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Roundup 6-14-2019

June 13, 2019



— I-275

— One More Thing

— Show Us What You’ve Got

— St Pete BRT

Downtown – Arris Renderings

Downtown – 1105 N Tampa

Downtown/Channel District – 1001 Water Street

West Tampa – On Main

Economic Development/Downtown/Hyde Park – Cluster

Economic Development/Schools – Now What?

St. Pete Beach – Stay Classy

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— About that Congestion

— Scooters

— Red Light Cameras



— I-275

In what can only be called utterly unsurprising, the MPO board did this:

Hillsborough leaders ultimately decided to keep two controversial Interstate 275 projects in the county’s five-year transportation plan following six hours of discussion and a complicated re-vote Tuesday night.

The vote broke down like this:

The MPO board is composed of 16 members. Half are elected officials and the other half private citizens who are appointed. Of the elected officials, five of them voted against the two projects.

Those include Hillsborough County Commissioners Pat Kemp, Overman, Mariella Smith and Les Miller and Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco. A sixth, Tampa City Council member Joe Citro, voted against the expansion plan north of MLK, but for the downtown interchange improvements.

It just took a while because there was public opposition, but, for a variety of reasons, that was not likely to change the position of most of the MPO board.

Most of the evening’s discussion centered on whether Hillsborough should continue to widen its interstates and expand its highway infrastructure. The board decided to move forward with two projects: The first is to add a lane to I-275 between Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Bearss Avenue, making the 8-mile stretch four lanes in each direction; the other involves changes to the downtown interchange, including adding a lane to the flyover ramp connecting southbound I-275 and Interstate 4.

What is done is done.  We will leave it at that for now.  Instead, we want to briefly discuss two opinion pieces regarding this issue in the Times, one from the head of the Tampa Bay Partnership and on an editorial.  The general thrust of both is this, from the column:

This is no time for ideological extremism.

With more than 500,000 new residents expected to arrive in Tampa Bay by 2030, these basic improvements are the minimum we should be doing to maintain a roadway that is at capacity today and likely to become increasingly more congested as our population continues to grow.

. . . But we also understand that if we’re going to solve our transportation challenges, we need every option on the table.

We’ve spent the better part of the past three years working to improve regional transportation in Tampa Bay. Why? Because we believe that many of the economic challenges faced by our region — including our low wages, low household income and low affordability — are tied directly to a woefully inadequate transportation system.

From the editorial:

Regional leaders are right to support the plan, given I-275’s role as a transportation spine from Pinellas to the newer communities north of Hillsborough. Tampa’s reenergized downtown, Tampa International Airport, the West Shore business district and the University of South Florida continue to grow as commercial and regional destinations – and the area’s economic well-being is intrinsically linked to the interstate’s ability to function. But this project would also improve local connectivity, adding new lanes for miles in the central city, and creating new ramps on and off the interstate that reduce the driving dangers at Malfunction Junction.

We get the arguments (though I-275 north of the interchange has little to do with connecting Pinellas and the airport, Westshore, and downtown Tampa).  And, as we have always said, we are not opposed to all highways. In fact, in many ways, we think the highway advocates are too narrowly focused.  They are basically fixated on supporting FDOT’s plans for the interstate. They would have a much stronger argument that what they cared about was opening up transportation in this region and that highways were the key if they were also actively, loudly advocating for some other really obvious highway needs in the area that FDOT is either neglecting or ignoring.

First and foremost, we have no idea why said advocates are so wimpy on the Howard Frankland.  As far as we can tell they have not insisted on FDOT fully fixing the bottleneck at the end of the Howard Frankland, like it is on the other side of the bridge (express lanes do not count, especially when Pinellas had their bottleneck removed for normal person lanes). That should be easy to do and shouldn’t bother any neighborhoods (and FDOT should have fixed it years ago), but TB(n)X advocates have been bizarrely silent about it.  Making the Howard Frankland actually work for everyone, not just people who can afford $10 tolls to cross it, should be priority number one.  Instead, advocates settle.

