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Roundup 2-23-2018

February 23, 2018

Contents

Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont, or Maybe Not

— Walking Back

— A More Modest Proposal

— Express Lanes

— Airport

— Parking

— Bus on Shoulder

— Go Cheap

— Conclusion

Channel District – Great, for Now

South Tampa – Densify

South Tampa – Bay to Bay

Downtown/Hyde Park – Manor

Airport – More

Port – Bananas

Downtown/Channel District – Fixing Up the Arena

(Sort of) List of the Week

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Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont, or Maybe Not

Over the last few weeks, we have discussed the Regional Transit Plan and our issues with it.  We have been waiting for someone to tell us why it is a good plan aside from being cheap.


— Walking Back

The engineers who developed the plan spoke a bit last week, though not really addressing the issues we outlined.  This week, they went further.

Jacobs Engineering is considering potential changes to the current Regional Transit Feasibility Plan after local officials offered several suggestions during a Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group meeting earlier this month.

Jacobs Engineering announced its preferred “catalyst” route spanning 41 miles of interstate from downtown St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel last month, triggering a whirlwind of support and criticism.

Critics, led the loudest by Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp, have railed against the plan saying it fails to increase mobility options, won’t reduce traffic congestions and falls short on access to transit-oriented development.  Supporters have even said the plan could use some improvements.

* * *

Scott Pringle, a project manager for Jacobs Engineering, said he’s taking suggestions to heart.

* * *

Pringle initially referred to the plan as a final recommendation but is not calling it a draft.  He is meeting with various public boards to present the draft and will share it at public outreach meetings in late spring and early summer.

While not making the case for the original plan, openness to altering the plan is the proper attitude.  It must always be remembered that the study was of old studies using the standard of essentially being cheap.  As such, it was always going be problematic.  That said, what are they going to do?

He said his firm is in the early stages of working with the Urban Land Institute to address concerns about transit-oriented development.  The urban design standard among industry professionals asserts transit-oriented development is successful when created around fixed guideways because it provides investors with certainty that the route funneling business into the area wont’ go away.

The bus route won’t do that, critics argue.  Proposed dedicated lanes could be converted back to general use lanes if BRT is not successful.

That at least acknowledges one of our five issues.  However, the real question is how it will be addressed.  Obviously, if you expect people to invest their money, you have to give the some certainty about the conditions surrounding their investment.  This plan lacks certainty (which, you may remember, was the one aspect which transit opponents highlighted as a positive at the unveiling.)  Moreover, for the most part, even with some certainty, the plan lacks a good location for transit-oriented development.  The interstate is not the place for that.  We will be interested to see what ULI, the outsourced planner of choice in this area (which, given the state of our planning, should make you wonder either why we go back to them or if anyone in authority actually listens to them), comes up with.

Interestingly, there was also this:

An alternative project in the Jacobs study would create nine miles of urban rail along the CSX corridor, potentially 12 miles, to provide a connection between USF and downtown Tampa.

Pringle said he is amenable to changing the concept.

While we think using the CSX tracks overall holds a lot of promise, we actually do not think downtown to USF is the best starter rail line.  (We think downtown-Westshore/Airport is better. We get that there are not CSX rails there now, but that link would have to be figured out anyway.)  But, even assuming the USF-downtown route is chosen because the right of way and rails are already there, it is an open question whether Pinellas would go along with a downtown to USF line as the first leg of anything. So, we will set that aside for the moment.

Back to the engineers:

Pringle also weighed in on creating BRT off the highway.  The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Citizens Advisory Committee approved including a BRT study for Florida and Tampa avenues into its transportation improvement plan.  The approximately $2.5 million study would be a first step toward implementing an artillery BRT corridor.

Assuming the article meant arterial not artillery, that is a positive, but it would be much better if a large number local officials were endorsing it. And we are not sure why the study is limited to Tampa and Florida.  There are other major arterial roads where BRT (or other real transit) could also fit and which might be better suited.

