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Roundup 7-15-2016

July 15, 2016

Contents

Transportation – FDOT MO

— And One More Thing

Port – Walking It Back

Downtown/West Tampa/Tampa Heights/Channel District – Talking Projects

Downtown/Channel District – Chill

— One More Thing

Bayshore – Some More Details

West Tampa – Generic

Ybor City – New and Old

St. Pete Rising – Most Likely

Economic Development – Some Nice News

– Small Win

— Bigger Win

TIA/Economic Development – Interesting But Not Yet

Transportation – Some Things to Consider

– Don’t Go Planning for That Autonomous Experience Quite Yet

– What Transit Needs

____________________________

Transportation – FDOT MO

We weren’t going to write anything about TBX for a bit (it is almost as tedious a subject as Go Hillsborough or the PTC), but there was a great find by URBN Tampa Bay regarding the Pensacola Bay Bridge and the threats made by FDOT because people there actually wanted to find out about a project in their area.  (Note, the Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement, which costs about as much as the Howard Frankland replacement, will not have any tolls – unless  . . .). The URBN Tampa Bay write up is quite good, so we are not going to go into the specific article they reference.  However, the Pensacola News-Journal had another column regarding the same issue that said something we thought that applied equally to TBX, but before we get to that, how is this for local planning:

Several proposed designs for the new Pensacola Bay Bridge are in, but the public won’t have a chance to see them until one is selected, a spokesman from the Florida Department of Transportation said Wednesday.

The five firms in contention to design and build the $500 million, six-lane bridge submitted their proposals earlier this month and the department is reviewing them, FDOT District 3 spokesman Ian Satter said.

The proposals were due by May 5, but remain sealed as they contain proprietary information that could be stolen by a competitor were they opened to the public, Satter said.

Because why should an area have a say in how it’s largest infrastructure is designed or looks? Though FDOT relented a bit and actually released some renderings a week after (tentatively, but actually) choosing the winner.

Anyway, to the main point, from the opinion piece:

What’s more big-government than a wildly-expensive state agency pushing its authority down onto local governments with threats to withhold their own tax money from them, lest they blindly accept it with all strings attached? You hate it when Obamacare does it. But you say nothing now that FDOT’s doing it in your own backyard.

Instead, our local leaders act like they’re scared of FDOT. Where’s the spine? FDOT isn’t supposed to wield power and authority. We pay their salaries. They work for us. And true Northwest Florida conservatives should be demanding they do so as pleasantly and efficiently as the staff at any given Chick-fil-A. “My pleasures” and all. (Mmm… waffle fries…)

Regardless of whether you think Obamacare is good or bad, the point is valid as applied to FDOT.  FDOT is supposed to work for us, not the other way around.  And our legislators are supposed to represent us and find out what we want, not force FDOT’s plan on us by allowing FDOT to threaten us.

The fact is that the entire process is upside down right now.  Plans are approved so there “can be a conversation.” But there is no conversation, and what motivation does government have to really have one? When TBX is approved by the MPO, FDOT gets what it wanted.  And local officials, relieved of having to deal with it and able to blame FDOT, tout redevelopment and insist we need proper transit at the same time they embrace a project that includes some good things (that could be done separately), but, as a whole, basically is a spine for sprawl and destructive to the very urban areas people keep talking about (see below), especially since there is no local plan for transit.

But setting aside the poor planning for a moment (on the evidence, even if local officials could plan, there is no guarantee it would be better), the thing that really gets us is the “take it or leave it” approach FDOT has taken, and the fact that our local officials and legislative delegation is silent on it (even if they like TBX, they should be, shall we say, correcting FDOT for making threats).

Remember, this is the largest swing area in the largest swing state in the nation and it is an election year.  Is it really the case that that fact can’t be leveraged to any better treatment?

