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Roundup 3-23-2018

March 23, 2018


Transportation – Round and Round

— Lessons About BRT

— Cleveland HealthLine

— Hartford CTfastrak

— Pittsburgh Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway

— Conclusion

— About Those Shoulders

— Let’s Talk


— We Don’t Need to Reinvent Every Wheel

— Streetcar

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Expanding, Sort of

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

St. Pete – Rising But Not Exactly Like This

Governance – Elections

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— The Inevitable

— Library


Transportation – Round and Round

— Lessons About BRT

From time to time there are articles in the local media (most often about transportation) that are not exactly news.  They are more like lessons (or sales pitches), but often the lessons they provide are not exactly what is probably intended.  This week, the Times had one such article.

The article in questions was titled “What could BRT look like in Tampa Bay? Here are three examples” This was the idea behind the article:

Bus rapid transit has emerged as Tampa Bay’s latest transportation solution. Many, though, may still be asking: “What exactly is BRT?”

Unlike rail — the regional transit option that pro- and anti-rail forces have long fought over — BRT looks different in almost every city. Each system is built to meet the individual needs of its city, region and ridership.

Sometimes the routes are built in their own, special busways (dedicated lanes or tracks). Other times they’re additional lanes added to existing roads. Some have fancy stations where passengers board at ground level. Others have minimal stops, few and far between to speed up travel time.

Here in Tampa Bay, planners have proposed building what may be the longest BRT system in the nation: A 41-mile line connecting Pinellas to Hillsborough to Pasco counties.

Interestingly, even setting aside that the local plan is not BRT, the article actually provides zero examples of what the local plan might look like, but we’ll get to that below.  The three examples were:

Cleveland HealthLine

Hartford CTfastrak

Pittsburgh Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway

We will take them in order.

— Cleveland HealthLine

The first BRT line is the often touted Cleveland HealthLine which runs from downtown Cleveland to the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University and University Circle, and beyond.  We have discussed this before (actually four years ago, which shows how long these discussions last, here “Transportation – Inadvertent Truths” where there is also some interesting information on operating costs of BRT versus rail).  We also have ridden the HealthLine.  It should be noted that it is easy to get to.  You just fly into Cleveland, take the train from the airport to downtown (because Cleveland has rail) and then walk on over to Euclid Avenue, where the HealthLine starts (at a stop like the one here)

The first thing you might notice about the HealthLine is that, at least downtown, it runs down the middle of a major road. (Much like the St. Pete BRT plan). It does not run on the interstate shoulder or in express lanes.  That alone makes it not analogous to the local “BRT” proposal.  The next thing you notice when riding the HealthLine is that it is not like a train. (By the way, there is a train stop just east of University Circle where you can catch a train back to downtown.) It does not look like a train:

From the Times – click on picture for article

And it does not ride like a train.  But let’s set that aside for now.

We are told:

The bus stations are in the road medians, have real-time arrival displays and ticket vending machines.

Which is true downtown, but not as you get farther out of downtown. When you get farther out, it does not even have a dedicated lane. (as you can see pretty clearly here) But, whatever.

Ridership on the HealthLine is pretty good, but, it has to be noted, it runs through downtown and on to probably the strongest part of the Cleveland economy these days, the Cleveland Clinic.  Which brings us to this:

Transit-oriented development has followed, generating $6.5 billion of development along the corridor, according to Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority CEO Joseph Calabrese.

There has definitely been some investment along the line.  However, some of it is renovating buildings downtown, the cause of which can be claimed by a number of investments.  Moreover, as we said the other end goes through University Circle.  According to this website promoting the area:

University Circle is a unique mix of world-class higher education, cultural amenities and health care that has become Cleveland’s “second downtown.” The center roughly four miles east of Public Square has enjoyed a renaissance for more than a decade, having attracted $3.65 billion of investment since 2002.

* * *

The Regional Transit Authority built the HealthLine in 2008 to connect Downtown Cleveland with the medical institutions of University Circle. The mass transit expansion has triggered more than $3.2 billion in economic development, which is the highest ROI of any public transit project in the nation. University Circle also is benefiting from the Opportunity Corridor Project, a $331 million three-mile boulevard designed to connect University Circle to Cleveland’s southern boundary and open up hundreds of acres for future development.