Second, there should be an east-west road through Pasco.  Such a road would actually act as a key connection to the airport, Westshore, suburbs north of Tampa, connection to 275, a relief valve for I-275 and a better connection of Pinellas to the north and east. That is vital to this region.  Everyone has known it for decades. It may (we repeat may – done well, it would like disappear among the sprawl) hurt a few neighborhoods in Pasco, but, given the vital highway argument that should not matter.

And, as we have mentioned previously, there is finishing the Gandy connection from the bridge to I-275 in Pinellas.

(And drop support for variable rate toll lanes because decent highways should not just be for people who can afford extravagant tolls and the wasteful “BRT” plan which can be accomplished with a much cheaper express bus plan).

We won’t speculate about why these issues are not being addressed.  But if highway advocates really mean that we need better highways (and we do need better highways), they should advocate for better and more rational, not just wider but strangely less useful for the average driver, highways.

— One More Thing

We also have a little more about the Tampa Bay Partnership’s poll held up as a reason the FDOT widening plan should be approved.  The Times covered the poll but did not mention this, which was reported by Creative Loafing:

The survey’s most disheartening finding, however, was that 65% of respondents reported hearing “nothing” about plans and changes being considered for the portion of I-275 that runs through Hillsborough County from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue.

The Tampa Bay Times says that Homans, the aforementioned Tampa Bay Partnership CEO, is hoping that the survey’s findings might persuade members of Hillsborough’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to vote in favor of adding the project to the county’s five-year plan, which prioritizes projects for the state to fund.

This was the question:

Plans and changes are being considered for the portion of Interstate 275 that runs through Hillsborough County from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue. How much news and information have you heard about this matter?

(You can find that on page 10 of the pdf file of the poll results here.)  In other words, almost 2/3 of all respondents had not heard any news about the I-275 question.  Given that, we wonder how informed their opinion could be about the plan and the concerns of their neighbors.  (And given that number, there is no way that a majority of respondents both knew of and wanted the plan.) One would hope local officials were not so uninformed, though, as we found out with the Howard Frankland widening, sometimes they are. (See here and here.)

— Show Us What You’ve Got

USF sits in an area that is a planning and traffic mess.  Simply drive up to the front entrance (you surely will not walk), and it is obvious.  So this was interesting:

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) today announced that the University of South Florida will receive a $7.5 million grant to establish a national university transportation center (UTC) aimed at advancing research and education programs that address the nation’s critical transportation challenges. The USDOT selected USF from more than 50 applicants nationwide for the highly competitive award.

Focused on traffic congestion relief, the USF program will be known as the National Institute for Congestion Reduction (NICR). It will be established within the USF College of Engineering’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR).

* * *

USF’s partners include the University of California Berkeley, Texas A&M University and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. 

* * *

The USDOT invests in the future of transportation through the UTC Program, which awards and administers grants to consortia of colleges and universities across the United States. The FAST Act authorized more than $300 million in spending from fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for the maintenance of existing and establishment of new initiatives in research, education and workforce development, and the facilitation of technology transfer. USF will be home to the USDOT’s only national center focused on congestion relief.

You can find the list of other FAST ACT UTC (University Transportation Center)’s here.

Our first reaction was skepticism, especially when we read this:

“FDOT is pleased to continue to work with USF along with all other Florida universities, aiming to improve safety, reduce congestion and expand the use of technology and partnerships. We hope that the impacts of these coordinated activities will be felt by the transportation industry, agencies and practitioners long after the lifecycle of this grant is completed,” said Florida Secretary of Transportation Kevin J. Thibault.

And considered that, with a few rare exceptions, FDOT’s idea of traffic congestion relief, at least of this area, is variable rate toll lanes and more variable rate toll lanes (neither being actual congestion relief – just making a lane and keeping people out of it then saying there is relief) and then some buses in their variable rate toll lanes.