— And One More Thing

And as our local officials’ actions keep us a car dependent area for the foreseeable future, the Times reported this:

A new analysis from Bankrate.com found that a median-income household could not afford the average price of a new vehicle in any of the 50 largest cities in the country, though cars are more affordable in some cities than others.

“The new reality is that cars are becoming more expensive,” said Steve Pounds, a personal finance analyst for Bankrate. “People are having to make tough decisions about financing.”

The average price of a new car or light truck in 2016 is about $34,000, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s in part because new cars are loaded with helpful but expensive safety features like collision-avoidance systems.

Bankrate calculated an “affordable” purchase price for major cities, using median incomes from U.S. census data, and factoring in costs for sales taxes and insurance. In San Jose, Calif. — the heart of Silicon Valley — the median income is about $84,000, and an “affordable” new car purchase price is about $33,000, which is close to, but still below, the average new car price.

You can see the full list here.

The affordable car price in Tampa was $14,469.48, which is 31st out of 50 (mainly because of our low wages).  Given that, 1) don’t we really need to focus on alternatives to roads and 2) who are those express lanes really going to serve?

Port – Walking It Back

For a while now the Port has been talking about how it is preparing for the expansion of the Panama Canal and getting ready to exploit the changes.  We are all for building the container business, but there seemed to be a few obvious problems with the Port’s strategy – namely the Skyway is too short and the channel too shallow for Neopanamax ships (the big ships that can now use the canal) and the Port focused on being a spoke in a hub and spoke system meaning the expansion is not really relevant.  Nevertheless, the news coverage mostly just repeated the reassurances from the Port about how it was going to compete (and, make no mistake, we want them to compete).

A quick aside: this week, the first Neopanamax ship, the really big ships that can now get through the canal, went to Miami.

Now that the canal expansion has opened, the Times ran an article “Port Tampa Bay still finding its way as expanded Panama Canal opens.”    You can read the whole thing, but the basic thrust of the article is this:

After years of buildup, the widened Panama Canal opened last week but Port Tampa Bay still finds itself struggling to see where it fits in. 

How does that fit with this from the Port Director in 2014:

Tampa’s 43-foot-deep port, the deepest in Florida, can handle the ships likely to transit the expanded canal, Anderson said.

The next step will be installing two cranes in 2015 that can load and unload so-called Panamax container ships. Doing so will open Tampa to direct shipments through the canal, Anderson said.

At the moment, cargo on Panamax ships is broken down and reloaded onto small vessels in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic before arriving in Tampa.

The 2007 U.S.-Panama free trade agreement will help Tampa take advantage of the economic boom sweeping across Latin America, Anderson said.

“The growth potential is great,” Anderson said.

Setting aside that Miami is deeper now and everyone knew that Tampa would not be able to handle the biggest ships crossing the new canal, what happened? Or this from January 2016?

As the closest port to the newly expanded Panama Canal, its location in the middle of Florida and the Tampa region’s density of distribution centers along the Interstate 4 corridor, it makes “the most logical and logistical sense” for Port Tampa Bay to become a major destination for cargo ships coming out of the canal, Anderson said. With Manual Benitez, deputy administrator for the Panama Canal Authority in attendance, Anderson said there will be growth for retail and refrigerated cargo. 

About which we wrote the obvious, which you can read at “Port – Doing Ok, But . . .

In any event, this is what the Times told us this week:

To stand out, Port Tampa Bay spent $21.5 million for two post-Panamax gantry cranes to help grow its cargo container business. The port plans to start construction on a 130,000-square-foot cold storage food products facility that should be operational by next year. And officials are still trying to lure new car business from manufacturing plants in Mexico.

But the port has some stiff competition. It’s up against ports that handle more than double the tonnage in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville that have established container businesses. Port Manatee just south of the Sunshine Skyway bridge has a strong refrigerated storage business and Port Canaveral just signed a tenant to run its own new car import business from Mexico.