Regardless of the HealthLine, there was going to be development of expensive facilities in around the clinic and university.  And we are not sure how that all adds up, but, as we said, it is not relevant because the HealthLine runs down an arterial road and the plan here decidedly does not.

— Hartford CTfastrak

Next on the list is Hartford, which chose BRT over rail, even though it sits in an area crisscrossed by different passenger rail services (including actually useful intercity rail) which is expanding. In fact, CTfastrack uses an old rail right of way:

The 9.4-mile route was built in existing right-of-way along a railroad line. No other vehicles run in that space.

The transit agency said it continues to improve the service, recently adding heaters to stations and comping passes for university students.

A lot of thought and energy went into developing the 10 new stations, Solenksy said, such as making sure they had adequate lighting, seating and landscaping. Seven also have free parking on site.

As for the parking, if you look at the google maps version of the route (here) and click on the stations, most have very little parking.

Even with the right of way and short length, the project cost $567 million for 9.4 miles (not much cheaper than the studied CSX line in Tampa).  As noted, ridership is relatively good, though giving university students free rides probably helps. While the Hartford line does not run on an arterial road (and it is probably too early to know if there will be much transit oriented development), it does run on a dedicated right of way.  Once again, that is not like the local proposal.

— Pittsburgh Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway

The final example of what our plan might (but won’t) be like is in Pittsburgh.   Pittsburgh also has light rail, though it used to have a more extensive streetcar network (like most US cities). Due to its geography, which is very hilly, running rail can be an issue in many places and would likely involve a decent amount of tunneling, which is very expensive. Given the historical economy of Pittsburgh, that was unlikely. So, back in the 80’s they took an unused rail bed and turned it into a busway – unlike in the local plan, a fully dedicated busway (do you sense a theme?).

As the Times tells us:

Pittsburgh is home to one of the oldest BRT line in the nation, opening in 1983. The city actually has two busways, with the East Busway being the oldest.

Both run along railroad tracks, generally hidden from view and the communities they pass through.

Because BRT was built in a time when jobs were in decline and people were moving away from the city, development project manager Breen Masciotra said the agency didn’t see a lot of development around the stations.

That changed a few years ago with the redevelopment of the East Liberty Station. Through a lot of elbow grease, that project now has almost 20 different funding sources, Masciotra said. The redevelopment has helped connect the station and route with the community, and the agency said that has raised ridership.

While the line might not be as connected to the community as in other cities, officials said its strength lies in its frequency. Buses run every 3 minutes in peak hours, making it a reliable and speedy option.

Because the buses are essentially on their own highways, so they’re able to go as fast as 75 mph between stations.

Having also ridden this line and knowing other people who used it daily, we can attest that it is useful getting downtown, especially because it has its own right of way. However, it is very much a bus.

Additionally, here is the East Liberty station noted above, which is on the busway, not local streets. There is development around it.  The article makes it seem like the busway was the catalyst for development, but he cause of the development around East Liberty is a little vaguer than the Times article makes it out to be:

Indeed, East Liberty has become something of a tech hub, said Luis von Ahn, the co-founder and chief executive of Duolingo, a language-learning platform company with its headquarters in that neighborhood. Google Pittsburgh, with its more than 500 employees, also has part of its offices in East Liberty, as does AlphaLab, a start-up accelerator.

So it can be reasonably argued that the development is connected to the growing tech scene, but we will give the busway some credit.  You can live near it and get downtown effectively, and it is a half mile walk from the busway to Google’s offices.

It should also be said that other stations do not have the same amount of development as East Liberty, often because the busway serves much like an interstate cutting through a neighborhood rather than connecting it (and note the East Liberty station has the major road over the station/busway). In other areas it runs by already developed area making it difficult to know whether development is inspired by the bus or just the neighborhood.  Pittsburgh is working on getting more development, but we’ll have to see how that goes.

All that being said, however, once again, the Pittsburgh busway is a dedicated busway and not like the plan proposed here.

