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Roundup 4-12-2019

April 11, 2019

Contents

North Tampa – No

Transportation – In the Nettles

— That Boulevard Thing

— That Did Not Take Long

— Streetcar

— Scooters

— Virgin Trains

West Tampa – Better

Bayshore – Hyde Park House

Airport – Building

Built Environment/Planning – Parking

Politics – Good Question

Complete Streets in the Pete

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

List of the Week

_________________________________


North Tampa – No

We posted this a little early because something came up.  However, that affords us the opportunity to us to say that the project 820 East Busch Blvd. that is going before City Council tonight (Thurs. 4/11) is just not good enough. (See URBN Tampa Bay’s very good take here) We are all for redeveloping this site, but the proposal needs to be improved significantly.


Transportation – In the Nettles


— That Boulevard Thing

Last week, we referenced the I-275 to Boulevard concept. This week, URBN Tampa Bay had a guest posting from the guy who initially proposed the idea and started the whole discussion. (You can read it here)  We are not going to quote the whole thing.  It is worth reading the whole thing.  But this is the crux:

I know what you’re thinking. We can’t remove I-275 tomorrow. We won’t be able to remove it in five years — maybe even ten. Hell, anything is possible. You’re right. The fact is, Tampa is not ready for this project. This city has years of transit projects to catch-up on, a generation of previously unfunded improvements, schools without sidewalks, and streets without bike lanes to tackle first. We need serious zoning and code reform. We need robust commuter rail, ferries, and an expanded streetcar and we need the political will to follow through on it all. We can and will do all these things. With All for Transportation, we will get there. What we should do, is aspire to do more. Aspire towards a future where this isn’t a hard decision. Where we’re focused on getting the water out of the balloon.

We completely agree.  The idea is worth considering and, as we wrote in the long piece we referenced last week (long piece here), there are preconditions that need to be in place to make it really work well.  That does not mean it cannot be done.  It means that it needs to really be considered and approached methodically so, if it is done, it is done really well.

We commend his approach.  And we should definitely aspire to do better than what is proposed now.


— That Did Not Take Long

As people who follow such things know, HART just hired a new CEO.  What is he saying?

Benjamin Limmer just finished his first week as the new CEO of HART, Hillsborough County’s public bus agency. He’s on a listening tour to hear what the public has to say about the area’s mass transit woes. He tells WUSF’s Steve Newborn that years of cutbacks are about to be a memory, courtesy of a recently-passed sales tax referendum will pour money into the system.

Listening tour.  Ambition.  That is good.

Limmer says the time is ripe to build on the foundation of coooperation that has been started between the various transit agencies in the Tampa Bay area. 

Ambition and regionalism.  Fine.

That could mean bus rapid transit – which is being planned to connect Wesley Chapel in Pasco County with downtown Tampa and across the Howard Frankland Bridge to Pinellas County – or maybe light rail sometime in the future.

We were wondering how quickly he would start with the “BRT” plan.  The reality is that HART’s plans should not include the “BRT” plan at all.  It does not serve Hillsborough’s needs.  It does not fulfill the ideas in the referendum. It is an utter lack of ambition – prototypical Tampa Bay settling.  Hillsborough should not be spending money on it.

He should be focusing on fixing the bus system in Hillsborough in preparation for building a proper, real transit – real BRT or rail (or both) – system.  The “BRT” plan should be a nonstarter. (As we have always said, if they want to do a cheap express bus, fine.  Hillsborough should not support the lowest common denominator that is the “BRT” plan).

We understand he is new. We are willing to give him a chance.  But if he goes straight into the “BRT” plan, we will know the talk of ambition and listening is just the standard rhetoric.


— Streetcar

There was more news about streetcar ridership.

The numbers are in and March was our busiest month yet! The TECO Line Streetcar carried 99,675 trips throughout the month. Year-to-date ridership is at 451,289 with six months left! The Streetcar carried roughly 200K trips in FY18.

Yes, you read that correctly. In March, the streetcar carried basically half as many people as all of last year.  Once again, the demand for useful and not stupidly priced transit is there.

