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Roundup 5-31-2019

May 30, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Cornucopia

— Meet the New Plan . . .

— Scooters

— AFT

— BoS

— Huh?

— Roads to Nowhere

— Not Hard

Downtown – Filling In?

West Tampa – Not Exactly

Westshore–ish – Midtown

Economic Development – Reading

Parks – Interesting

Water Street – Well . . .

Rays

Et tu . . ?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_____________________________________


Transportation – Cornucopia


— Meet the New Plan . . .

The TBX, TB(n)X saga has gone on for years.  Throughout that time, FDOT has said it was open to input and wanted to work with the community.  It said it was not beholden to any specific plan.  It said things like this:

Local DOT secretary David Gwynn confirmed to Hillsborough elected leaders Wednesday that the agency will not pursue toll lanes on I-275 between I-4 and Bearss. The move had been opposed for years by activists in Tampa Heights, V.M Ybor and other neighborhoods along the stretch.

In its place, I-75 would become the main north-south option for moving commuters from suburbs north of Tampa as part of the department’s rebranded Tampa Bay Next initiative. The department has begun a year-long state study to determine where along I-75 to charge the tolls.

And

“Since we have a parallel interstate facility on I-75, we’re going to look at I-75 as our express lane corridor,” said Ed McKinney with FDOT.

At the same time, FDOT has steadfastly pushed variable rate toll lanes (“express lanes”) and significant widening through central Tampa as its main focus. This week, FDOT posted four options for the Interchange rebuild on YouTube.

Here is Option A

Interestingly, in Option A there are express lanes north of the interchange. Yes, FDOT’s video appears to designate them “direct connect to/from express lane” as opposed to “express lanes.” But they are limited access lanes that run from the interchange to north of MLK separate from the general traffic lanes. They are not just “connect” lanes; those lanes are express lanes (though maybe not tolled).

Moreover, the alignment in the video north of the interchange was not even presented as an option in the public meeting in Seminole Heights a few months ago. (See articles here and here and FDOT TB(n)X website and docs here, here, and here) But we cannot say we are that surprised.  That is how this process has worked (and, historically, how much of Tampa Bay area planning works).

The other options are here:

Option B

Option C

Option D

Notably, they include a widened I-275 north of the interchange, though that alignment (essentially) was presented at the March meeting.

The reality is that little has changed. As they have in the past, all options cut additional swaths out especially right around downtown – and into Ybor.  (Frankly, they could probably fit most or all of the added capacity lanes into less land, especially if the added capacity was in normal lanes rather than the tolled express lanes which, as made clear by the videos, require all manners of extra ramps and overpasses that chew up land and expand the interstate footprint. That is even more so when you consider that the tolled express lanes concept is designed to expressly not carry the same amount of traffic as regular lanes. But anyway.)

However, we cannot really blame FDOT completely.  They are given mandates, and clearly their mandate here is to jam in express lanes and not think creatively or comprehensively.  The real fault lies with the local officials who have collectively pushed this project forward (though a number of those officials are no longer in office) without demanding better and our legislative delegation which has collectively (of course, there are individual exceptions) supported roads to nowhere while impeding local efforts for transportation alternatives and proper transit. (If local officials do not care about the area, why would FDOT?)

And it remains true that the interchange needs some fixing. But it also remains true that adding a few lanes (even express lanes) is not going to reduce congestion (at least not for long).  Induced demand, plus population growth, will simply clog those lanes, leaving the same problem with less money and less land to try to widen the highway again.  We are not opposed to some rational improvements to the interstate (say really fixing the bottleneck at the east end of the Howard Frankland rather than half fixing it and then building two toll express lanes), but that needs to be done in concert with a more comprehensive transportation system.  And we need real alternatives to driving. (And if FDOT really needs to build a toll road, there is always that long-planned east-west road in Pasco.)

It appears, therefore, that the best way to get anything done is to change local government thinking.  First, there are elections.  Then, there are public hearings. There is one regarding the interchange:

RSVP now to attend the June 11 MPO Board public hearing- downtown Tampa, county center, 6 pm (event details at link): https://www.facebook.com/events/349884108992314/

Give your opinion.