Notably, Pittsburgh (where the old HART CEO went) is also considering building a new BRT line, this time down arterial roads (at least until you get out of the middle of town). It will also use electrified buses, so it is more fixed, unlike here. (see here and here) Once again, they will not use highway shoulders.

— Conclusion

The fact is that the three examples of BRT held out in the article are attempts to do it right, and they are not at all what we would have here under the local proposal.  What we would have here is express buses on the interstate.  Lesson learned.

— About Those Shoulders

The plan proposed here proposes running buses on interstate shoulders.  We have noted that there are problems with that. In the last week and a bit there have been a number of examples of the problems inherent in that idea, specifically accidents (see here , and here, and here).  In all cases, an interstate was shut down in one direction after an accident (unfortunately, in one incident someone died)  And in all the “BRT” service would be completely disrupted. (And there was the accident on the Skyway that is not in the proposed path but continues to make the point especially about using lanes with mixed traffic on a bridge. )  That is not to say that other transit in dedicated lanes would not have disruptions.  It would.  But interstate disruptions are almost constant around here.  It is a major weakness in the plan.

— Let’s Talk

There was also an article in the Business Journal about the Tampa City Council’s reaction to the Regional Transit Study plan.  Admittedly, the article did not give the comments from the whole City Council, but here’s what it said:

Some Tampa City Council members are calling on more transit reform in the region than what is currently being proposed under the Jacobs Engineering Regional Premium Transit Feasibility Plan.

Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Beth Alden presented those plans during a meeting Thursday.

“I don’t have a problem with the plan per se,” said Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez. “If we’re going to spend that much money … let’s look at more [urban connections].”

The regional transit plan, which is still being updated based on public input, currently recommends a 41-mile bus route along Interstate 275 between St. Petersburg and Wesley Chapel. Suarez said he’d like to see stops along that route planned at street level so residents could have better access by foot or bike and to encourage transit-oriented development around stations.

Which drew this response:

The Jacobs plan lists 19 of its 21 planned stops along the 41-mile corridor as along city streets, but the plan isn’t final, and critics worry that won’t actually be the case. Alden touched on the issue Thursday, pointing out that stops off the highway would require buses to exit, navigate city roads and then re-enter the highway, costing valuable time along a route.

She suggests a combined approach, using local bus service along routes like Florida and Tampa avenues from downtown and Fowler Avenue from the University of South Florida to I-275, to complement local trips.

Now let’s look at what the engineer said last week:

Addressing complaints that the route wouldn’t be faster than driving and would do little to attract new ridership, Pringle said the route could be set up with some express services, where the bus would skip stops to connect major employment centers like USF and downtown Tampa quickly. He said all but two of the 21 planned bus stops would be off the highway in and around neighborhoods, to provide better access to communities while also encouraging transit-oriented development.

In other words, what the engineer says will help the plan, the planner says will hurt the plan.  We agree with the planner about stations on local streets slowing the system down.  And the plan won’t really help TOD anyway.  As for having local bus routes on Florida and Tampa, that requires frequent, useful connections, which will take money (not every 15 minutes at peak times like in the Regional Transit Study discusses for the “BRT”, see pg 35 of this pdf).  Changing buses also takes time.  And we are not completely sure why only Tampa and Florida are the focus.

In a separate presentation to the council Thursday, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority interim CEO Jeff Seward said the agency is studying those routes for potential bus rapid transit.

Fine (though the study is too limited, as we have noted before), but why spend money on the highway when you are going to just parallel it a few blocks away? Why not just run BRT up them instead of the highway?

Alden emphasized the value offered. The 41-mile bus route would require highway expansion and improvements by creating dedicated lanes through some corridors, express lanes in others and hardened shoulders along some spans. The Florida Department of Transportation is tentatively planning to include those necessary enhancements into its interstate modernization process currently known as Tampa Bay Next.

“We believe that FDOT’s offer … is a very valuable offer and we shouldn’t pass that up,” Alden said.

Arguably, it would be more valuable overall if FDOT did not have to spend some or all of that money to accommodate buses on the highway and spent it on proper transit on arterial roads.

And, from another Council member:

Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen said gridlock throughout the region will get worse over the next several decades and transit is a crucial part of solving that problem.

