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Roundup 3-2-2018

March 2, 2018

Contents

Transportation – TBARTA Does What It Does

Downtown/Tampa Heights – Growing Partnership

Transportation/Downtown – Driverless Demo

Transportation – Talk About Cost

Downtown/ Channel District – Write Up

Rays – This Should Be Interesting

Built Environment – Choices

Built Environment/Planning – East County

USF – The Editorial

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Transportation – TBARTA Does What It Does

For the last few weeks, we have been discussing the proposed express bus plan from the Regional Transit Study.  While we are not going to reiterate everything we said, one thing is definitely a constant: proponents have not made the case why it is good other than being cheap.  In any event, last week, TBARTA looked at it.  The results were predictable.

The Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority board showed no signs of backing down from plans to implement a regional bus rapid transit connection between Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties during its February meeting on Friday.

* * *

While no formal action was taken on Jacobs Engineering Regional Premium Transit Feasibility Plan during the meeting, most board members expressed support for the 41-mile BRT route from St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275.  Not all of the 15 board members were present for the meeting.

We would expect nothing less.

The sentiment among TBARTA board members and CEO Ray Chiaramonte was instead that the BRT plan was a regional plan that could attract federal funding and serve as a catalyst to future projects.

Setting aside that there is no evidence that it would catalyze anything (more likely is that it will be used as an excuse to not do anything else for at least a decade – five years to build and five years to see how it does – if not longer), it is regional in length, but will it be effective transit and much more effective than just running buses as we described last week?  The case has not been made.

And there is this:

Several transit activists spoke against the BRT concept with what has emerged as a familiar line of critique. Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Neighborhood Civic Association, said the plan doesn’t represent “gold standard” BRT and wouldn’t attract meaningful transit-oriented development.

“There is a question of price and a question of cost,” Fernandez said. “It seems you’re overly focused on price – let’s do this on the cheap – but what we’re forgetting here is there is a cost to placing the stations in the wrong place.  This plan could be much more expensive to us than anything else that is being considered.”

In other words, what and whom exactly does it connect?  Is it the right thing done in a way to maximizes the investment or is it just doing something to do something?

And then there is this:

Chiaramonte did concede on point on which critics agree – BRT has to operate in a dedicated lane.  As the plan currently exists, buses would operate in express lanes cross the Howard Frankland Bridge shared with vehicles whose uses choose to pay a toll.

* * *

He said no individual project is going to satisfy all Tampa Bay residents, but by moving forward with the BRT proposal the region gets the ball rolling on implementing long-sought after regional connectivity.

It is true that BRT should be in dedicated lanes (or else it really is not BRT).  Moreover, as we have noted before and elaborated upon last week, running in the shoulder is not really a dedicated lane, not to mention that this proposal is not in line with normal (and seemingly best) practices in other states.  It’s just not really BRT. And certainly not “gold standard” BRT, so why pretend?

We also agree that no project will satisfy everyone, but it still should be able to say clearly why it is good other than being cheap. And, if we are just looking at something cheap that is regional rather than truly effective transit, why is the plan better than the cheaper alternative we brought up last week?

And one more thing to note: as we said last week, the idea of using the CSX rails from downtown Tampa to USF may be nice, but we doubt Pinellas would support it.  Well,

Tensions quickly rose during the TBARTA meeting when Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long verbally berated [Hillsborough County Commissioner] Kemp for “hijacking” the meeting.  She said Kemp’s CSX proposal was a transit solution worth looking into by agencies specific to Hillsborough County, but TBARTA was created through the Florida Legislature with explicit instruction to oversee regional transit solutions.

It will be hard to get around this point. And given the silence on the part of most of the Hillsborough County Commission regarding even the express bus plan, getting anything else is highly unlikely.

And plan advocates keep saying (as they do here) that this is just the first step and people should support this plan because it is a gateway to all sorts of other things will be built.  So tell us what stage 2 is (if you say the CSX from downtown Tampa to USF, see Pinellas County Commissioner’s comments above).  What is the vision? What is the plan?  (Not to mention if you just build a something on the cheap and it is not a rousing success, it will serve as more of an impediment to future plans.)

Finally, something did emerge that we agree with:

“I don’t think we should not look at CSX,” Chiaramonte said. “It’s got to be more than one project.”

That is true to the degree that proper transit will involve more than one project, but even looking at CSX should not just be the short CSX run from downtown Tampa to USF.  And we should be looking at something that really works, that is “gold standard.” We should do it right.  There is nothing in the present plan that leads to the idea of next steps, connections or expansion.  It is an express bus plan without even provisions for connecting local buses properly to feed what is built.

The fact remains that the plan presented is the plan because it is cheap. We’ll grant you that it’s regional, but is it good transit planning or is it just something to do to say, “See, we are doing something?”


Downtown/Tampa Heights – Growing Partnership

There were developments regarding the Downtown Partnership and the Downtowner shuttle.

The Downtowner may be heading to Tampa Heights — but not until Oct. 1.

That’s because the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership this week won initial City Council approval to expand into Tampa Heights.

“Tampa Heights is becoming an important gateway into downtown Tampa with its own eclectic vibe and personality,” partnership interim CEO and president Lynda Remund said in a statement issued after the City Council’s vote Thursday. “We are looking forward to bringing our full suite of services to this area just north of downtown.”

Indeed, Tampa Heights is becoming an important area near downtown (especially as the Heights project gets built out) and hopefully will really connect (though widening the interstate will not help that at all). Here are the proposed new Downtown Partnership boundaries:

From TBO.com – click on picture for article

The expansion wouldn’t be final until August, when the partnership is scheduled to go back to the council to renew its special services district with the expanded boundaries.

Once that happens, property owners already inside the district and those in the new boundaries would be assessed $1.10 per $1,000 in assessed, non-exempt property value to pay for services provided by the partnership. Last year, the district’s budget was $2.45 million. Adding Tampa Heights would add an estimated $44,000. Expanded Downtowner service would begin Oct. 1.

It is a good thing that the Downtowner is being used and may expand.  It would have been better to let the local, private entity that originally had the idea do it (especially since the company being paid to do it now is not local), but various interests killed that innovation.  It’s too bad we had to wait.


Transportation/Downtown – Driverless Demo

Which brings us to HART’s long awaited driverless shuttle demonstration on the Marion Street Transitway.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority tested autonomous vehicles in downtown Tampa on Tuesday, a demonstration that comes ahead of HART’s anticipated autonomous vehicle pilot program set to run through downtown along the Marion Transit Way.

The agency showcased vehicles from Michigan-based May Mobility but won’t necessarily use that company or its vehicles for its upcoming autonomous vehicle pilot.

* * *

The vehicles demonstrated were like mini-buses — or large cars — that hold six people, including one passenger in what would be the driver’s seat. The idea was to demonstrate autonomous vehicle technology for transit purposes in a real-world scenario.

Actually, they are more like small, slow minivans:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

But that’s ok.  For a limited usage, like a short downtown shuttle (here .6 miles or basically 1 km for our foreign readers), this size vehicle, basically the size of the Downtowner, makes some sense.  Of course, HART was supposed to already be running a shuttle, but that did not happen.

HART had previously contracted with Stantec to operate service. That contract fell through when the company failed to meet its contractual obligations, according to HART spokeswoman Sandra Morrison.

The service was originally supposed to launch early this year. Morrison said the agency doesn’t have a new start date but expects service sometime this year.

The autonomous vehicle pilot would run along a 0.6-mile corridor on the Marion Transit Way between the Marion Transit Center near Interstate 275 to Whiting Street.

And, once again, if they needed more time to get it right, that is fine.  We have nothing against these shuttles.  Assuming they work as advertised, there is certainly a place for them in a larger, coordinated, transit system.


Transportation – Talk About Cost

We often hear about excessive cost and cost overruns for transit projects.  Well,

The cost of a diamond is getting pricier.

The planned “divergent diamond” interchange, intended to ease traffic congestion at Interstate 75 and State Road 56 where Lutz, Land O’Lakes and Wesley Chapel intersect, is going to be more expensive than originally projected.

So expensive that the local transportation planning board had to hold a public hearing to amend its adopted spending plan — a requirement whenever project costs go up by 20 percent.

In this case, it was a lot more. The construction cost nearly doubled from $21.1 million to $40.2 million, according to the public hearing notice of the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization, made up of county commissioners and elected city officials.

Kris Carson, regional spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation, said the price has declined a little since. As design work progressed, the construction cost dropped and now is estimated at $37.4 million, she said via e-mail.

* * *

The price escalated because the state had to revise the length and width of the earth retaining walls, traffic rails and guardrails, plus it redesigned the paving and plans to add a permanent sheet pile wall and high-mast lighting, the public hearing notice stated.At the MPO hearing, however, the only questions focused on the construction time line.

That is one interchange.  Yes, it is a busy interchange, made busier due to bad planning in Pasco.  We are not opposed to fixing roads when needed, but it is worth noting the cost overrun, and construction has not even started, yet.  And, of course, there will be no money from the fare box to help cover the cost because there is no fare box.


Downtown/ Channel District – Write Up

There was a write-up of Water Street in the ULI’s website.  It is nice, though not really groundbreaking.  You can read it here. Included in the write-up were two renderings:

From ULI.org – click on picture for article

From ULI.org – click on picture for article

We like almost everything about these pictures: the shade trees, the people, the store fronts, wide sidewalks, the sidewalk seating, even the facades.  However, there is one thing we feel compelled to reiterate.  There is no real protection for pedestrians from the elements.  In and around summer, when it is very hot and sunny and/or raining, shade trees, while nice, are not really protection.  Look at old Tampa buildings. Look at other old Florida buildings. Look at New Orleans buildings. They have such protection for a reason.  Whether awnings or covering built into the structure, there should be something.

In more Water Street news, plans for the renovation of the Marriott Waterside were released.  Here is a floor plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And here is a rendering of the street entrance to the gastropub, presumably on the east side (it is not completely clear if it is on the water side or the street – though we think it is the street):

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It looks nice, and at least there is an awning over the seating, except

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It’s slatted wood awning, which is not a real awning and does not keep out sun or rain.  That’s fine in the dry, cooler months.  It’s not that we don’t like Water Street.  We do.  (And we get that it seems like a small thing, but having walked all over town, including downtown, experience tells us otherwise, especially if you want people to walk around.)  And it can be made better with almost no effort.


Rays – This Should Be Interesting

The Rays have said they would like to be in Ybor and the money question has come to the forefront. This week there was news in the Times about their TV contract:

Two big answers about the Rays’ long-awaited, lucrative new TV rights deal may have been provided in a Monday report by the well-respected Sports Business Daily that parameters of a rich extension with Fox are in place.

A large answer: that the new deal would kick in next season, meaning the expiration — for some reason, a bigger team secret than trade plans for Chris Archer — of the current pact, which was among the worst in baseball.

And a humongous one: that the deal, if — or even close to — as big as reported would be somewhat of a jackpot, averaging $82 million annually over a 15-year term, putting the total value in excess of $1.2 billion.

The pact reportedly would start with a $50 million payment in 2019, up from $35 million in the last year of the old deal that supposedly averaged in the $20 million range annually, and rise from there.

The SBD report was anonymously sourced and noted there remain “hurdles the two sides have to overcome” going into an upcoming key meeting, with potential for resolution by the March 29 season opener. (That means none of it is for sure, most of all the opening day agreement, especially since the whole thing could get caught up in Fox’s planned sale of its regional sports networks to Disney.)

While it was known the Rays have been working toward a new deal, the immediacy and size of the pact — as reported — are staggering.

Which naturally leads to this:

Coming at a time when the team is working to get others to cover the bulk of the cost of a new $750 million-or-so Tampa stadium, it will be a most popular topic of discussion in the community — and in the clubhouse, given recent deals to dump some higher-salaried veterans.