We are glad there is a conversation going on, at least among some people (we are sure many officials are just looking to use the study/plan as a way to avoid having to say anything). However, the issues we have laid out with the plan are still there.  Maybe they will be worked out or changes will be made to address them.  Maybe, though there is no guarantee and some changes would have to be wholesale, like the location.

And we still are waiting for is someone to make the case that this proposed system is good for reasons other than just being cheap.  Of course, that is made even more complicated because, apparently, no one is even sure who has authority for the project.  But it is still necessary.


— A More Modest Proposal

Given those things, we started to wonder if there might be a different approach than trying to tinker with the proposed plan to make it make sense. We thought of one, though we hesitate to bring it up for fear that those who oppose all transit may say it is adequate to this area’s needs (even though it is not).  In any event, we will put it out there (and, we admit, it may be need some tweaks).

— Express Lanes

It starts with the point that only two of the stations in the proposal will be over the interstate.  Then throw in this:

Pringle defends the plan and said the portion in express lanes would offer reliable rate of travel similar to dedicated lanes because variable toll pricing would manage the flow of private traffic.

It is not BRT, but it is express bus service.

— Airport

Add a dash of the fact that there are already plans in the works for bus service to the airport:

Using a bus to access the airport is already a possibility, but it’s inconvenient.  Service upgrades planned by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority would make public transportation a more feasible alternative to private transportation or steep parking fees.

* * *

. . . both agencies told the Tampa Bay Business Journal this week they have short-term and long-term solutions.  PSTA plans to add a stop at the airport’s new rental car center on its 300x route that would eliminate the need to catch another bus.  That route would make four trips to the airport in the morning, four in the evening and two trips midday.

HART is in the process of creating the 275LX route, which would take riders from downtown Tampa to the airport as early as July 1.  That route would also serve riders from New Tampa and the University of South Florida.  The LX stands for “limited express.”

* * *

PSTA wants to serve the airport with two additional routes in the future, including an express bus from downtown St. Pete and another from the beach.  The three routes with 30-minute frequency would cost PSTA $8 million a year using existing transit infrastructure.

Borchers said that cost could drop to as low as $5 million if its [sic] implemented in conjunction with plans to create express lanes across the Howard Frankland Bridge when it’s replaced in 2020.

The initial PSTA route would cost $100,000 per year while the HART route would be $1.5 million per year but some cost would be offset by eliminating duplicative service.

Now, just hold that thought for a minute.

— Parking

There was also a post on URBN Tampa Bay’s Facebook page about the TMA presentation and parking costs.

As we can see in the attached post, FDOT is budgeting to build thousands of parking spaces near the #FakeBRT’s bus stations. Literally more parking spaces than total projected daily ridership. Not surprisingly, the parking is one of the most expensive portions of this scheme. It’s also a telltale sign that this is not urban mass transit, this is park and ride commuter transit for suburbanites to reach the city. Certainly a worthy intention. But it’s far from the top transit priority we have in the bay area.

You can find the information in the Feb 9th presentation (pg. 7 of the pdf here).  The fact that the plan features so much parking shows it does not really consider regular bus systems feeding this plan.  We question the parking. While some people in Wesley Chapel may park and ride, most of the stops will be in areas (say Seminole Heights) where that is an unlikely choice.

Hold that, too.  We’ll get back to it.

— Bus on Shoulder

Last week, we discussed a Times article where the engineers were defending their plan.  One part of that article we did not discuss was this:

Kemp also argued that planners were being disingenuous when they said the interstate shoulders could act as dedicated lanes. She cited examples in Minnesota where buses only travel along the shoulder when there is a crash in the regular lane. In those cases, buses are restricted to a maximum of 35 mph.

While that scenario was briefly considered in Pinellas a couple years ago, Pringle said that is not how the shoulders would be used in the BRT plan. The buses would run along the shoulder for “all hours of the day while service is running,” effectively providing a dedicated lane.

Because the bus on shoulder idea is the largest portion of the plan, it is worth looking into this a little more.  First, it is worth noting that Minnesota has the largest bus on shoulder system in the country, but that is part of a larger system with a rail spine.