— Scooters

Electric scooters are now available in central Tampa.

“That half-mile to mile and a half trip they would take with their car or with an Uber is something that we can replace,” Spin Operations Manager Dan Fleischbein said. “Our customer is a very wide range of different people. People off all ages ride this. In all cities, we have some different rules.”

* * *

Spin’s permits have been approved for docking stations at the following locations:

– Zach Street between Ashley and Tampa streets (near SkyPoint Condominiums)
– Cass Street between Ashley and Tampa streets (near Marriott Hotel)
– Twiggs Street (near Amtrak Station)
– Madison Street between Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue
– Franklin Street between Brorein and Whiting streets (near USF building)
– Channelside Drive between Meridian Street and Beneficial Drive (near Sparkman Wharf) 

In those locations and with decent pedestrian infrastructure, people could also walk or take the streetcar, but choices are good.  Unfortunately, as will always happen, some are just ignoring the rules.

However, Jean Duncan, transportation and stormwater services department director, said it has been brought to the city’s attention that people have been abandoning scooters in areas that are not corrals and people have been seen riding them on the Riverwalk and in the middle of streets. Users cannot ride the scooters on the Tampa Riverwalk, Bayshore Boulevard sidewalk, 7th Avenue and on any private property, according to city documents. 

First, the corral idea has inherent issues because 1) they are in too small an area and 2) the whole point of the scooters is point to point travel.  A decent number of people are not going to bother finding a corral and then walking the rest of the way.   We would suggest looking for a different method of keeping the scooters out of the way.

As for avoiding certain sidewalks, if the scooters were not allowed on the sidewalks at all, it would be a lot easier to enforce.

For now, we will attribute these hiccups to the newness of the scooters.  We shall see in the long run.


— AFT

Should the transportation referendum be upheld in the courts, the oversight committee is in place.

All of the cogs are in place to move forward with new transportation and transit projects under Hillsborough County’s recent sales tax revenue stream.

All members of the Independent Oversight Committee required under the All For Transportation sales surtax charter have been appointed by the appropriate agencies and governments.

* * *

Rick Fernandez, the Tampa City Council appointee, said the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization is planning the first meeting. He expects it as early as next month, but possibly in July.  

You can see the members of the committee in the Florida Politics article here.


— BoS

There was also news about FDOT/PSTA’s little bus on shoulder (BoS) effort in St. Pete:

The Florida Department of Transportation has published an advertisement for proposals for the design and construction of widened shoulders along I-275 from Interstate 375 to State Road 694 (Gandy Boulevard) in Pinellas County.

Interestingly, unlike the rhetoric around the “BRT” plan, this plan admits BoS does not really have dedicated lanes, and this plan openly conforms to the proper safety practices of BoS  – meaning it is not necessarily very fast:

The project entails widening of the northbound and southbound outside shoulders to allow transit vehicles to travel on them when congestion slows traffic to less than 35 miles per hour.

FDOT is working with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority on the pilot project. If a bus moves onto the shoulder, it can’t go more than 15 mph faster than the speed of traffic.

In other words, if traffic is going 35 mph, the bus is going 35 mph.  If traffic is going 5 mph, the bus is going at most 20 mph (assuming there are no emergency vehicles or broken down cars on the shoulders) And, just to be clear, we do not mind that they are follow proper safety practices.  We applaud it.  We are just pointing out that the “BRT” plan’s proposed use of bus on shoulders is not really BRT; it is a bus running on the shoulders a little faster than the traffic in the lanes, sometimes.  (And that does not even get into the fact that running on the interstate is ineffective for transit oriented development or pedestrian use.  But we have already gone over that numerous times.)

This effort would be fine for a cheaper express bus service between St. Pete and Tampa that should be started rather than the wasteful and inefficient “BRT” plan. Then the focus could be on real, useful transit.


— Huh?

As most people know, SunPass had a few issues last year during a software change.  That led to some billing problems, which carried over to the Expressway Authority.