But, we are willing to give them a chance, especially since their partners are Cal and Texas A&M, both in states that actually actively develop some alternative means of transportation. And maybe they will consider that if you get people places without having to use cars and there might be less congestion on the roads. (See “Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country” below)

So, congratulations to USF.  You now have $7.5 million.  Do something useful with it.

We look forward to seeing what you come up with.

— St Pete BRT

We did not have time to cover it last week, but St. Pete Catalyst had an article regarding St. Pete Beach and the BRT project.  As you may remember, St. Pete Beach has been the hang up on the project (aside from waiting for Federal money rather than FDOT just paying for their alleged priority: BRT).

The City of St. Pete Beach’s City Commission workshop was filled to capacity Tuesday, as local opposition to Tampa Bay’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) project continues to grow. A crowd of St. Pete Beach residents and anti-transit activists gathered to fill both the commission chambers and overflow space, urging the St. Pete Beach City Commission to sign a resolution opposing the BRT project and reject an interlocal agreement with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).

While there have been various objections (many not based in actual fact or based on exaggerations), the real basis for the opposition has never been completely clear (it probably runs the gamut).  In any event,

“Does passing a resolution stop BRT from coming here?” asked St. Pete Beach Mayor Al Johnson. “Or are we better off having a modified BRT that we can live with?”

“Gulf Boulevard is a state road, FDOT is a partner in the FTA application with PSTA, so can you stop it? I don’t know,” responded City Attorney Andrew Dickman. “I don’t think you can completely stop it if you vote on a resolution, but I think you can hurt it.”

Commissioner Melinda Pletcher of District 4 expressed concerns over signing a resolution against the BRT project, fearing that it may reduce the city’s bargaining power, should the project move forward anyway. If the city were to sign the interlocal agreement, they could have more power to negotiate stop locations and bus turnarounds within the city limits.

The last part, as it happens, is a good point:

PSTA and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) jointly applied for federal grant funding for the project, which is likely to move ahead regardless of the City of St. Pete Beach’s decision, due to the state’s jurisdiction over Gulf Boulevard.

We would say better to work to make a good plan better.  In any event,

After more than 90 minutes of open forum, citing concerns over increased traffic, overcrowding and low ridership, the City Commission tabled the topic and scheduled a follow-up community meeting for June 11 to further consider PSTA’s case for BRT. The commission also committed to make a decision on whether to sign the resolution in opposition or the interlocal agreement with PTSA during its meeting July 9.

Given that background, the June 11 meeting took place and:

Whether residents want it or not, it became apparent Tuesday evening that sooner or later rapid transit buses will one day drive along Gulf Boulevard.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials spent about an hour describing the need for and benefits of initiating rapid bus service that would connect downtown St. Petersburg to hotels and businesses in St. Pete Beach.

* * *

The commissioners also made it clear that they did not want the buses to travel beyond 75th Avenue near Corey Avenue — short of Gulf Boulevard, all of its businesses, hotels and restaurants, and the beach itself.

Then Forward Pinellas executive director Whit Blanton burst out of his seat at the rear of the commission chambers to interrupt.

“This is the must-do, No. 1 priority project in Pinellas County,” he said. “There is a bigger picture than this small beach community.”

That’s because it would become the first rapid bus service in Pinellas County, and the Tampa Bay region. The St. Pete Beach audience protested loudly. Blanton ignored them, adding rapid bus service is “important to the whole county.”

The commission suggested that the city could operate smaller-sized transit vehicles that would pick up rapid bus service passengers at 75th Avenue and take them to their destinations, Blanton said an extra transfer point would “kill” the project.

(Inartfully placed aside: note that the speaker quoted above does not consider Metro-Rapid as “rapid bus service” even though it was sold as BRT, and described as such here, here, and in this USF-CUTR 2 year evaluation. HART backed off the BRT designation later.)