And the cost of running it for free and with greater frequency is quite low.  From a June 2018 Business Journal article:

Tampa’s downtown streetcar will be free for three years, the Florida Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

The agency awarded a $2.67 million Transit Service Development Grant to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, eliminating fares for the historic TECO Line Streetcar.

Given the low cost and the results, the funding should become permanent.


— Scooters

We assume scooters are coming to Tampa, but:

Tampa City Council members were expected to approve operating agreements with four e-scooter vendors to start rolling their product, but instead, the city is delaying the process.

City council members approved a motion to move discussion and approval on the operating agreements from the April 4 meeting to April 18. The program was expected to start by April 1.

* * *

“Just acknowledge when you have scooters and walkers on the same sidewalk and street and the state doesn’t allow them on the street, there’s a problem,” councilman Charlie Miranda said.

The legislature is working on that and hopefully will solve that problem before the end of the session, councilman Mike Suarez responded.

The change definitely should be made, and the bill is moving through the legislature (though, as we have said previously, there should be more provision for local regulations in the bill).

Like we said, we are assuming scooters are coming; it is just a matter of when and exactly where.


— Virgin Trains

There was Virgin Trains news.  First,

Virgin Trains USA just received a big boost for its $2.3 billion Orlando-to-Miami route.

The Florida Development Finance Corp. voted unanimously 3-0 to approve $950 million in new bonds during its board meeting April 5 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. The move comes as Virgin Trains, formerly known as Brightline, had announced on April 4 that it had the funding to begin construction on its Orlando-to-Miami route and will begin construction in April.

That is on top of this:

The additional bonds come as Virgin Trains USA on Monday announced that investors made orders on more than $1.75 billion in private activity bonds that were previously approved by the FDFC. The bond orders will close on April 18, and proceeds will be used for the Orlando-to-Miami route, among other uses. 

Goddard said during the meeting there is continued private interest in investment in the train line.

Meanwhile, the Orlando-to-Miami service is expected to take 30 to 36 months to complete, launching in 2022 and is expected to stabilize operations within two years.

And

Branson also asserted that his company’s presence has kept the Orlando link on track.

“Under the Virgin Trains banner, the team was able to raise nearly $1.8 billion here in the last three weeks,” Branson said. “That’s the money we need to build to Orlando.”

Branson said Virgin has “98 percent brand recognition in America and nearly 100 percent in Europe, whereas Brightline is really only known in Miami.”

“So I think the Virgin brand has helped in the process,” Branson said. “I think many people will learn about Virgin Trains in Orlando and jump on them.”

Obviously, getting to Orlando is a prerequisite for getting to Tampa.  And about Tampa:

Buoyed by $1.8 billion in funding to extend his newly renamed Virgin Trains from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport, Sir Richard Branson said Thursday he is “100% confident” the former Brightline train line will also be extended to Tampa and Disney World in short order.

“I’m 100% confident, obviously reassured that we just raised $1.8 billion to do the first major leg of that, and I’m absolutely certain that Tampa will be getting a Virgin train in the not too distant future,” the billionaire businessman told reporters as he rode the train to each of its three existing stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Given all that, we a cautiously optimistic.


West Tampa – Better

There was news about an apartment proposal in West Tampa (aka North Hyde Park).  From URBN Tampa Bay:

After working with us and city staff, the developer of 608 Willow in North Hyde Park has come back with more enhancements to their proposal:

First, the project is announcing a showpiece art installation by North Hyde Park’s own Josh Pearson of Pep Rally Inc., who has done art installations for Sparkman Wharf, Nike, the Tampa Bay Lightning and more. The art installation will be 56′ x 26′ at the Northeast corner of the building. The design of the installation will be revealed at a later date.

Second, the amount of retail space has been increased again, in the form of outdoor eating space with a shade overhang. As you can see in the renderings attached, the 895 square feet of patio space is shaded all the way up to the property line. Including this patio eating space, there is over 4,000 square feet in the proposal now.

These additions compliment the enhancements recently made to the proposal, when the developer turned the first floor units into walk-up units, with front doors leading out to the sidewalk.

