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Roundup 9-28-2018

September 27, 2018

Contents

Transportation – All Around

— TBARTA

— One More Thing

— Bikes and the Built Environment

— St. Pete BRT

— Streetcar

— The Never-ending Ferry Story

Tampa Heights – Offices

Channel District – Another Revision

Airport – Cargo

Port – Business

Built Environment – Settling Streetscape

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

________________________________________________


Transportation – All Around


— TBARTA

TBARTA announced a new Executive Director:

David Green, former CEO of the Greater Richmond Transit Company, will take the helm at TBARTA as it transitions from the interim leadership of Michael Case, who temporarily led the TBARTA following Ramond Chiaramonte’s resignation on June 22.

* * *

“I understand one of the job responsibilities involves completing a Regional Transit Development Plan, which is very exciting. Last month my agency completed a 10-year TDP for the years 2018-2028. A new Bus Rapid Transit line and complete route redesign made this a far more complex, but interesting task than previous TDPs and provides a solid roadmap for GRTC’s foreseeable future,” he wrote.

Another key skill and experience Green brings to the table is being able to capture funding.

We don’t know much about him.  Regarding what has been reported, knowing about BRT is fine, but focusing on BRT rather than on serving our complicated needs is telling. (note: Richmond’s metro area population is 1,263,617.  Hillsborough County alone has a population of 1,408,566.  TBARTA covers much more than that.)  It is also interesting that, unlike the “BRT” plan, Richmond’s new bus line runs in surface/arterial roads.

In the east and west ends (blue and red on the map), the bus travels in general traffic lanes with other motor vehicles. Buses generally stay in the farthest right travel lane. This operation is referred to as mixed flow or mixed traffic operations.

Between Thompson Street and Foushee Street (green on the map), the buses travel in dedicated lanes in the median. Running the bus in the center of the roadway helps minimize conflicts (i.e., reduces crash rates) with vehicles turning to/from side streets and private entrances, in addition to allowing parallel parking in this dense part of Broad Street.  Dedicated lanes are also viewed as a traffic calming tool, allowing vehicles to adhere to the speed limit.

In the downtown section of the corridor, from 4th Street to 14th Street (orange on the map), the Pulse and local buses operate in a dedicated lane along the curb.  This improved bus lane functions like a shoulder-running bus lane and will reduce conflicts between buses, general traffic and pedestrians, increasing safety for all users.

 

From RideGRTC.com – click on map for website

Notably, it does not have dedicated lanes along much, if not most, of its path (which is hardly really BRT). Not to mention it runs with local buses in its dedicated lanes which is not very efficient.

But setting aside the new Executive Director, the most interesting in the reporting is this nugget:

TBARTA shortlisted four final candidates based on ability to lead the agency, transit planning and the catalyst project for the 41-mile bus rapid transit project it anticipates starting by end of this year/beginning of 2019, Case told the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

The BRT project is still in the feasibility stage. Jacobs Engineering is the consultant for the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan that identified the 41-mile bus rapid transit route, which is being funded through the Florida Department of Transportation.

Beginning of 2019?  Setting aside that there is not much enthusiasm for the “BRT” plan and it is still in the feasibility/public outreach stage (we won’t get into the catalyst thing), where is the funding?  There is no Federal money.  There is no local money (unless they are assuming that at least in Hillsborough they will use money raised by the sales tax if the referendum passes.  Even if they do, there still needs to be Pinellas and Pasco money).  In addition to no money, there is no real transit oriented development plan, there are questions about dedicated lanes, and there are a host of other issues.  Beginning by early 2019 is a very, shall we say, ambitious timetable, if true.

Getting back to the new Executive Director, regardless of the questionable focus of TBARTA, if he is who is going to be running TBARTA (at least in name), we hope he does a good job.


— One More Thing

Speaking of the “BRT” plan:

A crash with injuries early Tuesday morning has closed southbound Interstate 75 at the I-275 apex into Hillsborough County.

The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating a three-vehicle crash that involved a semi-truck in the southbound lanes of I-75 near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, according to an FHP spokesman.

While this was I-75, it jammed up I-275, and it could easily been the other way around.  It is just another example of why shoulder and in traffic running of buses is a poor idea.


