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Roundup 3-2-2018

March 2, 2018

Contents

Transportation – TBARTA Does What It Does

Downtown/Tampa Heights – Growing Partnership

Transportation/Downtown – Driverless Demo

Transportation – Talk About Cost

Downtown/ Channel District – Write Up

Rays – This Should Be Interesting

Built Environment – Choices

Built Environment/Planning – East County

USF – The Editorial

_______________________________________


Transportation – TBARTA Does What It Does

For the last few weeks, we have been discussing the proposed express bus plan from the Regional Transit Study.  While we are not going to reiterate everything we said, one thing is definitely a constant: proponents have not made the case why it is good other than being cheap.  In any event, last week, TBARTA looked at it.  The results were predictable.

The Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority board showed no signs of backing down from plans to implement a regional bus rapid transit connection between Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties during its February meeting on Friday.

* * *

While no formal action was taken on Jacobs Engineering Regional Premium Transit Feasibility Plan during the meeting, most board members expressed support for the 41-mile BRT route from St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275.  Not all of the 15 board members were present for the meeting.

We would expect nothing less.

The sentiment among TBARTA board members and CEO Ray Chiaramonte was instead that the BRT plan was a regional plan that could attract federal funding and serve as a catalyst to future projects.

Setting aside that there is no evidence that it would catalyze anything (more likely is that it will be used as an excuse to not do anything else for at least a decade – five years to build and five years to see how it does – if not longer), it is regional in length, but will it be effective transit and much more effective than just running buses as we described last week?  The case has not been made.

And there is this:

Several transit activists spoke against the BRT concept with what has emerged as a familiar line of critique. Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Neighborhood Civic Association, said the plan doesn’t represent “gold standard” BRT and wouldn’t attract meaningful transit-oriented development.

“There is a question of price and a question of cost,” Fernandez said. “It seems you’re overly focused on price – let’s do this on the cheap – but what we’re forgetting here is there is a cost to placing the stations in the wrong place.  This plan could be much more expensive to us than anything else that is being considered.”

In other words, what and whom exactly does it connect?  Is it the right thing done in a way to maximizes the investment or is it just doing something to do something?

And then there is this:

Chiaramonte did concede on point on which critics agree – BRT has to operate in a dedicated lane.  As the plan currently exists, buses would operate in express lanes cross the Howard Frankland Bridge shared with vehicles whose uses choose to pay a toll.

* * *

He said no individual project is going to satisfy all Tampa Bay residents, but by moving forward with the BRT proposal the region gets the ball rolling on implementing long-sought after regional connectivity.

It is true that BRT should be in dedicated lanes (or else it really is not BRT).  Moreover, as we have noted before and elaborated upon last week, running in the shoulder is not really a dedicated lane, not to mention that this proposal is not in line with normal (and seemingly best) practices in other states.  It’s just not really BRT. And certainly not “gold standard” BRT, so why pretend?

We also agree that no project will satisfy everyone, but it still should be able to say clearly why it is good other than being cheap. And, if we are just looking at something cheap that is regional rather than truly effective transit, why is the plan better than the cheaper alternative we brought up last week?

And one more thing to note: as we said last week, the idea of using the CSX rails from downtown Tampa to USF may be nice, but we doubt Pinellas would support it.  Well,

Tensions quickly rose during the TBARTA meeting when Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long verbally berated [Hillsborough County Commissioner] Kemp for “hijacking” the meeting.  She said Kemp’s CSX proposal was a transit solution worth looking into by agencies specific to Hillsborough County, but TBARTA was created through the Florida Legislature with explicit instruction to oversee regional transit solutions.

It will be hard to get around this point. And given the silence on the part of most of the Hillsborough County Commission regarding even the express bus plan, getting anything else is highly unlikely.

And plan advocates keep saying (as they do here) that this is just the first step and people should support this plan because it is a gateway to all sorts of other things will be built.  So tell us what stage 2 is (if you say the CSX from downtown Tampa to USF, see Pinellas County Commissioner’s comments above).  What is the vision? What is the plan?  (Not to mention if you just build a something on the cheap and it is not a rousing success, it will serve as more of an impediment to future plans.)

