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Roundup 8-24-2018

August 23, 2018

Contents

Welkom!

— In Other News

Transportation – Jangle

— It Is How We Thought It Was

— About Those Dedicated Lanes

— That Confounded Bridge

— When is Dedicated not Dedicated?

— Ferry News

— The Money

— The Editorial

— What Do You Want?

West Tampa/Built Environment – When You Don’t Settle

Economy – Office Rents

South Tampa – Well, That is Odd

Channel District – Changes

More on Autonomous Cars

 

_________________________________


Welkom!

A new international nonstop for the airport was announced this week:

Delta Air Lines announced Wednesday it will begin service next May from Tampa International Airport to Amsterdam, giving TIA its fifth destination in Europe.

“This was one of our top priorities,” airport CEO Joe Lopano said at a news conference as passengers streamed by in the main terminal.

The Amsterdam service is expected to fly every day during peak periods and four to five times a week during non-peak periods. Officials estimate it will have a local economic impact of $110 million a year, supporting an estimated 1,000 jobs associated with tourism and business travel throughout the Tampa Bay area.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is among the busiest is Europe and is one of Delta’s largest European hubs, with connections ranging from Europe to the Middle East, India, Africa and Asia via Delta partners KLM, Air France, Alitalia and Jet Airways.

It is actually the return of flights to Amsterdam (we had them years ago), but this time it is on a Sky Team airline.  With that, we will have a nonstop to Europe on all three major alliances (though the British Airways flight goes to Gatwick, which is not the main hub).  Well done.  And, of course, the graphic:

From Tampa International – click on picture for Facebook page

The people who pushed against the complacent consensus years ago should be very proud (including about all the converts who have come to the cause over the years).


— In Other News

A few weeks ago, the Business Journal had an article with a few airport projections.  We’ll just share these:

The airport is projecting to handle 21,692,480 passengers during fiscal year 2019, which is a 3.2 percent increase compared to 2018’s full year projection.  Although the airport expects the number of passengers to hit 22 million.

* * *

The airport is anticipating to beat the fiscal year 2018 revenue budget with an $18.5 million increase during fiscal year 2019.  The airport anticipates fiscal year 2018 revenue being $240.5 million and is projecting the 2019 budget will be $259 million. 

That would be quite good.

Additionally, Frontier is adding some more destinations:

We have added six new cities via @FlyFrontier! Fly from TPA to Charlotte, Grand Rapids, Greenville, Norfolk, Portland, ME, and Syracuse with “low fares done right!”

And Sun Country will start flying to Nashville.  More is better.

Over at St. Pete-Clearwater,

Canada-based Flair Airlines on Monday said it will launch nonstop flights between Winnipeg and six Sunbelt destinations, including St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

* * *

Flights between St. Pete-Clearwater and Winnipeg will take place Mondays and Fridays, starting Dec. 17.

Which, as far as we can remember, is a new destination for the Tampa Bay area.


Transportation – Jangle


— It Is How We Thought It Was

— About Those Dedicated Lanes

Last time, we discussed a growing consensus even among “BRT” plan supporters that any “BRT”/BRT plan needs to run in dedicated lanes.  (The “BRT” plan has never proposed most of the system in actual dedicated lanes.) Last week, FDOT spoke:

The Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7 office is not considering dedicated bus lanes for the 41-mile bus rapid transit route recommended to begin solving regional transportation problems. The agency confirmed on Tuesday the comments made earlier this month at a Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority meeting.

The statement stymies what has become a common point among elected officials, business leaders and transportation experts that bus rapid transit has to be operated in dedicated lanes in order to realize the full effect of increased ridership, faster commutes and guaranteed travel time.

“When we get into the dedicated lanes … I’m afraid that is going to drive the cost up to the point where federal funding won’t be an option for us,” FDOT District 7 Secretary David Gwynn said at the tail end of an Aug. 3 TBARTA meeting at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority headquarters in St. Petersburg.