So let’s look at what they say about how they operate:

With more than three times the number of miles than all other metro areas combined, the Twin Cities is a leader in the use of bus-only shoulders. The model is being replicated in other parts of the country, such as North Carolina. While a cost-effective way for buses to avoid traffic, there are certain conditions under which operators may chose not to use the shoulder. Operators consider the following factors when deciding whether to use a bus-only shoulder:

> Road conditions. Sinking drain covers, potholes or other road defects can interrupt the use of bus-only shoulders.

> Weather. Heavy snow, slush and ice must be adequately cleared to allow for safe use of a bus-only shoulder.

> Obstructions. Road debris, stalled motorists and construction vehicles are unavoidable obstacles that prevent the use of bus-only shoulders.

> Traffic. Bus-only shoulders may only be used when traffic has slowed to less than 35 miles per hour (the max speed is 15 miles per hour greater than traffic, with a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour).

> Other vehicles. Extra-wide vehicles in mixed-traffic can prevent the use of bus-only shoulders because of clearance issues. Emergency vehicles also take priority on shoulders.

Bus operators are specially-certified before driving to routes with bus-only shoulders. And while many operators elect to use the shoulders, the decision to use them is entirely up to the driver based on conditions and their professional judgment.

Ultimately, safety comes before speed. Metro Transit operators have a proven record of knowing when and how to use bus-only shoulders. Since the use of bus-only shoulders began in 1991 there have been no major responsible accidents.

Moreover,

Safety first! Shoulder use is up to the driver

Metro Transit ensures that speed is secondary to safety. While bus drivers are authorized to use designated shoulders, they follow strict guidelines. Thanks to these measures, bus-only shoulders have been extremely effective and very safe. Bus drivers:

> Must not use the shoulder when traffic is moving faster than 35 mph.

> Cannot exceed the speed of traffic by more than 15 mph; max. speed is 35 mph.

> Must yield to any vehicle entering the shoulder, including at freeway ramps or intersections.

> Must join regular lanes when the shoulder is blocked by stalled cars or debris.

Metro Transit drivers are trained to drive on shoulders and can best judge when conditions make it unwise – and unsafe – to use them.

In other words, Minnesota acknowledges all the issues we have brought up with the shoulder and specifically does not do what is proposed here for safety reasons.  They get that there is a place for express buses and BRT in a transit system but that it is not the spine of a true transit system.

But, you can run an express-ish bus on shoulders (or just as express buses).  And, of course, the local plan says it is good enough for St. Pete and much of Tampa, so why isn’t it good enough for all of Tampa?

— Go Cheap

Putting those things together, leads us to this, especially since no one seems to be able to tell us why the Regional Transit Feasibility Study plan is good other than it being cheap:  make it cheaper (and enhance its seemingly sole positive attribute):

– Cut the parking to a reasonable amount (certainly less than the projected ridership – a real transit system should not be just park and ride) and put it only at places where people may actually use it (like Wesley Chapel).

– Skip the dedicated lanes between downtown Tampa and Westshore, and use the shoulders like Minnesota.  And if we are forced to have express lanes on 275 there (FDOT has promised come hell or high water they will be built), whether they are free or tolled, we can use them (while their existence is not our preference, if they are going to be built between downtown and Westshore, use them).  Save the median right of way for when a real transit system is worked out.

– Build nice, but not fancy, bus stops.  No one needs glass doors built into the stops to get on a bus.

– Use normal buses, not the kind that unconvincingly dress up like trains.  Save money on the bus and on maintenance facilities and cost.

– And integrate the buses to the airport from Pinellas and New Tampa (that covers basically the whole route).

Save all that money and call the idea what it really is: just some express/enhanced bus service.

If the case can’t be made that this plan is anything but cheap, then there is just as good a case (if not much better) that we don’t waste money on it. Make it cheaper, and just provide slightly better service connecting to the airport as a hub.

Then, having dispensed with the pretense that in building the Regional Transit Study plan our area had built/is building a real transit spine/system, we can focus on actually building a real transit spine/system (rail or, yes, real “gold standard” BRT in truly dedicated lanes focusing on arterial roads) that really provided alternatives and actually serves our area in all the ways real transit should. And we can invest the money we saved in that.