“We recognize that this isn’t a moment where a light switch turns on and everything changes,” said Paul Anderson, president and CEO of the Tampa Port Authority. Anderson was among the many who flocked to Panama last week to celebrate the opening of the $5.4 billion expansion of the Panama Canal. “There are contracts in place for some routes already, and we hope that with our new cranes we can handle larger vessels in the coming years as those contracts come to term.”

* * *

This new fleet of enormous cargo container ships coming from Asia won’t come to Tampa Bay, analysts say. Most of them won’t even come into the Gulf of Mexico initially. They will continue to go to the bigger established ports along the East Coast, like Miami, Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and New York. These ports and others have been preparing for the opening of the expanded canal by dredging deeper waterways and making room for more business. 

That is a correction, and it has the virtue of being, for the most part, true.  And we do not fault the Port for not growing container business at an exponential rate (geometric would be nice).  There are issues.  We get all that.

The problem is that there was a lot of time to plan and market, and we were told we were preparing (apparently others prepared better) and it would all be fine (even though it was obvious it wouldn’t).  But nothing has really changed (even with the bigger cranes at the Port), except the big ships can just go to Miami or other ports that can take them, which also seems to decrease the utility of transshipments (though maybe not).  We are glad the Port is being more realistic about the canal expansion, but that should have been the way it was all along.

Moreover, given all that, we are not sure why the Port is spending so much time doing vision plans for real estate development downtown when there are already big real estate plans in the private sector with which the Port would compete (see below) – and when they are asking for $200 million in public money for infrastructure.   Shouldn’t they be focusing on the port part of the port business?  On the shipbuilding?  On finding more manufacturers to locate at the port?  On really growing the container business, where the money is?  Port Tampa (Bay) may be the largest port in Florida by land (we are not sure) or maybe tonnage, but not by trade value and probably not revenue. (And why are we not actively working on Cuba trade?) We can do much better.

And we are not sure why, if New York and New Jersey can handle ports, airports, development, and some roads together, Hillsborough and Manatee can’t get together and manage the ports on the bay in a way that maximizes the potential of the whole area and grows the regional pie rather than having this area compete with itself for a smaller slice of pie. (Once again, a real job of the new Tampa Bay Partnership.)

We are all for growing the Port.  We are all for growing this area.  But, as with many issues, this issue has been subject to a lot of hype that ignores or downplays obvious issues.  As we have noted many times, this hype leads to inflated expectations that plainly will not be met while simultaneously making people think we are farther along than we really are.

That does not mean there aren’t good things.  There are.  They just tend not to be quite as superlative as they are portrayed or they stand in isolation.  While perfect should not be the enemy of very good (and we are fine with very good being the enemy of the ok), we can do way better, and that starts with honest discussions of where we are and where we need to get.

Tampa, and the Tampa Bay area, deserves it.

Downtown/West Tampa/Tampa Heights/Channel District – Talking Projects

Maybe it is a slow news cycle (though it doesn’t seem like one) or maybe there is a concerted push somewhere to advertise downtown Tampa, but for whatever reason both the Times and the Business Journal ran articles on the big proposals in and around downtown (though they defined them differently).  The Times ran an article, really more of a list of what was in each, involving the Heights and the Lightning owner’s project.

The Business Journal did basically the same but included the theoretical Port project and the “West River” project that still, as far as we can tell, has not shown final plans of what will actually be built.   Nevertheless, the Business Journal article involved some numbers by a local realtor, which are helpfully included in this chart:

From the Business Journal – click on chart for article

What you can see right away is how not dense the West River project is for the amount of land it uses.  We understand it may not be “downtown” density, but, based on this list, it is really not very dense for an urban area, which has been an issue from the start.

The chart also conveniently tells us that the Port’s concept is actually the biggest proposal, making us wonder again why anyone would support using public land that now has a maritime use and involving a lot of public money just to compete with as of yet unbuilt privately projects nearby – especially when you can just bank that public land until the rest of the area is built out and the public, waterfront land becomes that much more valuable.