“It’s not a question of which [transit mode,]” Cohen said. “It’s really a question of how do we utilize all of these.”

And we could not agree more.  That is why we are all for going cheap on the express bus plan and focusing on real transit done properly.  Pretending that the express bus plan is in any way transformative or catalyzing is, in our opinion, wasting effort.  The fact is this is the Regional Transit Study plan is not “gold standard” BRT.  It is not really BRT at all.  As the plan exists now, it will not both be fast and promote TOD (It likely won’t promote TOD at all).  Why hold it out as “gold standard” BRT and then, almost invariably, not live up to the expectations of “gold standard” BRT? How is that catalyzing?

We don’t doubt that express buses are useful to some, but they are not our biggest need.  And if part or all of the bus plan can be pulled off the highway onto arterial roads to make it much more like real BRT so we do not waste money on highway work that may just be paralleled a few blocks away, then so much the better.

In any event, good for the City Council at least starting a real discussion.  Whether they get anywhere remains to be seen.


TBARTA got some money:

The Florida Legislature installed TBARTA as Tampa Bay’s regional transit facilitating arm during its 2017 legislative session, but didn’t provide funding to expand the group’s scope. The $1 million allows TBARTA officials develop a business strategy to implement regional transit.

The funding was a legislative priority for several local groups including the Tampa Bay Partnership and local chambers of commerce.

And let’s review, what is the money for?

TBARTA is required to submit a Regional Transit Development Plan highlighting service needs for the next 10 years to the Florida Department of Transportation. The agency will start the process to select a consultant to guide it through technical work and the public engagement process of developing a regional transit plan.

Public outreach will start in late spring and finish in fall 2019.

That’s all well and good.  We are well acquainted with public outreach and consultants.  Their record is mixed at best.

But, setting that aside, there was something interesting in the Business Journal article for those who were considering the CSX idea, there was this nugget:

A $25 million ask for alternative transportation funding through TBARTA died in the legislature.

Just in case you forgot, this was part of the ask:

The bills could be seen as anti-rail. They would create the Statewide Alternative Transportation Authority to replace the Florida Rail Enterprise.

This week’s Business Journal article is not entirely clear who was asking to make it harder to develop rail in favor of “alternative transportation” (from which, as we explained previously the bills’ language probably excluded BRT and express buses, though it is not entirely clear. See “Transportation – Jumble – The Legislation” ).  However, the article this week seems to imply TBARTA was asking for it, which would be a little odd if the CSX idea was being considered.  But, as we said, it is not clear.

— We Don’t Need to Reinvent Every Wheel

There was also other news about transportation:

The city of Tampa is partnering with the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research to use educational projects and research to find solutions to transportation problems facing the community.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed a memorandum of understanding with USF on Tuesday, solidifying the city’s commitment to use innovation to make government more effective and efficient.

One of Tampa’s primary challenges in attracting new businesses and the talent to run them is a lack of access to transit and what is becoming stifling traffic congestion.

What does this all mean?

The agreement does not obligate either USF or the city of Tampa to pursue specific partnerships but does stipulate that representatives from each entity meet “on a regular basis” to discuss potential projects as well as strategies to implement and monitor them.

Tampa Director of Transportation and Stormwater Services Jean Duncan and CUTR Director Robert Bertini will serve as representatives in the partnership.

Any project proposals that come out of the collaboration would still be subject to City Council approval. There is no financial obligation to the city as part of the collaboration.

Essentially, it means nothing specific.  We have nothing against consulting transportation professionals in an ongoing process to see if there is anything that can be done about local transportation.  Really, that is something that should always be happening.  So, in that aspect, this agreement is fine.

However, there is one thing:

Through its partnership, the city hopes to showcase itself as a vibrant, innovative and sustainable community through new technologies and methods, according to the MOU.

We have nothing against innovation.  However, sometimes it is also better to use tried and true methods that have been refined over time and, when done properly, work very well.  The goal should not be innovation (and it certainly should not be to just to try to appear innovative), it should be fixing transportation.  (If the goal is a vibrant and sustainable community, you need proper planning and proper infrastructure.)  Some of that will be innovative, but some of it likely will be off-the-shelf ideas properly applied.  Maybe doing that, in and of itself, would be innovative.