Since FDOT, THEA, and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority merged billing systems last June, initial SunPass bills now all come through FDOT and Conduent.  But the 2018 meltdown meant many bills were backlogged by more than half a year, and customers’ service issues often go months without resolve.

The problems prompted a series of 2018 investigations by WTSP, exposing FDOT and Conduent negligence; it also prompted the eventual promise from the state that drivers would have extra time to pay the surprisingly large bills.

* * *

FDOT has extended its grace period for drivers to pay down backlogged bills because state leaders don’t want drivers to have to choose between their toll bill and their grocery bill.

And, given the history, the grace period makes sense.  However,

Despite a promise from Gov. Ron DeSantis that drivers affected by Florida’s SunPass account meltdown won’t face any penalties until at least June 1, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) has started sending out threatening collections notices.

The story was first reported Wednesday night by WTSP in Tampa Bay.

According to the report, THEA is sending warnings to drivers who have not yet paid down their accounts from driving on the Selmon Expressway after receiving two previous notices from the state’s contractor, Conduent.

One might think that was just an inadvertent act, but that seems less likely given this:

However, a THEA spokesperson told WTSP this week that the agency is not violating the Governor’s mandate because it is only threatening action against drivers, not actually taking action yet.

Really? That is quite a tone-deaf statement, especially for a public agency.  We had more to say, but we will leave it at that for now.


— Roads to Nowhere

We have already said quite a bit about the roads to nowhere bill, and we are not going to rehash all that.  However, the Times ran an interesting article about the Wekiva Expressway around Orlando that has been used as an example of how the roads in the new bill should be built. (article here)  Here is a teaser:

People familiar with the story behind the $1.6 billion Wekiva Parkway say its construction does indeed mark it as the rare toll road that was built with an eye toward limiting its impact. Its design aimed to protect the state’s aquifer, its wetlands and its protected species, not to mention the rural character of the landscape.

* * *

One key difference: The toll road bill is designed to promote new development in rural areas. That was its main purpose, as announced by the man who conceived it, Senate President Bill Galvano. The Wekiva Parkway, on the other hand, is supposed to limit new development.

The article is worth reading.


— Not Hard

We have been saying for a while that we need far more protected bike lanes.  Here’s why:

Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico discovered cities with protected and separated bike lanes had 44 percent fewer deaths than the average city.

“Protected separated bike facilities was one of our biggest factors associated with lower fatalities and lower injuries for all road users,” study co-author Wesley Marshall, a University of Colorado Denver engineering professor, told Streetsblog. “If you’re going out of your way to make your city safe for a broader range of cyclists … we’re finding that it ends up being a safer city for everyone.”

Marshall and his team of researchers analyzed 17,000 fatalities and 77,000 severe injuries in cities including Denver, Portland, Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco, Kansas City and Chicago between 2000 and 2012. All had experienced an increase in cycling as they built more infrastructure.

Researchers assumed that having more cyclists on the street was spurring drivers to slow down — a relic of a 2017 study that found that cities with high cycling rates had fewer traffic crashes. But it turned out that wasn’t the case.

So what was happening?

Instead, researchers found that bike infrastructure, particularly physical barriers that separate bikes from speeding cars as opposed to shared or painted lanes, significantly lowered fatalities in cities that installed them.

After analyzing traffic crash data over a 13-year period in areas with separated bike lanes on city streets, researches estimated that having a protected bike facility in a city would result in 44 percent fewer deaths and 50 percent fewer serous injuries than an average city.

As has always been obvious to anyone who actually gets on a bike (or walks or drives or just observes all the cars swerving into those lanes), simply painting bike lanes is not a serious attempt to make streets safer. It is form over substance.  While this area has some good pieces, we need a real network of protected lanes and trails that are connected and enable people to travel real distances.

URBN Tampa Bay said:

Physically protected bike lanes need to be countywide policy in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. Wherever a bike route is desired and a protected lane is feasible, it needs to be the minimum standard.

We agree.


Downtown – Filling In?