We have been clear that we think the St. Pete BRT plan is a good idea.  It is good for the Beach and good for St. Pete, though there may be aspects that could use some fine tuning.  We do not think running some buses on Gulf Boulevard where it is 4 lanes wide will really cause a problem. Pass-a-Grille will not be cutoff.  Gulf Boulevard will not become Dale Mabry at rush-hour. Hopefully, St Pete Beach will realize that, but maybe they won’t.

We think St. Pete Beach is a good location for BRT and we think the disruption of BRT is being completely exaggerated by those who just oppose any transit, but we are not sure it should be forced on them. To us, BRT could just as easily go from downtown St. Pete to Treasure Island and north toward Madeira (and Johns Pass) or to Tyrone and, maybe, on to Bay Pines and Madeira.  BRT may be important to the county but there is more to the county than St. Pete Beach.

Downtown – Arris Renderings

There are new details and renderings of the Arris condo project. From URBN Tampa Bay:

The 34-story condo tower announced last week for 507 North Ashley features 86 condos along with 3,890 square feet of retail space along Ashley Drive. The tower is 397 feet tall.


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


From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

So far, we like it.  They seem to have attended to details, like what appears to be a new, retro-styled structure to serve as the parking entrance on Tampa St. in this gap.  The sidewalk is activated and covered. The loading dock is not awesome, but they never are. The building needs a loading dock, and this one is about as unobtrusive as possible.  The tower is nice enough and the use of the small lot seems well thought out. The one thing that needs to be upgraded a bit it screening the garage.  It looks like it is screened in some places but not others, but it should really be as fully screened as possible.

We shall see what happens.

Downtown – 1105 N Tampa

There was also more information on the 1105 N. Tampa hotel proposal.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

We have new information on the hotel proposed for 1105 North Tampa Street in Downtown Tampa. The hotel will be a Springhill Suites by Marriott. The project is 8 stories and features 169 hotel rooms and a restaurant/retail space at the intersection of Franklin and Harrison.

Also note, the project extends Harrison to reconnect with Franklin Street again and adds significant streetscaping improvements to that stretch.


From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post


From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Apparently the plans also include a rooftop bar.

This is not a big project, but it going in an important area that will help connect to the revitalizing area north of the interstate. We like the restaurant space on the corner of Franklin and Harrison, though the renderings seem to show a slightly dead streetscape overall.  Given the size and shape of the lot, some of that may simply be building requirements. Also, there are two different curb cuts.  Once again, given the size and shape of the lot, that may be partially necessary. We like reconnecting the streets.

Overall it is ok, though we wish they would tweak it a little to give more life to the street, or at least a little more pedestrian cover, especially since it might sit right on the extended streetcar path.

Downtown/Channel District – 1001 Water Street

In small but important news:

Water Street Tampa’s first office tower won a key approval Thursday for its 22-story height.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority approved a height waiver because the tower, planned for 1001 Water Street, is about 1.7 miles north of Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands and will rise to a height of 314 feet (or 326 feet above average sea level).

Without the waiver, the office project’s height would have been capped at 200 feet so that the structure did not interfere with airport operations. Two of 1001 Water Street’s immediate neighbors — the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute and two apartment towers at 815 Water Street — already have received approval to exceed 300 feet and are under construction.

It was highly unlikely they were not going to approve, but it still is necessary for construction to start.

West Tampa – On Main

Normally, we would not discuss a brewpub.  Tampa has a number and there is a good deal of flux.  However, we note this:

A historic storefront on West Tampa’s Main Street will soon be home to a microbrewery and restaurant.

Bay Cannon Beer Co. is under construction at 2106 W. Main St., in a 119-year-old building that founder Matthew Juaire paid $500,000 for in January.

If all goes according to plan, Bay Cannon will open its doors in mid-July. It’s financed by both a Small Business Administration loan and investments from Juaire’s family and friends; the total startup costs, Juaire says, will be around $1.6 million.