* * *

. . . Though the team is likely to put in more than the initial float of $150 million, it may see the increased TV revenue as a separate stream. It may claim it goes more toward offsetting operating expenses — remember, the Rays have aimed to break even overall — than stadium construction (or debt servicing); and that kicking it into the stadium pool cuts into the overall increase in revenues that are for the reason for the new stadium. It wouldn’t be a popular move, but it could be their play.

If the Rays don’t put the money into the stadium, the onus will be to show it isn’t going into their pockets.

It is a salient point. We get that not all the money will go into the stadium, but it is not unreasonable to expect a decent amount to. It will be interesting to see what happens.


Built Environment – Choices

URBN Tampa Bay had a post that echoed a point we have said for years. It is worth saying over and over, and here is what they said:

A thought about the development choices we make… Look at this picture of Rocky Point Dr. Look at all of the things that somebody paid to build… There’s urban density, a mix of uses, a right of way wide enough for multiple modes of travel, plenty of landscaping and shade trees. But look at the way it has been arranged, with no sidewalk, and parking garages and surface lots fronting the road. It results in this car dependent, utterly unwalkable streetscape. And this is just one example of several roads in Westshore with a similar development pattern.

The Westshore area could have easily been built to be more livable than it is. And more transit friendly and less beholden to congestion. Much of Westshore was scratch-built in recent decades, it could have been whatever the community wanted. The money was spent building infrastructure and buildings, and planting trees and landscaping anyways. But the way it was spent exclusively to serve the car needlessly surrendered quality of life and economic value. It also makes transportation planning a nightmare, because even the people living closer to and within Westshore still have to drive everywhere they go. It’s the sort of fundamental mistake we need to learn from as a community and stop allowing to be repeated as development continues.

And it featured this picture:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Sadly, this still applies to most of the area (with a few notable exceptions). As we have said many times, it is all about choices.

Which brings us to this:

Representatives of PwC, MetLife and Cushman & Wakefield joined Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn at a groundbreaking for MetWest Three. PwC has signed a 12-year lease for 150,000 square feet in the new 267,754-square-foot building at 4050 Boy Scout Blvd.

PwC is expanding in the Westshore area.  And that is a good thing.  More jobs are good.  However, there is another aspect to the expansion: where the new building is and what it contributes to the urban fabric.  And, given the development pattern in Westshore, that is not very much, which is a lost opportunity.

And much like Rocky Point, the Met West complex where PwC is located (see here) has a variety of uses (including a new hotel) and decent density.  However, while one could walk from the nearby recently developed housing or the mall, walking is not encouraged (it is almost actively discouraged) by the building pattern (including lack of sidewalks).  While there are stores and restaurants, there really is no urban interaction and street life. And the development pattern is not conducive to transit planning.  Rather, for the surrounding area, the density serves more to exacerbate road congestion.

So, we are happy for the jobs but disappointed with the development pattern itself.  We are not even opposed the Westshore location (which has logical reasons) as opposed to downtown (where big accounting firms have been taking up space in many other cities), but with just a few better choices, the development could have a much bigger multiplier effect on the area.  That has nothing to do with PwC, which is rightly making business decisions.  It has everything to do with the City government and its choices over the years.


Built Environment/Planning – East County

And the idea of choices leads us to this:

A proposal to allow 131 new homes on rural land in east Hillsborough County has become a line in the sand for some commissioners hoping to beat back further sprawl.

Commissioners are expected to vote Thursday night on whether to change the allowed land use for 164 acres off Lithia Pinecrest Road just east of Fish Hawk Ranch from agricultural to residential. If approved, the number of homes that can be built there would increase by a factor of four.

Two commissioners, Pat Kemp and Stacy White, oppose the change and Al Higginbotham is on the fence. A super majority, or five of seven commissioners, must vote in favor for it to move forward.

Why, you may ask, should you care when the County has basically just approved any sprawling development in the east and south of the County?

The vote comes just three months after planning experts from the Urban Land Institute warned Hillsborough leaders to squash efforts to increase building density outside the county’s urban corridor for at least five to eight years. The county needs time to better plan for growth, experts said, before opening the flood gates to more people in Hillsborough’s quickly shrinking rural areas.

That presentation was met with effusive praise by commissioners across the political spectrum, including Sandy Murman and Victor Crist. However, both voted to advance the proposal at its first public hearing in December, one day before the Urban Land Institute’s presentation.

The land in question is just east of the boundary of the urban service area, where government functions such as roads and utilities are concentrated and development is encouraged. Opponents of the plan see it as one of the first tests of the county’s commitment to hold the line and cautioned that approval would mean de facto expansion of the urban service area. Similar requests from developers will quickly follow, they said.

But the owner of the land, Sandy Lavana, said the allowed usage was changed from residential to agriculture in 1998 after he bought the land and without his knowledge. He added that agricultural use isn’t possible there.

At the December meeting, Commissioner Ken Hagan said that the 1998 change wasn’t fair to Lavana and more homes there wouldn’t hurt the area.

“I think this will actually provide a good transition to the east,” Hagan said.

That is standard, wrong but standard, excuse for allowing such development. What did the planning staff say?

Staff for the county Planning Commission said the land use change was inconsistent with the county’s growth plans, but the Planning Commission board approved it anyway.

According to county staff, a development there would mean 1,200 additional daily car trips on Lithia Pinecrest Road, one of the county’s most congested roadways already slated for a $100 million widening. Within five years, the local middle school would not have capacity to handle students from the influx of new homes, the Hillsborough County School Board said in its analysis.

That is pretty standard, as well. We would not be surprised if the change is approved.  The County has routinely failed to enforce its plans for decades and then pleads poverty about unmet needs. That has, to a large part, led to our transportation woes and long list of needs, transportation and otherwise.

It is all about choices.  In this case, there is a boundary and a plan established by the County. The County should enforce it.


USF – The Editorial

There was a Times editorial about the effort to re-unify USF campuses. As you may remember, the proposal, which obviously was going to draw opposition in St. Pete, was presented without consulting the public.  Now, there have been some changes:

The House Education Committee added details to the concept that suddenly surfaced last month and has been pushed most directly by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. To Sprowls’ credit, there has been a commendable effort to address concerns among USFSP supporters. Among the positive changes:

Developing the plan. The plan for phasing out separate accreditation would be developed by a 13-member task force appointed by the chair of the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system; legislative leaders; and USF leaders. Only two of the seats appear guaranteed to represent USFSP, those held by the regional chancellor and an appointee by the chair of the campus board. The task force is better than allowing university officials to work out the details themselves, but more seats should be reserved to specifically represent USFSP’s interests.

Governance. USFSP would keep its name and continue to be led by a regional chancellor. Even better, the five-member campus board would be expanded to seven members, and the chair of the faculty senate and the student body president would be ex-officio members. The campus board chair would be guaranteed to be a member of the USF Board of Trustees.

Programs. In a strong show of good faith, the revisions make clear that the respected USF College of Marine Science would be included as part of USFSP. While it is on the St. Petersburg campus, marine science has reported to the Tampa campus. The task force working on the accreditation phase-out also is directed to identify “specific degrees in programs of strategic significance’’ in areas such as health care and the STEM programs — science, technology, engineering and math. Language should be added to protect named colleges, such as the Kate Tiedemann College of Business at USFSP.

Transparency. Important provisions have been added to require USF to provide specifics after the merger about investments in the St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee campuses. The university also would issue reports about variables such as student enrollment and performance, research and new degree programs. That openness is essential to ensure USFSP is fairly treated.

As the editorial notes, those are all good changes, but:

There remains broad opposition in St. Petersburg to melding together USF after USFSP has made so much progress since achieving separate accreditation more than a decade ago. The community should have been consulted on the front end of this discussion, not on the back end. The House Education Committee’s Tuesday meeting was formally noticed the day before, and the USF amendment was not publicly available until several hours before the meeting. No wonder there was only one speaker and some confusion among committee members who don’t live in Pinellas.

As before, we do not have a strong position on the proposal one way or the other.  Nevertheless, it should have been discussed publicly.  And the real issue – whether it is good for students or not (we don’t really know) – should be the focus of the discussion.  As far as we can tell, that hasn’t really been addressed by either proponents or opponents.

 

 

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Roundup 2-23-2018

February 23, 2018

Contents

Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont, or Maybe Not

— Walking Back

— A More Modest Proposal

— Express Lanes

— Airport

— Parking

— Bus on Shoulder

— Go Cheap

— Conclusion

Channel District – Great, for Now

South Tampa – Densify

South Tampa – Bay to Bay

Downtown/Hyde Park – Manor

Airport – More

Port – Bananas

Downtown/Channel District – Fixing Up the Arena

(Sort of) List of the Week

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Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont, or Maybe Not

Over the last few weeks, we have discussed the Regional Transit Plan and our issues with it.  We have been waiting for someone to tell us why it is a good plan aside from being cheap.


— Walking Back

The engineers who developed the plan spoke a bit last week, though not really addressing the issues we outlined.  This week, they went further.

Jacobs Engineering is considering potential changes to the current Regional Transit Feasibility Plan after local officials offered several suggestions during a Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group meeting earlier this month.

Jacobs Engineering announced its preferred “catalyst” route spanning 41 miles of interstate from downtown St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel last month, triggering a whirlwind of support and criticism.

Critics, led the loudest by Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp, have railed against the plan saying it fails to increase mobility options, won’t reduce traffic congestions and falls short on access to transit-oriented development.  Supporters have even said the plan could use some improvements.

* * *

Scott Pringle, a project manager for Jacobs Engineering, said he’s taking suggestions to heart.

* * *

Pringle initially referred to the plan as a final recommendation but is not calling it a draft.  He is meeting with various public boards to present the draft and will share it at public outreach meetings in late spring and early summer.

While not making the case for the original plan, openness to altering the plan is the proper attitude.  It must always be remembered that the study was of old studies using the standard of essentially being cheap.  As such, it was always going be problematic.  That said, what are they going to do?

He said his firm is in the early stages of working with the Urban Land Institute to address concerns about transit-oriented development.  The urban design standard among industry professionals asserts transit-oriented development is successful when created around fixed guideways because it provides investors with certainty that the route funneling business into the area wont’ go away.

The bus route won’t do that, critics argue.  Proposed dedicated lanes could be converted back to general use lanes if BRT is not successful.

That at least acknowledges one of our five issues.  However, the real question is how it will be addressed.  Obviously, if you expect people to invest their money, you have to give the some certainty about the conditions surrounding their investment.  This plan lacks certainty (which, you may remember, was the one aspect which transit opponents highlighted as a positive at the unveiling.)  Moreover, for the most part, even with some certainty, the plan lacks a good location for transit-oriented development.  The interstate is not the place for that.  We will be interested to see what ULI, the outsourced planner of choice in this area (which, given the state of our planning, should make you wonder either why we go back to them or if anyone in authority actually listens to them), comes up with.

Interestingly, there was also this:

An alternative project in the Jacobs study would create nine miles of urban rail along the CSX corridor, potentially 12 miles, to provide a connection between USF and downtown Tampa.

Pringle said he is amenable to changing the concept.

While we think using the CSX tracks overall holds a lot of promise, we actually do not think downtown to USF is the best starter rail line.  (We think downtown-Westshore/Airport is better. We get that there are not CSX rails there now, but that link would have to be figured out anyway.)  But, even assuming the USF-downtown route is chosen because the right of way and rails are already there, it is an open question whether Pinellas would go along with a downtown to USF line as the first leg of anything. So, we will set that aside for the moment.

Back to the engineers:

Pringle also weighed in on creating BRT off the highway.  The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Citizens Advisory Committee approved including a BRT study for Florida and Tampa avenues into its transportation improvement plan.  The approximately $2.5 million study would be a first step toward implementing an artillery BRT corridor.