This project goes before the Tampa City Council on May 9th.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

While it is not as much as we would have liked, it is definitely an improvement. (Though it would be nice if it had shade trees rather than palm trees.)  And good for the developer for working with the City and other interested parties to make the project better. What would be even better is if the City had a real plan for this area so this dance were not necessary for every project.


Bayshore – Hyde Park House

The Hyde Park House condo proposal received approval from the ARC.

The Architectural Review Committee approved Hyde Park House on Wednesday. The controversial 21-story condo tower at 2103 Bayshore Blvd. had drawn neighborhood opposition for various design features and not fitting in with the Hyde Park Historic District.

The project has 70 condo units.

We think the project is ok, but, like most Bayshore projects, it is lacking on the street level.  We also still think the top is a bit weak.  Nevertheless, it is moving forward.


Airport – Building

There was news about the office building which is part of the second phase of the airport master plan.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday awarded a contract to VanTrust Real Estate to develop a 9-story office building – the first commercial office building linked to Tampa International Airport by a people mover.

The building will be located in a prime spot in the new SkyCenter development, with an elevated pedestrian walkway connecting the adjacent atrium to the SkyConnect station at the rental car center. Other amenities of the 270,000-square-foot building will include a conference center, fitness center, café and access to multipurpose trails that will eventually join with Tampa Bay’s regional trail network.

* * *

Construction should be completed in 2021. VanTrust, which is based in Kansas City with offices in Jacksonville, will design, build and manage the office building and adjacent parking garage. The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority will occupy three floors – a move that allows the airport to relocate its in-terminal offices to make way for expanded curbsides with express lanes for passengers who aren’t checking bags.

* * *

The building will serve as the primary home for the Authority’s employees and the nerve centers for all airport operations. Given the critical nature of the work, the building has been hardened against severe weather and is more robust than similar office buildings in the area. Everything from the windows and walls to the HVAC and life-safety systems have been upgraded. The building will feature back-up utility lines – including power, data – and will also have generator back-up.

 

From Tampa International – click on picture for website

As part of the deal, the aviation authority will lease the third, fourth and fifth floors “and other required spaces” in the SkyCenter office tower. Its rental rate is $43.09 per square foot, according to the agreement.

The authority has also structured its eventual purchase of the tower, at an “anticipated value” of $110 million, into the agreement. It will purchase the building “following certain conditions being met” three, five or seven years after it takes occupancy of its office space there.

The rent is a bit on the high side for this area generally (as for new buildings – slightly more than Midtown’s asking rate but under the rates for Water Street) but the hardening and redundancy of systems would obviously cost more than a normal office building and it is new construction. (We do not know the conditions for a purchase so we cannot speak to that cost.)

It is a unique location, the Aviation Authority needs office space, it moves the project along, and we are all for the airport having first class facilities.


Built Environment/Planning – Parking

Parking minimums have been a ubiquitous part of American city planning for a while.  As we have discussed before, that is starting to change.  Recently, a Café con Tampa session was dedicated to the issue, and URBN Tampa Bay did a write-up:

The audience was shocked to learn that Tampa residents spends 56% of their median household income on housing and transportation. Combined with our lower prevailing wages, locals take a very real hit to their quality of life, in part to pay for required parking that often sits unused. The audience also learned that the rising cost to develop structured parking locally (Which is now up to $50k per space) is making urban housing offered at attainable prices for middle income workers virtually impossible to build. They also explained to the audience how on-site parking requirements encourage sprawl by reducing not just the affordability of urban development, but also the density of it. Of course, pushing residents farther away from work and play destinations only raises their transportation costs, because cars themselves aren’t exactly affordable either. (According to AAA, the average cost of car ownership, all costs included, has risen to nearly $10k per year per car.)

That is all true, and clearly a problem.  The presenters proposed a change:

The pair proposed a 4-step policy solution to get Tampa moving in the right direction, towards reduced parking requirements and greater affordability:

  1. Identify transit corridors with at least 20 minute peak rush hour frequency (see attached map).
  2. Remove parking requirements within a half mile of the identified corridors.
  3. Meter the street parking in these areas with on-demand pricing. Pricing public parking in this way has proven effective in other markets at both managing the supply and raising revenue to fund transportation improvements.
  4. Invest the revenue from these parking meters on enhancing neighborhood infrastructure like sidewalks, bike lanes, burying obstructing utilities and so on.