Honestly, it is not about the brewpub per se.  It is about the location of the brewpub.  It is a street that is really ready to come alive. We cannot say how many times we have driven by these buildings thinking about the kind of things they could hold and the kind of neighborhood there could be around them.  We hope this is one step closer to this area reaching its real potential.

Economic Development/Downtown/Hyde Park – Cluster

There was some interestingly packaged news this week:

During a USF board of trustees meeting Thursday, the hospital’s CEO, John Couris, said he wants to help create a “medical district” in and around downtown Tampa with the help of USF Health and its Morsani College of Medicine.

In addition to Tampa General committing to a $20 million lease of 25,000 square feet of space inside the medical school’s new building downtown, Couris and USF medical school dean Dr. Charles Lockwood want to create a more seamless process for patients being treated by USF or Tampa General physicians.

This is the graphic in the Times of a downtown medical district:

From the Times – click on picture for article

The graphic is basically TGH’s expansion plan. We have no problem with TGH expanding off of Davis Islands because ideally the main hospital in town would not be on an island anyway (sacrilege, but true sacrilege), and those facilities should more accessible for most people than Davis Islands (though we will see about accessibility of offices near in the Channel District).  But back to the idea:

The new joint venture would create a “management services organization” that would streamline services, from medical records to scheduling patients between appointments at USF, Tampa General and private practice physicians with privileges at both places.

* * *

The goal is to create one health care system that can be expanded in the future to include others, like Sarasota Memorial Hospital or health care offices in Lakeland, Couris said. He described the venture as based on “inclusiveness.”

“The goal isn’t to make the hospital bigger,” he said. “It’s to collaborate with more doctors and hospitals to improve quality and lower costs for patients. We don’t have to employ everybody for that to happen, but there needs to be a nucleus.”

For example, Couris said that even though Tampa General and USF Health partner in many ways already, they each operate their own appointment scheduling programs, which slows down the process for patients. This new venture would change that.

This seems more a move to create another health care network, like AdventHealth or BayCare.  That is made even clearer by the idea that the network can be expanded with other hospitals in the region.

As for the medical district, Couris said connecting the dots between health care specialties and partners across the region would help draw more doctors and researchers to Tampa Bay.

“Most great cities have medical districts, which are concentrations of health services and research, which attract great scientists,” he said. As examples, he cited Houston, Dallas and Boston — cities with academic and private partnerships to create research hubs and health care options for patients.

Tampa General’s presence in the new medical schooling building — which, when completed, will include an urgent care clinic, cardiovascular clinical space and other medical offices — is a piece of that.

The hospital is also opening a 200-bed acute care rehabilitation center near its campus, across the street from the Oxford Exchange. It would connect to a future freestanding emergency department in Tampa, the University of Tampa’s nursing program, the new USF medical school, and USF’s downtown medical training and simulation facility, known as CAMLS.

That would all make a lot more sense if the USF med school were actually being built adjacent to some TGH facility and Moffitt and the VA were anywhere near them. (There is more of a medical district around USF, the campus, with the VA, AdventHealth Tampa, Moffitt, research, doctor’s offices, the present med school, and other on campus medical facilities.)

As it stands, the lay out in Tampa is just not like Houston, Dallas or Boston.  We are sure that there will be more medical offices around the TGH medical facilities.  We just think bringing up those medical districts is a bit silly. (Just google “Texas Medical Center” and you’ll quickly see.  There is a good argument that the Texas Medical Center cluster would not fit into downtown Tampa.  Not the empty lots downtown – all of downtown. Texas Medical Center: 1,345 acres, 50 million+ sq. ft. of developed space.  Downtown Tampa special service district: 1,085 acres, not that much space.  That is how big the TMC is. Just google “Texas Medical Center” and you’ll quickly see.) We’ve already discussed why our situation is different a number of times.  We are not going to spend more time on it now.

On the other hand, we are not going to say there is no merit in the TGH-USF tie up proposal.  There may be.  There may also be downsides (Like, how exclusive is it? Does that serve USF’s interests?).  That is a discussion that should be had, but it really has little to do with creating a real “medical district” like around say the University of Miami’s med school (we are not even going to consider the Texas Medical Center).