Finally, something did emerge that we agree with:

“I don’t think we should not look at CSX,” Chiaramonte said. “It’s got to be more than one project.”

That is true to the degree that proper transit will involve more than one project, but even looking at CSX should not just be the short CSX run from downtown Tampa to USF.  And we should be looking at something that really works, that is “gold standard.” We should do it right.  There is nothing in the present plan that leads to the idea of next steps, connections or expansion.  It is an express bus plan without even provisions for connecting local buses properly to feed what is built.

The fact remains that the plan presented is the plan because it is cheap. We’ll grant you that it’s regional, but is it good transit planning or is it just something to do to say, “See, we are doing something?”


Downtown/Tampa Heights – Growing Partnership

There were developments regarding the Downtown Partnership and the Downtowner shuttle.

The Downtowner may be heading to Tampa Heights — but not until Oct. 1.

That’s because the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership this week won initial City Council approval to expand into Tampa Heights.

“Tampa Heights is becoming an important gateway into downtown Tampa with its own eclectic vibe and personality,” partnership interim CEO and president Lynda Remund said in a statement issued after the City Council’s vote Thursday. “We are looking forward to bringing our full suite of services to this area just north of downtown.”

Indeed, Tampa Heights is becoming an important area near downtown (especially as the Heights project gets built out) and hopefully will really connect (though widening the interstate will not help that at all). Here are the proposed new Downtown Partnership boundaries:

From TBO.com – click on picture for article

The expansion wouldn’t be final until August, when the partnership is scheduled to go back to the council to renew its special services district with the expanded boundaries.

Once that happens, property owners already inside the district and those in the new boundaries would be assessed $1.10 per $1,000 in assessed, non-exempt property value to pay for services provided by the partnership. Last year, the district’s budget was $2.45 million. Adding Tampa Heights would add an estimated $44,000. Expanded Downtowner service would begin Oct. 1.

It is a good thing that the Downtowner is being used and may expand.  It would have been better to let the local, private entity that originally had the idea do it (especially since the company being paid to do it now is not local), but various interests killed that innovation.  It’s too bad we had to wait.


Transportation/Downtown – Driverless Demo

Which brings us to HART’s long awaited driverless shuttle demonstration on the Marion Street Transitway.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority tested autonomous vehicles in downtown Tampa on Tuesday, a demonstration that comes ahead of HART’s anticipated autonomous vehicle pilot program set to run through downtown along the Marion Transit Way.

The agency showcased vehicles from Michigan-based May Mobility but won’t necessarily use that company or its vehicles for its upcoming autonomous vehicle pilot.

* * *

The vehicles demonstrated were like mini-buses — or large cars — that hold six people, including one passenger in what would be the driver’s seat. The idea was to demonstrate autonomous vehicle technology for transit purposes in a real-world scenario.

Actually, they are more like small, slow minivans:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

But that’s ok.  For a limited usage, like a short downtown shuttle (here .6 miles or basically 1 km for our foreign readers), this size vehicle, basically the size of the Downtowner, makes some sense.  Of course, HART was supposed to already be running a shuttle, but that did not happen.

HART had previously contracted with Stantec to operate service. That contract fell through when the company failed to meet its contractual obligations, according to HART spokeswoman Sandra Morrison.

The service was originally supposed to launch early this year. Morrison said the agency doesn’t have a new start date but expects service sometime this year.

The autonomous vehicle pilot would run along a 0.6-mile corridor on the Marion Transit Way between the Marion Transit Center near Interstate 275 to Whiting Street.

And, once again, if they needed more time to get it right, that is fine.  We have nothing against these shuttles.  Assuming they work as advertised, there is certainly a place for them in a larger, coordinated, transit system.


Transportation – Talk About Cost

We often hear about excessive cost and cost overruns for transit projects.  Well,

The cost of a diamond is getting pricier.

The planned “divergent diamond” interchange, intended to ease traffic congestion at Interstate 75 and State Road 56 where Lutz, Land O’Lakes and Wesley Chapel intersect, is going to be more expensive than originally projected.

