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Roundup 10-14-2015

October 14, 2016


Transportation – TBX is What We thought It Was

Transportation – What’s Old is New, Again

Transportation – Clarity, Please

Bayshore – Phase Three

Transportation – Just Get Rid of It

— And One More Thing

International Trade/Latin America/Transportation – Cuba Flights

Economic Development – Can We Get Some A/C?


Due to time constraints, this week’s Roundup is a bit abbreviated.

Transportation – TBX is What We thought It Was

We have been saying for a while that TBX was going to at least double the width of the interstate right through the heart of the “InVision Tampa” area that the City says it wants to revitalize, and that it made no sense for the City to support it.

This week, FDOT gave a presentation to the City Council where (per Sunshine Citizens) they gave us this slide:

From Sunshine Citizens - click on picture for Facebook page

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

It is a little hard to see, but the TBX interstate is everything in the horizontal dotted lines (the vertical dotted lines tell you basically how wide it will be).  That covers a lot of that apparent grass (or whatever it is that is supposed to be green) and that parking and runs right against Julian Lane Park .

Nothing says connecting “west river” to the park like a huge interstate (and remember that wide interstate bisects all of the “InVision Tampa” area). And nothing says really expensive, redone park like a hulking highway getting bigger (not to mention the possible exit on Boulevard and all the traffic/congestion that will put right in front of, and, to some degree, through the park).  We still are waiting for the Mayor to explain how he can support doubling the width of the interstate through an area that the City is spending so much time trying to make walkable and urban (though we admit it certainly is a unique idea these days).

As we always say, yes, some elements of TBX are good (though the more we learn the less good they seem – like the bottleneck fix we discussed recently).  However, when you really look at it, TBX, as a whole, there is so much that is bad.  Even with the Howard Frankland fiasco, we doubt there is real political will to take the good and chuck the stupid.  But you never know.

From the City Council meeting today, after asking for economic impact numbers (which FDOT did not have but we assume that, when they produce the numbers, they will be stellar):

With no economic information to discuss, council members shifted their attention to other questions about the project. Suarez asked the state to study whether the toll lanes could be elevated, as with the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. Council member Harry Cohen pressed for more details about what the reconstructed Howard Frankland Bridge would look like. Council member Charlie Miranda encouraged the state to do a better job educating politicians and the public about the plan.

“The message we’re sending is so convoluted,” Miranda said. “I don’t think anybody has any idea what’s going on.”

We wouldn’t say anybody, but it is still not clear that most local officials actually know what is in the rest of the plan.

Transportation – What’s Old is New, Again

Somethings never change.  Among those is that we need to think far more regionally about transportation (and a whole mess of other issues).  That has been proposed many times, but nothing has happened.  So, the ideas keep coming.

As the Tampa Bay region struggles to improve its transportation system, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long on Tuesday unveiled what she called a “big, bold, visionary” plan to alleviate the area’s woes.

Long proposed consolidating the bay area’s alphabet soup of transportation agencies: the Metropolitan Planning Organizations in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties; the area’s bus agencies, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Regional Transit Authority; and the regional planning groups, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

“The crisis is here,” Long said, adding she does not support creating a new organization with taxing authority. “The synergy is perfectly lined up between Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco … if we combine them, we’ll have a win-win.”

The crisis has been here for years, and we are not sure there are any synergies (there is even a question whether there are synergies within counties.)  Nevertheless, we are all for a more regional approach.

For two years, Long has worked on the plan with St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy and Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas. The trio have solicited input from state and local officials and business leaders. But more outreach is needed in Pasco County, Blanton said. Long plans to schedule meetings to brief other local leaders in the coming weeks.

Other Pinellas commissioners offered support but said the conversation should include elected leaders across the region. Commissioner Karen Seel called on a joint meeting of the three county commissions.

That sounds quite preliminary but you have to start somewhere (though, for all the regionalism rhetoric, we never seem to get past the starting stage)  Other areas work regionally, we should as well.  And there is extra incentive.

The move comes on the heels of the federal government’s insistence on one regional set of transportation priorities similar to those serving metro areas such as Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The government wants one regional plan that would cover 20 years of expected growth in overlapping metro areas. Local leaders would have two years to devise a plan once the federal rules are finalized.

FDOT says it.  The Feds say it.  Yet, somehow, it just doesn’t happen.

Meanwhile, Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough MPO, said the leaders of the region’s planning organizations have discussed a similar concept for years.

“There’s a lot of history behind this conversation,” Alden said. “We have one regional plan. We have one regional planing [sic] list.”

First, we don’t have a real list.  We have a partial list of road plans.  Second, as shown by the Howard Frankland fiasco, it is not clear most local officials, including those who vote on it and even planners, even know what is that partial plan.