Economic Development/Schools – Now What?

The ongoing saga that seems to be Hillsborough County schools did not get smoother this week.

Jeff Eakins, who ascended to one of the nation’s top education jobs as a peacemaker after his predecessor’s firing, is stepping down as superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools when his contract expires a year from now.

Eakins, 54, cited family issues in his letter Monday to the School Board. His father in Ohio, a retired educator, is almost 80 years old. His mother is not much younger. Eakins’ wife, former teacher Peggy Jo Eakins, also left her extended family behind when the couple moved to Hillsborough in 1989 for jobs in the schools.

We totally understand, and we know he was handed a mess not of his making, to wit:

Elia’s firing in January 2015 followed a series of controversies, including an ill-fated teaching reform partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that divided the board into warring factions. The vote was 4-3, as was the decision to hire Eakins, then a deputy superintendent, without a national search.

Shortly after Eakins took over, he realized the Gates experiment had contributed to a spending imbalance of nearly $200 million. The district was heavily indebted to bond holders who financed the construction of about 70 schools in the 1990s and early 2000s. That debt made it important to satisfy the bond rating firms with a sound spending plan. And it also made it difficult to meet maintenance needs. Air conditioners began to fail in large numbers.

That he had to deal with the mess made by others, which he certainly did, is not the issue.  The issue is:

Eakins’ planned retirement leaves the board with an important decision: whether to hire from within or conduct a national search for a new leader.

The last time Hillsborough hired a superintendent from outside was when it chose Raymond Shelton from Nebraska in 1967 — a year when humans had not yet walked on the moon.

Shelton was followed by Walter Sickles, Earl Lennard and MaryEllen Elia, all hired from within the system. Each served about a decade, a longevity unheard of in most communities.


Stacy Hahn, one of the newer School Board members, said she has enjoyed working with Eakins. She said she would not second-guess her predecessors for having hired him without a national search, given the strong feelings on both sides of the Elia question.

Today, Hahn said, “I think a national search is important. I think we are in a good position if we are going to do a national search, to do it now. I think it’s a different culture than it was four years ago. We are an attractive place now to work and a lot of that I credit to the superintendent.”

Let us not forget that Hillsborough County is the 8th largest school district in the country.  We have nothing against hiring from within and a candidate from within might very well win, but a national search is in order.

St. Pete Beach – Stay Classy

The Times has been running a series of stories about the film/TV industry in this area, with such stories as “Small productions create big impact with hundreds of new jobs in Hillsborough, Pinellas”  But now:

Get ready for beach sand-flecked, alcohol-induced, reality TV drama on the streets of St. Petersburg. MTV’s hit Floribama Shore series is moving from Panama City to Tampa Bay for its third season, according to the cable network.

The show, which premiered on MTV in 2017, was billed as a Panhandle-based version of its previous reality hit Jersey Shore, and delivered on the “blowout fights over nonsense, hug-it-out-bro apologies, and sexual encounters filmed in grainy night vision” for “brain-free entertainment,” according to a Tampa Bay Times review of Season 2.

One storyline from the first season involved cast member Candace Rice becoming upset after cast member Kortni Gilson peed on her bed. Gilson also went in a trash can on a public beach.

The network tweeted a video teaser Tuesday afternoon meant to look like a group text between the cast members. In the video, Gus Smyrnios texts “SEASON 3 BABY! ST. PETE’S BEACH!!” Cody Butts replies that it’s “puke and rally time.”

St. Pete Beach can add Floribama Shore to Party Down South to its list of accomplishments and showing the world its best face.   Just don’t bring any useful transit.  It might look trashy.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the possibility that airport passenger fees could be increased.  We discussed an opinion piece by the Tampa airport director and noted there was logic to increasing the maximum fee, contingent on how big an increase it was.  Recently, Florida Politics had an opinion piece against any increase.