As you think about that, you can also contemplate this:

His findings show a city center that will become increasingly dense in the next decade, if all four developments come to fruition as proposed — 12,000 residential units within 1.4 miles, from the West River redevelopment to Port Tampa Bay’s waterfront real estate. It’s highly unusual, if not unprecedented, to see that kind of urban density in the Southeastern U.S., Earhardt said. 

Yes, assuming all the projects get built, downtown will be much more built up (though, as noted, some parts much denser than others).  Even if only a couple get built, it would be more built up and better.  Whether that is unprecedented in the southeast is another question altogether.  Atlanta has that density.  Miami does.  Other cities are getting there.  It may become quite normal – and without transit it will be quite messy to get around.  Already the least attractive feature of all the developments is the massive area used for parking garages (or surface parking).  Which leads to this observation from the Lightning owner’s city planner in an 83 degrees media piece:

“If you can’t connect the walkable neighborhoods to each other, then those people who want the walkable lifestyle, and who also want access to all their city has to offer, will buy cars,” says Speck. “Then the city reshapes itself more around driving, so transit plays a very important role.”

* * *

“Frankly, transit never functions particularly well in the absence of walkable neighborhoods because if you can’t exit the train or bus into a walking area, then you need to have a car once you get there,” says Speck. “The work we’re doing at the district to create a neighborhood in which you exit the vehicle and be totally effective on foot is the first step to creating a more robust transit system.”

Which goes to both planning and investment priorities – and the need to get transit sorted out around downtown now to avoid the mess such development will create without it, especially if it draws people who do not live downtown  (They should have asked him about the effect on walkability of 18 lane freeways through urban areas.)

Regardless, none of it is built now (though the Armature Works is being renovated). The real question is how much of this will actually get done.  Hopefully most of it (we still think the Port should focus on being a port), with some useful tweaks and real transit.  Time will tell.  Done properly, it could be very cool.

Downtown/Channel District – Chill

Speaking of the Lightning owner’s project:

Tampa’s city council will discuss at its regular meeting Thursday whether to approve an agreement with Strategic Property Partners to lay pipes under downtown roads and begin constructing a chilled water distribution plant. The central cooling plant will be used to air condition dozens of buildings that will come online as part of a $2 billion major overhaul of 40 acres in Tampa’s urban core.

SPP, the real estate firm owned by Vinik and capital investment firm Cascade Investments LLC, will begin $35 million worth of roadwork construction next month which tentatively includes the chilled water plant, a key part of Vinik’s vision for a walkable, sustainable urban district designed to make those who live and work there more healthy.

* * *

This central cooling plant will house 20 to 25 water chillers at a distribution center that will be built at the northwest corner of the intersection of East Cumberland and South Nebraska avenues. Cold water will run to buildings like the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, a new hotel and the Amalie Arena, through a series of underground pipes and will be used to control temperatures inside.

“Our goal is use this distribution center to cool the entire project, including USF and Amalie, which we do not own,” said Courtland Corbino, vice president of development for SPP. “The underground piping will allow us to connect to existing downtown buildings and new ones we develop at any time once we lay this framework.”

This system frees up the rooftops, which are usually obstructed by traditional air conditioning units. That means rooftop spaces could become parking garages with solar panels on top, or parks, or even restaurants, Corbino said.

Of course, they gave first approval to it, which is fine with us (like there is even a question on second reading).   Though the first thing we thought is what if the project gets broken up after it is built?

SPP will construct, maintain and operate the chilled water plant. The city is considering a 30-year agreement that would require SPP to pay a fee based on how much pipe they lay. If SPP decides to sell chilled water services to other developments, the city will get a cut of the revenues.