— Bikes and the Built Environment

In what should come as no surprise to anyone, the Tampa Bay area is the most dangerous major metro area for cyclists.

The collision added to the already-high cyclist death toll in Pinellas County. Its per-capita cyclist death rate for the past decade ranks No. 1 among the four counties in the Tampa Bay metro area, which has the highest fatality rate of any major metro area in the U.S., according to federal data.

The Gulf Coast region stands out in a state that itself stands out: Florida has by far the highest per-capita bicyclist death rate in the country.

From the Wall Street Journal – click on picture for article

What explains the problem? The article points to more vehicles, driver distractions (esp. texting), and alcohol.  All of those are factors but distractions and alcohol are not unique to Florida.

Florida’s numbers are bad even when compared with other warm-weather states. Its recent 10-year cyclist fatality rate was 6.2 deaths per 100,000 residents; that is 59% higher than the rate in Louisiana, the state with the second-highest level.

Florida’s population is older and more densely packed, and the state gets a steady influx of tourists unfamiliar with local roads, said transportation-safety consultant Pam Fischer, who wrote last year’s GHSA report, which examined bike-safety issues nationwide. “You kind of mush it all together, and it helps us explain as best we can what’s going on out there,” she said.

Car-centric suburban development dating back decades is also a factor, say bicycle activists and transportation officials. Advocates for more bicycle-friendly roads say riders often must choose between riding on the sidewalk or bearing with cars whizzing by within inches of them.

Many suburbs are connected by six-lane arterial roadways that often have a speed limit of 45 mph or higher, said Ken McLeod, policy director at the League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C.

In a Times article contesting that ranking there was this:

Regardless of rankings, the Tampa Bay area does have a serious bicycle safety issue — one that state and local officials have focused on in recent years.

“Bicycle safety is one of the Florida Department of Transportation’s top priorities and as a result of our numerous initiatives, bicycle fatalities in Florida have decreased more than 22 percent over the past three years,” agency spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

Carson said her agency began a “focused initiative to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists on our roads” in November 2011. In the bay area and around the state, she pointed to safety education, a $100 million lighting project to reduce night-time crashes, a review identifying high-crash areas and measures to make them safer, a statewide Complete Streets policy making routes safer for all users, and more.

Much of the challenge comes down to changing attitudes among motorists and changing the makeup of the county’s roadways, said Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, the county’s land use and transportation planning agency.

“If you want to change behavior, you have to change design,” Blanton said. “It’s not that we can pinpoint one location. It’s spread like peanut butter across our county. You have to deal with it on a comprehensive scale.”

We agree, with a caveat. Even if we are not the worst, we are bad. We think the cause of Florida’s (and our) particularly bad problem is a lack of good infrastructure and the poor built environment.  Surely protected bike lanes (really protected, not just painted stripes) would improve the problem.  However, they are hard to execute in areas where there are large parking lots and an excessive number of curb cuts with cars cutting across the bike lanes in unpredictable ways. (All you have to do is experience a city where walking and biking is really supported to see how bad it is here.) And, of course, the excessive reliance on cars and need for people to drive everywhere only contributes to erratic driving.

And, while this may be a positive step,

State transportation officials say they have made a concerted effort since 2014 to boost cycling safety. The Florida Department of Transportation changed its standard width for bike lanes from 4 to 7 feet and now recommends buffered or protected bike lanes. The agency launched a $100 million push in 2016 to better light 2,500 locations where the number of nighttime crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists was high.

The state agency also lowered speed limits in some places, officials said. Local police have stepped up education efforts on topics such as using lights at night and riding with the flow of traffic.

Without changing the built environment, those steps will only be of limited utility (and the same is true of adding sidewalks for pedestrians).

The transportation referendum would provide funding for improving the bike infrastructure.  That is definitely an upside, assuming the money is spent building real bike infrastructure along these lines, not what we’re used to.

We are for steps that save lives and avoid life changing injuries, but the effectiveness of those steps will be limited by the extent of the change in the mentality of how things are built. It is all connected.