Assuming the article meant arterial not artillery, that is a positive, but it would be much better if a large number local officials were endorsing it. And we are not sure why the study is limited to Tampa and Florida.  There are other major arterial roads where BRT (or other real transit) could also fit and which might be better suited.

We are glad there is a conversation going on, at least among some people (we are sure many officials are just looking to use the study/plan as a way to avoid having to say anything). However, the issues we have laid out with the plan are still there.  Maybe they will be worked out or changes will be made to address them.  Maybe, though there is no guarantee and some changes would have to be wholesale, like the location.

And we still are waiting for is someone to make the case that this proposed system is good for reasons other than just being cheap.  Of course, that is made even more complicated because, apparently, no one is even sure who has authority for the project.  But it is still necessary.


— A More Modest Proposal

Given those things, we started to wonder if there might be a different approach than trying to tinker with the proposed plan to make it make sense. We thought of one, though we hesitate to bring it up for fear that those who oppose all transit may say it is adequate to this area’s needs (even though it is not).  In any event, we will put it out there (and, we admit, it may be need some tweaks).

— Express Lanes

It starts with the point that only two of the stations in the proposal will be over the interstate.  Then throw in this:

Pringle defends the plan and said the portion in express lanes would offer reliable rate of travel similar to dedicated lanes because variable toll pricing would manage the flow of private traffic.

It is not BRT, but it is express bus service.

— Airport

Add a dash of the fact that there are already plans in the works for bus service to the airport:

Using a bus to access the airport is already a possibility, but it’s inconvenient.  Service upgrades planned by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority would make public transportation a more feasible alternative to private transportation or steep parking fees.

* * *

. . . both agencies told the Tampa Bay Business Journal this week they have short-term and long-term solutions.  PSTA plans to add a stop at the airport’s new rental car center on its 300x route that would eliminate the need to catch another bus.  That route would make four trips to the airport in the morning, four in the evening and two trips midday.

HART is in the process of creating the 275LX route, which would take riders from downtown Tampa to the airport as early as July 1.  That route would also serve riders from New Tampa and the University of South Florida.  The LX stands for “limited express.”

* * *

PSTA wants to serve the airport with two additional routes in the future, including an express bus from downtown St. Pete and another from the beach.  The three routes with 30-minute frequency would cost PSTA $8 million a year using existing transit infrastructure.

Borchers said that cost could drop to as low as $5 million if its [sic] implemented in conjunction with plans to create express lanes across the Howard Frankland Bridge when it’s replaced in 2020.

The initial PSTA route would cost $100,000 per year while the HART route would be $1.5 million per year but some cost would be offset by eliminating duplicative service.

Now, just hold that thought for a minute.

— Parking

There was also a post on URBN Tampa Bay’s Facebook page about the TMA presentation and parking costs.

As we can see in the attached post, FDOT is budgeting to build thousands of parking spaces near the #FakeBRT’s bus stations. Literally more parking spaces than total projected daily ridership. Not surprisingly, the parking is one of the most expensive portions of this scheme. It’s also a telltale sign that this is not urban mass transit, this is park and ride commuter transit for suburbanites to reach the city. Certainly a worthy intention. But it’s far from the top transit priority we have in the bay area.

You can find the information in the Feb 9th presentation (pg. 7 of the pdf here).  The fact that the plan features so much parking shows it does not really consider regular bus systems feeding this plan.  We question the parking. While some people in Wesley Chapel may park and ride, most of the stops will be in areas (say Seminole Heights) where that is an unlikely choice.

Hold that, too.  We’ll get back to it.

— Bus on Shoulder

Last week, we discussed a Times article where the engineers were defending their plan.  One part of that article we did not discuss was this:

Kemp also argued that planners were being disingenuous when they said the interstate shoulders could act as dedicated lanes. She cited examples in Minnesota where buses only travel along the shoulder when there is a crash in the regular lane. In those cases, buses are restricted to a maximum of 35 mph.

While that scenario was briefly considered in Pinellas a couple years ago, Pringle said that is not how the shoulders would be used in the BRT plan. The buses would run along the shoulder for “all hours of the day while service is running,” effectively providing a dedicated lane.

Because the bus on shoulder idea is the largest portion of the plan, it is worth looking into this a little more.  First, it is worth noting that Minnesota has the largest bus on shoulder system in the country, but that is part of a larger system with a rail spine.

So let’s look at what they say about how they operate:

With more than three times the number of miles than all other metro areas combined, the Twin Cities is a leader in the use of bus-only shoulders. The model is being replicated in other parts of the country, such as North Carolina. While a cost-effective way for buses to avoid traffic, there are certain conditions under which operators may chose not to use the shoulder. Operators consider the following factors when deciding whether to use a bus-only shoulder:

> Road conditions. Sinking drain covers, potholes or other road defects can interrupt the use of bus-only shoulders.

> Weather. Heavy snow, slush and ice must be adequately cleared to allow for safe use of a bus-only shoulder.

> Obstructions. Road debris, stalled motorists and construction vehicles are unavoidable obstacles that prevent the use of bus-only shoulders.

> Traffic. Bus-only shoulders may only be used when traffic has slowed to less than 35 miles per hour (the max speed is 15 miles per hour greater than traffic, with a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour).

> Other vehicles. Extra-wide vehicles in mixed-traffic can prevent the use of bus-only shoulders because of clearance issues. Emergency vehicles also take priority on shoulders.

Bus operators are specially-certified before driving to routes with bus-only shoulders. And while many operators elect to use the shoulders, the decision to use them is entirely up to the driver based on conditions and their professional judgment.

Ultimately, safety comes before speed. Metro Transit operators have a proven record of knowing when and how to use bus-only shoulders. Since the use of bus-only shoulders began in 1991 there have been no major responsible accidents.

Moreover,

Safety first! Shoulder use is up to the driver

Metro Transit ensures that speed is secondary to safety. While bus drivers are authorized to use designated shoulders, they follow strict guidelines. Thanks to these measures, bus-only shoulders have been extremely effective and very safe. Bus drivers:

> Must not use the shoulder when traffic is moving faster than 35 mph.

> Cannot exceed the speed of traffic by more than 15 mph; max. speed is 35 mph.

> Must yield to any vehicle entering the shoulder, including at freeway ramps or intersections.

> Must join regular lanes when the shoulder is blocked by stalled cars or debris.

Metro Transit drivers are trained to drive on shoulders and can best judge when conditions make it unwise – and unsafe – to use them.

In other words, Minnesota acknowledges all the issues we have brought up with the shoulder and specifically does not do what is proposed here for safety reasons.  They get that there is a place for express buses and BRT in a transit system but that it is not the spine of a true transit system.

But, you can run an express-ish bus on shoulders (or just as express buses).  And, of course, the local plan says it is good enough for St. Pete and much of Tampa, so why isn’t it good enough for all of Tampa?

— Go Cheap

Putting those things together, leads us to this, especially since no one seems to be able to tell us why the Regional Transit Feasibility Study plan is good other than it being cheap:  make it cheaper (and enhance its seemingly sole positive attribute):

– Cut the parking to a reasonable amount (certainly less than the projected ridership – a real transit system should not be just park and ride) and put it only at places where people may actually use it (like Wesley Chapel).

– Skip the dedicated lanes between downtown Tampa and Westshore, and use the shoulders like Minnesota.  And if we are forced to have express lanes on 275 there (FDOT has promised come hell or high water they will be built), whether they are free or tolled, we can use them (while their existence is not our preference, if they are going to be built between downtown and Westshore, use them).  Save the median right of way for when a real transit system is worked out.

– Build nice, but not fancy, bus stops.  No one needs glass doors built into the stops to get on a bus.

– Use normal buses, not the kind that unconvincingly dress up like trains.  Save money on the bus and on maintenance facilities and cost.

– And integrate the buses to the airport from Pinellas and New Tampa (that covers basically the whole route).

Save all that money and call the idea what it really is: just some express/enhanced bus service.

If the case can’t be made that this plan is anything but cheap, then there is just as good a case (if not much better) that we don’t waste money on it. Make it cheaper, and just provide slightly better service connecting to the airport as a hub.

Then, having dispensed with the pretense that in building the Regional Transit Study plan our area had built/is building a real transit spine/system, we can focus on actually building a real transit spine/system (rail or, yes, real “gold standard” BRT in truly dedicated lanes focusing on arterial roads) that really provided alternatives and actually serves our area in all the ways real transit should. And we can invest the money we saved in that.


— Conclusion

No matter how you try to package the present proposal, it is really just an express bus proposal. There is a place for reasonable express buses, but we need and deserve much more. Other areas have struggled to build a real transit system, but, through persistence, creativity, and persuasion, have gotten it done.  We can, too.


Channel District – Great, for Now

The proposal for a self-storage facility on Meridian has been withdrawn, per URBN Tampa Bay:

Good news! We have learned that the proposal for a 6 story standalone storage facility in downtown Tampa’s Channel District has been WITHDRAWN.

No word if the developer intends to try to amend the project to actually conform to the local codes and reapply, or if they realize any proposal for a storage facility at that location will be opposed by a broad swath of the neighborhood they would seek to serve.

h/t to Kevin Thurman for alerting us.

Hopefully, it is fully dead.


South Tampa – Densify

URBN Tampa Bay noted a new proposal for Henderson, just southwest of Dale Mabry (between the bank and the six story office building).

A new office project has been proposed for 3815 Henderson Blvd. in South Tampa. The project includes a 7 story, 120 foot office tower depicted below. As you can see from the site plan, there is some considerable density proposed for this lot, but the site design is largely covered by driveways and some surface parking. There is also an 8 story parking garage proposed for the northwest corner of the lot, which partially tucks under the office tower. There is also some ground floor retail on the garage, and we believe the office tower as well.

Here is the site plan:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And a rendering (from Henderson/Dale Mabry)

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is URBN Tampa Bay’s take:

We applaud the density proposed, but we think the project demonstrates the continued need for further enhancement to the land use codes to promote more walkability in locations such as this commercial node at Dale Mabry and Henderson. The project is required to provide 610 parking spaces for a piece of land that is awkwardly shaped and frankly isn’t that big (roughly 2/3 an acre). This parking minimum not only mandates these oversized parking structures but it induces more driving. We’re concerned that the parking garage is likely to loom over the neighborhood behind the project to the northwest.

We agree with all that.  To be honest, we are not sure that, even if it was allowed to do so, the developer would choose to have less parking.  That being said, the codes still need to be changed to give the option and promote proper development.


South Tampa – Bay to Bay

A while back, the City announced that it was working on plans to narrow Bay to Bay between Dale Mabry and Esperanza.

Tampa and Hillsborough County officials are working on plans to resurface and reconfigure Bay to Bay from Dale Mabry Highway to Bayshore Boulevard.

From Dale Mabry to Esperanza Avenue, which is a block west of MacDill Avenue, Bay to Bay could go from four to three lanes — one in each direction and a turn lane in the middle. Taking out one lane of traffic also would allow officials to put a bike lane protected by a 2-foot buffer on each side of the road.

From Esperanza east to Bayshore, there’s simply too much traffic — a lot of it making left turns at several closely spaced intersections — to allow for any reduction in lanes. So the recommendation is for Bay to Bay to remain four lanes. There Bay to Bay’s pavement could be painted to designate “sharrows” — shared lanes for both cars and bikes. And gaps in the sidewalks would be filled in.

See also here.  Recently, there was a public meeting, which drew predictable comments.

All the proposed changes have their fans and detractors. They were easy to identify at a Feb. 8 meeting as the factions clapped and jeered during a public presentation at Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library that drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100.