Last month, Hillsborough County Commission chairman Les Miller sent a two-page letter to the federal Department of Transportation saying the county supports and promotes regional approaches to decision making.

But any such move to consolidate would need support from state and federal lawmakers and dozens of commissioners, mayors and council members across the region.

Elected leaders often talk about the spirit of regional cooperation for transportation, but those efforts have been rebuffed in recent years.

Who exactly rebuffed those efforts? It’s not like transportation gnomes got in the way. The fault is squarely on those same local officials, most of whom keep talking about the. To some degree, we get it.  If things are done regionally, local officials might have to make hard choices and their voice (and power bases) will get diluted.  Some people will get upset.  Still, the area needs a regional approach and a real regional organization is the best way to do it.

HART CEO Katharine Eagan said she has talked with Long since 2015 about transportation issues. Eagan, who has worked at transit agencies in Maryland and Texas, said local leaders must work together to move the region forward. Long’s plan merits more discussions, he added.

“A council of governments can be a very big step forward,” Eagan said. “We clearly have an opportunity to do better.”

Yea, we can do better.  But we could have done better for decades and never did, while other areas moved forward.  We could have worked to merging HART and PSTA, but local officials got in the way (especially HART).

The talk is good, but we are not going to hold our breath.  Though we would welcome being surprised by a new seriousness on the topic.

And, really, even if there is a regional group, it will be meaningless if it just rubber stamps questionable plans (that it has not read) like the MPO and TBX.  The key is to have more seriousness and less rhetoric.

Transportation – Clarity, Please

As we have said before, one of the major problems with discussions of transit in this area is that terms and concepts get all mixed together so it is very hard to keep track of what any proposal really means or what it will do, especially for those who don’t focus on such things.  There was a great example in the Times column about the streetcar:

I am here to check out an ambitious plan to see if Tampa’s historic streetcars — what critics would call our most charming boondoggle — can morph from underused, expensive, inefficient tourist kitsch to legitimate commuter option. For six months, the electric trolley cars will begin service at 7 a.m. — instead of just getting started at lunch — in hopes of ferrying residents and workers through downtown, the Channel District and Ybor City.

Actual Mayor Bob Buckhorn has gamely agreed to join me for an early-morning ride. It is not a great PR moment when the machine that dispenses trolley passes — $2.50 for a single ride, $5 all day, and a deeply discounted 20-ride pass for those who live or work close by — stubbornly refuses his dollar bills.

As we sip our Starbucks from a nearby hotel and wait near Greco — trolleys come every half hour — the mayor talks about troubles over the past 14 years: inadequately managed and funded, a service that started before downtown’s current boom and should have been designed as a commuter option from the get-go. “Now everyone who opposed mass transit uses the trolley as an example,” he says.

* * *

“From a transit perspective, the streetcar’s a gem,” Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority CEO Katharine Eagan says when I call. All around the country, mayors want them — “not because it’s cute, but because it’s an instant sense of place,” she says. “You have a track, you have a station. You have a somewhere.” Some boosters see it one day reaching into Tampa Heights, the reviving neighborhood north of downtown, which seems appropriate, given the streetcar’s place in Tampa history going back more than a century.

“I think this effort to encourage commuters is the right thing to do,” the mayor says.

The Mayor actually properly identifies the problem.  Opponents to mass transit point to problems with the streetcar, which, as it exists, is not mass transit – it is a tourist attraction. Before we go further, let us make clear, we are all for making the streetcar a useful transportation, rather than a tourist focused, option.  Eventually, it should be part of a coordinated system.

But it isn’t and a slight change in schedule, welcome as it is, should not be held out as really changing that.  Even with the changes, the streetcar as it exists has nothing to do with “commuters.”  It may have to do with a small group of people going to and from work, but they are not what are normally thought of as commuters. Doing a quick Google search, we did not find a legal definition for commuter, but we did find one for “commuter bus service”:

Commuter bus service means fixed route bus service, characterized by service predominantly in one direction during peak periods, limited stops, use of multi-ride tickets, and routes of extended length, usually between the central business district and outlying suburbs. Commuter bus service may also include other service, characterized by a limited route structure, limited stops, and a coordinated relationship to another mode of transportation.

And one for “commuter rail service:”

Commuter rail transportation means short-haul rail passenger service operating in metropolitan and suburban areas, whether within or across the geographical boundaries of a state, usually characterized by reduced fare, multiple ride, and commutation tickets and by morning and evening peak period operations. This term does not include light or rapid rail transportation.

Read together, it is clear that commuters, for the purpose of transit (and normal conversation), are people going to work to a business district from home in a suburban area.  Ybor and the Channel District are not suburban areas. Really, if you can walk the distance in about ½ an hour, it is not a commute.  You are just going to work near where you live.