So expensive that the local transportation planning board had to hold a public hearing to amend its adopted spending plan — a requirement whenever project costs go up by 20 percent.

In this case, it was a lot more. The construction cost nearly doubled from $21.1 million to $40.2 million, according to the public hearing notice of the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization, made up of county commissioners and elected city officials.

Kris Carson, regional spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation, said the price has declined a little since. As design work progressed, the construction cost dropped and now is estimated at $37.4 million, she said via e-mail.

* * *

The price escalated because the state had to revise the length and width of the earth retaining walls, traffic rails and guardrails, plus it redesigned the paving and plans to add a permanent sheet pile wall and high-mast lighting, the public hearing notice stated.At the MPO hearing, however, the only questions focused on the construction time line.

That is one interchange.  Yes, it is a busy interchange, made busier due to bad planning in Pasco.  We are not opposed to fixing roads when needed, but it is worth noting the cost overrun, and construction has not even started, yet.  And, of course, there will be no money from the fare box to help cover the cost because there is no fare box.


Downtown/ Channel District – Write Up

There was a write-up of Water Street in the ULI’s website.  It is nice, though not really groundbreaking.  You can read it here. Included in the write-up were two renderings:

From ULI.org – click on picture for article

From ULI.org – click on picture for article

We like almost everything about these pictures: the shade trees, the people, the store fronts, wide sidewalks, the sidewalk seating, even the facades.  However, there is one thing we feel compelled to reiterate.  There is no real protection for pedestrians from the elements.  In and around summer, when it is very hot and sunny and/or raining, shade trees, while nice, are not really protection.  Look at old Tampa buildings. Look at other old Florida buildings. Look at New Orleans buildings. They have such protection for a reason.  Whether awnings or covering built into the structure, there should be something.

In more Water Street news, plans for the renovation of the Marriott Waterside were released.  Here is a floor plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And here is a rendering of the street entrance to the gastropub, presumably on the east side (it is not completely clear if it is on the water side or the street – though we think it is the street):

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It looks nice, and at least there is an awning over the seating, except

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It’s slatted wood awning, which is not a real awning and does not keep out sun or rain.  That’s fine in the dry, cooler months.  It’s not that we don’t like Water Street.  We do.  (And we get that it seems like a small thing, but having walked all over town, including downtown, experience tells us otherwise, especially if you want people to walk around.)  And it can be made better with almost no effort.


Rays – This Should Be Interesting

The Rays have said they would like to be in Ybor and the money question has come to the forefront. This week there was news in the Times about their TV contract:

Two big answers about the Rays’ long-awaited, lucrative new TV rights deal may have been provided in a Monday report by the well-respected Sports Business Daily that parameters of a rich extension with Fox are in place.

A large answer: that the new deal would kick in next season, meaning the expiration — for some reason, a bigger team secret than trade plans for Chris Archer — of the current pact, which was among the worst in baseball.

And a humongous one: that the deal, if — or even close to — as big as reported would be somewhat of a jackpot, averaging $82 million annually over a 15-year term, putting the total value in excess of $1.2 billion.

The pact reportedly would start with a $50 million payment in 2019, up from $35 million in the last year of the old deal that supposedly averaged in the $20 million range annually, and rise from there.

The SBD report was anonymously sourced and noted there remain “hurdles the two sides have to overcome” going into an upcoming key meeting, with potential for resolution by the March 29 season opener. (That means none of it is for sure, most of all the opening day agreement, especially since the whole thing could get caught up in Fox’s planned sale of its regional sports networks to Disney.)

While it was known the Rays have been working toward a new deal, the immediacy and size of the pact — as reported — are staggering.

Which naturally leads to this:

Coming at a time when the team is working to get others to cover the bulk of the cost of a new $750 million-or-so Tampa stadium, it will be a most popular topic of discussion in the community — and in the clubhouse, given recent deals to dump some higher-salaried veterans.