The new cooling system will be installed by Tampa Bay Trane, a local air conditioning company that has installed other plants in the area. The cooling plant design is in line with Vinik’s vision for a health and wellness centric district for Tampa. The central cooling plant will use 30 to 40 percent less energy and water than more typical units used to cool buildings. Because it’s more efficient, it will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

We are not clear on all the financial issue, but the concept sounds good.  Once again, it seems that the Lightning owner is looking at a larger picture.  There is also this:

Construction of the central cooling facility will begin this summer along with roadway and infrastructure work.

Which is cool, and makes sense given that the USF building needs it.  It also is a good sign.  There has been a lot of talk about this project and we know planning such a large project takes time, but it will be good to see something actually get built, even if it is just utilities to start.

— One More Thing

One thing that is a bit odd is this:

Several tenants in Channelside Bay Plaza will close in the coming weeks after the plaza’s new ownership issued eviction notices.

We get clearing out space.  And we get removing tenants that do not keep up on their rent.  But a store in that article seems to be a relatively long time tenant that stayed while the plaza struggled.

Qachbal’s Chocolatier, located near the tunnel on the first floor of the plaza, opened in December 2005, shortly before the recession. In recent years, the store has struggled while waiting for redevelopment plans to materialize. Qachbal said members of the SPP real estate team initially encouraged her to stay on and told her that her chocolate shop was valuable to the plaza.

“For four years we hung on when we could have been looking for something else,” she said.

In the article SPP, the Lightning owner’s company, does not tell us why those stores are being removed or what is going to replace them.  We understand that changes are coming and we understand that it might involve some evictions.  We just hope it is done right and with the history in mind.

And we look forward to this:

“SPP plans to share refined, long-term opportunities for Channelside Bay Plaza with Port Tampa Bay this summer. In the interim, we are pursuing every activation opportunity — including opening the wharf to the public, special events and pop ups,” she said.

We’ll see what they come up with.

Bayshore – Some More Details

While there was no big news regarding the proposed condo where the Colonnade was, there were some new drawings:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

To be honest, they do not add much other than showing the proposed height is 285 feet (and you can see the very small door facing Bayshore in the bottom left of the first drawing).  Then again, it is nice to post drawings every now and then. (Also the 2907 Bay-to-Bay condo project was approved – no surprise) Hopefully, the condo market will stay strong enough to get it built.

West Tampa – Generic

Sometimes, it is not as nice to post drawings, like the Richman project near the armory.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Well, at least there seems to be a recognizable door (though it says “Clubhouse” so we are not sure if that is the front).  Other than that, no retail, pretty generic.  Mind you, we are not looking for artistry.  We get that many projects will just be relatively cookie cutter (and hope the mold is a good one), but this is right next to the renovated armory and right next to one of the most interesting old cigar factories (that hopefully will get renovated).  They could have done something a little more.

Ybor City – New and Old

There was an interesting article on Ybor City involving one of the old mutual aid societies.

The Marti-Maceo Club has been a fixture in Ybor City since the early 1900s as a gathering spot for Tampa’s Afro-Cuban population.

In more recent years, its focus has shifted to preserving the culture and way of life of Tampa’s Cuban population, hosting happy hours and salsa evenings with Latin bands.

Now, club leaders say its future is under threat from a neighboring development project they say will make the Seventh Avenue location inaccessible for up to a year during construction. They fear it will starve the club of revenue from events like weddings and fundraisers that have kept it afloat even as membership has dwindled to about 80.

The project fueling those fears is The Marti, a four-story development of 100 apartments and 8,000 square feet of street level retail planned for a parking lot that the club leases from the city.

The lease agreement for that lot expires next year. In October, the Tampa City Council agreed to its sale to Ybor City developer Ariel Quintela and BluePearl Veterinary chain CEO Darryl Shaw for $792,000.

In addition to the loss of parking spaces, club president Sharon Gomez said the development will take away an alley on the north side of the club used by members to access it from Nuccio Parkway.