It may or may not.  Other areas have obtained Federal funding for far more expensive plans, and, looking a raw politics, this is the biggest swing area or the biggest swing state.  But anyway:

When asked about dedicated lanes for a previous Tampa Bay Business Journal feature in June on the BRT standards, the agency rejected the notion that buses operating in express lanes would be any less effective than a dedicated lane.

Gwynn doubled down during the August TBARTA meeting.

“We were asked about running buses in express lanes versus on shoulders adjacent to express lanes and I stated that we would prefer to have them run in express lanes. This has shown to be very successful in South Florida. We believe that express lanes provide travel time reliability for all vehicles including buses,” FDOT spokesperson Kristin Carson said in a statement when asked about the comments.

The article discusses whether the use in south Florida is successful, but that really is not relevant because FDOT is fixated on highway expansion/express lanes. You may recall that, when the “BRT” plan was first proposed, we were told that it was a good plan because it “leveraged” FDOT’s interstate expansion – meaning it would just use and help justify that expansion and the express lanes in it. (AKA it’s cheap)  And the use of the interstate was entirely predictable based on all the discussion – mostly about express buses in express lanes – that preceded it.

Additionally:

The agency is still considering dedicated lanes north of the Interstate 4 corridor using hardened and widened shoulders, but does not want the lanes on the Howard Frankland Bridge and South of I-4.

Setting aside the bus on shoulder (which are not dedicated lanes) issues that we have discussed over and over (for example here), the original idea of the plan was this:

The buses would run along the interstate shoulder in Pinellas, then cross the Howard Frankland Bridge using the state’s proposed toll lanes on a future eight-lane rebuild of one of the spans.

Once in Hillsborough, they’d travel in the expansive median of I-275 between the Westshore area and downtown Tampa. That corridor was set aside during the recent interstate expansion for a transit system.

Or put another way:

The 41-mile route would run in dedicated lanes through Westshore and downtown Tampa and in dedicated shoulders around downtown St. Pete. The bus would run in tolled express lanes across the Howard Frankland Bridge and in general traffic north of the University of South Florida area. “Gold standard BRT” requires operation in a dedicated lane.

Apparently, now FDOT is nixing even the small stretch of truly dedicated lanes between downtown and the Howard Frankland.  They are doing the opposite of what even the supporters of the plan want. (Of course, dedicated lanes do not raise toll revenue.)

Instead, Gwynn said he thinks BRT can work well in managed, express lanes. Those lanes use variable toll rates to control the flow of traffic in express lanes. The more traffic, the higher the toll. But experts refute that claim, arguing managed lanes can still get clogged and accidents can still block lanes, removing travel time guarantees and potentially slowing commuters.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy ranks BRT projects based on a series of metrics including dedicated lanes. That feature is required to obtain the group’s highest ranking — gold star — and near necessary for its silver star rating.

In all honesty, the “BRT” plan that came out of the FDOT funded study was never going to be “gold standard” BRT.  It was not going to be BRT at all.  It is an overly expensive express bus, and we are not surprised that FDOT thinks using express lanes is fine because that was always the idea they pushed.

Just look at the FDOT District 7 Secretary’s comments posted here starting at about -1:20   that were partially quoted in the articles noted above. (We transcribed his comments. If there is a typo or mistake, we apologize.)

When we get into dedicated lanes, especially within the express lane areas, I’m afraid that’s going to drive the cost up to the point where Federal funding won’t be an option for us.  We’re asking our consultant’s to take a closer look at that to figure out what the cost would be.  My personal opinion, um, express lanes can serve a bus if it’s operated appropriately . . .

First, transit can be built without Federal funds, though it is harder. (The St. Pete BRT plan is still on hold pending the Feds giving it $20 million.  Given that FDOT wants to spend $6-9 billion on the interstate, it should be able to find $20 million for a transit plan using a system, BRT, that supposedly is favored in Tallahassee.)