— Conclusion

No matter how you try to package the present proposal, it is really just an express bus proposal. There is a place for reasonable express buses, but we need and deserve much more. Other areas have struggled to build a real transit system, but, through persistence, creativity, and persuasion, have gotten it done.  We can, too.


Channel District – Great, for Now

The proposal for a self-storage facility on Meridian has been withdrawn, per URBN Tampa Bay:

Good news! We have learned that the proposal for a 6 story standalone storage facility in downtown Tampa’s Channel District has been WITHDRAWN.

No word if the developer intends to try to amend the project to actually conform to the local codes and reapply, or if they realize any proposal for a storage facility at that location will be opposed by a broad swath of the neighborhood they would seek to serve.

h/t to Kevin Thurman for alerting us.

Hopefully, it is fully dead.


South Tampa – Densify

URBN Tampa Bay noted a new proposal for Henderson, just southwest of Dale Mabry (between the bank and the six story office building).

A new office project has been proposed for 3815 Henderson Blvd. in South Tampa. The project includes a 7 story, 120 foot office tower depicted below. As you can see from the site plan, there is some considerable density proposed for this lot, but the site design is largely covered by driveways and some surface parking. There is also an 8 story parking garage proposed for the northwest corner of the lot, which partially tucks under the office tower. There is also some ground floor retail on the garage, and we believe the office tower as well.

Here is the site plan:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And a rendering (from Henderson/Dale Mabry)

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is URBN Tampa Bay’s take:

We applaud the density proposed, but we think the project demonstrates the continued need for further enhancement to the land use codes to promote more walkability in locations such as this commercial node at Dale Mabry and Henderson. The project is required to provide 610 parking spaces for a piece of land that is awkwardly shaped and frankly isn’t that big (roughly 2/3 an acre). This parking minimum not only mandates these oversized parking structures but it induces more driving. We’re concerned that the parking garage is likely to loom over the neighborhood behind the project to the northwest.

We agree with all that.  To be honest, we are not sure that, even if it was allowed to do so, the developer would choose to have less parking.  That being said, the codes still need to be changed to give the option and promote proper development.


South Tampa – Bay to Bay

A while back, the City announced that it was working on plans to narrow Bay to Bay between Dale Mabry and Esperanza.

Tampa and Hillsborough County officials are working on plans to resurface and reconfigure Bay to Bay from Dale Mabry Highway to Bayshore Boulevard.

From Dale Mabry to Esperanza Avenue, which is a block west of MacDill Avenue, Bay to Bay could go from four to three lanes — one in each direction and a turn lane in the middle. Taking out one lane of traffic also would allow officials to put a bike lane protected by a 2-foot buffer on each side of the road.

From Esperanza east to Bayshore, there’s simply too much traffic — a lot of it making left turns at several closely spaced intersections — to allow for any reduction in lanes. So the recommendation is for Bay to Bay to remain four lanes. There Bay to Bay’s pavement could be painted to designate “sharrows” — shared lanes for both cars and bikes. And gaps in the sidewalks would be filled in.

See also here.  Recently, there was a public meeting, which drew predictable comments.

All the proposed changes have their fans and detractors. They were easy to identify at a Feb. 8 meeting as the factions clapped and jeered during a public presentation at Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library that drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100.

Occasionally, exasperated parties threw verbal jabs at one another.

“Should we just ride bikes everywhere?” said one man, miming riding a bike with a child’s high handle bars in response to a vocal supporter of bike lanes.

Engineers, citing a study and traffic counts completed in December, stressed that reducing lanes and adding bike lanes wouldn’t slow traffic further, but would make Bay to Bay safer, including new left-hand turn lanes.

The street sees an average of 18,439 vehicles on an average day, just below the threshold level for a “road diet,” a popular traffic engineering concept that encourages safety for pedestrians, bikers and cars through lane reconfigurations, bike lanes and sidewalks. The “road diet” for Bay to Bay will cost at least $860,000 in city and county funds.