There was interesting news about the First Presbyterian Church downtown (location here).

After many prayers, what the Rev. Fitz Conner describes as an unexpected journey ended Sunday when his congregation voted to sell the historic church to a developer for nearly $5 million.

If the sale is finalized, the church property could become the latest in a series of historic buildings in the northern downtown business district to be reimagined as residential or entertainment spaces.

The agreement with Property Markets Group isn’t final, but it’s expected to be soon, Conner said. Meanwhile, the congregation of about 615 people will begin looking for a new spiritual home in the coming months.

Along with the owners of vacant buildings on the western half of the parcel, whom Conner said partnered with the church on the sale, the entire downtown block bordered by Florida Avenue and Zack, Polk and Marion Streets will be remade into a residential project. The $10.2 million total purchase price has been agreed to in principle, Conner said.

Conner said he’s been told the Mediterranean Revival sanctuary and former manse, where ministers lived with their families for decades, will be preserved while the rest of the block will be leveled. The church property — with an assessed value of $3.25 million— is exempt from property taxes so whatever is built will likely bolster city revenues. The other half of the block is owned by the Maggiora family and is currently vacant two- and three-story office and retail space.

First, a moment of silence for the original Hub location (southwest corner of the lot).  Second, we are happy the developers are committing to saving the church building. By saving the church building they are making developing the lot harder.  Third, it will be interesting to see what they come up with.  There is bit of speculation on some of the forums that the developer is bringing their residential “X” concept (see here) but that remains to be seen for sure.

In any event, for that price, we assume the developer already has a decent idea of what they are planning. (Though it also leads us to wonder why the City sold the lot across from City Hall, which is more central to downtown and was held out as a prime lot, for only $7.6 million, especially for that project.  Even with cleanup costs, that seems low, particularly since the City paid most of those costs.)


West Tampa – Not Exactly

There was news about a change in plans for a cigar factory on Howard.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

The previously announced plans to convert the cigar factory at 2315 West Grace Street into a hotel have been modified. Now, the proposal is to convert the cigar factory into an office building.

An office building is a reasonable use for the factory, too. (From the planning documents on Accela, it appears it is intended to be the corporate HQ for Intelident Solutions.)   But, as URBN Tampa Bay also notes

As you can see from the site plan attached, the developer also wishes to create two parking lots along Howard Ave., in addition to parking in the rear of the building.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Indeed, there is parking along Howard in the lot at the bottom.  There is also proposed parking in the gray shaded area right in the middle of the plan.  That is a whole lot of surface parking along Howard, which is hardly conducive to good redevelopment. We agree with URBN Tampa Bay:

We oppose the project. That much surface parking, especially along Howard Ave, is unacceptable. Notice how more land is taken up by parking then it is by the actual building. It also fronts Howard with parking for an entire block. You don’t need to be a planner to know that’s just bad policy.
* * *

The proposal goes before the city council on August 8th.

We are all for renovating the cigar factories and we understand the need for parking, but both need to be done well and furthering the goals of area.  There is really no point in doing road diets, restriping, landscaping, coming up with redevelopment plans, etc., if you just put surface lots all along major thoroughfares.  Hopefully, the developer will come up with a better parking plan.


Westshore–ish – Midtown

There was a little news about Midtown this week:

Highwoods Properties Inc. (NYSE: HIW) will partner with Bromley Cos., the developer of Midtown, on more than 700,000 square feet of office space within the 22-acre mixed-use district at the intersection of Interstate 275 and North Dale Mabry Highway.

The first building, the 150,000-square-foot Midtown One, will be the first of the three, the developers said Thursday. Highwoods said that it has an 80 percent interest in the Midtown One joint venture, and that the total investment in Midtown One will be $72 million.

* * *

Highwoods and Bromley will be marketing the remaining 600,000 square feet of office space — two additional buildings — in Midtown as well.

Construction of Midtown One is slated to begin in the fourth quarter and wrap up in the first quarter of 2021.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

(An aside: note the lack of ground floor activation towards Dale Mabry or the lake in that rendering.)