— Streetcar

There was a report on about the streetcar:

The City of Tampa’s transportation department has released it’s [sic] year-long study on one way to try and fix downtown traffic jams.

* * *

In a presentation Wednesday to Hillsborough County’s Metropolitan Planning for Transportation – city leaders showed maps of the three tracks they want to add.

This was the map:

From ABC Action News – click on map for website

About which it was said:

Maps show that the streetcar would go in a “Figure-Eight” plan that would take people on Tampa Avenue, Florida Avenue and Franklin Avenue.

Actually, the map comes from an earlier document (here) and shows two different alignments (Franklin Street and Tampa/Florida).  However, we can understand why someone would be confused.  Both alignments are marked in what sure appears to be the same color (even in the map key), which, it has to be said, is unique cartographical technique.

Hopefully, the actual planning will be clearer.

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Expanding, Sort of

The folks at SPP officially got control of more land this week.

The developer of Water Street Tampa has struck a deal with Port Tampa Bay that gives it control of a surface parking lot next to Channelside Bay Plaza where a new mixed-use building is planned.

The port board of directors on Tuesday unanimously approved a sale and land lease agreement with Strategic Property Partners for the Garrison lot, which is at the intersection of Channelside and Beneficial drives.

SPP, the real estate company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, will pay $9.86 million for a 20,000-square-foot portion of the Garrison lot — the northwest corner of the lot that’s farthest away from the port’s cruise terminals and closest to Channelside Drive.

SPP will control the remainder of the Garrison lot via a 40-year land lease at a cost of $517,667 per year.

So what are they planning?

A 362,000-square-foot mixed-use building that includes residential and office space — part of the southern bookend of the $3 billion Water Street, which stretches from the Channel district waterfront into the central business district — is planned on the Garrison lot. That building is shown in a conceptual rendering that SPP released in August 2017.

Bryan Moll, an executive with SPP, told the board that the developer’s vision for the Garrison lot property includes “lower-scale buildings along the waterfront with ground-floor retail and outdoor dining,” as well as “one or two” residential buildings.

That vision, Moll said, is “simply conceptual” and will be finalized in the next 18 months as SPP pursues entitlements for that portion of the development.


. . . Still in the conceptual phase, the development could include two residential towers – midrise or high rise, SPP director of development Bryan Moll said, with anywhere from 350 to 500 total units.

So, they (and, therefore, we) are not sure exactly what will be there.  Nevertheless, SPP has stuck relatively closely to their early announcements, so far. So it will likely be something of that sort.  This is the conceptual site plan:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

With the caveat that we are lacking details, it seems ok.  But this is a little of an issue:

The port also approved concessions for the developer to operate the port parking garage as well as two surface lots near cruise terminals Nos. 3 and 6. Changes in parking fees will require the approval of the port board.

(The concession is to SPP subsidiary CBP). While it is good that the Port has to approve any fee increase, so far local government has not said “no” to SPP (not that we thought they would, given how much SPP controls).

. . . Under the agreement, CBP will keep 37.5 percent of parking revenues collected, with the rest going to the port.

To be honest, we are not sure if that is a good deal. (Or, if as we would like, there is a plan transform the bottom of the garage facing Channelside into what it always should have been – retail space.) Up until now, the Lightning owner and SPP have been good citizens.  We have no reason to think that won’t continue, but we are not sure that the Port should have included the garage, especially with little or no real truly public discussion.

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

There was news about Riverwalk Place:

A developer whose portfolio includes two 50-plus story condo towers in Miami has joined the Riverwalk Place project in downtown Tampa.

Two Roads Development, based in West Palm Beach, is now the residential developer in Riverwalk Place, the 53-story, mixed-use tower that will stack luxury condos on top of office space on the last developable parcel on the downtown waterfront, at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street. It is slated to include ground-floor restaurant retail space, seven stories of parking, 14 stories of office space and 31 stories of luxury residential units.

* * *

Two Roads replaces Tampa-based Intown Group LLC as the residential developer. Intown Group sued Feldman Equities over a breach in contract in August 2017. Feldman filed a motion to dismiss a month later on the grounds that Intown has not invested any money or capital in the project.