— St. Pete BRT

Speaking of BRT, for a while we have been saying that FDOT should just provide the $20 million for the St. Pete BRT plan that is being sought from the Federal government.  A couple of weeks ago we pointed out that the Federal government may be sitting on transit money instead of distributing it. (See “Transportation – Jangle On, Cont  — St. Pete BRT“)  This week, there was more news-ish:

For months, the rapid bus line was praised as the first local project to land state money and earn a medium-high ranking from the Federal Transit Administration. No transit proposal in the bay area has reached this point in the federal process, said Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority executive director Brad Miller.

“All signs about this project technically are very, very, very positive,” Miller said. “(Federal officials) really like it. It’s relatively low cost, and it’s a little different from their other projects.”

Perhaps even more surprising given the poor history of past transit initiatives, this project secured money from the local bus agency, received unanimous support from the St. Petersburg City Council and has buy-in from state and local leaders as well as the business community.

But even all that might not be enough to make the rapid bus system a reality. Federal funding in this political climate, Miller said, is “the thing that keeps me up.”

You can read the article (here) about the details with the Federal funding issue, but it shouldn’t keep anyone up, given the state supposedly favors BRT, claims it supports transit, and is willing to spend billions on highways.

Meanwhile, local and state funding is lining up to help pay for the Central Avenue project. The state already agreed to pay for about 25 percent of the $41 million cost. Another 25 percent is set to come from local sources: the Pinellas bus agency and the cities of St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach.

But for the project to start operating by late 2020 or early 2021, federal funds are needed to pay the other 50 percent of the cost, about $20 million.

Actually, funds are needed.  They do not have to be Federal.  FDOT could fund it.  Our legislators could get the money.

The St. Pete BRT plan is a perfectly reasonable, not extravagant project. If the Federal government is not forthcoming, FDOT should fund it fully.


— Streetcar

The streetcar will become free soon:

The TECO Line Streetcar System will begin offering free fares on Oct. 7.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority announced in June it was awarded nearly $2.7 million in grant funding from the Florida Department of Transportation and would extend the TECO Line Streetcar service hours, increase frequency and provide free rides to customers for the next three years.

The grant is aimed at boosting ridership along the 2.7-mile route through downtown Tampa and Ybor City. The streetcar had 26,112 riders in July, according to HART’s most recent data.  

That is one thing that FDOT has done right.  Of course, what happens after the three years is not clear, but being free for now makes sense.


— The Never-ending Ferry Story

There was ferry news:

The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners approved an eighth modification by a vote of 7-0 to the Tampa Bay Passenger Ferry Interim Public Private Partnership Agreement that’s between Hillsborough County, HMS Ferries Inc. and South Swell Development Group LLC.

The eighth modification extends the agreement from Sept. 30 to March 31, 2019 and provides an outline of specific tasks to be completed in coordination with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and MacDill to create a ferry route between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base with a possible connection to downtown Tampa, as well as a conceptual design and projections of ridership and revenue.

The cost amount approved for the associated tasks for the project is $774,573, funded through the Capital Improvement Program budget.

It never ceases to amaze us how the County finds money when it wants to.  So what does this money buy?

Tasks also include:

Given that the ferry operator wants to make money from the system, we are not sure why the County keeps paying for coming up with proposed designs.  And given all the years this has been dragging on, we are not clear why all this work has not happened before.  It was so long ago that some may not remember, but it was the ferry operator that proposed this service to the County.  We think they should be carrying the load.

We are not opposed to ferries, but this is getting (if it not already there ) ridiculous.


Tampa Heights – Offices

There was an announcement from the Heights project:

AxoGen Inc. (NASDAQ: AXGN), based in Alachua, has signed a “conditional agreement” to lease 75,000 square feet in a new office building in The Heights, planned on a piece of property that’s adjacent to Armature Works, according to a regulatory filing disclosed Sept. 20.

That represents half of a new 150,051-square-foot building planned on the block of The Heights that’s south of West Palm Avenue, north of West Oak Avenue and between North Highland Avenue and North Tampa Street. That block will ultimately be home to two office buildings that total 342,000 square feet — 300,000 square feet of office space and 42,000 square feet of retail.

The lease is with Atlanta-based TPA Group, an office developer. SoHo Capital, which owns the entire 50-acre Heights property, said Friday that the office buildings will be a joint venture with TPA Group.