We have attached their handout from the meeting.

This is the map referenced above:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The first thing we will say is that elimination of parking minimums in urban areas well served by transit and built in a walkable way is fine with us.  Developers will still likely have some market incentive to build some parking but will not have to build seas of parking required now.  In areas where people can walk and use transit, some will definitely choose to do so and costs will come down.  Right now, in Hillsborough County, downtown, Tampa Heights, and the Channel District are the best examples of where minimums could be removed, namely because people can just walk and there are multiple ways to get around including the Downtowner and streetcar (especially if/when expanded).

However, the issue we have with this area is that generally transit is not there.  20 minute peak frequency is not that high.  And there is the question of off-peak frequency.  Yes, the referendum money (assuming the courts approve) will help with that, but right now it is an issue.  Moreover, some areas on that map – like Hillsborough Ave – are just a mess, especially toward Town and Country.  And, yes, part of that mess is caused by minimum parking rules.  Part of it is also caused by other rules on how things are to be built.  And part of it is lack of proper infrastructure investment for walking and biking.  That is all true, but it is still a mess.

Moreover, if you look at the map rather bizarrely there is no line with 20 minute peak frequency going to Westshore – not from downtown, not from anywhere.  Not only does that mean that Westshore does not meet the requirements but that people who work in Westshore will not have a decent transit connection. Because Westshore is the biggest employment center in the area, that is a problem.

We get using the transit frequency idea as a threshold, but the minimum frequency threshold should probably be higher and some accounting for urban-ness and connectivity of the area.  In other locations, minimums could be lowered – in some places quite significantly.

Finally, this is really a chicken and egg problem. Does urban-ness and transit availability remove the need for parking or does removing parking minimum rules create an urban environment where people walk and use transit?  We would say both, depending on the area.

But the real key is to have true frequency in transit.  Without that, the idea will just not work well.  And in most areas we are still waiting for that.

Nevertheless, reducing/eliminating parking minimums needs to be on the agenda.


Politics – Good Question

A Times column asked a good question:

A mere 20 percent of voters weighed in on the Tampa mayor election with the runoff looming. How do you get people to care about what’s next for their city?

Here’s an easy way to increase turnout: put the municipal elections with the general elections.


Complete Streets in the Pete

There is news that St. Pete is looking to change 34th Street in the south part of town.

Officials are looking to convert two lanes on 34th Street S between 22nd and 54th avenues to lanes reserved for buses, and for cars making right turns. The change would impact the far right lanes along that stretch, leaving two lanes each way for regular traffic.

This is the second set of specialty lanes planned in St. Petersburg, and city officials say they would like to make them a reality by 2022.

* * *

The 34th Street S plan also calls for widening sidewalks up to 10 feet across and adding several enhanced mid-block crosswalks with flashing beacons that people can activate to stop traffic.

Aside from the mid-block flashing beacons, it seems to make sense, particularly because:

That stretch of 34th Street is operating at less than 50 percent of capacity, according to Forward Pinellas, the county’s transportation planning organization. Milvain and others on the county and state level say the wide lanes filled with relatively little traffic encourage people to drive faster than the 45 mph posted speed limit.

In other words, we are not talking a road diet on Dale Mabry.  St. Pete is taking advantage of excess capacity in its roads to remake.  We have no problem with that.  We would hope they change their code to make the buildings along that stretch more conducive to people taking buses and walking.

Of course, there is some opposition to any change, though it is by no means clear that most people object. Moreover, many of the complaints stem from the King project about which, given specific conditions in that area, we had some concerns. In all these projects, the details are important.  And,

The majority of the projects are focused on making streets more accommodating for bicyclists and pedestrians by slowing speeds, adding shared lane markings (known as “sharrows”) and creating neighborhood greenways.

But many times, residents hear about the projects one at a time or only after they are already open.

“I would like to see the whole big picture and not just these individual pieces,” resident Tonya Wright-Gaskins said at a community meeting earlier this month. “They might get more buy-in from the community if they shared the whole vision.”