The Democratic plan calls for a dramatic increase in what is known as the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), a hidden tax on travelers that is intended to pay for renovation projects at airports around the country.

Most Americans have probably never heard of the so-called PFC, now set at about $4.50 per person for each leg of a flight. But if Democrats and a few wayward Republicans get their way, the PFC won’t be so obscure anymore. That’s because the PFC could soon be doubled and, in the process, impose an additional cost of $144 on a family of four for a connecting flight.

First, there is already a fee.  The article indicates it is set at $4.50 per person per leg.  For a family of four on a connecting flight (2 legs each way) that would be $72 ($4.50 x 4 people x 4 legs).  If it doubles, the total would be $144, but the increase would be $72.  But setting that aside, there is a more interesting point:

Collins won’t even level with the public about what the PFC actually is, a hidden tax.

“Those are user fees,” he said.

But let’s not get caught up in semantics, a longtime refuge of politicians who lack the courage of their convictions. Let’s focus on the substance of this matter. The bottom line is that there is no legitimate rationale for increasing this tax – or, as Collins terms it, user fee.

The argument that a “fee” is really a “hidden tax” is an argument that can applied to a number of things.  One of those things is toll roads, including variable rate toll lanes. No one makes you fly and no one makes you drive on toll roads. Like airports, taxpayers already help pay for the construction of toll roads (see Roads to Nowhere).   The tolls are said to be fair because only the road’s users pay – in other words, tolls are a user fee often going to pay off bonds and road upkeep (though, even more tax-like than the passenger fee, not necessarily of the road actually being used. see Turnpike Enterprise).  And we get that (we have said many times we do not oppose the toll road principle, even though roads have even more support in the Legislature than airports and have designated tax money).  But, still, by the definition above toll roads are really “tax” roads.

Even worse, variable rate toll lanes charge not only this base user fee (aka the fair flat “tax”), they increase the user fees based on traffic not the infrastructure cost.  That increased cost is a user penalty on top of the fee (or, if you are going with “tax” designation, double taxation and/or punitive taxation). And the tax penalty is partly based on other people’s subjective behavior.  And the purpose of the penalty is to keep people from using the lanes so people who can more easily afford the lanes can spend more money (basically outbid) others for the space.  It does not care at all about the average family of four.

Circling back to the airport issue, as we said before, we understand the need for the increase but the amount of the increase is an issue. And, of course, everyone should pay the same flat fee.  The same for toll roads.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— About that Congestion

With USF now having funding to study congestion, maybe they should build on what has already been done and look at this:

Drivers won’t be happy about the 2019 Traffic Index. In major U.S. cities, commuters are spending more time stuck behind the wheel. An in-depth analysis of road congestion in 403 cities in 56 countries found just 90 showed any kind of measurable decrease in gridlock, with many registering double digits gains in the amount of time spent stuck in gridlock. But behind the sobering data is a solution, and it doesn’t involve building more roads.

In major U.S. cities, according to data compiled by the Tom Tom navigation device, commuters are spending an increasing amount of time stuck behind the wheel due to congestion. The study looked at how much time was added to everyday commutes due to congestion, versus taking the same routes at a time when there isn’t any traffic. In Los Angeles, congestion adds 41 percent more time to everyday commutes. New York City drivers spend an extra 36 percent of their commute caught in traffic.

While the data, compiled by the company behind the Tom Tom navigation device, draws from a single data source, it’s safe to assume all cars, no matter the navigation system, suffer the same traffic frustration.

While news that traffic is getting worse sounds as incisive as pointing out the sun rises in the east, there was some good news buried within the tales of gridlock and traffic jams.

According to the study, two U.S. cities, Salt Lake City and Portland, Oregon, showed measurable progress in making traffic less frustrating. Both attacked the problem with a similar strategy, investing in sophisticated traffic light optimization, bike infrastructure, light rail, and reducing parking availability.

