launched Portland service in December, but suspended operations after the city took legal action. A city task force then spent months developing recommendations for Uber to operate legally, and that led to the 3-2 vote.
It’s a strange world indeed when left-wing, wacky Portland is experimenting in deregulation and the Republican dominated Hillsborough PTC is working very hard to maintain its protectionist, price-fixing, market manipulating ways. But that is Tampa Bay.
— Denver is Way Ahead
Finally, the rail link between Denver’s airport and downtown is almost open (while Hillsborough County is still dithering).
Once again, we are improving, but others are ahead and doing even more.
List of the Week
Our list this week is thrillist.com’s The 16 Best Beer Cities in America. This is their methodology:
Every day, some metropolis tries to lay claim to the title of “Beer City, USA.” Here at Thrillist, we have the argument regularly, which is why we’ve decided to tap our nationwide group of editors, experts, and lushes to definitively crown the best beer city in the year of our (Dark) Lord, 2015. We factored in influence, breweries, history, impact, culture, and maybe — just maybe — some personal bias. Here, for our beer money, are the 16 best beer cities in the US.
Topping the list is Portland (OR) – probably making Uber more popular, followed by San Diego, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, NYC, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Burlington (VT), Portland (ME), Boston, and Asheville.
There are no Florida cities. And, just in case you think this is a Travel & Leisure situation where they do not even know we exists, perusing the site, we discovered they do know we exist, as noted in the 28 must eat sandwiches item:
What’s in it: You’ve gotta love any food specifically designed for post-bar consumption: Medianoche literally translates to “midnight”, and it’s a late-night staple originally served in Havana’s clubs around that time. Interestingly, it was also a go-to for workers in the sugar and cigar factories burning the midnight oil. Made on a soft egg roll, it’s like a grilled-cheese-ham-and-more-cheese-hybrid made of roast pork, Swiss, ham, pickles, and mustard, all warmed on a press.
Fun fact: In April 2012, a version of the Medianoche was named the “signature sandwich” of the city of Tampa, Florida. Look at you, Tampa, all hip and cool with your own signature sammie.
Do with that what you will.