That is very true and a common problem in this area.

Back to 34th Street, there is one thing that is a bit disappointing:

Unlike other places in the city, transportation officials do not have plans to add bike lanes to 34th Street S. Cyclists would be encouraged to ride along the extra-wide sidewalks or use alternate parallel routes, like the bike lanes on 31st Street or the trail along 37th Street, said Evan Mory, the city’s transportation director.

It is too bad they could not find space for protected bike lanes, though the trail (here) on 37th where it exists is fine.

(Side note: We were previously told that in the mid-Pinellas stretch of US19, riding on sidewalks is more dangerous than in unprotected – unless you count a stripe of paint – bike lane on the street. See “Transportation – In the Bramble — US19”.  However, if you look at the 37th street trail, it is basically a wide sidewalk.  While, yes, there is less traffic on the 37th Street than US19, it is odd to make a trail using the more dangerous option.)


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

For all those who tell you that the autonomous cars takeover is imminent and will solve our transportation issues,

Uber expects it will be a long time before one of its biggest investments, self-driving cars, is ready for wide-scale deployment, a senior scientist said on Monday, as the ride-sharing firm gears up to go public.

Raquel Urtasun, who is chief scientist at Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) and heads the group’s unit in Toronto, spoke about the challenges for self-driving development at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York.

“Self-driving cars are going to be in our lives. The question of when is not clear yet,” Urtasun said. “To have it at scale is going to take a long time.”

* * *

Urtasun’s comments fall in line with the rest of the self-driving industry, which after much hype and bold promises has tempered expectations and pushed out timelines for deployment. The extreme technical challenges of building cars that can predict human behavior and respond appropriately proved greater than even some of the industry’s brightest minds had anticipated.

And that does not even get into the likelihood that autonomous vehicles travelling perpetually will likely make congestion worse. You can read the article here.


List of the Week

It has been a while since we did a list of the week.  This week, the Times reported on US News and World Report’s Best Places To Live.

Tampa Bay is growing as a destination. According to the U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Places to Live” list, the bay area ranked No. 56 among metros, rocketing up from its No. 75 spot last year.

* * *

Released Tuesday, the list ranks the 125 most-populated metro areas around the country on aspects such as job prospects, affordability and quality of life. Tampa scored 6.6 points out of 10 overall, including 6.6 points out of 10 for its job market, 5.7 for value, 6.9 for quality of life, 6.6 on desirability and 8.3 on attracting new residents. Its affordable housing and job market scores were significant contributors to its rise in rankings, U.S. News said.  

While it may be a decent jump, landing at 56th place is not really a cause for us to celebrate. We did not even crack the top 1/3. So who is ahead of us?

Coming in first is Austin, followed by Denver, Colorado Springs, Fayetteville (AR), Des Moines, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Francisco, Portland (OR), Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, Huntsville, Madison, Grand Rapids, san Jose, Nashville, Ashville, Boise, Sarasota, Washington (DC), Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Greenville (SC), Portland (ME), Salt Lake City, Melbourne (FL), Phoenix, Boston, Albany, Lexington (KY), Houston, Winston-Salem, Omaha, Reno, San Antonio, Ft. Myers, San Diego, Pensacola, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Ft. Wayne, Lansing, Jacksonville, Manchester (NH), Harrisburg, Charleston (SC), Knoxville, Hartford, Lancaster (PA), Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Buffalo, Richmond, Syracuse, and Chattanooga.

In other words, the top locations are mostly usual suspects. (And good for Sarasota.)

You can see the methodology here. Interesting, where we scored weakest was value, which is:

The Value Index, also called Housing Affordability Index, measures how comfortably the average resident of each metro area can afford to live within his or her means. To accomplish this, we compared the median annual household income to the housing cost in that metro area. The Value Index is determined by dividing the blended annual housing cost by the blended median annual household income for each metro area.

No surprise we did poorly there.  As we have often noted, while our housing costs are relatively low, so are our incomes. (And that does not even get to transportation including insurance.)

In any event, the jump is good (and it is just one list), but we have work to do.

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