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Roundup 2-2-2018

February 2, 2018

Due to unforeseen circumstances, this week’s Roundup is a bit abbreviated

Contents

Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Rays – Maybe Something Soon

Airport – Keep Growing

Port – More Cruising

USF – This Isn’t How You Do It

Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street

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Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

Last week, we discussed the Express Bus plan put forward by the consultants doing the Regional Transit Feasibility Study. (See “Transportation – It Is What We Thought It Was”) In that discussion, we discussed five issues that were clear from the outset, which you can see in more detail in last week’s Roundup.  They can be summed up thus:

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

In addition, we mentioned other problems.  For instance, frequency is unknown but key.  It is unclear how to pay for it.  Additionally, to make this system work will require a wholesale revamping of our present, underfunded system, which will cost even more money.

Interestingly, there were a number of follow-up articles in the media that raised similar points.  We’ll discuss three articles: two which feature BRT advocates and one featuring a planner.

First, it should be noted that discussing BRT is a bit complicated because, from the Times:

Guzzetti said there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for BRT. Most BRT lines vary greatly between cities, with leaders picking and choosing what factors work best for their communities: building new lanes, making use of existing lanes, adding signal prioritization to let buses coast through lights, or using a dozen other options to create a robust system.

Which basically means BRT is almost anything involving buses that you want to call “BRT,” like MetroRapid was. (See “Transportation – Waiting for the Bus”)

That’s why project supporters such as Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans have turned to a list of BRT standards developed by the institute guidance. Because BRT can look so different from city to city, ITDP developed the standards as a tool to evaluate the quality of different systems.

(Note that the ITDP, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, promotes BRT.) You can find the online version of ITDP’s standards here. (You can use the scorecard to score the proposal for yourself.)

From the same Times article:

“We do see the watering down of projects as they go through the process,” said Michael Kodransky with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. “We see continued confusion over what is actual BRT and what equals improved bus service.”

That is true.  However, the basics of real BRT aren’t that hard: real dedicated lanes, real stations, real connections to useful locations and other transit, and real frequency.

Getting into the specific plan for our area:

The local plan to rely on existing asphalt, such as hardened interstate shoulders, isn’t an unusual one, Guzzetti said. In fact, it’s considered a best practice by transit experts.

“You’re taking advantage of the situation you have,” Guzzetti said of the shoulders. “That’s a smart thing to do.”

We agree that taking advantage of what you have is a smart thing to do (If you can make something good using it), but, while cheaper, using the shoulder is not the best system, nor is it what we consider BRT.  And, interestingly, a search of “shoulder” in the ITDP website brings three results, none having to do with operating on the highway shoulder. (For those interested, here is a guidance document on Bus on Shoulder operations from FDOT . Of particular interest is Section 4, starting on page 25 of the pdf.) But we’ll set that aside for a minute. How about other aspects?

. . . as for the buses using the managed toll lanes — a solution the Florida Department of Transportation favors that first surfaced with the now-defunct Tampa Bay Express plan — that’s a different matter.

A dedicated lane is the ultimate defining characteristic of BRT. And while it can look different depending on where it is, it should not include running buses in managed toll lanes, where they would occupy the same space as cars, motorcycles and other vehicles, at least in the institute’s eyes.

“If they’re sharing the lane, it’s not dedicated,” said Kodransky, the director of global and U.S. initiatives for ITDP, “The point is that the bus would get to flow as freely as it would with an underground metro.”

Another potential sticking point? Frequency. The proposed system is still in the early stages, but engineers predict buses would run every 15 minutes at peak travel times and every 30 minutes the rest of the day. That’s a far cry from the recommendations of ITDP, which suggests buses run at least 8 times an hour or about every seven minutes.

“Twenty minutes is not frequent, even for a regular bus,” Kodransky said. “If you’re in an urban area, having to wait 10 minutes is pretty terrible.”

* * *

Choosing where those stations are and what regions the line connects are keys to the project’s success, Kodransky said.

* * *

But if leaders really want to incentivize economic growth and development near stations, they can’t just put in a transit line and stop there, Guzzetti said.

Investments have to be made in the surrounding areas, along with building a true network that provides people transit options to get from the stations to the next place they need go. Examples could include an extended Tampa Streetcar or circulators running in the Westshore and USF areas.