* * *

. . . Though the team is likely to put in more than the initial float of $150 million, it may see the increased TV revenue as a separate stream. It may claim it goes more toward offsetting operating expenses — remember, the Rays have aimed to break even overall — than stadium construction (or debt servicing); and that kicking it into the stadium pool cuts into the overall increase in revenues that are for the reason for the new stadium. It wouldn’t be a popular move, but it could be their play.

If the Rays don’t put the money into the stadium, the onus will be to show it isn’t going into their pockets.

It is a salient point. We get that not all the money will go into the stadium, but it is not unreasonable to expect a decent amount to. It will be interesting to see what happens.


Built Environment – Choices

URBN Tampa Bay had a post that echoed a point we have said for years. It is worth saying over and over, and here is what they said:

A thought about the development choices we make… Look at this picture of Rocky Point Dr. Look at all of the things that somebody paid to build… There’s urban density, a mix of uses, a right of way wide enough for multiple modes of travel, plenty of landscaping and shade trees. But look at the way it has been arranged, with no sidewalk, and parking garages and surface lots fronting the road. It results in this car dependent, utterly unwalkable streetscape. And this is just one example of several roads in Westshore with a similar development pattern.

The Westshore area could have easily been built to be more livable than it is. And more transit friendly and less beholden to congestion. Much of Westshore was scratch-built in recent decades, it could have been whatever the community wanted. The money was spent building infrastructure and buildings, and planting trees and landscaping anyways. But the way it was spent exclusively to serve the car needlessly surrendered quality of life and economic value. It also makes transportation planning a nightmare, because even the people living closer to and within Westshore still have to drive everywhere they go. It’s the sort of fundamental mistake we need to learn from as a community and stop allowing to be repeated as development continues.

And it featured this picture:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Sadly, this still applies to most of the area (with a few notable exceptions). As we have said many times, it is all about choices.

Which brings us to this:

Representatives of PwC, MetLife and Cushman & Wakefield joined Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn at a groundbreaking for MetWest Three. PwC has signed a 12-year lease for 150,000 square feet in the new 267,754-square-foot building at 4050 Boy Scout Blvd.

PwC is expanding in the Westshore area.  And that is a good thing.  More jobs are good.  However, there is another aspect to the expansion: where the new building is and what it contributes to the urban fabric.  And, given the development pattern in Westshore, that is not very much, which is a lost opportunity.

And much like Rocky Point, the Met West complex where PwC is located (see here) has a variety of uses (including a new hotel) and decent density.  However, while one could walk from the nearby recently developed housing or the mall, walking is not encouraged (it is almost actively discouraged) by the building pattern (including lack of sidewalks).  While there are stores and restaurants, there really is no urban interaction and street life. And the development pattern is not conducive to transit planning.  Rather, for the surrounding area, the density serves more to exacerbate road congestion.

So, we are happy for the jobs but disappointed with the development pattern itself.  We are not even opposed the Westshore location (which has logical reasons) as opposed to downtown (where big accounting firms have been taking up space in many other cities), but with just a few better choices, the development could have a much bigger multiplier effect on the area.  That has nothing to do with PwC, which is rightly making business decisions.  It has everything to do with the City government and its choices over the years.


Built Environment/Planning – East County

And the idea of choices leads us to this:

A proposal to allow 131 new homes on rural land in east Hillsborough County has become a line in the sand for some commissioners hoping to beat back further sprawl.

Commissioners are expected to vote Thursday night on whether to change the allowed land use for 164 acres off Lithia Pinecrest Road just east of Fish Hawk Ranch from agricultural to residential. If approved, the number of homes that can be built there would increase by a factor of four.

Two commissioners, Pat Kemp and Stacy White, oppose the change and Al Higginbotham is on the fence. A super majority, or five of seven commissioners, must vote in favor for it to move forward.

Why, you may ask, should you care when the County has basically just approved any sprawling development in the east and south of the County?

The vote comes just three months after planning experts from the Urban Land Institute warned Hillsborough leaders to squash efforts to increase building density outside the county’s urban corridor for at least five to eight years. The county needs time to better plan for growth, experts said, before opening the flood gates to more people in Hillsborough’s quickly shrinking rural areas.