But the more interesting point: the consultants apparently did not even look at dedicated lanes in the interstate right of way, which implies (if not indicates) that the plan was always to run the buses on the express lanes.  They were not interested in “gold standard” BRT (arterial roads) or even actual, not great BRT (dedicated lanes along the interstate).  Not very thorough, even for a study of studies.

In any event,

The agency’s reluctance to incorporate dedicated bus lanes into its regional transit feasibility plan is counter to the general consensus within the Tampa Bay community. So far, numerous groups and local leaders have gotten behind dedicated lanes. The Tampa Bay Partnership, a business advocacy group consisting of some of the region’s most powerful business influencers, supports the regional BRT and insisted it include dedicated lanes.

We’ll have more on that consensus in a bit.

— That Confounded Bridge

Speaking of dedicated lanes, there was also news about the Howard Frankland rebuild:

The Florida Department of Transportation is prepared to pay a contractor $814 million to design and build a new, 8-lane Howard Frankland Bridge linking Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

A draft request for proposals outlined the project, which would involve eight lanes of traffic and a bike and pedestrian trail. The final version of the RFP will be advertised on Dec. 10.

The new bridge will be the largest contract in the history of DOT’s local Tampa Bay office, said spokeswoman Kris Carson. The $814 million limit is an increase to the 2017 estimate of $750 million to build the 8-lane bridge.

The price keeps going up, so obviously the new bridge will have real room set aside for dedicated transit.

This massive structure will have four lanes of traffic going south, to St. Petersburg. It will also have four express toll lanes: two lanes traveling in each direction. Only drivers who pay a toll, which will fluctuate based on demand, can use those express lanes.

Ok, it won’t have dedicated lanes (just variable rate express lanes) though those express lanes can be replaced by transit as made obvious by FDOT’s promo graphic:

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

However, given this:

Of the two northbound express lanes coming into Tampa, one will continue on I-275 and turn back into a general-purpose lane. The other will exit to State Road 60. 

One has to wonder whether there is really an intention to ever convert those lanes for rail or BRT. (But never fear, the bridge will have a pedestrian/bike lane – which we don’t mind – immediately adjacent to traffic lanes – which we do mind.)

The state expects to award the bid in 2019. Construction is slated to start in 2020, with the bridge opening to traffic in 2024.

We get that the bridge needs to be replaced (and we are for it), but it has always struck us as odd that FDOT is presenting firm plans for the bridge before transit studies and TB(n)X processes are done and we know what we really want the bridge to look like. If they needed to replace the bridge sooner, why didn’t they do the studies sooner?  And even if the timing of the bridge and study did not work out exactly, there is always the concept of contingency planning.

— When is Dedicated not Dedicated?

But, never fear, there is that consensus pushing FDOT for dedicated lanes.

The final version of the RFP will be advertised on Dec. 10. But as of now, it does not include any way of accommodating BRT outside of the toll lanes.

“There is room for flexibility for changes,” DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

Given the flexibility and consensus, of course, FDOT will change the plan to accommodate dedicated lanes.

Typically once an RFP is issued, contractors have some flexibility in designing the project, but that usually refers to small changes, said Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton.

In his experience, he said major adjustments — such as changing the number of lanes, or how they’re used — are typically off the table once the RFP is issued.

He believes the changes that Carson pointed to usually refer to cost and time savings, or smaller alterations, such as building a 15-foot bike path instead of a 12-foot path.

“It really does to me, in my mind, say if BRT gets done at all, it will be operating in the managed toll lanes,” Blanton said. “As a transit advocate, it makes a ton of sense to me … I’m not at all worried about that.”

There goes the consensus.  It is strange how using express lanes makes sense to him when just a few weeks ago, he said this:

Dedicated lanes “are essential to creating a service that people will value,” said Whit Blanton, head of Forward Pinellas, the county’s transportation planning agency. “(They) provide a more reliable trip than driving, and would allow transit to be competitive in terms of travel time.”