“You can’t look back and say, ‘We built the BRT and it didn’t spark the development we hoped,’” Guzzetti said. “It’s not going to work without the economic activity around it, and how you bring in that activity is part of the magic. BRT is just one of the tools.”

Those are all good points. And an article in the 83 Degrees media generally extolling the benefits of BRT has this from the program director of the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute at USF’s CUTR (remember that organization whenever you hear someone from CUTR speaking on transit):

“Every three to five years we talk about it very seriously, ‘we’re going to build a light rail system,’ ” Hinebaugh says. “And here we are 33 years later. Bus rapid transit is something that has a better chance of getting funded and having the community get behind it. But a big thing to remember is this regional spine system. This is not the local system. This thing will not survive by itself. There has to be improvements to the PSTA, and the HART and the Pasco County systems at the local level to feed this and get people the last mile. This by itself won’t do it. There have to be major improvements to the transit systems.”

As we have said for a long time, everything is connected. We tend to think that BRT (and the present plan is less-than-BRT) will not make the best “spine,” but, setting aside the BRT definition for now, if we are going to build it, it needs to be done right.

And finally, there was an article in the Business Journal about the thoughts of a USF urban design professor:

First, the proposal is not a fixed system, which discourages lucrative transit-oriented development.

“The fixed part allows developers to be confident enough that they’ll actually go after development proposals,” Sabia said.

* * *

It also lacks consistency, Sabia said. Fully dedicated transit corridors offer a precise travel time.  The transit vehicles can’t be slowed down by congestion.  For example, the BRT plan would operate in express lanes along the Howard Frankland Bridge where people in cars could pay to use the same lanes.  Providing those lanes on a pay-per-use basis helps with consistency, but if traffic is bad enough, motorists who don’t mind paying for it could clog that corridor.

Other areas of the route would operate in shoulders.  That could slow buses down if emergency vehicles need to access the lane.

There’s also the issue of walkability. Interstates carve through neighborhoods separating people on one side from businesses on the other.

“You’re aligning [the transit] with something that naturally divides,” Sabia said. “Transit lines usually connect from all directions.”

Transit-oriented development should be within about a five-minute walk from stops, Sabia said.  With a bus that runs along one side of the interstate or in the median, riders would have to cross from one side to the other on pedestrian overpasses.

“So there goes your five minute walk, Sabia said.

Let’s review the points of agreement (or at least not clear disagreement): express lanes are a poor place to put BRT (But, as you can see from this 2014 PowerPoint, express buses in express lanes, which is what the proposed plan really is, has been a consideration for a while in this area.); you need frequency; the local bus system needs to be revamped; creating transit oriented development also requires investment.  The main disagreement is that the planner says interstate based systems and using the shoulders is a problem, but one BRT advocate says to use what you have, with the implication of using the shoulders.

The bottom line is that the issues we raised are the obvious issues, and they need to be addressed.  And, of course, the elephant in the room is money, not just money for the plan but also to revamp the entire local bus system (and expand and modernize the streetcar).  And don’t forget the political will to see it through.

Given all of the above, the real question becomes, is $400 million a fair amount for express bus service.  And, now that so many people who have for years pushed buses over rail have gotten their way, are they, and officials, going to invest the time, money, and effort (and political capital) to actually do it right?  Or will it just be another idea done on the cheap without full commitment just to say there is something?


Downtown – Riverwalk Place

There was more news about Riverwalk Place.  From the Business Observer:

The developer and partner Tower Realty Partners, of Orlando, hope to break ground on Riverwalk Place by the end of this year and have portions of the building occupied and its “skin” on in February 2021 — to take advantage of national television coverage of Tampa’s next hosting of the NFL Super Bowl.

Here are some details:

The “softened triangle”-shaped Riverwalk Place, being designed by architectural firm Gensler, is slated to contain roughly 200,000 square feet of Class A office space and 210 luxury condominiums.

Additionally, Feldman told FGCAR the project will contain as many as five restaurants and a rooftop bar, and have outdoor seating for roughly 200.

To accommodate that number, Feldman and Tower Realty are planning to double the width of the city’s Riverwalk that stretches in front of the pair’s property.

That description seems to fit with this rendering that has recently circulated (and we had a few weeks ago):

From drob44 at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

The article says the official renderings should be released in the next few months, but that has been the line for a while.