That presentation was met with effusive praise by commissioners across the political spectrum, including Sandy Murman and Victor Crist. However, both voted to advance the proposal at its first public hearing in December, one day before the Urban Land Institute’s presentation.

The land in question is just east of the boundary of the urban service area, where government functions such as roads and utilities are concentrated and development is encouraged. Opponents of the plan see it as one of the first tests of the county’s commitment to hold the line and cautioned that approval would mean de facto expansion of the urban service area. Similar requests from developers will quickly follow, they said.

But the owner of the land, Sandy Lavana, said the allowed usage was changed from residential to agriculture in 1998 after he bought the land and without his knowledge. He added that agricultural use isn’t possible there.

At the December meeting, Commissioner Ken Hagan said that the 1998 change wasn’t fair to Lavana and more homes there wouldn’t hurt the area.

“I think this will actually provide a good transition to the east,” Hagan said.

That is standard, wrong but standard, excuse for allowing such development. What did the planning staff say?

Staff for the county Planning Commission said the land use change was inconsistent with the county’s growth plans, but the Planning Commission board approved it anyway.

According to county staff, a development there would mean 1,200 additional daily car trips on Lithia Pinecrest Road, one of the county’s most congested roadways already slated for a $100 million widening. Within five years, the local middle school would not have capacity to handle students from the influx of new homes, the Hillsborough County School Board said in its analysis.

That is pretty standard, as well. We would not be surprised if the change is approved.  The County has routinely failed to enforce its plans for decades and then pleads poverty about unmet needs. That has, to a large part, led to our transportation woes and long list of needs, transportation and otherwise.

It is all about choices.  In this case, there is a boundary and a plan established by the County. The County should enforce it.


USF – The Editorial

There was a Times editorial about the effort to re-unify USF campuses. As you may remember, the proposal, which obviously was going to draw opposition in St. Pete, was presented without consulting the public.  Now, there have been some changes:

The House Education Committee added details to the concept that suddenly surfaced last month and has been pushed most directly by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. To Sprowls’ credit, there has been a commendable effort to address concerns among USFSP supporters. Among the positive changes:

Developing the plan. The plan for phasing out separate accreditation would be developed by a 13-member task force appointed by the chair of the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system; legislative leaders; and USF leaders. Only two of the seats appear guaranteed to represent USFSP, those held by the regional chancellor and an appointee by the chair of the campus board. The task force is better than allowing university officials to work out the details themselves, but more seats should be reserved to specifically represent USFSP’s interests.

Governance. USFSP would keep its name and continue to be led by a regional chancellor. Even better, the five-member campus board would be expanded to seven members, and the chair of the faculty senate and the student body president would be ex-officio members. The campus board chair would be guaranteed to be a member of the USF Board of Trustees.

Programs. In a strong show of good faith, the revisions make clear that the respected USF College of Marine Science would be included as part of USFSP. While it is on the St. Petersburg campus, marine science has reported to the Tampa campus. The task force working on the accreditation phase-out also is directed to identify “specific degrees in programs of strategic significance’’ in areas such as health care and the STEM programs — science, technology, engineering and math. Language should be added to protect named colleges, such as the Kate Tiedemann College of Business at USFSP.

Transparency. Important provisions have been added to require USF to provide specifics after the merger about investments in the St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee campuses. The university also would issue reports about variables such as student enrollment and performance, research and new degree programs. That openness is essential to ensure USFSP is fairly treated.

As the editorial notes, those are all good changes, but:

There remains broad opposition in St. Petersburg to melding together USF after USFSP has made so much progress since achieving separate accreditation more than a decade ago. The community should have been consulted on the front end of this discussion, not on the back end. The House Education Committee’s Tuesday meeting was formally noticed the day before, and the USF amendment was not publicly available until several hours before the meeting. No wonder there was only one speaker and some confusion among committee members who don’t live in Pinellas.

As before, we do not have a strong position on the proposal one way or the other.  Nevertheless, it should have been discussed publicly.  And the real issue – whether it is good for students or not (we don’t really know) – should be the focus of the discussion.  As far as we can tell, that hasn’t really been addressed by either proponents or opponents.

 

 

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