What changed other than FDOT being stubborn? Other advocates surely are maintaining the consensus.

But BRT supporters believe that transit option works best when the buses have their own, dedicated lane — especially when crossing the bridge.

“This is the centerpiece of the regional transit project, getting across the bay,” Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans said, whose group has been rallying the business community and politicians to support the project.

“We can’t afford to have the BRT congested and stalled getting between St. Pete and Tampa.”

Homans stressed that a dedicated lane doesn’t have to mean an entire travel lane, but can refer to a hardened shoulder that the buses can use to avoid traffic. Most of the BRT route, in fact, would use hardened shoulders along Interstate 275.

Except a shoulder is a shoulder, and a dedicated lane is a dedicated lane. No amount of rhetoric will change that.  (That’s why the rest of the country calls the limited use of shoulders by buses in heavy traffic “bus on shoulder.”  And, as we have noted over and over, there are safety and speed issues with using the shoulder.)  Just like a bus is not a train, a shoulder is not a dedicated lane.  Period.

Homans said he trusts the state will find a way to make room for a dedicated BRT lane on the new bridge.

“We’re asking the designers at FDOT to be as creative with the Howard Frankland as they’ve been with the other parts of the project,” Homans said. “We’re confident that there’s a solution out there once they prioritize transit and ask themselves, ‘How do we make this happen?’”

We are confident there is a solution, too, because converting some express lanes for dedicated transit right of way was allegedly already in the bridge plan.   Based on what the alleged plan was, we should not even be having this conversation.   But here we are with FDOT saying “no,” local officials backtracking, and no sign of a decent plan.

Given the poorness of the “BRT” plan and FDOT’s determination to make it worse, the logical conclusion, once again, is to go cheap on the express buses on the interstates and focus on our real transit needs with a real transit system.  And it is up to local officials, including the legislative delegation, to get FDOT to serve our actual needs and make plans that fit our area.


— Ferry News

— The Money

There was news on the Cross Bay Ferry from the Times.

The CrossBay Ferry that links the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa is returning in November — but don’t count on an abundance of nearby parking spots in the Sunshine City.

The Pinellas County Commission voted 6-1 on Tuesday to join the Tampa and St. Petersburg city councils, and the Hillsborough County Commission, in each approving a $150,000 subsidy. The vote ensures the ferry will return for a second run.

* * *

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and St. Petersburg and Tampa each contributed $350,000 to pay for the 2016-17 pilot program, introducing the bay area to the concept of a leisurely 50-minute ride across the bay. The ferry sold more than 37,000 tickets and proved most popular on weekends.

Under terms of the new proposal, the first $200,000 in revenue generated by the ferry will go to the four governments. The next $200,000 will go to Seattle-based HMS Ferries. After that, profits would be split evenly between the member governments and HMS.

The ferry operator has agreed to return for two additional years, Zeoli said. The city’s requests for money from each government entity would decrease each year, depending on ridership figures, he said.

Commissioners stressed that the $150,000 subsidy is only for 2018-19.  

We expected the money to be supplied.  From the Business Journal,

The ferry service is predominately a leisure amenity, but its success serves as a proof of concept for another ferry project in the works that would allow workers at MacDill Air Force Base to use a higher-speed ferry to get between the South Tampa base and southern Hillsborough County.

It is correct that the Cross Bay Ferry is a leisure amenity.  It is not a proof of concept.  The concept does not really need proving.  Everyone knows that there are ferries that are routinely used.  Whether one would succeed here depends on the specifics.  In reality, all the coverage of the Cross Bay Ferry is a distraction from real transportation issues. 

— The Editorial

Which brings us to an editorial in the Times had about the MacDill Ferry idea.