As for Water Street:

He also remains convinced that Strategic Property Partners, the Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investments partnership working to revamp a section of downtown Tampa with $3 billion worth of new residences, office and retail space and a University of South Florida medical school, won’t pose direct competition.

“We’re going for smaller users,  which does not mean low credit,” Feldman says. “We’re a more boutique play. Our floor plates for the office space are 14,000 square feet. That Vinik-proofs us. They’re going after corporate tenants, with larger floor plates.”

We like the idea of this project. It will be interesting to see what happens with all this.


Rays – Maybe Something Soon

There was a report this week in the Business Journal that the Rays would announce their preferred site for a stadium, and it would be in Ybor.  That would not really be surprising, as a Times columnist pointed out:

If you’ve been paying attention, that’s no shocker. Getting closer to the bay area’s business center has long been viewed as the antidote for the team’s lackluster attendance.

What’s far less certain is who pays for what.

And that, presumably, will be part of the team’s announcement.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. The Rays are not ready to commit to a specific dollar figure. Neither is Tampa nor Hillsborough County.

The columnist goes on to say that the amount the Rays will put up is directly connected to business support, which is also not really surprising, though business support in Tampa is hard to measure while the Rays remain in St. Pete.  At least there seems to be some movement on this issue. We’ll just have to wait and see if it amounts to anything.


Airport – Keep Growing

There was news about passengers at the airport:

“We had very, very strong growth,” Christopher Minner, TIA’s executive vice president for marketing and communications, said at the monthly Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board meeting Thursday. “We’re on very, very strong footing for growth going into the quarter,” he added, referring to the first three months of 2018.

TIA served 5,110,735 passengers in the final three months of 2017, which was 8.3 percent higher than the same period in the previous year and 1.4 percent higher than budgeted. With new flights starting up, TIA is expecting to see capacity growth increase of more than 12 percent in both January and February of this year and 9.9 percent in March.

Driving the increase from the first quarter of FY 2018 were two ultra-low-cost carriers: Spirit Airlines (NASDAQ: SAVE) and Frontier Airlines, with 44 percent and 135.6 percent in passenger growth respectively.

* * *

But international passenger traffic was up as well by 18.3 percent in November and 14.8 percent in December. The new flight on Icelandair that began last September has brought 2,500 passengers from Iceland and Europe to Tampa, Minner told the HCAA board.

More people mean more business (and revenue to the airport), and that is all good, as is this:

On the international side, Copa Airlines (NYSE: CPA) is increasing its nonstop service between TIA and Panama City to daily flights beginning July 17. This increases the flights from four days a week to daily flights and allows passengers to make more connections to other Latin American destinations.

Hopefully, that will help convince airlines to bring more international (and domestic) flights.

And in more news, the new rental car and SkyConnect is due to set on Feb. 14.


Port – More Cruising

Another Carnival ship arrived at the Port his week:

The Carnival Miracle arrived at Port Tampa Bay Saturday to become the second year-round ship by the cruise line to call make this its home port.

The 2,124-passenger cruise ship is joining Carnival’s other Tampa-based ship, the 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise. Together, the two vessels will carry a total of 280,000 passengers from Tampa annually, representing a tenfold increase from when the line launched service at Port Tampa Bay in 1994. Add in Carnival’s Holland America ship at Tampa and that number swells to 320,000 passengers a year. 

* * *

Next month, the Paradise will go into a 32-day, multimillion-dollar dry dock so it can undergo a major facelift, Duffy said. Cabins will be redone, balconies will be added to rooms, and new water features will come on board. There will also be new food and beverage venues and shops.

While it does not address longer term issues, it is a good thing.


USF – This Isn’t How You Do It

In one of the more bizarre (though in a way, very normal for this area) happenings in a while, there is a bill pending in the legislature affecting the structure of USF:

In the state capitol on Wednesday, lawmakers breezed through the bullet points of a higher education bill. They skimmed past a hot-button proposal to consolidate the University of South Florida System into a single university without a peep of pushback.

In St. Petersburg, frustration simmered. Local leaders wondered how, exactly, the city’s fiercely independent university would benefit were it to be reabsorbed by USF’s headquarters in Tampa. In many eyes, the small waterfront campus at USF St. Petersburg was gathering momentum. Why change course?