That is a relatively large chunk of space. So what does that company do?

AxoGen, based in Alachua, north of Gainesville, focuses on the science, development and commercialization of technologies for peripheral nerve regeneration and repair. Its rent will start at $32 per square foot in the eighth month of its lease.

Good for the Heights in getting a lead tenant, and one from outside the area. It is interesting that it is in the Heights project and not some of the other higher profile projects but there is this:

Gross rents will be in the mid $30s per square foot, which will include four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet leased. That’s lower than at Water Street Tampa (mid $40s at Sparkman Wharf and low to mid $50s at a 20-story tower planned to break ground next spring) and Midtown Tampa (low to mid $40s for Midtown One, the first of three office buildings).

Price is always a factor. And the timetable is ambitious:

Developers said Friday they plan to go in for city permitting on the $102 million project in coming days. The equity and financing are in place. Construction is scheduled to start by the end of the year. Occupants — including a publicly traded regenerative medicine company, AxoGen, which is taking a quarter of the space — are expected to move in the first quarter of 2020.

That schedule would deliver Heights Union ahead of other Class A office projects recently announced at Water Street Tampa and Midtown Tampa, two other ambitious mixed-used projects.

As is the project itself:

Developers say they intend to deliver what’s becoming known in large metro markets as a Class AA project — a subset of commercial real estate’s Class A category that covers new construction with best-in-class finishes and amenities. And they see Heights Union as a boutique alternative to traditional office space, surrounded by an urban village that puts a premium on place-driven aesthetics and experiences.

Here is a rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And the location:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While a bit boxy, we like the design (with the caveat that we just have the renderings, which may or may not be accurate.  For instance this rendering  has a very interesting early Renaissance take on perspective). The massing looks balanced and fits with the neighborhood, and the façade is clean with the balconies adding a nice touch.  The location is also good, serving to help connect the Heights to the North Franklin area.  The more activity in that area the better.

In sum, we look forward to it.


Channel District – Another Revision

The apartment/storage project proposed for 111 North Meridian Ave has been tweaked again prior to a November 8 review hearing.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

The project features 305 apartments, 140,000 square feet of storage space, and 11,518 square feet of retail space. 414 parking spaces are provided, and 330 spaces were required.

That is a decrease of a few apartments.  Here are some new renderings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

And the site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Our view of this project has not changed.  While it is definitely better than the original proposal, we are not very enthusiastic about the storage element or the parking garage. (We aren’t that big on the 15-story kaleidoscope looking wall either but more as a 15-story wall with no features than the subjective aesthetic question of the kaleidoscope).


Airport – Cargo

As has been discussed, the airport cargo business is growing nicely.  Just how nicely?

According to statements posted on the airport’s website, cargo volume at TPA has doubled in three years, and the cargo business now employs more than 850 people.

* * *

With Amazon and UPS joining FedEx as heavy users of TIA’s cargo terminal, TIA has passed Fort Lauderdale as Florida’s third-busiest air cargo site and is closing in on Orlando International Airport for the No. 2 spot.

That is all good.  Maybe it can lead to expanding to more general cargo.

There were also a new ranking released:

Tampa International Airport was named the fourth-best large airport in the U.S. at keeping travelers satisfied, according to a study by J.D. Power released Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the study ranked Orlando International as the country’s best mega-airport regarding traveler satisfaction — tied with Vegas’ McCarran International — while Miami placed 16th in the same classification.

* * *

Though in different categories, Tampa, Miami and Orlando were measured on the same 1,000-point scale. In judging the three based off points alone, TIA accumulated the most with 799, while Orlando received 781 and Miami 750.

Coming in front of Tampa were Johan Wayne Orange County, Dallas Love Field, and Nashville.  We don’t quite get it but here’s how they got the numbers:

More than 40,000 travelers ranked airports across six categories: terminal facilities, accessibility, security checks, baggage claim, check-in/baggage check, and food, beverage, and retail offerings.

For more detail see here.


Port – Business

There was a flurry of Port news this week.  First,

Port Tampa Bay last week welcomed its 1-millionth cruise ship passenger for the first time ever in a single year.

The port hit the milestone on Sept. 17, when the count hit 1,000,524 for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. It rose further over the weekend when three more ships called at the port. The port on Monday projected a year-end total of more than 1.04 million passengers, which would be a 9 percent increase over last year.