That litigation is ongoing, but Feldman said that lawsuit “is not in any way, shape or form anything that can stop this project from going forward.”

Is there any news on breaking ground?

Typically, a condo developer has to secure deposits on a certain number of units — in some cases, up to 60 percent of the building — before breaking ground. Boren said that the dollar value of presales, not the number of units, is what will drive construction.

“There are quite a few construction lenders out there that would let us go vertical with few sales, and that’s not our typical MO,” Boren said. “Presales are not all the same. If we sold the top 30 percent of the most expensive units, we’ll feel better than if we sell the lesser expensive units. It’s a function of dollar coverage to the loan.” 

In other words, not really.  There are a number of rumors floating around, but they are just that for now.  But the Times gave us this timeline on information:

Feldman said the noted architectural firm Gensler is about 80 percent finished with design drawings of the tower, which will have several restaurants, about 10 floors of office space and more than 200 residential units over 35 floors. The tower will be “two to three grades” architecturally above any other high-rise in Tampa and will rival those in New York, London and other major cities, he said.

* * *

Plans are to release renderings within the next 90 days and open a sales center in the nearby Wells Fargo tower, one of several office buildings Feldman owns in the Tampa Bay area.

Needless to say, we are very curious.

St. Pete – Rising But Not Exactly Like This

St. Pete has just recently gotten a new tallest building, ONE St. Petersburg. For a while this week, it seemed that it may soon get another.  As St. Pete Rising reported:

In the heart of Downtown St. Pete at 400 Central Avenue, a 2-acre plot of land sits ready for development. Historically, this site was home to the Pheil Hotel and Central National Bank building which spurred commerce along Central Avenue in the 1950s. In the 1960s, an aluminum facade was added to the buildings which prompted locals to refer to it as the “cheese grater” building. By 2006, the complex was abandoned and remained that way for over a decade. 

Then in 2016, the site was put up for sale and in July of that year, it was announced that John Catsimatidis, a Greek-American businessman from New York City with deep family ties to St. Petersburg, would purchase the entire city block at 400 Central Avenue for redevelopment. Among Mr. Catsimatidis’ businesses is the Red Apple Group, a real estate company.

* * *

. . . the preliminary plans reveal a 610 foot, 52-story tower that will feature a hotel, condominiums, and retail. Over 23,000 square feet of retail space is planned for the Central Avenue side of the ground floor, which does not include a 3,600 square foot hotel restaurant located on the west side of the block. An additional 13,000 square feet of retail is located on the 2nd floor.

The proposed hotel will occupy six levels (8th through 13th floor) and condo units will fill the top 37 levels (15th through 52nd floor) in addition to a few low-rise condos on levels 3-6.


From St Pete Rising – click on picture for website

You can see more renderings at St. Pete Rising (here).  St Pete Rising noted:

While these plans may not reflect the final version of the project or what the Red Apple Group ultimately proposes, the size and scale of the development cannot be overstated. If these plans, or anything remotely similar, come to fruition, 400 Central Avenue will be the 3rd tallest building in Florida, outside of Miami, and will dwarf St. Pete’s current tallest building, ONE St. Petersburg, by over 150 feet.

Not only, if built, would it be St. Pete’s tallest, it would be the area’s tallest until (if it happens) either Lafayette Place or Riverwalk Place get built in Tampa. (At least there are cool renderings to contemplate, unlike Riverwalk Place)  Unfortunately, as reported in the Times, this is not the proposed design:

“Fake news,” Catsimatidis said Tuesday of the images of a mixed-used tower soaring 52 stories and dwarfing everything else in the city. The blog, St. Pete Rising, got the images from an anonymous source and posted them because they had been done by Hill West, a prominent New York architectural firm.

Hill West did come up with some plans, which apparently were leaked by an intern working for the company, Catsimatidis said. But his Red Apple Group has decided to go with Miami-based Arquitectonica instead.

A rendering will be made public soon “but we want to refine it first,” Catsimatidis said. Plans still call for a hotel and condos although the number of stories has yet to be finalized.