A proposal to use local money to ferry workers to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa always has been a questionable idea. The loss of nearly $5 million in federal money toward the project makes it all the more suspect. It’s time the ferry supporters offer a plan that makes sense or abandon ship. They also need to justify spending tens of millions of public dollars on a ferry that may or may not be of much use to the general public.

Which leads to an interesting point:

They also should explain why county dollars should be going to provide a closed transit loop for employees assigned to a U.S. military base. In the grand scheme of things, $22 million is not much to pay for the capital costs of a new transit system. But shuttling one group of workers around is a low priority for local transit dollars.

The closed nature of the plan was not previously discussed clearly. It may or may not be the case that the investment it worth it, depending on how many passengers there are and how far they now travel on roads.  On the other hand, it would be better if there was a component for the general public.

In any event:

Tampa attorney Ed Turanchik, who represents the companies involved in the public-private venture, HMS Global Maritime and South Swell, said this week the county’s use of local money will put the project on a faster track. He estimates his group will present several site options with cost estimates, business plans and ridership projections to the county by January, and include provisions for service for the general public between Tampa and St. Petersburg. He also said the project could again pursue federal funding later. 

That’s fine, and a relatively inexpensive system for limited purposes may (though it may not) be fine, but we are not for focusing on ferries before focusing on transit that serves the area’s main needs.

Water is an incredible asset for the Tampa Bay area to leverage for its transportation needs. But local governments have to be smart in using their limited resources. If this is the best use of the BP settlement, or any other public money, then the supporters need to offer more specifics and a clear timetable for the project to start. The county has already paid or pledged nearly $500,000 to examine this venture. It’s time to decide whether it deserves any more interest or public money.

There are other, less delicate ways of saying it, but, yes, it is time (and certainly will be after the referendum, one way or another) to decide.


— What Do You Want?

There is a new survey about how you would like the area planned.

Transportation planners in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties have launched a survey for residents to choose which sort of traffic-alleviating options they want most.

The online survey presents residents with three wildly different scenarios — from autonomous vehicles and interstate toll lanes, to a mass transit focused plan that has dedicated lanes for buses and an extensive rail system. The feedback will be incorporated into the 2045 master plan for transit in the Tampa Bay region.  It’s expected to be released in fall 2019.

Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the survey will ensure residents have a say in regional development.

We are dubious of such surveys because they already have decisions cooked into them and, even when they do not and even if planners listen, far too often elected officials have ignored those plans.

On the other hand, that could change so we recommend doing them and writing as many comments as you want.  And because you should have your say.

It does not take too long.  Go ahead and do it here.


West Tampa/Built Environment – When You Don’t Settle

Last week, the City Council considered a project in North Hyde Park (more accurately known as West Tampa.  You can speculate on your own about why real estate people and City try to change the name.)  It went very interestingly.  First, what were they considering (quotes courtesy of URBN Tampa Bay)?

This evening, Tampa City Council will consider a rezoning request in the North Hyde Park neighborhood at 608 N Willow Ave. The project is a 6 story, 172 unit apartment building, with 400sqft of commercial, which we have posted renderings of before.(https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=608%20willow)

The development will cover most of the block on the SW corner of the intersection of Willow with Cass St. The developer is seeking to have land zoned commercial (CG) changed to PD (Planned Development, a flexible kind of zoning which requires the city council to approve what gets built.)

The neighborhood has been concerned since first hearing of the project, that it lacked sufficient commercial space along two existing commercial corridors providing jobs and commerce in the neighborhood. The neighborhood supports bringing more businesses, shops and restaurants to the neighborhood, but that can’t happen if developers keep turning commercially zoned land into residential.

To address those concerns, the developer revised the plan to include the 400sqft space for 3 small coffee shop/bodega type businesses fronting Willow (the ground floor plan is slightly different than shown on the attached site plan, which is most recent version city has put on portal). The proposal would otherwise present the back doors of apartments to pedestrians along commercial streets.