So why does this matter?  Because of what the Mayor said. When there is talk about various ideas – high speed rail, light rail, DMU, commuter rail, streetcars, and, yes, even BRT – people need to understand the discussion.  When language is not precise, it creates confusion in both expectations and solution.

The last thing we need in our transportation discussion is more confusion.  Not only does it make it harder for people to evaluate ideas, it makes it easier for opponents to attack an idea, no matter how good.

Regarding the streetcar, there are not going to be thousands of people riding the streetcar in the morning on the way to work downtown from the Channel District or Ybor– at least not any time soon.  But when there is talk about commuters, people think I-275 traffic, so there are not thousands of riders, it is easy to criticize the streetcar’s new hours.   Such talk is just confusing and counterproductive. (The Mayor is knowledgeable enough to know the difference in technologies and clearly knows the problem with expectations and clarity so we are not sure why he is not being precise).

If we are ever to get anywhere on transportation, we need clarity so ideas can be evaluated on their merits rather than hype and emotion.

Bayshore – Phase Three

There is a new proposal for phase three of the Crescent Bayshore/Two Bayshore project, per URBN Tampa Bay:

Dinerstein Cos. is proposing a 12-story tower at 319 Bayshore Blvd., adjacent to 2Bayshore, the complex that sold for a record-setting $303,814 per apartment in 2014.

Dinerstein’s plans call for 130 units and 225 parking spaces. The unit mix would include 22 efficiency units; 93 one- and two-bedroom units; and 15 three-bedroom units.

The tower will be 122 feet or 12 stories, which is an increase over the 98 feet originally approved for that site. Dinerstein is asking the city to approve a non-substantial change request for a taller building.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is what URBN Tampa Bay had to say:

We oppose the project on the grounds of no retail, but due to the fact that the project is merely seeking a non-substantial change request and not a rezoning request, the project will have no hearing and is likely to move forward.

Like URBN Tampa Bay, we would really like to see some retail (maybe a nice restaurant with nice views) on the part of Bayshore near downtown. (It even looks like retail should be in the building) The area is fairly dense and scenic.  It seems quite a good location for something nice.  But, as noted above, there is no need for a hearing and no requirements for retail or anything else related to good design either (it is Tampa).

Which makes us wonder about this:

The property is one of the most valuable urban infill sites in Tampa, if not the entire state. Besides its position on Bayshore Boulevard and proximity to Tampa General Hospital and downtown Tampa, there’s an immediate precedent of success in that location. The adjacent apartment development, 2Bayshore, opened in 2014 with rental rates that were a new high watermark for Tampa at the time, $2.32 per square foot.

If the location is so valuable, why is something so underwhelming (basically generic filler) proposed and acceptable for it?

This project may be ok somewhere else (though retail would still be nice), but this is supposedly such a valuable lot.  We understand that the developers are a business and will likely just quickly build, sell, and cash in.  Who can blame them?  If Tampa does not care enough about Tampa, especially its “signature blocks,” to require better, why should a developer do any more?

Transportation – Just Get Rid of It

There was to be a vote about the great PTC ridesharing compromise. Then:

On Thursday, Crist told the Tampa Bay Business Journal he was looking into whether or not he should cancel the meeting because too many commissioners may miss it. The meeting conflicted with a Tampa City Council meeting. Two of the seven board members are council members, Guido Maniscalco and Frank Reddick.

However, Crist also said there were concerns that Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham and Temple Terrace City Council member David Pogorilich wouldn’t be there.

Actually, they were going to be there, but whatever.  What are another few weeks in the ongoing saga?  And if you think passing the compromise would end the saga, when the present Chairman resigns,

The appointed PTC chair controls any negotiations with companies and schedules agenda items.

There doesn’t seem to be much consensus of who will take that role. Crist said he hasn’t decided if he’ll nominate someone when it comes up, which will be at the Nov. 9 board meeting. He did say his preference would be Kilton, and that he’d also support Maniscalco.

You are sadly mistaken.  Once again, all other counties function without a PTC and somehow work it out.  It is not like it has brought clarity to our rules. It makes no sense for us to be saddled with it.

— And One More Thing

There was some related news from the Lightning.  First, a little background:

The Tampa Bay Lightning open the 2016-17 season on Thursday with a home game against the Detroit Red Wings — and the team is already winning off the ice.

There are 14,600 season ticket holders this year, between suites and full-season equivalent packages (full-season equivalents measure full and partial season ticket packages). The capacity of Amalie Arena for hockey games is 19,092.

In 2015, there were 13,500 season ticket holders — an increase of 35 percent over 2014, a jump driven largely by a playoff run that went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.

An arena packed to the gills with loyal fans is a very different scenario from when owner Jeff Vinik bought the team in 2010. The team was hemorrhaging money and had fewer than 4,000 season ticket holders that year.

And that does not even include sponsor revenue.  So what does that have to do with the PTC and ridesharing?