As a practical matter, this news does not change much. However, previous articles had made it sound like the project would all be built at once, but this article does not sound like all three office buildings will be built simultaneously.  Maybe, they will be close enough.  We shall have to see.


Economic Development – Reading

Recently, we have been discussing talent development, including education.  And we are always interested in education (even if, for a variety of reasons, we do not write about it that much).  So this caught our eye:

Without fanfare or public statement, the Department of Education released the results from the Florida Standards Assessment language arts test that third graders took earlier in the spring.

Overall statewide, 58 percent scored at Level 3 or higher — considered at or above grade level — the same as in 2017 and one point higher than a year ago. Twenty percent scored at Level 1, the lowest, putting them at risk for repeating the grade level. That percentage is unchanged.

State law requires third graders to score at Level 2 or better to be promoted, unless they qualify for one of six exemptions. Those include demonstrating adequate skills on an alternate test or through a performance portfolio.

(Statewide results here) In other words, a little over half were at or above grade level.  How did we do locally?

In the Tampa Bay region, Pasco County schools surpassed the statewide percentage of students at Level 3 or higher, with 60 percent. Hernando County had 57 percent at that level, with Pinellas County at 56 percent and Hillsborough County at 52 percent.

Hillsborough had a higher level of children at the lowest level, with 25 percent, than the state or other local districts. Pasco and Hernando each had 18 percent, while Pinellas logged in with 19 percent.

* * *

In Hillsborough, the numbers reinforced the severity of a widespread reading problem, and suggest an ambitious attempt to improve 50 “Achievement” schools has yet to see results.

A full 25 percent of Hillsborough’s third graders were at Level 1, which means they are the farthest below grade level, up from 23 percent in 2018. The percentage at or above grade level dropped a point, from 53 to 52 percent and a full four points below the 56 percent recorded in 2017.

Worse, schools that already had the lowest reading levels, and had been identified for extra resources, deteriorated even more.

Needless to say, that is not good. There are a lot of complicated factors that go into any specific individual’s performance, but overall, that really needs to improve.  Reading is the core gateway to education (even to math education).

We realize that these numbers are for 3d graders and there is time to fix issues, but it just gets harder every year. So, while the Tampa Bay Partnership is addressing talent creation and fulfilling the needs of local businesses, we hope they also address early education because, as you always hear, kids grow up so fast (not to mention that the opportunities in this area for people without college degrees are not great). These kids are the future workforce. There is no time to waste.


Parks – Interesting

Parks are definitely a quality of life issue and much emphasis (and much money) has been put on them recently around the Tampa Bay area. So this was interesting:

About 75 percent of St. Petersburg residents live within a 10-minute walk to a park. In Tampa, only 62 percent of residents can walk to a park within 10 minutes of their house.

Both cities are above the national average of 54 percent, according to data provided by national nonprofit, The Trust for Public Land.

You can get that data from the Trust for Public Land Park Score website here.

Tampa has more people and is more sprawling than St. Pete which may make it a little more challenging, but we would think Bayshore would also skew the accessibility results the other way at least a bit.  In any event, we found this more interesting,

About 16 percent of St. Petersburg’s city land is used for parks and recreation, according to the nonprofit. The national median is 15 percent. Tampa falls short of that at 8 percent of city land used for parks and recreation.

We are not concerned with a comparison to St. Pete, but it is interesting to be that much lower than the national average.  Digging a little more, the Tampa Park Score is inflated by one factor: access is 45 out of 100 (higher being better), acreage is 40 out of 100; investment is 32.5 out of 100 (not sure about the decimal); and amenities is 82.5 out of 100.   Apparently, there are a lot of basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks; playgrounds; recreation and senior centers; restrooms; and splashpads and spraygrounds.  It is not clear if that means everyone gets a small park with a hoop and splashpad or there are lots amenities but they are concentrated in a few parks.

Conveniently, they provided a map of where parks are most needed:

From Trust for Public Land – click on map for website

You can decide for yourself what to conclude from it.


Water Street – Well . . .