Occasionally, exasperated parties threw verbal jabs at one another.

“Should we just ride bikes everywhere?” said one man, miming riding a bike with a child’s high handle bars in response to a vocal supporter of bike lanes.

Engineers, citing a study and traffic counts completed in December, stressed that reducing lanes and adding bike lanes wouldn’t slow traffic further, but would make Bay to Bay safer, including new left-hand turn lanes.

The street sees an average of 18,439 vehicles on an average day, just below the threshold level for a “road diet,” a popular traffic engineering concept that encourages safety for pedestrians, bikers and cars through lane reconfigurations, bike lanes and sidewalks. The “road diet” for Bay to Bay will cost at least $860,000 in city and county funds.

That concept appealed to many, including several families who said they feared trying to venture to Bayshore Boulevard on foot or to walk their children to school.

“It’s a very dangerous crossing now,” said Emily Hinsdale, a co-founder of Sidewalk Stompers, a local group promoting walking to Roosevelt Elementary, who held her 9-year-old daughter Rose, a fourth-grader at the school, on her lap. “I applaud you considering pedestrian rights. It’s not only cars in Tampa. Not everyone in Tampa wants to drive.”

Our opinion hasn’t really changed since this was first brought up:

We are all for protected bike lanes, but, frankly, the plan is just silly (and sharrows are absurd, especially at that intersection).  Creating bike lanes that connect to nothing and just melt away into car traffic is not particularly useful. . .

. . . if they can choke most of the traffic on Bay-to-Bay, they should choke traffic on that last stretch for the pedestrians and cyclists trying to get to Bayshore.  The City could easily have a left-turn lane and a right turn lane at Bay-to-Bay and Bayshore going east and one lane going west, leaving space for bike lanes connecting to Bayshore.  Cutting off the path between the neighborhood and the walking/biking spine that is Bayshore is a waste. If the City can’t do it right, the money should be spent making good bike infrastructure somewhere else.

We get that parents are concerned with walking their kids to school, but the reality is that crossing Bay to Bay is not that hard (though, admittedly, it is not a great road to walk along).  If that is the issue, make the cross-walk times a little longer.  And making it one lane in each direction will make it that much harder to get in and out of places like the Starbucks. Though a walk/bike connection to Bayshore would make it better (on pg. 27 of this report pdf you can see two ideas for such a connection, but they are both pretty clunky, especially routing bikes through a Selmon exit ramp, where it cannot be said people drive patiently).  That connection needs to be addressed.

The bigger problem is that this all seems quite ad hoc and with no real plan of how to move people around.  That is the local norm, and it shows.


Downtown/Hyde Park – Manor

There was an update about the Related project Manor Riverwalk:

Building contractor Suffolk topped off the north tower of its Manor Riverwalk project on Friday.

First, there are no “towers” in the project.  It is one eight story building with three wings.  Second, the tallest part of it is the parking garage.

We have made no secret that we think the project is not nearly as good as it should have been.  Yes, we would have liked it to be taller.  We would have liked the garage not to be the most prominent part.  But even more importantly, we would have liked it to interact with, rather than basically shun the neighborhood behind it.  This building essentially walls off the river from that neighborhood and provides no street activity or even a decent walking experience.  And that is likely going to be with us for decades.

We get that Tampa wants developers like the Related Group to invest here, but we need better design.


Airport – More

There were a couple of news items this week regarding the airport.  First,

Icelandair is going to four nonstop flights out of Tampa — up from its current twice-weekly service to Iceland, Tampa International Airport announced on Thursday.

That is important from a simple passenger point of view like all expanded or new service.  But even more importantly, it continues to prove that international service to this area works and can be grown.  That proof should help attract more service.

Second,

Sheltair Aviation’s new $6.5 million executive hangar complex at Tampa International Airport opened Wednesday.

Encompassing more than 7.5 acres of land, including 2.5 acres of additional apron space to park, unload and refuel aircraft, Sheltair’s hangar was built to accommodate the larger private jets that are coming into the marketplace. The larger footprint also adds 32,000 square feet of hangar and office space.

While most people will not use it and probably don’t care that much, it is actually sign of a developing economy and growing market, which is a good thing.


Port – Bananas

You may remember that a few years ago, the Port decided to build a new refrigerated warehouse and go after the fruit import business, of which it had a piece at one time.  You may also remember that there was a kerfuffle with Port Manatee about the Port’s attempts to attract that business.  Well,

More than 3,900 pallets of Chiquita bananas from Ecuador arrived last week at the new Port Logistics Refrigerated Services warehouse.

It was the first shipment of perishable products to the 135,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse, which was built on Hookers Point specifically to attract shippers of fruit and other cargo requiring cold storage.

The shipment was a test run, but “we’re hoping that there will be more,” Port Tampa Bay chief commercial officer Raul Alfonso said.

More business is good.  We are all for it, though this may be a bit overstated:

“This is a huge deal for us,” County Commissioner and port board member Sandra Murman said Tuesday. “I know we’re going to build on this going down the road.”

Especially since:

For now, however, 3,916 pallets of bananas are make up a few pixels in the bigger picture of the port’s overall business. Cargo more typically means bulk materials like phosphate, coal or limestone. For liquids, the port handles much larger volumes of petroleum and liquid sulphur than citrus juice and concentrate.

But with the port focused on diversifying its business so that it’s not too dependant on any one import or export, the return of bananas aboard the container ship MV Wild Lotus last week marked “an important milestone,” Anderson said.

Not to mention that the big value in shipping is containers, where the port still lags. Nevertheless, diversification is a good thing.  With that in mind:

Port Tampa Bay saw a record number of cruise ship passengers in two recent weekends.

The port said 19,876 passengers arrived and departed ships the weekend of Feb. 3 and 4, breaking the previous record. Then, last weekend, Feb. 17 and 18, there were a total of 22,960 passengers — another record. The bulk of the travelers arrived on Saturdays for both weekends.

The previous record for cruise passengers was 12,600 on a Saturday in 2011. That number was surpassed on Feb. 3, with 12,949 passengers. That was followed the next Saturday, Feb. 17, with 13,792 travelers.

And, while a small sample, that is good, too.

However, there were fewer passengers and cruise ships in the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 than last year’s first quarter. Even so, the port expects to make those numbers up as the cruise season continues to build over the next few months and bigger ships to transport more passengers.

Hopefully, but that remains to be seen.  As we said, we are all for diversification.  It would be nice if that diversification included a significant increase in high value imports and exports (primarily containers), but it is still a positive.


Downtown/Channel District – Fixing Up the Arena

With Water Street on the cusp of getting going in earnest and the Lightning doing well, it is no surprise that the County government is going to put some money into the arena.

Hillsborough County has increased its financial commitment to upgrading Amalie Arena as Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik pledges to spend another $25.9 million on the facility by 2030.

Commissioners on Wednesday voted 6-1 to approve an amendment to the renovation agreement with the Lightning, increasing the county’s maximum spend on arena improvements by $61 million, from $47.5 million to $108.5 million. In exchange, the Lightning are forbidden from relocating before June 30, 2027.

Commissioner Stacy White cast the sole dissenting vote.

By 2030, Vinik and the county will have each spent around $100 million on investments in the arena. Vinik has spent more than $70 million improving the county-owned arena since buying the Lightning in 2010.

We have no problem with this for the most part.  It is a publicly owned building and should be maintained.  Moreover, the Lightning have committed to stay, though it should be for longer than 3 years less than the money spending period (though, why would they leave anyway?). As a bigger point, unless someone wants to build a new arena, the one we have (which is in a great location that stands to get better) needs to be kept up to date.


(Sort of) List of the Week

This week, we sort of feature Trip Advisors Best Beaches in the US.

The area beach clinched the top spot on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice award for best beach in the United States for 2018.

Clearwater Beach jumped up three spots from last year. It also was named the seventh best beach in the world for its “two and a half miles of sugar-white sand, crystal-clear waters and tranquil Gulf breezes,” the online travel site said. It was the only U.S. beach listed among the top 10 in the world.

But, Clearwater Beach, which was ranked No. 1 back in 2016, wasn’t alone in making the U.S. list.

Right behind it at No. 2 was Siesta Beach in Siesta Key, which was dethroned from the top spot last year. It snagged second place for many of the same qualities.

St. Pete Beach was No. 7, falling from No. 3 last year. Still, it was cited for its “golden-white sand and aquatic activities, such as parasailing, stand-up paddle boarding and windsurfing.”

Most of the Top 20 were Florida and Hawaii beaches.  You can see it here.

We actually think there are better local beaches, but they are not as developed and, since the list is travelers choice, development counts.

We know we have great beaches. That has never been an issue.  But it is good to get recognition.

Roundup 2-16-2018

February 15, 2018

Contents

Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

— St. Pete

Downtown – Still No

Downtown/Channel District – JW Marriott

Downtown – Encore, Maybe

Downtown – Jackson House

Rays – Ybor

Downtown – River Focus

Transportation – Keep Moving, Keep Growing

Economic Development – Where the Millennials Are

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

List of the Week

_____________________________________________


Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

When the Regional Transit Study folks first proposed their regional (express) bus plan, we listed five issues (aside from frequency and finding the money) that quickly came to mind:

1.) This is not BRT (let alone “gold standard” BRT), at least not the vast majority of it. (Because it is just a bus, we don’t even need to get into the “BRT is like rail” discussion.) From Wesley Chapel to “USF” (see #3 below) it is in regular traffic lanes (not BRT).  After that, it is running on the shoulder to downtown, which is not a dedicated lane (not BRT).  The stretch from downtown to Westshore seems to be BRT, though not in downtown (mostly BRT).  The Howard Frankland Bridge will be in express lanes, which, once again, is in traffic (not BRT).  In Pinellas, it is back on the shoulder (not BRT).  Simply put, it is not BRT, it is an express bus.

2.) There is a problem running on the shoulder.  Namely, what happens if a car has trouble, as inevitably some will?  Does it pull over and block the buses or does it stay in traffic and block the interstate? (If so, how does that help congestion?) What about an accident?  What happens to bus timing and trip length? Will that be dependable?

3.) The connections to activity centers are problematic at best.  First, based on the map, this plan does not seem to go to USF.  It seems to stop miles from USF.  Downtown is a little better assuming the streetcar actually is extended to the Marion Street Transit Center.  The connection to the airport in Westshore should be ok assuming the people mover is extended as planned to the multimodal center.  However, getting around Westshore will require using another circulator.  Same in Gateway.  Downtown St. Pete seems the best thought out portion if the system actually uses the same dedicated lanes there as proposed for the much more BRT-like proposed route to St. Pete Beach, and assuming that is built.

We get that you cannot directly connect every location of interest, but most real transit systems make an effort to get pretty close to where people want to go in major urban areas, at least basic walking distance. Otherwise, you get transfers to get to the system and transfers getting off the system.  The more transfers you have to make, the longer and less sure every trip becomes. That hurts choice ridership and makes the whole thing unwieldy and less dependable.  Moreover, due to the lack of connections, feeders and circulators are critical.  Given that we cannot even fund the poor systems we have now properly, there is the question of funding them later when the plan gets built and the entire bus system has to be redone in all the counties to feed into it.  If people can’t get to this route quickly, they won’t use it.  (And if you have park and ride without garages, you just have large surface lots around stations, which goes to #5.)

4.) In addition to #3, there is an inherent problem with basing a system on the interstate.  Even if the stations are nice, the interstate is inherently a hindrance to walkability and proper development around transit stops, one of the main features and benefits of a true transit system. While being in the interstate may be ok for the origination of some commuter trips with park and ride stations, it is not optimal for regular stops and main activity centers, especially since, aside from Westshore, the interstate does not actually run through them.