* * *

It takes one glance at the proposed site plan and elevations for this project to see that while it may be a step up from the meeting facility for the Tampa Showmen’s Association located there now, Tampa would be settling by accepting this functionally single-use residential development at an intersection of blossoming commercial streets in this neighborhood.

What did the City Council do?

BREAKING: The residential proposal with a token of 400 square feet of retail at 608 W. Willow St. in North Hyde Park was REJECTED at tonight’s Tampa City Council hearing. The reasons cited for rejection included a lack of mix of uses, among other things.

The vote was 4-1 against the project, with Miranda voting in favor of the project. Viera was absent and Cohen was recused. The project was not granted a continuance, meaning the developer would have to start the approval process over with a fresh project if they wish to continue to pursue development on this lot.

What is really interesting is what happened next:

On Thursday night a proposed apartment project with token (400 sf) retail space was rejected in North Hyde Park by the Tampa City Council.

This morning, a developer who had a proposal for a single-use apartment project going before city council next month, contacted North Hyde Park Alliance that they would be adding a 1,100 square foot market or bistro. Obviously, the developer wouldn’t be adding this retail in if the city council’s meeting on Thursday hadn’t of gone the way it had. They were watching Thursday night’s meeting, and knew they had to modify their project if they wanted approval.

This is a clear example of why having strong design standards matters. The whole notion that developers won’t come, or they can’t get funding for mixed-use projects, is just developers misleading you at best.

As for this particular project, we will have to see updated site plans to see if this modification is enough to earn our support. Our first inclination is that 1,100 square feet for a project which is almost an entire block is not going to be enough to activate the street to facilitate the sort of walkable urban neighborhood residents are seeking.

(You can see renderings here)

Setting aside that the retail space is still inadequate, at least it was added (though in the wrong place, see here).  And, based on the timing, clearly it was added because the City Council made clear that they would require some retail. (Now they need to say there needs to be more).

Settling breeds settling.  Good standards breed good projects. We are lucky because we live in a growing area.  People already know we are here and want part of our market.  Developers want to make money.  Most of the time they will build the easiest project from which they can make money. (And that is fine. They are a business.) But the City does not have to, and shouldn’t, race to the bottom.

We have no reason to settle.

So, good for the City Council.  This should happen far more often.


Economy – Office Rents

A few weeks ago, we discussed office rents and noted that Class A rent reaching the mid $30s /sq. ft. meant that new speculative construction was becoming possible.  In a Business Journal article discussing a real estate agent working to lease Midtown:

Bishop has moved from her own firm, Bishop & Associates, to Cushman & Wakefield Inc.’s Tampa office, where she will spearhead the leasing of Midtown’s 750,000 square feet of office space. The first phase, the 10-story, 176,000-square-foot Midtown West, is set to break ground speculatively in early 2019.

Midtown North and Midtown South will follow. The asking rental rate on Midtown West is $40 per square foot — full service — and includes parking. Offices at Midtown will include four parking spaces for every thousand feet leased.

Of course, it is notable that they plan on breaking ground on the first office building early next year.  But more interesting is the rent.  And this:

Rents of $40 per square foot are a new high benchmark for Tampa, where the current highest rents are in the mid $30s. But Midtown isn’t the only project aiming that high; the office space in Sparkman Wharf, in the Water Street Tampa development, is asking for mid to high $40s per square foot.

That rate is not high for brand new class A space in major Northeast or West Coast markets, but it is pretty high here.  Good for them if they can get it.


South Tampa – Well, That is Odd

There was news of a new proposed condo on Bayshore.

A Bayshore Boulevard property that was mired in a yearslong controversy over a previous development proposal is once again being targeted for a luxury condominium tower.

Kolter Group, based in West Palm Beach, has filed preliminary plans with the city of Tampa for a 21-story at Bayshore Boulevard and South DeSoto Avenue.