So on the eve of its new season, the team on Wednesday announced a new partnership with rideshare giant Uber. Two lanes on Channelside Drive outside the arena will be designated for Uber drivers to pick up fans after home games.

Just one problem: Ridesharing in Hillsborough County is still regarded as illegal by the Public Transportation Commission, which has fought a two-year battle in and out of court with Uber and its main competitor, Lyft.

The two firms have refused to comply with regulations that govern for-hire vehicles like taxicabs. PTC officers frequently hand out $700 fines to their drivers for operating without insurance and permits.

That raises the question of whether the Lightning is undermining the PTC by encouraging Uber drivers to flout the law. The team’s deal with Uber also pre-empts a critical PTC vote on Nov. 9 that could affect the future of ridesharing in Hillsborough.

The deal does not preempt anything.  The PTC can still go against the consumers and the business community.  It can ignore the Lightning owner as the biggest investor in downtown. (Just like the County Commission ignores him on transit.)  And it can continue to show that it has no good justification for its existence.

International Trade/Latin America/Transportation – Cuba Flights

There was news about Cuba flights.

Starting today, Southwest Airlines will begin selling $59 one-way tickets for daily flights from Tampa International Airport to Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

The initial flight takes off Monday, Dec. 12. It will be the first commercial flight in more than five decades between the two cities.

“It is exciting to connect people to the things in their lives that are important to them, and this is important to Tampa,” said Adam Decaire, managing director of network planning for Southwest Airlines.

Initially, one 75-minute direct flight will depart from Tampa each day at 6:15 a.m. Flights back to Tampa will depart at either 6:05 p.m. or 11:15 p.m. 

Good deal.

Economic Development – Can We Get Some A/C?

We rarely venture into the issues at the school board (and we are not going to get into details now).  Those issues tend to go off on all sorts of tangents that do not concern us.  But, recently, we have seen a number of articles that have given us pause in a broader context.

What does a public school air-conditioning crisis sound like?

Like someone is finally listening to Chris Farkas, the district’s chief operating officer, who has been warning about this for years — the futility of borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to build 80 schools, then failing to perform the basic maintenance that the rest of us try to do in our homes. Now the technicians are so busy rebooting failed systems that there is no time for that preventative maintenance. So many new systems are needed that, even if money were unlimited, there would not be enough vendors.

The problem is widespread across the county, impacting old schools and new, suburban and urban alike. In the first six weeks of the school year, the district got 5,600 requests for air-conditioning repair, more than double the requests it got over this same period five years ago.

District leaders, eager to tout ongoing repairs, post a glowing article onto their website, subtitled “Cold Hard Facts.”

That is quite a surprise.  This is Florida.  How can you have schools without adequate a/c?

The Hillsborough County School District is neglecting its buildings, wasting money by failing to use modern technology for payroll and purchasing, and making inefficient use of its school buses, according to a new report on the district’s finances.

The report says things are so bad in the facilities department that most school buildings are in poor shape and the district will need to spend more than $100 million a year just to keep them from getting worse.

The 229-page document that School Board members will review at a workshop Tuesday morning lists dozens of recommendations, from changing out light bulbs to save $1.5 million in energy costs to re-adjusting start times so every bus can serve three schools.

The report cost about $900,000 (of course).  If the school board can follow its recommendation and save millions a year while improving results, great.  But will all the cutbacks and lack of investment lead to improving results? We don’t know.

The bigger question is how could this come to pass? What has been going on all these years, including during the superintendent crisis (and all the support the previous superintendent got from certain quarters, see here and here), that allowed this mess?  Why was it not addressed earlier? Where was real oversight?

As we said in the beginning, we try to avoid school issues, and we are not going to get into all the details.  So why are we bringing this up now?  Because how do you convince a company to move its HQ to Tampa when you can’t even provide a/c in your schools?  Isn’t education a HUGE factor in relocations (along with transportation)?  This is absolutely basic.

We have no transportation plan.  The schools have limited a/c and lack money. We are supposedly a booming area poised for greatness. What kind of economic development program, not to mention governance, is that?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Marcus Motes permalink
    October 17, 2016 2:08 PM

    Hi there,

    I work for an HVAC Tech startup focused on lowering HVAC procurement costs and improving HVAC maintenance. We’re headquartered in Tampa and our website is here:

    We participated in Y Combinator, and we are currently participating in a Commercial Real Estate Tech Startup Accelerator in New York City: Here’s a startup pitch competition we won two weeks ago in NYC:

    Feel free to share the article about our win and tie it into HCPS’s HVAC issues, but also how it relates to “keeping companies in Tampa”. The question of “…how do you convince a company to move its HQ to Tampa when you can’t even provide a/c in your schools?” really hit home.

    The question we ask ourselves is “why should we stay?” So far we don’t have very good reasons why.

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