We are all for developing Ybor City, though we have wondered many times why the City is in such a rush to divest itself of all the public land it can, especially when there are ample private projects on privately held land:

The Marti is one of five apartment and mixed-use projects that Quintela and Shaw are developing in Ybor City. Other projects include the conversion of the old Oliva Cigar Factory, the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn and the former Blues Ship Café.

Plus a number of other projects by other developers, so what was the City’s rush?  And why did the City not ensure in the agreement with the developer to protect the historic mutual aid society?

Bob McDonaugh, Tampa’s economic opportunity administrator, said the project has been a challenge for the developers since it must fit within three quarters of a street block. The developers have been working with the club to minimize the impact, including setting the building back from the club, he said.

“Setting the building back made sure the mural was still visible,” McDonaugh said.

Which doesn’t do much if the club can’t pay its bills.  We get that it is a more humble building than the other mutual aid societies, but that does not detract from its history.  As we have said before, monuments and history walks are nice – actual history is nicer.  If the City had to develop this property now (which it clearly did not – the property would only have become more valuable over time – and there is the potential for a baseball stadium right across the street), the least it should make sure to have arrangements to help the Marti-Maceo club survive to development process.

St. Pete Rising – Most Likely

Admittedly, we do not cover St. Pete that much.  Every now and then something piques our interest.  As those who follow such things know, the cheese grater building in downtown St. Pete, which actually was a rather nice old building that was covered up with metal crap to make it more “modern” – like many buildings in local downtowns.  In any event, the ownership of that building was a bit complex, there was a deal to sell it, there was a historic preservation issue, then the deal finally got worked out.  So the new owner gave everyone a peek at his development idea:

New York’s Red Apple Group is returning to the Florida market in a big way — its plans for a prime block in downtown St. Petersburg include what could be one of the tallest buildings on Florida’s west coast.

“St. Pete needs a skyline,” John Catsimatidis, the company’s billionaire owner, said in a phone interview Thursday.

Red Apple, which is under contract to buy the block of 400 Central Avenue, released a rendering of a sleek tower that Catsimatidis said would be about the height of ONE St. Petersburg, the 41-story building under construction a few blocks farther east on Central.

Although his project is still in the preliminary stages, Catsimatidis said it will be a mixed-used development that could include residences as well as the hotel and office space that Mayor Rick Kriseman is pushing for. 

From the Times – click on picture for article

It is early days on this project, but we like where he is heading.  We shall see what happens.

Economic Development – Some Nice News

– Small Win

This week there as news of a small win for downtown:

BeniComp Insurance Co., a supplemental group health insurance company, has relocated its headquarters from Fort Wayne, Ind., to downtown Tampa.

Initially, nine members of the firm’s executive team will move to the new headquarters at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. The company plans to add at least three more full-time employees over the next year.

BeniComp will also maintain its Fort Wayne offices, where it currently employs 40.

Ok, fewer than 15 people, but that’s ok.  Every job is welcome.

— Bigger Win

A more interesting win was this:

A combined $700,000 in state and local financial incentives helped persuade Bertram Yacht to locate its international headquarters in south Tampa.

Bertram, one of the most well-known names in the boating industry, plans to create 140 new jobs with a $35 million capital investment at its new corporate office and manufacturing facility at 5300 W. Tyson Ave., a statement from Gov. Rick Scott said.

It is nice to get a headquarters and some manufacturing. That makes us happy. (It will be interesting to see how this fits in the neighborhood if it gets as developed as all the proposals for it.)

TIA/Economic Development – Interesting But Not Yet

There was a little new item about the airport business that may be interesting in the long term.

PEMCO World Air Services has been selected to provide maintenance and repair work on a new generation of Mitsubishi aircraft, the companies announced Tuesday.

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. has signed a letter of intent with Tampa-based PEMCO, one of three companies chosen to provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services.

PEMCO will provide airframe-related MRO services to North American clients of Mitsubishi who use its Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) aircraft. Those services will include heavy checks, structural repairs, modifications and warranty work.

Which is cool, though how big a deal is this?