5.) This plan will create basically no incentive for transit oriented development (except maybe Westshore).  First, the design in the interstate does not naturally lead to transit oriented development.  Second, the lack of a fixed guideway or truly dedicated path aside from the stations will not lead to confidence in investors. This condition exacerbates #3. . .

We have also pointed out both BRT advocates and planners who have said similar things.  We have pointed out that there must be more to recommend the plan than the fact it is cheaper than alternatives.  And we have been waiting to hear what those positive attributes are.  Last week, per a Times article that was teased with the below picture of a compelling transit vision, the engineers spoke:

From the Times – click on picture for website

Proponents of a bus rapid transit system that would connect St. Petersburg, Tampa and Wesley Chapel pushed back Friday against recent criticism of the proposed plan.

The lead engineer told a group of regional leaders that they wanted to clear up a “misconception” and “concerns” about their plan to address Tampa Bay’s mind-numbing gridlock.

Go for it:

Critics’ main question: how much of this tri-county route actually puts buses in their own lane, separate from other vehicles?

It is an issue, though not the main question.  The issues all go together.  But, anyway:

That’s crucial because in order to qualify for federal funding — and Jacobs’ mandate was to find transit projects that could attract federal dollars — a BRT system has to have its own dedicated lane for at least 50-percent of the route.

That is important to keep in mind.  The study did not analyze current conditions and future projections to determine the best project or real needs.  It studied past studies to see what could get Federal money. As we said when the plan was unveiled:

So how did we get this plan?  If you watch the video of the presentation, the presenter says it plainly. He explains that to be competitive for Federal funds each trip generally needs to be $10 or so.  With real BRT or rail it would be higher, so they designed a plan to hit the $10 dollar target. (See @1:10-1:12 cost per trip; @1:14:20 explain why the cost is high; @1:15:30 fit project to the cost $10/trip competitive for federal program.)  We’ll assume that their figures are true.

First, what that means is that this plan is not the best plan or the plan the area really needs, it is just the idea the consultants think could get federal money fastest. Whether or not you think that is the criterion that should be used, that needs to be kept in mind.

Second, it leads to the question of why our area can only come up with a less-than-BRT plan while other areas can build real transit (BRT or rail) systems and still get Federal money (especially given that the Howard Frankland replacement is to be built by the State with room for transit).

Getting back to the engineers:

Pringle told politicians Friday that the 41-mile route would have its own lane for 20 miles. But in order to meet the federal funding threshold, future grant applications would focus on the 31-mile section connecting St. Petersburg to the University of South Florida.

By removing the 10-mile segment that stretches into Pasco, dedicated lanes would comprise about two-thirds of the 31-mile BRT route. Because the buses are traveling in the same lanes as regular traffic from USF to Wesley Chapel, Jacobs spokesman Kyle Parks said, they’re essentially functioning as an express bus route there, not BRT.

What would the 20 miles of dedicated bus lanes look like? That depends on the section of the route.

For nearly five miles from West Shore to Tampa, officials would build a new lane in the median of Interstate 275, which was widened after the interstate expansion to accommodate transit.

The other 15 or so miles would put the rapid buses on the interstate shoulder, from St. Petersburg to the Howard Frankland Bridge and then again from downtown Tampa to USF.

“They will be separated from all other traffic to allow those vehicles to bypass congestion,” Pringle said.

Regarding the last piece, yes and no.  Assuming no cars break down, no one swerves, there are no crashes, and no emergency vehicles are needed (things which never happen, of course), the buses will be running by themselves on the shoulder.  Otherwise, they won’t.  And when the buses get off the interstate to come as close as they come (which is not that close in most places) to activity centers, it is not clear that they will have their own lanes.  The Howard Frankland will not have dedicated lanes.  And the miles to Pasco that they ignore will not be dedicated lanes.

And then there is this:

Kemp and others, such as Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller and Tampa City Council member Mike Saurez, criticized the BRT plan earlier this week for relying on elevated stations instead of street-level stations, which they believe would be better able to attract development. Transit-oriented development has also been touted as a benefit of light rail.

Pringle said only two of the stations — one at West Shore Boulevard and another at Howard and Armenia Avenues — would be elevated. Those would use pedestrian overpasses, elevators and escalators to connect the platforms in the median of the interstate with the businesses, parking and other transportation options in the Westshore Business District.

So two elevated stations. How about the rest? One can assume a number of stations will be off the interstate and the buses will have to slow down and probably mix in traffic a bit to get off the interstate (or pay for expensive bus-only on/off ramps and street level right of way just for buses).  Even if the buses are going to use the inside shoulder of the interstate to avoid some traffic, if the stations are off the interstate, the buses will have to cross traffic (not BRT) or there must be large, expensive ramps over the interstate to the stations on surface roads, which solves neither the issue of accessibility from either side of the interstate nor the issue of transit oriented development patterns.  Moreover, some stations might be in the middle of the interstate, like on the stretch from downtown Tampa to Westshore.  Whether stations are in the air or under and overpass near the cross-street, you still have to deal with the interstate.

And whether the stations are on the interstate or off, riders still have to cross the interstate to get to the other side of the road (as opposed to BRT on arterials).  It is not just about street-level stations.  Where those stations are is important as well.  If they are in an activity center and/or on an arterial road makes a difference both to the rider(-ship) and in terms of development potential.

Almost nothing in the plan is really conducive to transit oriented development or growing ridership.  The problem of not putting the system near where people are active and keeping the buses moving rapidly remains.  And the issue of eating up walking/connection time getting around the interstate remains.  The reality is that the interstate route is used because it is cheaper and quick to build, not because it is effective or useful.  We understand that choice, but the issues remain.  (And it is definitely not “gold standard.”) Like we have said before: express buses are a complement to an urban mass transit system; they are not the core of one.

A better case still has to be made.


— St. Pete

Meanwhile, the St Pete City Council voiced an opinion on the proposal:

St. Petersburg City Council offered its unanimous support for the Regional Premium Transit Feasibility Plan to create a 41-mile bus rapid transit route from its city to Wesley Chapel through Tampa.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman also offered his approval during the Thursday meeting.

Council approved a resolution supporting the administration’s efforts to ensure the plan is incorporated into the region’s long-range transportation plan and the Florida Department of Transportation’s Tampa Bay Next plan and any other applicable measures needed to make the BRT plan a reality.

This is the reported reasoning:

Council members acknowledged the plan was not a remedy for the region’s transit woes but rather a necessary first step in providing multimodal access for residents and visitors.

“This is the 56th [transit] study,” said City Council member Darden Rice. “We have to be super pragmatic and, I think, recognize that this is an excellent starting point. It’s truly regional.”

The bus rapid transit route is estimated to cost about a tenth of what regional light rail would — about $450 million as opposed to $4 billion.

“Unless a private entity steps forward to write a check, it’s not going to happen,” Kriseman said.

Setting aside that it is not clear that this plan is in any way a first step (as opposed to the only step), basically the argument is still that it is cheaper than the alternative.  And it is regional.

It may be a useful part of an overall transit system, especially for St. Pete, which, like Wesley Chapel, is at the extreme end of the plan, and may get the BRT to the beach. (Though, as made clear from using Central for their beach BRT plan, using 4th St or MLK and maybe some of Roosevelt would be better than the interstate.) But express buses to the airport from downtown St. Pete could be running right now.

In other St. Pete news,

A proposed bus rapid transit route connecting downtown St. Petersburg to the Gulf beaches is in good position to receive federal funding, according to a Federal Transit Agency rating released Tuesday.

The FTA is proposing a budget of more than $1 billion for 2019 projects. The Central Avenue BRT project received the second highest possible rating on the administration’s five-point scale that officially qualifies the Central Avenue project for a federal grant. The ranking does not mean Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is guaranteed a grant.

As you can see in the recommendation list, almost all the smaller project received the same “medium-high” ranking as the St. Pete plan, which, in contrast to the Regional Plan, at least is mostly in real dedicated on arterial roads. (See pg. 16 of the pdf)  Also, most of the larger, new start proposals received a “medium-high” score. (See pg 15 of the pdf)

The PSTA is seeking a New Starts grant through the FTA’s Capital Investments Grant Program for $20 million, which is about half the project’s estimated cost. The state and local governments would pay for the other half.

Hopefully, they will get Federal money.  However, given that price tag, even without Federal money, if it is a priority, something should be able to be worked out.


Downtown – Still No

There were new renderings for HRI’s disappointing proposal for the City parking lot across Florida from City Hall.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

While the quality of the renderings has increased somewhat, the quality of the project has not.  It is still a 17 story, bland building with limited street retail, and no design to speak of. Nothing really has changed.  We wish they had invested more in design and less in renderings, but they haven’t.

As it stands, and as it has stood for this whole process, this project is neither a signature project nor iconic.  Given the lack of street interaction, we do not think it is good enough for even a private lot in downtown.  It is certainly not worthy being built on a prime, publicly owned lot.  The City Council should reject the deal.  As we have noted before, supporting this project shows a lack of faith in Tampa’s future. We can do much better.


Downtown/Channel District – JW Marriott

We can definitely do much better, especially when this is also happening downtown, from URBN Tampa Bay:

Water Street Tampa’s JW Marriott project appears to have received design approval. The project is nearly through the building permit process as well and will be starting construction soon. The current lot has been fenced off and will no longer be used for its former use (parking for arena events).

We get that every project will not be a JW Marriott.  However, Water Street is setting the standard we should be shooting for in an RFP on public land.  In fact, settling only diminishes the value that Water Street is poised to bring.  And the contrast between the past (HRI) and the future (Water Street) could not be starker.  The question for the City is whether it wants the aberration to be the HRI proposal or Water Street.


Downtown – Encore, Maybe

Encore was always envisioned as having a mix of uses including housing, a grocery store, hotels, and offices.  The housing is there.  Now:

An “urban” grocery store and a major hotel chain could soon be in the works for the Encore public housing complex on the edge of downtown Tampa.

St. Petersburg firm J Square Developers has signed a $2.2 million contract to buy a parcel from the Tampa Housing Authority to build a midsized grocery store at Encore. The housing agency also has a California developer moving ahead with a $4.3 million deal to build a flagship boutique hotel.

The deals could mark a major step forward for the urban renewal project, which was planned as a walkable community but has struggled to entice surrounding development. About 1,000 people already live in Encore, many of whom are elderly and do not have their own transportation.

“(Encore) has established a diverse socioeconomic population that is now encouraging to retail and commercial interests,” said Housing Authority chief operating officer Leroy Moore.

Still, agency officials are staying cautious until the deals close. The contracts give both developers a 120-day inspection period.

Being cautious is a good strategy. A deal is not done until it is completely done. However, are there any details?

The contract with J Square does not disclose what grocery chain is involved.

Moore said the store would likely be 15,000 to 20,000 square feet, smaller than a full-sized grocery store. For example, the Publix store under construction in nearby Channelside will be about 37,000 square feet.

Local real estate experts have predicted that it could be a grocer that caters to lower-income shoppers, such as Lidl or Aldi.

That is fine with us.  However, that says nothing about the potential design, including parking.

As for the hotel:

The roughly 2-acre lot under contract for a hotel is on the northwest corner of Cass and Hank Ballard streets. It is one of two hotel sites in the Encore master plan.

Moore said he could not disclose the buyer but said the deal would bring a major hotel brand to Encore.

The contract lists CRMS LLC, a legal entity set up in California. State records show it shares an address with ICM USA, a subsidiary of the Maltauro Group, an Italian infrastructure and development firm.

The hotel would include some retail and would have about 200 rooms.

Same thing.

This is all encouraging news, but nothing has happened quite yet and, even if something does happen, the details will be important. We’ll just have to see.