As regular readers know, we like the large majority of Water Street’s plans (though, admittedly, not everything).  And this week there was something that struck us as curious, though it is not exactly about Water Street per se.

It’s not just that Water Street Tampa developers plan to bring 650 trees — southern live oak, elm and bald cypress, many of them mature — to create shade and beauty on what started out as a bunch of parking lots near Amalie Arena.

They have also chosen a mix of trees that shouldn’t overwhelm visitors with pollen.

It’s that kind of attention to detail that has brought the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project the distinction of being the first neighborhood anywhere to be certified by the International WELL Building Institute as a healthy community for walking, working and living.

Given that, for the most part, it is either a construction zone or parking lot right now, we would not say that walking around the Water Street area is especially healthy, but we have known that it was going to get WELL certification for a while. Why?

The standard’s development benefitted from expertise provided by several notable community-level projects, two of which have registered for the pilot. These include Water Street Tampa in Tampa, Fla., which inspired the creation of the standard in September 2015 when Strategic Property Partners, LLC (SPP), the developer of Water Street Tampa, joined President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Given that, how could it not? We are not completely sure how the WELL certification process works (as it is new), but it seems Water Street has been officially certified before it is actually built, which is a bit odd.

It is similar to the LEED Neighborhood Development certification, which Water Street Tampa also is working to get, for sustainable, well-connected developments with buildings that are resource- and energy-efficient.

The WELL standard may be similar to LEED, but, as far as we know, while LEED has a pre-certification process, full LEED certification requires making sure that what is built actually conforms to what was planned/designed/proposed. We think WELL certification would be more meaningful if it did the same. Maybe they will come back and recertify the completed buildings and neighborhood.  We hope so.

And, to be honest, unlike the more quantifiable LEED, WELL certification is fine but not that important to us. We like Water Street because it appears that it is, for the most part, properly planned and actually focused on design.  (We will know that for sure when the buildings open.)  If that leads to some certifications, all the better.

Also, interestingly, they are digging up a lot of history under Water Street. We are not going to get into it all but you can read a Times article here.  Interestingly,

All the Water Street artifacts will one day go on display at the Tampa Bay History Center and other museums.

We are not sure what other museums would be fitting or who actually will own the artifacts.


Rays

In this week’s off-the-filed Rays news, here and more proof that the present location is an issue here. There is also this interesting article about the Oakland A’s and their attempts to get a new stadium.


Et tu . . ?

The Times ran another in a continuing series of articles and columns about the Cuban sandwich and an apparent argument between Miami and Tampa regarding the contents and origin of said sandwich. Frankly, we are not too concerned about this discussion and thought it was ridiculous when the Tampa City Council voted on the Cuban sandwich. (See “Is This All? – Part II”)

We know our sandwich predates the Miami version.  We know ours is multicultural.  We know the whole story.  But it doesn’t matter.

The whole “argument” is really mostly one-way traffic since most people associate Miami with Cubans, both people and food.  (We have had “Cuban” sandwiches from a well-known local grocery store chain’s Sarasota location that were very clearly of the Miami variety.  So much for our cultural patrimony.)

It does not matter that we were first because we did not take advantage of it at the time. (See also “Island Airport”) Now we are playing catch-up. That should be the lesson of the sandwich saga.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Affordable housing is a big issue these days. Pro Publica had an interesting article about Connecticut.  This is the teaser blurb:

In southwest Connecticut, the gap between rich and poor is wider than anywhere else in the country. Invisible walls created by local zoning boards and the state government block affordable housing and, by extension, the people who need it.

The affordable housing issue cuts across party and all sorts of other economic and philosophical lines (See, for instance here, here,  here, and here), and it is very complex.

The story is definitely worth reading (here)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Lew Sibert permalink
    May 31, 2019 4:01 AM

    Could we please have some ‘sunlight’ shed on the sale price of the original plot of land sold the AER/Straz tower project; why it wasn’t revalued over the years the sale was pending AND the who/what/where/how much that resulted in the stealth combination of that parcel with the JFG Library expansion plot?

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