That concept appealed to many, including several families who said they feared trying to venture to Bayshore Boulevard on foot or to walk their children to school.

“It’s a very dangerous crossing now,” said Emily Hinsdale, a co-founder of Sidewalk Stompers, a local group promoting walking to Roosevelt Elementary, who held her 9-year-old daughter Rose, a fourth-grader at the school, on her lap. “I applaud you considering pedestrian rights. It’s not only cars in Tampa. Not everyone in Tampa wants to drive.”

Our opinion hasn’t really changed since this was first brought up:

We are all for protected bike lanes, but, frankly, the plan is just silly (and sharrows are absurd, especially at that intersection).  Creating bike lanes that connect to nothing and just melt away into car traffic is not particularly useful. . .

. . . if they can choke most of the traffic on Bay-to-Bay, they should choke traffic on that last stretch for the pedestrians and cyclists trying to get to Bayshore.  The City could easily have a left-turn lane and a right turn lane at Bay-to-Bay and Bayshore going east and one lane going west, leaving space for bike lanes connecting to Bayshore.  Cutting off the path between the neighborhood and the walking/biking spine that is Bayshore is a waste. If the City can’t do it right, the money should be spent making good bike infrastructure somewhere else.

We get that parents are concerned with walking their kids to school, but the reality is that crossing Bay to Bay is not that hard (though, admittedly, it is not a great road to walk along).  If that is the issue, make the cross-walk times a little longer.  And making it one lane in each direction will make it that much harder to get in and out of places like the Starbucks. Though a walk/bike connection to Bayshore would make it better (on pg. 27 of this report pdf you can see two ideas for such a connection, but they are both pretty clunky, especially routing bikes through a Selmon exit ramp, where it cannot be said people drive patiently).  That connection needs to be addressed.

The bigger problem is that this all seems quite ad hoc and with no real plan of how to move people around.  That is the local norm, and it shows.


Downtown/Hyde Park – Manor

There was an update about the Related project Manor Riverwalk:

Building contractor Suffolk topped off the north tower of its Manor Riverwalk project on Friday.

First, there are no “towers” in the project.  It is one eight story building with three wings.  Second, the tallest part of it is the parking garage.

We have made no secret that we think the project is not nearly as good as it should have been.  Yes, we would have liked it to be taller.  We would have liked the garage not to be the most prominent part.  But even more importantly, we would have liked it to interact with, rather than basically shun the neighborhood behind it.  This building essentially walls off the river from that neighborhood and provides no street activity or even a decent walking experience.  And that is likely going to be with us for decades.

We get that Tampa wants developers like the Related Group to invest here, but we need better design.


Airport – More

There were a couple of news items this week regarding the airport.  First,

Icelandair is going to four nonstop flights out of Tampa — up from its current twice-weekly service to Iceland, Tampa International Airport announced on Thursday.

That is important from a simple passenger point of view like all expanded or new service.  But even more importantly, it continues to prove that international service to this area works and can be grown.  That proof should help attract more service.

Second,

Sheltair Aviation’s new $6.5 million executive hangar complex at Tampa International Airport opened Wednesday.

Encompassing more than 7.5 acres of land, including 2.5 acres of additional apron space to park, unload and refuel aircraft, Sheltair’s hangar was built to accommodate the larger private jets that are coming into the marketplace. The larger footprint also adds 32,000 square feet of hangar and office space.

While most people will not use it and probably don’t care that much, it is actually sign of a developing economy and growing market, which is a good thing.


Port – Bananas

You may remember that a few years ago, the Port decided to build a new refrigerated warehouse and go after the fruit import business, of which it had a piece at one time.  You may also remember that there was a kerfuffle with Port Manatee about the Port’s attempts to attract that business.  Well,

More than 3,900 pallets of Chiquita bananas from Ecuador arrived last week at the new Port Logistics Refrigerated Services warehouse.

It was the first shipment of perishable products to the 135,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse, which was built on Hookers Point specifically to attract shippers of fruit and other cargo requiring cold storage.