That is definitely good news.  Growth is good.

Still, while a million passengers is cause for celebration locally, Tampa is still not the busiest port for cruises in Florida. In 2016, Miami saw about 4.9 million passengers, Port Canaveral about 4.2 million and Port Everglades about 3.8 million.

Tampa’s port is limited in the range of cruise ships that can call here because the biggest ones — the so-called megaships that can carry 5,000 or 6,000 passengers — won’t fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge. But it has grown its cruise ship business nearly 20 percent since 2016 by bringing in refurbished smaller ships in the 2,000- to 3,000-passenger range, as well as by taking advantage of the state’s growing population and serving easy-to-reach destinations.

(For more perspective on the numbers, see here) As we said, growth is good (the tourist boom is surely helping), but there is a relatively low ceiling without dealing with the Skyway, as there is in container cargo.  (The limitations the bridge, as attractive as it is, places on the Port should be an object lesson in the long-term problems of lack of ambition in major infrastructure planning.)

In more Port news:

In February, Port Tampa Bay celebrated the arrival of the first bunches to be unloaded on its docks in more than 20 years.

Now the Port Logistics Refrigerated Services warehouse at the port has received its first shipment of pineapples. They arrived Saturday aboard the M/V Juice Express, a combination juice tanker and container ship, from Chestnut Hill Farms in Costa Rica. They are headed to grocery stores in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.

Once again, growth is good.

The warehouse is preparing to receive 20 to 30 shipping containers of pineapples every other week, Port Logistics chief operating officer Rick Sharp said Tuesday in an interview from Buenos Aires, where he was talking with lemon juice exporters about shipping to Coca-Cola through Tampa.

All of that is good.  (If lemons can come from Argentina – around Brazil – why can’t other, not perishable cargo in containers?)

Finally,

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it has awarded a $47.9 million contract to Great Lakes Dredge & Docks Co. to deepen and expand the port’s Big Bend channel.

Here is some detail from the Army Corps’ announcement:

* * *

The project is designed to safely accommodate existing and prospective vessels that navigate Tampa Harbor. The overall project will deepen the entrance channel, east channel, inner channel, turning basin, and local service facilities at Big Bend from 34 to 43 feet. It will widen the entrance channel from 200 to 250 feet for a length of 1.9 miles. It will deepen the existing turning basin to 43 feet, and expand the existing turning basin to 1,200 feet. An estimated 4 million cubic yards of material will be placed upland in Dredge Material Disposal Area 3-D.

That is long needed.


Built Environment – Settling Streetscape

As regular readers would know, we are not fans of the Manor Riverwalk.  We think the renderings made the riverfront portion look much nicer than it really is (there was much more of a glass façade) and other portions look a bit cheap. (See here)  But what really got us was the awful parking garage and how it was the tallest portion of the building and would create a dead streetscape in what should be developing a nice, walkable area that could connect to the river. (it is not yet because of poor decisions made by the City in the past which are compounded by the Manor project)

The Business Journal has a photo of the downtown skyline that showed what we mean.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

For a bigger version see here.

If the City is serious about activating the river, it actually has to create a natural flow of people walking and biking to the river and the neighborhoods adjacent to it, not car-centric, blank streetscapes which are an actual and subconscious barrier to that flow.  It is just poor and made worse by just not having to be that way.  Both the developer and the City know and can do better.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

As those who are interested will know, Brightline is hoping to have service from Tampa to Orlando and on to Miami.   They posted a video on their Facebook page about people riding the service (here).  Even more interesting to us is an article in the Economist:

Brightline, a startup from Florida, thinks it can. Instead of being greeted by grey concrete and the whiff of urine, as at many Amtrak stations, Brightline’s Miami terminus looks like the lobby of a posh hotel. Early this year it opened its debut line, costing $3bn, between Miami and West Palm Beach in Florida, America’s first new privately-funded passenger line for over a century. On September 18th it announced plans to expand, starting with a new line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

There is more in the article (here) about even bigger plans, though nothing about Tampa.  Nevertheless, it is worth reading about their ambitions (and some of what has messed up Amtrak).

 

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