Setting aside that St. Pete Rising is a very good website and that, as clear from the quote above, “fake news” is inaccurate in this case, that is too bad.  We like the concept above.  Arquitectonica can do good work, but they also designed the disappointing Manor Riverwalk. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Governance – Elections

There was a column in the Times this week regarding election turnout:

Pinellas County held municipal elections in a dozen cities last week, and barely 20 percent of the registered voters participated.

Somehow, the news manages to go downhill from there.

You see, another seven cities canceled their elections entirely because they didn’t have enough candidates to field a competitive ballot.

* * *

Now these percentages are neither surprising nor new. When compared to larger counties around the state, Pinellas actually has better turnout than most.

It’s just that odd-year and local elections are typically hard sells. We can go from a 77 percent participation rate for a presidential election, to 57 percent for a gubernatorial election down to 27 percent, and worse, for municipal elections.

And that baffles me. You have a better chance of actually knowing the candidates in a local election. And you have a much greater chance of affecting the outcome of a race.

It is a fair point.  But it should also be pointed out that the elections are held on neither primary nor general election dates.  In essence, they are almost planned for low turnout.

Which brings us to Tampa:

Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer has asked the city to lengthen its runoff period between the first round of city elections to comply with an existing Florida state law that requires supervisor of election offices to send ballots 45 days before each election to overseas and military voters. Tampa has more than 1,100 overseas and military voters, said Gerri Kramer, Latimer’s spokeswoman.

* * *

Although the city charter currently requires the mayor and council members to be sworn in on April 1, it could be changed by ordinance — not referendum — to May 1, Territo said.

Pushing the final vote back would also mean that the qualifying period wouldn’t change and March 5 could remain as the first round election day, he said.

The other option would be to shift the first round of the election to early February, which would also move up the qualifying period, Territo said.

That could be a logistical nightmare as much of the first round campaign would take place in December and January.

“I don’t know how many people want to campaign during the holidays,” Territo said.

It has never been logical to have municipal elections in March/spring when major primary and general elections are on other dates.  The reality is that if you want turnout (which is not necessarily the goal of people setting the dates), the elections should be when major elections are.  And if municipal elections were the same as everyone else, the Supervisor of Elections would not have the same issues (and the added expense of more elections). Maybe it is time to rationalize the process.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— The Inevitable

We are often told that autonomous vehicles are going to dominate the future.  We are told they will be safer, faster, relieve congestion, etc. And they might.  But they might not. There were a few items this week that should be considered.

First, sadly, a woman was killed in Arizona by a self-driving car. (See here for more) That has inevitably caused a number of companies to suspend their testing, at least until what happened can be sorted out. That does not mean that designers will not learn from the accident, but to just assume safety is questionable.  In fact, there is an argument that they are not really much safer (at least not yet) than human drivers.

And, of course, the legal issues have just started.

Another thing to consider is this:

Now, however, a new information layer is destroying the nudging infrastructure that traffic planners built into cities. Commuters armed with mobile mapping apps, route-following Lyft and Uber drivers, and software-optimized truckers can all act with a more perfect selfishness.

In some happy universe, this would lead to socially optimal outcomes, too. But a new body of research at the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies suggests that the reality is far more complicated. In some scenarios, traffic-beating apps might work for an individual, but make congestion worse overall. And autonomous vehicles, touted as an answer to traffic-y streets, could deepen the problem.

You can read the article here.  Essentially the apps are sending people around traffic, and on side streets that planners have long tried to get people off.  When the algorithms take over and trip planning, it is likely to get even worse.  How are people going to react to heavy traffic on their residential streets? Will there be new laws that restrict what roads cars car drive on?  What effect will they have? Really, no one knows, but it needs to be addressed.

We are not saying that autonomous vehicles aren’t coming, but, as with a lot of other technology, the changes that may come are probably going to be different that the futurists (and investors) predict.  In some ways the changes will probably be more significant, but, in other ways, they may be much less.

— Library

A while back there was a discussion about what to do with the library downtown.  In an idea world, we would favor building a new one.  One new library is in Austin.  We are not going to get into detail, but if you are interested, there is an architectural write-up here.

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