The shipment was a test run, but “we’re hoping that there will be more,” Port Tampa Bay chief commercial officer Raul Alfonso said.

More business is good.  We are all for it, though this may be a bit overstated:

“This is a huge deal for us,” County Commissioner and port board member Sandra Murman said Tuesday. “I know we’re going to build on this going down the road.”

Especially since:

For now, however, 3,916 pallets of bananas are make up a few pixels in the bigger picture of the port’s overall business. Cargo more typically means bulk materials like phosphate, coal or limestone. For liquids, the port handles much larger volumes of petroleum and liquid sulphur than citrus juice and concentrate.

But with the port focused on diversifying its business so that it’s not too dependant on any one import or export, the return of bananas aboard the container ship MV Wild Lotus last week marked “an important milestone,” Anderson said.

Not to mention that the big value in shipping is containers, where the port still lags. Nevertheless, diversification is a good thing.  With that in mind:

Port Tampa Bay saw a record number of cruise ship passengers in two recent weekends.

The port said 19,876 passengers arrived and departed ships the weekend of Feb. 3 and 4, breaking the previous record. Then, last weekend, Feb. 17 and 18, there were a total of 22,960 passengers — another record. The bulk of the travelers arrived on Saturdays for both weekends.

The previous record for cruise passengers was 12,600 on a Saturday in 2011. That number was surpassed on Feb. 3, with 12,949 passengers. That was followed the next Saturday, Feb. 17, with 13,792 travelers.

And, while a small sample, that is good, too.

However, there were fewer passengers and cruise ships in the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 than last year’s first quarter. Even so, the port expects to make those numbers up as the cruise season continues to build over the next few months and bigger ships to transport more passengers.

Hopefully, but that remains to be seen.  As we said, we are all for diversification.  It would be nice if that diversification included a significant increase in high value imports and exports (primarily containers), but it is still a positive.


Downtown/Channel District – Fixing Up the Arena

With Water Street on the cusp of getting going in earnest and the Lightning doing well, it is no surprise that the County government is going to put some money into the arena.

Hillsborough County has increased its financial commitment to upgrading Amalie Arena as Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik pledges to spend another $25.9 million on the facility by 2030.

Commissioners on Wednesday voted 6-1 to approve an amendment to the renovation agreement with the Lightning, increasing the county’s maximum spend on arena improvements by $61 million, from $47.5 million to $108.5 million. In exchange, the Lightning are forbidden from relocating before June 30, 2027.

Commissioner Stacy White cast the sole dissenting vote.

By 2030, Vinik and the county will have each spent around $100 million on investments in the arena. Vinik has spent more than $70 million improving the county-owned arena since buying the Lightning in 2010.

We have no problem with this for the most part.  It is a publicly owned building and should be maintained.  Moreover, the Lightning have committed to stay, though it should be for longer than 3 years less than the money spending period (though, why would they leave anyway?). As a bigger point, unless someone wants to build a new arena, the one we have (which is in a great location that stands to get better) needs to be kept up to date.


(Sort of) List of the Week

This week, we sort of feature Trip Advisors Best Beaches in the US.

The area beach clinched the top spot on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice award for best beach in the United States for 2018.

Clearwater Beach jumped up three spots from last year. It also was named the seventh best beach in the world for its “two and a half miles of sugar-white sand, crystal-clear waters and tranquil Gulf breezes,” the online travel site said. It was the only U.S. beach listed among the top 10 in the world.

But, Clearwater Beach, which was ranked No. 1 back in 2016, wasn’t alone in making the U.S. list.

Right behind it at No. 2 was Siesta Beach in Siesta Key, which was dethroned from the top spot last year. It snagged second place for many of the same qualities.

St. Pete Beach was No. 7, falling from No. 3 last year. Still, it was cited for its “golden-white sand and aquatic activities, such as parasailing, stand-up paddle boarding and windsurfing.”

Most of the Top 20 were Florida and Hawaii beaches.  You can see it here.

We actually think there are better local beaches, but they are not as developed and, since the list is travelers choice, development counts.

We know we have great beaches. That has never been an issue.  But it is good to get recognition.

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