Downtown – Jackson House

As you may remember, Encore is tangentially named after the historic Central Avenue neighborhood that was the main African-American center in Tampa and was bulldozed for the interstate and housing projects.  Nearby, is Jackson House, which, though in a state of disrepair, is actually historic.

Today, its doors are closed, but during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, the Jackson Rooming House on E. Zack St. in downtown Tampa was a haven for all — specifically African Americans.

“This is a place where they would come to feel safe because they could not stay in the local hotels. They could not eat in the local restaurants,” said Penda King, secretary for the Jackson House Foundation.

As we said, it is in disrepair.

In 2017, the Jackson House Foundation worked with an engineering firm to stabilize the foundation but estimates it will need close to a million dollars to restore the building to its former glory. The goal is to make the Jackson House a museum and a place to hold youth education programs.

“We should remind people how it used to be, and this is what restoring this house would do,” King said.

Tampa has either outright destroyed or destroyed by neglect much of its history.  While historical markers are nice, real history is nicer.  You can find the Jackson House Foundation, including its donation link here.


Rays – Ybor

There was a big event last week that made official what was pretty much assumed for years – the Rays would like a stadium in Tampa, specifically at the north end of the Ybor Channel.

The Tampa Bay Rays decided where its future lies, and it’s in Tampa.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced Friday that the team wants to build its next ballpark in Ybor City, the historic Latin neighborhood near downtown with baseball roots that go back a century.

If it comes to fruition — and it is still an “if” — within five years the Rays could leave St. Petersburg, the only home the team has known since its inaugural 1998 season.

“Ybor City is authentically Tampa Bay,” Sternberg said at a news conference at the Tampa Baseball Museum. “It represents the finest opportunity for Major League Baseball to thrive in this region for generations to come.

“This,” he said, “is where we want to be playing baseball.”

The idea of somewhere around the Ybor Channel being the favored site has been floating around for years (not necessarily the exact lot chosen, but the general area).  It has just taken years of machinations to get to the point where the discussions can really get underway.  We would be more excited except there is a long way to go and a number of questions.  And picking a place you like is the easy part (though it has not been that easy).  The real issue is money:

So far, there have not been substantive negotiations on how to pay for a stadium that could cost more than $700 million. Sternberg said the team would contribute “a good amount of money” toward a financing agreement, but declined to offer specifics. He has floated $150 million in the past.

Buckhorn committed that “we’re not going to put the burden on the taxpayers.” However, it could rely on growth in Ybor property tax collections spurred by the new ballpark.

Under the agreement with St. Petersburg, the Rays have until the end of the year to search for a new home. The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field expires in 2027. If the Rays leave before the end of 2022, it owes the city $3 million a year for the remainder of the lease. After that, the fee drops to $2 million a year.

Local businessman Charles Sykes and lawyer Ron Christaldi unveiled another major piece of the financial equation Friday: A campaign to gin up corporate support for the team’s relocation. Dubbed “Tampa Bay Rays 2020,” the goal is to guarantee sponsorships and ticket sales and convince MLB that a team can thrive here.

On corporate support, more specifically:

“Two thirds of the tickets should be coming from the business community,” Sykes said.

That’s not happening at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The Rays are contractually obligated to play there through 2027.

Right now, it is about half of that.  And that is a major challenge.  But we’ll just have to see what happens on that.

As for what the stadium might look like:

But they have what seems to be an unusual inspiration — Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi’s marble sculpture Bird in Space.

“That’s been our guiding design for the stadium,” principal owner Stuart Sternberg said at the team Fan Fest on Saturday.

What? How?

Sternberg said they are looking for an “ultra modern” design to make it a “minimalist, iconic, porous facility.”

Hopefully not too porous, especially in the summer.

“We’re going to continue to push the designers really hard,” Sternberg said the day after announcing the Ybor project was the team’s choice for a new home. “If the stadium is done correctly, it’s going to be iconic yet you won’t even know it’s there.”

Though Sternberg allowed that they will incorporate some elements of the historic Ybor neighborhood, including the historic bricks, it seems clear the Rays will be otherwise bucking tradition.

Given advancements in technology, there also could be discussions about transparent walls (such as in Minnesota’s football stadium) and even a roof, though Sternberg said they haven’t gotten that far yet.

“There’s going to be stuff that’s never been seen before, I know that,” Sternberg said. “Whatever’s been done, we can do, and a lot more.”

That all sounds positive, though we definitely would like a retractable roof (yes, we get that it costs more, but it would be nice).  Of course, what, if anything, gets built is probably also connected to financing.  In other words, there is a lot more waiting, but at least there seems to be good design intent. We know the process will still be messy and could fall apart, but we are cautiously optimistic.


Downtown – River Focus

For basically all his term, the Mayor has said his focus is on the river.  He has pushed all sorts of project in and around it. This week, we learned about a different kind of focus on the river.

Parking at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has been a nightmare for years, even delaying show starts. But a proposal to alleviate the crunch isn’t getting a standing ovation at City Hall just yet.

The Straz wants to remove a landscaped berm on the north side of West Tyler Street to expand its arrival plaza. That would create an undetermined amount of parking and increase capacity for the center’s valet service, which accounts for about 10 percent of its traffic, said Lorrin Shepard, the Straz’s chief operating officer.

The Straz’s proposal, though, conflicts with the city’s existing waterfront zoning regulations. To allow the expansion of the plaza, the City Council would have to approve an ordinance change.

That’s something city officials are still considering.

This is the area in question.

While we understand the Straz has a parking issue, we agree with the URBN Tampa Bay:

Nope, this is not a “unique circumstance.” We need other modes o[f] transportation to get to the Straz instead.

Having a parking issues downtown is not unique.  And it is certainly not unique enough to put parking on the waterfront. We get that the Straz has well-connected supporters, but either the river is the focus of redevelopment or it isn’t. (And the other question is how putting parking there would fit in with the Straz’s previously mooted master plan.  See “Downtown – More Straz”)

What we really need is for everyone to recognize the transportation issues downtown and get to work with a more holistic solution.


Transportation – Keep Moving, Keep Growing

In the week that the airport’s new rental car facility and SkyConnect opened, we got a couple of new flight announcements:

Frontier Airlines announced Thursday that Tampa International Airport will be one of 14 new destinations the low-fare carrier will begin service to from Austin, Texas starting in April.

Thursday and Sunday flights between Austin and Tampa are scheduled to start April 8.

Which is good.  And

Starting Aug. 7, Southwest Airlines will begin daily nonstop service between Tampa International Airport and Los Angeles.

A Southwest Boeing 737-700 will fly the route once a day, Tampa International Airport officials said Thursday. That will make Southwest the third airline at TIA to offer service to Los Angeles, which is Tampa International’s 13th largest market. Delta Air Lines already flies there, carrying more than 870 passengers a day. Spirit Airlines plans to launch service there in April and is expected to cater to budget-conscious leisure travelers.

Which is even better. The West Coast push by the airport really seems to be gaining momentum, which is great.  We look forward to more announcements, including, hopefully, more international service.


Economic Development – Where the Millennials Are

There is a lot of talk about attracting Millennials to this area.  So let’s look at how that is going from a recent Brookings study.

Among metropolitan areas, the 15 with the highest shares of millennials are all in the fast-growing South and West, such as Austin, San Diego, and Los Angeles. The lowest millennial shares tend to be in Florida, such as Tampa and Miami, in the Northeast, such as Pittsburgh, and in the Midwest, such as Cleveland and Detroit.

The top 10 cities are all over 26%, while the Tampa Bay area is around 21.2%. (Tied with Scranton and Cleveland and just behind Pittsburgh.  See pg 18 of this pdf)  Of course, that is better than the Sarasota-Bradenton 15.9%.  You can find more information here.  Notably, the highest growth cities include Orlando, Ft. Myers, and Sarasota-Bradenton. (pg 16 of the pdf) Unfortunately, the report does not tell us what our growth rate is.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

This week, Amgen opened a shared service center in Tampa, bring a good number of jobs, which is a good thing.  However, while Amgen is a biotech firm, the jobs, though pretty well-paying, are not biotech jobs.  They are essentially back office jobs.  At the same time:

Defense giant Lockheed Martin broke ground Wednesday on a 255,000-square-foot Orlando facility that will create space for up to 1,000 workers.

The company plans to hire about 1,800 nationwide during the next two years. About 500 of those new jobs will be created here, with those positions paying an average salary of $87,000.

The new research and development facility, set to open in 2019 and sitting just south of the intersection of Sand Lake and Kirkman roads, will host work that could make its way into the U.S. military’s next nuclear missile.

While we are all for getting shared services centers, we would really like some R&D facilities, too.  R&D is where the spin-offs and clusters are formed.  To really move to the next level economically, we need it.


List of the Week

Our list this week is magnifymoney.com’s list of best and worst places in terms of a balanced lifestyle.   So how did they get the list?

We looked at the following (full methodology below):

(as noted, the full methodology is found by scrolling down on their webpage).

Coming in best is Grand Rapids, followed by Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Raleigh, Kansas City, Columbus (OH), Portland (OR), Virginia Beach, Cincinnati, and Harrisburg (PA).

Coming in worst was New York, followed by Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Tampa (helpfully, they included the “Fla.”), Detroit, New Orleans, Houston, Memphis, and Chicago.  So what do they say about us?

Another Florida city in the bottom five, Tampa’s biggest flaw is the ratio of hours worked to income earned (ranked 45th). Tampa doesn’t rank that low elsewhere, but it doesn’t rank high in anything, either; its top showing is a rank of 31 in the percentage of people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Average commutes clock in over 27 minutes (35th), and only half the population are reported to be in good or excellent health (32nd). The city ranks even lower for the prices of goods and services (40th) and the percentage of income that goes toward housing (41st).

That is not saying anything we don’t already know about this area (except that people sleep a lot here). What you think of the rest of the list is totally up to you.

Roundup 2-9-2018

February 9, 2018

Contents

Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

USF – Mystery Solved

— One More Thing

Airports – More News

Walkability/Bikeability – Closing Bayshore

Channel District – No

Transportation – Ferry Stuff

Parks – Down By the River

____________________________________________


Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

The Regional Transit Plan is not getting universal acclaim. (We have previously discussed our opinion here and here).

Leaders in Hillsborough politics and transportation are speaking up this week about their concerns with Tampa Bay’s latest proposal to bring transit to the region.

Bus rapid transit, known as BRT, emerged last month as the lead option for Tampa Bay’s first premium transit project, featuring dedicated routes. The initial briefing on this 41-mile project along Interstate 275 from Wesley Chapel to Tampa to St. Petersburg was met with relatively positive feedback during its public unveiling at a tri-county Jan. 19 transportation meeting.

There was opposition as usual from Tea Party and No Tax for Tracks members, directed at most transit projects. But now some traditional transit supporters are also pushing back against the proposal, questioning whether its alignment along Interstate 275, its reliance on highway shoulders and elevated stations would really provide the premium transit system that so many are clamoring for.

Setting aside for now those that oppose all transit, what are the some officials saying?

“I think it’s a huge mistake to be thinking about this, which isn’t really a BRT system,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp said at Tuesday’s meeting of the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization. “It’s an express bus system.

* * *

“I hate that you keep calling it BRT,” Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez said at Monday’s HART meeting. “There are parts of it that are BRT, but they aren’t really a real BRT.”

As we have pointed out previously, that is true. It isn’t really BRT (and nowhere near “gold standard” BRT).  The County Commissioner had more to say:

“The is not gold standard BRT,” Kemp said during a Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting on Tuesday.

* * *

Instead, Kemp said the plan, which connects St. Petersburg and Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275, is more like an express bus. She said an express bus along the highway is fine if it has limited stops, but it’s not the kind of project that is going to increase transit ridership and reduce congestion.