Under the property’s current zoning, up to 90 units are allowed, said Brian Van Slyke, one of Kolter’s development executives. But it’s unlikely Kolter would build more than 60 or 70 units on the property, he said, and they would be priced from $1 million.

That is not odd, but this is:

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

That is one odd Ziggurat-like building.  Hopefully it is more of a massing drawing. Regardless, part of the oddness probably stems from the details of this:

Citivest had proposed a residential tower on the site in 2003 — scaling back plans for a 31-story tower to 24 stories — but those plans were struck down by the Architectural Review Commission and eventually city council. Citivest sought millions in damages and eventually settled with the city for $3.75 million in 2012.

Some may remember that one of the big objections during that process was neighbors complaining about the building casting shade on their houses, so we get the setbacks.  We do not know about the rest of the oddness.  Hopefully, they can find a more aesthetically pleasing way to address those issues.  Time will tell.


Channel District – Changes

There have been more changes to the propose projects with apartments and storage at 111 North Meridian Ave.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

The project has changed significantly. The project is 15 stories now, when it was just 8 stories before. The residential unit count is now 309 units, up from 191 units. The retail space is 11,518 square feet, up from 10,000 square feet. The amount of storage space remains at 140,000 square feet.

Here is a rendering and site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

We definitely did not like the earlier iterations, but this project is getting better.  Setting aside for a moment that we still do not think that storage really belongs in the Channel District, there are still issues of parking garages and where exactly the retail is located relative to the size of the frontage, but they are moving in the right direction.  But storage is definitely not the best use for the land being used for storage.


More on Autonomous Cars

Before you say (or listen to anyone saying) autonomous vehicles will fix all our transportation woes (which they will surely be saying at the Florida Autonomous Vehicle Summit in Tampa), there were some interesting comments from a BMW executive:

Fully autonomous cars may never be allowed on many public roads, according to BMW’s special representative to the UK, Ian Robertson.

Speaking at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Summit, Robertson highlighted BMW’s leading role in developing self-driving systems, but conceded that it may never be morally acceptable to leave the decision for unavoidable accidents to a machine. “Imagine a scenario where the car has to decide between hitting one person or the other — to choose whether to cause this death or that death,” he said. “What’s it going to do? Access the diary of one and ascertain they are terminally ill and so should be hit? I don’t think that situation will ever be allowed.”

BMW already has more than 40 vehicles testing on public roads running 660-mile (1000km) journeys routinely. However, Robertson revealed that, while the majority of the trips are completed without problems, the engineer on board has to intervene on average three times.

* * *

“That’s good, but we are working in a scenario where it has to be perfect,” he said. “If we are working towards a ‘brain off’ scenario, where perhaps we expect travellers to even sit in the back of the car and relax, then that clearly isn’t possible today, despite what some might tell you.

* * *

“But I believe that in the long term, the regulators will step in and set boundaries about how far we can go. It might be to allow it only on motorways, as they are the most controlled environments.

Or perhaps they’d essentially ‘rope off’ parts of cities to allow autonomous cars into controlled areas, where the consequences for pedestrians are controlled.”

Perhaps. (You can read about a different report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety here)  And perhaps the future is not as clear as some contend.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    August 24, 2018 8:26 AM

    What happened to the state’s original plans to include a reinforced section on the bridge for future use by rail transit crossing the bay? FDOT is notorious for bait-and-switch, and shortchanging the Tampa Bay Area. It would be a huge mistake to eliminate it. The reinforced section could be used in the nearer term for dedicated BRT lanes if that plan ever emerges as “gold” standard BRT, and eventually for rail transit if we end up going in that direction for crossing the bay.

  2. Tommy Dunlap permalink
    August 24, 2018 8:29 AM

    Good stuff! Just found this site. WTF with that bayshore project design! Am so glad someone is trying to develop the unsightly armpit of channelside. No issue with storage use being next to the Tampa electrical power grid station. Way better than existing industrial user and prob best can get TBH. Keep up good work!!

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