It’s a lesson all cities should take to heart. Make life easier for pedestrians, bikers, and mass transit users and encourage more commuters to shift modes and abandon their cars, and roads start to become unclogged.  

(Traffic index here)

FDOT (and local officials) keep focusing on paving more lanes and (unsurprisingly) never seem to catch up (and even try to cook the books with things like variable rate express lanes).  Perhaps they should really try something else.

— Scooters

The new coverage of the scooters in Tampa continues apace:

Two weeks after the city launched its experiment with allowing electric scooters to swarm sidewalks, the number of scooters is growing but so is the number of complaints.

Four companies now rent scooters to Tampa riders looking for something faster than walking and easier to park than a car. To keep pace with demand, at least two are already expanding into more areas of the city.

We fully expect there to be some problems, and for those problems not to completely go away based on the simple fact that people are people and some people are irresponsible.  However, we think it is way too early to make any determination about the scooters as a whole.

But some other cities have had them for longer, and it is interesting to see how things are going there. Predictably,

As stand-up electric scooters have rolled into more than 100 cities worldwide, many of the people riding them are ending up in the emergency room with serious injuries. Others have been killed. There are no comprehensive statistics available but a rough count by The Associated Press of media reports turned up at least 11 electric scooter rider deaths in the U.S. since the beginning of 2018. Nine were on rented scooters and two on ones the victims owned.

With summer fast approaching, the numbers will undoubtedly grow as more riders take to the streets. Despite the risks, demand for the two-wheeled scooters continues to soar, popularized by companies like Lime and Bird. In the U.S. alone, riders took 38.5 million trips on rentable scooters in 2018, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Riders adore the free-flying feel of the scooters that have a base the size of a skateboard and can rev up to 15 miles per hour. They’re also cheap and convenient, costing about $1 to unlock with a smartphone app and about 15 cents per minute to ride. And in many cities, they can be dropped off just about anywhere after a rider reaches their destination.

But pedestrians and motorists scorn the scooters as a nuisance at best and a danger at worst.

Cities, meanwhile, can hardly keep up. In many cases, scooter-sharing companies dropped them onto sidewalks overnight without warning.

Regulations vary from place to place. . . 

You can read the rest here.  And just to be clear, even trendy places are wondering about the scooters:

Mayor David Briley has some ideas on how to make electric scooters work in Nashville. 

Briley sounded off on scooters in an interview on CNN Saturday morning, just more than two weeks after he said he would pursue a ban on scooters if companies cannot address safety concerns.

“What we’re seeing here in Nashville is that the risk and consequences of having scooters far outweigh the benefits,” Briley said to anchor Michael Smerconish, discussing the serious injuries and the death of Brady Gaulke, 26, who was struck by a car while riding a scooter. 

You can read more here.   And

Motorised versions of children’s kick scooters are notoriously unsafe. Their silent motors catch pedestrians and other road users unawares. A study by the Portland Bureau of Transportation concluded that e-scooters get into accidents 22 times as often as cars do, and 44 times as often as motorbikes. Another, by the city of Austin, found that one in three users is hurt on their first go. They are also increasingly unwelcome. Abandoned dockless devices obstruct pavements and doorways. In 2018 San Francisco temporarily banned them. The mayor of Nashville recently tweeted that the city’s experiment with them “is not working out”.

We have no strong feeling about the scooters one way or the other, but the risks/potential problems seem pretty obvious.  We get that they are new-ish, fun, and cool, but it remains to be seen (here and elsewhere) if overall they are actually a good thing.

— Red Light Cameras

The New York Times recently had an article on red light cameras:

With the signing of a bill last weekend, Gov. Greg Abbott made Texas the latest state to ban red-light traffic cameras.

It joins at least seven other states — Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia — that already have statutes prohibiting the cameras, the National Conference of State Legislatures said. Around 20 more do not have automated traffic enforcement systems on public roads.

A ban in a state as large as Texas is definitely news-worthy. It is an interesting debate with arguments on both sides. You can read the whole thing here.

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