The two companies did not reveal the financial figures of the proposed agreement. MRJ is comprised of aircraft that seats 70 to 90 passengers. There have been more than 400 aircraft orders, and Nagoya, Japan-based Mitsubishi Aircraft plans to deliver the first of these planes aircraft in mid-2018 to All Nippon Airways.

So we don’t really know, but it is better than not having it, especially given the company came back from bankruptcy.

Transportation – Some Things to Consider

– Don’t Go Planning for That Autonomous Experience Quite Yet

There was a very interesting editorial in the New York Times regarding self-driving cars.

It wouldn’t be fair to tar all of the growing self-driving industry with Mr. Musk’s braggadocio. Nonetheless, his technological over-promising fits into a common narrative in Silicon Valley: The major engineering problems with self-driving cars have essentially been solved, and their widespread adoption is inevitable. Ask “when?” and you’ll usually be told, “Much sooner than you think.”

Some lawmakers are even talking about scaling back investments in mass transit, which they claim will be unnecessary in a world full of robot chauffeurs.

Aware of the conventional wisdom that robotic cars are about to cause an epochal “disruption,” automakers are eager to demonstrate that they are fully engaged. A result has been a drumbeat of announcements auguring the imminent arrival of robotic cars, almost as though they were the next generation of iPhones. The breathless statements are especially beguiling for members of the public without the engineering background required to understand the challenges that remain. In other words, most people.

Sound pretty familiar.  But . . .

Motorways and freeways are the low-hanging fruit of autonomous driving; everyone is moving in one direction at the same relative speed, and there are no pesky pedestrians to get in the way. Much of what is passed off today as “autonomous driving” is some variation of this sort of advanced cruise control.

But there is an elephant in the cab with even this rudimentary form of autonomy. Many companies are planning cars that, in the event of an emergency, hand back control to the human driver. (Google, a notable exception, plans a car with no steering wheel or brake pedal.) The potentially fatal weakness of this strategy is that it assumes “drivers” will be paying attention at the split second they are most needed, instead of being busy, say, taking a nap.

The much harder, and still mainly unsolved, autonomous driving problem involves not highways but cities, with all their chaos and complexity. Self-driving cars still struggle with simple potholes; no one has come even close to demonstrating a completely driverless car that could do the work of a Manhattan taxi driver on a rainy day.

The sad reality of autonomous car technology is that the easy parts of have yet to be proven safe, and the hard parts have yet to be proven possible. We’re nowhere close to Silicon Valley’s automotive “Tomorrowland.”

The most realistic industry projection about the arrival of autonomous driving comes from the company that’s done the most to make it possible. Google, while never explicitly saying so, has long intimated that self-driving cars would be available by the end of the decade.

In February, though, a Google car caused its first accident; a bus collision with no injuries. A few weeks later, Google made a significant, if little-noted, schedule adjustment. Chris Urmson, the project director, said in a presentation that the fully featured, truly go-anywhere self-driving car that Google has promised might not be available for 30 years, though other much less capable models might arrive sooner.

And here is news of the Google announcement.  Including this tidbit:

Not only might it take much longer to arrive than the company has ever indicated—as long as 30 years, said Urmson—but the early commercial versions might well be limited to certain geographies and weather conditions. Self-driving cars are much easier to engineer for sunny weather and wide-open roads, and Urmson suggested the cars might be sold for those markets first.

Guess what.  Our roads are crowded, and it rains very hard for a big chunk of the year.  While the idea of autonomous cars should be taken into account in planning, there is no way to know if, when, or how much the technology will change things.  It cannot be relied upon as a panacea to a transportation issues.

– What Transit Needs

This seemed like a good place to put a link to this article from Citylab.com about what transit riders want.    It is based on a survey, with caveats at the end of the article.  But the real keys are frequency, speed, and walkability.  By that measure there is no reason to think that the present transit in this area, such as it is, would be a success.

We need to do much better.

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