That project could be BRT with industry-adopted standards that would run on arterial roadways, Kemp said. That could mean routes along major corridors like Dale Mabry Highway or Kennedy Boulevard. Kemp’s suggestion echoes what some other BRT plan critics are saying: true BRT runs in dedicated lanes along arterial roadways. They provide relief from other road congestion with travel time guarantees and they can promote transit-oriented development.

As regular readers would know, we think that is a fairly good critique of the plan and running along arterial roads is fair suggestion, though far harder and likely more expensive to build.  Moreover,

Suarez and Kemp, along with Hillsborough County Commissioners Stacy White and Les Miller, voted at Monday’s meeting to prohibit HART staff from getting involved in public outreach on the project. Instead, they said, this should be left to the consultant hired to conduct the study, Jacobs Engineering.

But it is unclear what that means:

Kemp later characterized the HART vote as a non-endorsement of the BRT plan. But Miller and White said it wasn’t their intention to weigh in for or against the project at this time.

However, one thing it isn’t is a ringing endorsement of the idea.  (At least one Commissioner is not opposed to it for not being good enough.)

In favor was the Airport CEO:

Other MPO board members, such as Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, support the BRT proposal, are eager to see some sort of transit project move forward in a region that has spent decades failing to build anything but roads.

“From the airport standpoint, we’ve got to do something, fast,” Lopano said. “This is one piece of the puzzle. There’s no silver bullet. … No single thing is ever the answer.”

And we get why he wants connections to the airport. We do, too, and sooner rather than later.  However, we’d like it to be a good system that makes overall sense. (admittedly, assuming the people mover is extended, the airport connection is the best feature of the Regional Transit Study plan.)  Just doing something for the sake of doing something is not the answer or good public policy.

And the Times had another good editorial (you can read the whole thing here):

The reluctance by Hillsborough County’s mass transit agency this week to embrace a proposed rapid bus system should be a warning sign. As much as some political and business leaders want to get moving on a plan, any plan, for mass transit, this version is not yet the robust vision Tampa Bay desperately needs to be more competitive. It’s wise to voice these reservations now to encourage transportation planners to be bolder and not assume this region lacks the will to more aggressively tackle congestion that is choking its progress.

* * *

As the discussion reinforced, the BRT proposal would be unlikely to transform commuting across Tampa Bay or generate the broad public support needed for any regional transit system, regardless of whether that system relies on buses, light rail or some other mode. This plan calls for buses to mix with cars along most of the route, both along Interstate 275 and on city streets under the interstate where most of the bus stations would be located. While advocates say the proposal would at least get the region moving on transit and that light rail could be added later, it’s difficult to see how this approach would make Tampa Bay competitive with Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, Denver or other urban areas that are decades ahead on mass transit.

* * *

There is time to significantly improve this initial BRT proposal. Unlike previous transit projects voters rejected, this one smartly spans the bay and focuses on creating a mass transit spine that can be added to in the future. It recognizes the critical need for mass transit, and it has caught the attention of political and business leaders across Tampa Bay. But HART’s useful discussion this week reinforces that this plan needs to be bolder, regardless of whether the initial technology involves sleek buses or light rail.

All familiar to regular readers and all fair points while trying to stay positive.  But the fact remains that the plan has some major issues about which we have heard basically nothing from proponents.

As we have long said, express buses have a place in a transit system.  However, express buses should not (really, cannot) be the core of transit system.  This plan is not even really BRT, let alone “gold standard” BRT. And it does not even get to many activity centers, like USF. Running in the interstate really isn’t in the right place, even if it is cheaper to build there.  We get the desperation to build something, anything.  But, even setting aside rail, this is not even BRT done right.

The more we contemplate it, the more we really are wondering is what exactly is the goal (and is it a worthy goal) and will this accomplish it? (And we are not asking rhetorically, we are trying to figure out what exactly it is supposed to accomplish. Is it just to build something or is it to develop useful, effective transit?  It will help some people in Wesley Chapel, but who else?  And is there any sign that those who favor it understand the wholesale changes and cost of revamping the local bus systems to give it any chance of maximizing its potential and are willing to invest in that as well? (And to those who say this is just the beginning not the whole plan, we get the argument, but there is scant evidence of that.)  And that does not even get into the distinct possibility that overselling the plan will lead to increased expectations that cannot be met, leading to less, not more, support for transit.

We get that the plan is cheap and might (or might not) get Federal money, but to warrant consideration there has to be more to recommend it than that.  Just because it’s cheaper than alternatives does not mean it is good or worthy. The case for what that is has not been made, yet, especially given all the previously discussed issues.

So, to help the discussion, we’ll bring up this thought experiment again: do you think that building out this plan will truly change the answer to this question:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

And, if so, what will that change be and why?


USF – Mystery Solved

Last week we discussed the move to unify USF’s campuses.  It was unclear where the initiative came from.  Now, it is a little clearer.

ST. PETERSBURG — President Judy Genshaft said she first got wind of the contentious idea to consolidate the University of South Florida System last fall.

She was in the state Capitol in late October, she said, the day Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was officially designated the Senate’s next president.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, invited Genshaft and USF St. Petersburg lobbyist Helen Levine to his office afterward, she said. There, he floated the concept of phasing out the independent accreditation at both USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee, uniting those schools as one university under Tampa control.

“He said to me, ‘What do you think about this?’” Genshaft recalled Thursday after a campus board meeting at USF St. Petersburg. “It was a new concept that I had not heard before, so my reaction was, ‘I will follow the law, whatever is approved.’”

She added: “I was surprised, I was surprised.”

Brandes said Thursday that their broad conversation circled around several ideas for the future of the USF System. Consolidation was just one path discussed, by no means a final plan.

Coming from a State Senator from St. Pete, along with one from Bradenton (the location-ish of the two satellite campuses), is an interesting twist for two reasons.  Obviously, the first is the reaction to the idea from many St. Pete officials.  The second is that either the Legislators did not anticipate the reaction, or they did and chose to try to evade it.  Either way, the idea does not appear to have originated in Tampa. And don’t forget Palm Harbor:

She reiterated what other university leaders have stressed: that USF did not orchestrate the proposal, and that she was surprised to learn about its addition to a higher education bill last month, considering that her talk with Brandes lacked specifics.

“We walked through multiple options in that conversation,” Brandes explained. “It was really in the context of looking at, what’s the best way moving forward for the system and for the campus to operate? And once USF’s main campus gets preeminent status, how would that affect the satellite campuses?”

He said they discussed a few paths: leaving the system intact, making USF St. Petersburg fully independent, or uniting all three.

The latter was an idea he’d heard from Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, a Pinellas County ally and friend.

Sprowls said it was last summer, when USF’s push for preeminence was in the news, that he began to think about the potential benefits. As it stands, USF Tampa competes alone for the title and would keep the millions in prize money to itself.

That wasn’t going to help the regional campuses, Sprowls realized.

“So if we’re going to have a strong, regional institution in Tampa Bay, what’s the best way to do that?” he said. His answer: Unite USF, making every campus preeminent.

Though he shared his research with Brandes, Sprowls said, he did not approach Genshaft.

As we said before, we understand the argument being made by those proposing the change.  We also see the argument for the other side.  What we are wondering, and, while they complain about inter-city rivalry, what those objecting to it have not actually addressed, is which structure is better for the students, which is really the point of a university.

And some more interesting reaction:

Kriseman, along with county and chamber leaders, have urged the Legislature to “hit the pause button” and listen.

“Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen,” he said. “I get the sense that it’s a done deal, that they don’t really care what our community thinks and what Sarasota thinks.”

Though, interestingly,

Meanwhile, at the Sarasota-Manatee campus board meeting Thursday, members made a vote of confidence in support of the consolidation measure.

And there is this:

“Transparency, to me, seems to begin at the beginning of the process and not at the end,” said Darryl Paulson, an emeritus professor of government at USF St. Petersburg. “Suddenly it’s presented … and we have very little time to respond to what they’ve been working on for months. You can’t fight something if you don’t have the information.”

Of course, if you have the real information, you may also choose to fight it, but you may also choose not to fight it.  But, yes, transparency would have been nice – and wise.

Though, we think the whole issue boils down to this:

Supporters of the single umbrella model being pushed in Tallahassee argue it’s a good move for the St. Pete and Sarasota schools because they could access millions of dollars in extra funding the Tampa campus is receiving after earning preeminence, a status state colleges can achieve by reaching a number of academic and administrative benchmarks.

“More money would be a good thing if we had a level of confidence that we would see any of that money,” Kriseman said. 

Right, if everyone behaves honorably, the change should not be a problem.  How likely that is to happen, well, we don’t actually know.

“As much as this is a discussion about bringing the campuses together, the undertone here is the distrust of the leaders in Pinellas County versus the leadership of Hillsborough,” Brandes said. “This is a trust conversation.”

True, and not just in this, but also in transportation and a number of other issues regarding local government and the legislature.  And, once again, what we really want to hear is not about downtown development, though that is nice, but what is best for the students.  Let’s have that discussion – openly, fully, and civilly.


— One More Thing

This comment came from the Mayor of St. Pete:

“This is really not the way, as the old saying goes, the sausage is supposed to be made,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said Thursday. “You do something this significant in secret and then roll it out and steamroll it through — that’s not the way it should be.”

No, that is not how things are supposed to be done, but it is how most things are done in this area.


Airports – More News

There was some more news about the local airports.  First, St.Pete-Clearwater:

The runways at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport are busier than ever, and a new study says those flights translate into thousands of local jobs and more than $1 billion a year in economic impact.

Volaire Aviation Consulting did the study late last year for the airport, which is a division of Pinellas County government.

The last time this kind of study was done for the airport was 2014 by the Florida Department of Transportation. That study calculated an economic impact of $752 million a year, but the airport has seen five consecutive years of double-digit growth, with the number of cities served nearly doubling.

“There has been a significant amount of growth that we have seen in the last five years,” Airport Director Thomas Jewsbury said Friday. “We knew that the impact to the region had increased since the last time the impacts were studied.”

The report focused on economic activity that depends on runway operations, including both airline operations and general aviation. Not considered was the airport’s involvement in the Airport Business Park and other real estate development or leasing ventures.

We are not particularly swayed with economic impact studies, and we are unsure why a new one was needed on a few years after the last.  What we do know is that passenger traffic at St.Pete-Clearwater is growing, as it has in Tampa, and that helps the economy.  Whether it is $1 billion, $2 billion or some other number, it is not exactly clear.  Of course, the biggest issue at St. Pete- Clearwater is the overreliance on one airline for its traffic.

Over in Tampa, the Aviation Authority short-listed three possible developers for the office/hotel complex near the new rental car facility.   Just for the record, they are:

The airport received five proposals but the following three companies were ranked to go on to the next stage and compete to win the Gateway project:

Those three companies will advance to step two of the selection process, which will require them to submit detailed proposals for the design and construction of the 97,000-square-foot, nine-story office building and the parking garage.

While that is news, there really is not much to say about it because we have not seen proposals or potential plans.  We just hope they do not build very suburban style buildings.  We get the location will not completely connect to other areas, but they could still be nicer than your average office park, and they will have transit connections.

Nevertheless, in that vein, the airport released a conceptual video of its phase two plan here.   (It can found at this article)

Also of note is the opening of the rental car facility and SkyConnect next week.


Walkability/Bikeability – Closing Bayshore

There was an interesting proposal for Bayshore:

A group of supporters of the “Open Streets” concept think so. They told City Council members Thursday that closing down the waterfront street would allow families, bicyclists, the elderly, the disabled and children to enjoy a communal space free of the often busy traffic whizzing past.

“Many other cities have this program. Tampa cannot be left behind,” said Danielle Joyce, a private-sector traffic engineer and a member of Walk Bike Tampa, a non-profit that seeks to widen opportunities for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The group has submitted plans to city staff and asked for the city to name a liaison and determine regularly scheduled days where the street would be closed to cars and trucks.