* * *

. . . the university wasn’t consulted on the bill, say USF officials and sponsor Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. Rodrigues said he expects to have those talks now that the bill is on the table.

The idea came to Rodrigues, he said, as he worked on the House version of a massive higher education package. He was pondering tweaks to the state’s preeminence program, which rewards top-performing universities.

USF Tampa will soon get that bonus funding, but because of their separate accreditation, USF St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee won’t benefit.

“Our concern from the student perspective is there is no incentive for USF to share the resources that preeminence is going to bring to them beyond the borders of the Tampa campus,” Rodrigues said in committee. “We want all students within the USF family to benefit from the preeminence that is coming.”

Plus, since USF is the only state university with separate institutions, consolidation would bring it in line with its peers.

Which, though there may be some merit in the argument, led, as would be obvious to anyone familiar with this area, to this type of reaction:

“It’s very clear that there are some inherent complications with the main campus,” said former City Council member Karl Nurse. “If the Legislature is interested in a campus that is growing and educating more students, they should just leave it alone.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch worried about losing a university committed to Pinellas needs.

“I’m trying to understand what problem this legislation is meant to solve because, in my view, USF St. Petersburg is a rising star,” he said.

Commissioner Charlie Justice agreed: “The fact that they’re taking this action without community input is incredibly troubling.”

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he’s watching the bill closely to understand the House’s perspective. 

Culminating in this quite odd comment in an opinion piece in the Times:

Under the proposal, USFSP would cease to be a regional campus and revert to being a satellite campus. USFSP has no desire to be the Chechnya to the empire in Tampa.

Setting aside the hyperbole (and a number of weaknesses in the analogy), we get that the author objects.  And, of course, this thought would arise:

Others — such as Kriseman, a former legislator — suspected that USF administrators played a role.

“My experience is that something like this doesn’t typically happen unless somebody at the university wants it to happen,” the mayor said.

State Rep. Chris Sprowls, who advocated for the provision, said he hasn’t spoken to Genshaft, but has talked with community leaders and policy experts.

Which is not really helped by this:

In her first public statement about a controversial proposal to consolidate the University of South Florida System’s three universities, President Judy Genshaft did not take a stance.

Instead, Genshaft sought to reassure students and faculty that the USF System will stay on track no matter what.

She said she was sure many viewers have questions about the potential change, which would strip accreditation from USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee, bringing those self-governing universities under centralized accreditation in Tampa.

“I want to reassure you that regardless of the outcome, we will remain focused on higher levels of student success, conducting high impact research and serving the entire Tampa Bay region,” Genshaft said.

“I also want to emphasize that at no time will any of our institutions risk losing accreditation or their distinct identities,” she added.

Which is not exactly a denial of involvement.  Nor is this:

University of South Florida System President Judy Genshaft offered her first public support this week for a controversial proposal to phase out the independence of USF’s two regional institutions.

After days of walking a neutral line on the idea, Genshaft sent an email to USF leaders Tuesday evening that said USF has long found strength in unity.

“It is still early, but we believe there is the potential for significant benefits to our students,” she wrote.”Benefits like enhancing the reputation of the entire USF System and having all students graduate from a preeminent research university, or helping students graduate faster and with less debt by providing a wider variety of course options and majors including those in health care and engineering. Or the benefits of graduate research and PhD opportunities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee.”

Whether it is beneficial to students or not (and we have no extra information either way), the whole affair has the appearance of possibly being questionable.

We don’t really feel strongly either way on the underlying issue.  We can see the arguments for both structures.  More importantly, though, is how this whole thing has been handled.  Regardless of who came up with the idea, why put it into a bill without first consulting people who are obviously very sensitive to the issue?  When we are trying to develop regionalism (and, aside from sensitivities, arguably in a way the idea promotes regionalism), why do something in a that will so obviously provoke this kind of reaction?

Really, even if there may be some merit to the idea, this is not the way to go about it.


Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street

There was another rendering of the JW Marriott on URBN Tampa Bay.  So why not put it here?

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We are not sure exactly what is going on with Greco Plaza in the picture or where the streetcar will go (it would appear that there are a bunch of people hanging out on the tracks).  We are also not sure what is on the left where Amalie arena should be (it looks more like green hills than the arena), but, as we keep saying, renderings are like that.

As for the building itself, it looks good.

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