A six-mile stretch of Bayshore would be ideal as it would connect to the Riverwalk, said Christine Acosta, the group’s executive director.

Closing roads for a day is an interesting idea that we like in theory, and we get why they picked Bayshore, which is very pretty.  However, Bayshore lacks a few things, like any amenities or businesses on the street and parking for people who are not in the immediate vicinity to come enjoy the scene (or a way to get there other than by car).

But council members weren’t thrilled with closing down Bayshore, even on Sundays.

“If you close Bayshore you’re going to hear from our South Tampa people, Have some common sense,” said Council chairwoman Yvonne “Yolie” Capin.

Capin suggested West Cypress Street in West Tampa, which she said would be a more “diverse’ stretch for the idea.

Supporters said Bayshore’s high-profile location is ideal for the closure to draw attention to the Open Streets concept.  The boulevard’s current traffic volume makes it hard for the elderly and children to enjoy the wide sidewalk along the water. A key concept of the Open Streets movement is that streets should be accessible and enjoyed by anyone between ages 8 and 80.

Cypress would be interesting, but long stretch do not have that much to do either, though it is more accessible to more people.

In sum, like this Times editorial, we favor the general concept.

However, maybe it would be fine every now and then on Bayshore, but Bayshore already has walking and biking facilities.  We think the focus should be on other parts of the city, where the majority of people live – like East Tampa/Seminole Heights (say Nebraska or Florida or a cross street) or West Tampa.  Maybe there should be a rotating program. The rest of the City (and County) needs as much, if not more, focus on walkability and bikeability (as well as unifying events) as South Tampa.


Channel District – No

URBN Tampa Bay had news of a new proposal for the Channel District.

A developer in the Channel District is asking to rezone the property at 111 North Meridian Avenue to build a 6 story storage facility. The block is directly south of Slade, on the Meridian half of the block.

This is one of the worst proposals we have ever seen in our time following urban development in Tampa, and it must be stopped. The use of storage facility is incompatible with the ongoing revitalization of the neighborhood. The site design attached shows open surface parking encroaching on the lot. The project will have no mix of uses and we can’t imagine a storage facility will look nice either.

The rezoning hearing is set for June 14th.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Truly awful.  And seriously doubtful that the proposal fits the plan and requirements for the Channel District.  We get people need storage, but not here and not like this.


Transportation – Ferry Stuff

There was news about the Cross Bay Ferry, sort of.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is confident the Cross Bay Ferry will return for round two later this year.

Kriseman wasn’t able to arrange a return this season due to lack of financial support, but expects to be able to raise the money necessary ahead of the cold season later this year, when a ferry is available to use from northern states.

* * *

The Florida Department of Transportation has already pledged $438,000 to fund the service for another season. Four local governments, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and St. Pete and Tampa, kicked in $1.4 million in 2016 to launch a six-month pilot project from November through April.

Of course, the issue has been other governments paying for it.

Kriseman’s spokesman, Ben Kirby, couldn’t say how much cities and counties would have to come up with to restart the service, but assuming the FDOT contribution and the refunds to contributing governments, the remaining price tag could be somewhere around $760,000, or less than $200,000 if all four governments agreed to contribute again.

It is not clear if that funding will be forthcoming. Not to mention,

While the funding appears doable, there are still some challenges. St. Pete officials would have to find a new place for the boat to dock. The space used during the pilot project was near the St. Petersburg Museum of History and that space will be under construction in November when service would begin.

But Kriseman said he has “better than 50/50” confidence in bringing the ferry back.

All of that is doable, but the money is an issue.  He will have to convince the other entities that they really get something out of it other than nice boat tours (including, given politics, most likely, some credit).  But more interesting to us is this:

Kriseman wants to bring the ferry back to service downtown St. Pete and downtown Tampa until another ferry proposed for south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base launches. Then, he said, that ferry could run between the two downtowns on nights and weekends when the MacDill service isn’t running.

The Hillsborough County Commission set aside $22 million it hopes to use the money for future ferry service and signed off on $750,000 for a professional design and engineering study for the MacDill route, but the process is slow going, with a route not expected anytime soon.

We don’t know if the South County-MacDill service will ever get going, but, if it does, the idea of using the ferries for leisure rides between the downtowns on weekends actually makes sense.  It is not at all clear that there is really demand for the work week or that the Cross bay ferry is really an effective transit element, at least at the price and frequency and without better connecting transit on land.  But the weekend use has some potential if it is limited in cost, and the ferry operator could add that weekend service in the business plan.


Parks – Down By the River

We have had our issues with the plan for Julian Lane Riverfront Park.  Not that we are opposed to making it nicer, but we disagreed with what making it nicer meant.  Regardless, the revamped park is going to open soon.

The $35 million project to completely redesign 23 underutilized acres is winding its way to completion, with a weekend of opening festivities set for Mother’s Day in May.

This week, the Mayor was talking about his legacy project.

“This is going to be a live, work and play environment for everybody, but this park will be the heart and soul of it,” Buckhorn said while walking along the west side of the Tampa Riverwalk. “That’s why we started with this and that’s why the city made the investment in it, because there will be tens of millions of dollars in private capital deployed around this park just because they want to be a part of it.” 

And with understatement:

And it won’t have an equal in the country, he said. The Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas? That borders “a ditch,” Buckhorn said, adding that the city looked at waterfront development in Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Philadelphia, but developed its own vision.

And though New York’s Central Park is 840 acres, or about 40 times larger than Julian B. Lane, Buckhorn didn’t hesitate to make that comparison.

“It will be the park that 50 years from now, people who look back on it and say, thank you to whoever did it because they won’t remember who, but I think this will be the equivalent of Tampa’s Central Park,” he said.

They may.  Hopefully, they will.  But, setting aside the Central Park thing, to really reach its potential, especially when it is surrounded on one side by a school and another by an elevated highway (which is slated to be widened with the Mayor’s support), it will take a lot of changes to planning and concerted effort to really maximize it.   The fact is, Central Park, and all great urban parks, are celebrated specifically because they are surrounded by density and a vibrant city.  Simply having a few multi-story or mid-rise residential buildings across the street will not do it.  It requires density and real urban, mixed-use development.  It will require a wholesale rethink of what should go around it (which should have been done already, especially given the size of the investment), which was not (entirely) necessary for Cutis Hixon Park because it was downtown.

It remains to be seen if  that will happen.

Roundup 2-2-2018

February 2, 2018

Due to unforeseen circumstances, this week’s Roundup is a bit abbreviated

Contents

Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Rays – Maybe Something Soon

Airport – Keep Growing

Port – More Cruising

USF – This Isn’t How You Do It

Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street

_____________________________________________


Transportation – It is What We Thought It Was, Cont

Last week, we discussed the Express Bus plan put forward by the consultants doing the Regional Transit Feasibility Study. (See “Transportation – It Is What We Thought It Was”) In that discussion, we discussed five issues that were clear from the outset, which you can see in more detail in last week’s Roundup.  They can be summed up thus:

  1. This is not BRT
  2. Running buses in the shoulder is problematic
  3. The connections to activity centers is weak
  4. Running a system in/on the interstate is definitely not optimal
  5. The plan will not promote transit oriented development

In addition, we mentioned other problems.  For instance, frequency is unknown but key.  It is unclear how to pay for it.  Additionally, to make this system work will require a wholesale revamping of our present, underfunded system, which will cost even more money.

Interestingly, there were a number of follow-up articles in the media that raised similar points.  We’ll discuss three articles: two which feature BRT advocates and one featuring a planner.

First, it should be noted that discussing BRT is a bit complicated because, from the Times:

Guzzetti said there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for BRT. Most BRT lines vary greatly between cities, with leaders picking and choosing what factors work best for their communities: building new lanes, making use of existing lanes, adding signal prioritization to let buses coast through lights, or using a dozen other options to create a robust system.

Which basically means BRT is almost anything involving buses that you want to call “BRT,” like MetroRapid was. (See “Transportation – Waiting for the Bus”)

That’s why project supporters such as Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans have turned to a list of BRT standards developed by the institute guidance. Because BRT can look so different from city to city, ITDP developed the standards as a tool to evaluate the quality of different systems.

(Note that the ITDP, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, promotes BRT.) You can find the online version of ITDP’s standards here. (You can use the scorecard to score the proposal for yourself.)

From the same Times article:

“We do see the watering down of projects as they go through the process,” said Michael Kodransky with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. “We see continued confusion over what is actual BRT and what equals improved bus service.”

That is true.  However, the basics of real BRT aren’t that hard: real dedicated lanes, real stations, real connections to useful locations and other transit, and real frequency.

Getting into the specific plan for our area:

The local plan to rely on existing asphalt, such as hardened interstate shoulders, isn’t an unusual one, Guzzetti said. In fact, it’s considered a best practice by transit experts.

“You’re taking advantage of the situation you have,” Guzzetti said of the shoulders. “That’s a smart thing to do.”

We agree that taking advantage of what you have is a smart thing to do (If you can make something good using it), but, while cheaper, using the shoulder is not the best system, nor is it what we consider BRT.  And, interestingly, a search of “shoulder” in the ITDP website brings three results, none having to do with operating on the highway shoulder. (For those interested, here is a guidance document on Bus on Shoulder operations from FDOT . Of particular interest is Section 4, starting on page 25 of the pdf.) But we’ll set that aside for a minute. How about other aspects?

. . . as for the buses using the managed toll lanes — a solution the Florida Department of Transportation favors that first surfaced with the now-defunct Tampa Bay Express plan — that’s a different matter.

A dedicated lane is the ultimate defining characteristic of BRT. And while it can look different depending on where it is, it should not include running buses in managed toll lanes, where they would occupy the same space as cars, motorcycles and other vehicles, at least in the institute’s eyes.

“If they’re sharing the lane, it’s not dedicated,” said Kodransky, the director of global and U.S. initiatives for ITDP, “The point is that the bus would get to flow as freely as it would with an underground metro.”

Another potential sticking point? Frequency. The proposed system is still in the early stages, but engineers predict buses would run every 15 minutes at peak travel times and every 30 minutes the rest of the day. That’s a far cry from the recommendations of ITDP, which suggests buses run at least 8 times an hour or about every seven minutes.

“Twenty minutes is not frequent, even for a regular bus,” Kodransky said. “If you’re in an urban area, having to wait 10 minutes is pretty terrible.”

* * *

Choosing where those stations are and what regions the line connects are keys to the project’s success, Kodransky said.

* * *

But if leaders really want to incentivize economic growth and development near stations, they can’t just put in a transit line and stop there, Guzzetti said.

Investments have to be made in the surrounding areas, along with building a true network that provides people transit options to get from the stations to the next place they need go. Examples could include an extended Tampa Streetcar or circulators running in the Westshore and USF areas.

“You can’t look back and say, ‘We built the BRT and it didn’t spark the development we hoped,’” Guzzetti said. “It’s not going to work without the economic activity around it, and how you bring in that activity is part of the magic. BRT is just one of the tools.”

Those are all good points. And an article in the 83 Degrees media generally extolling the benefits of BRT has this from the program director of the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute at USF’s CUTR (remember that organization whenever you hear someone from CUTR speaking on transit):

“Every three to five years we talk about it very seriously, ‘we’re going to build a light rail system,’ ” Hinebaugh says. “And here we are 33 years later. Bus rapid transit is something that has a better chance of getting funded and having the community get behind it. But a big thing to remember is this regional spine system. This is not the local system. This thing will not survive by itself. There has to be improvements to the PSTA, and the HART and the Pasco County systems at the local level to feed this and get people the last mile. This by itself won’t do it. There have to be major improvements to the transit systems.”

As we have said for a long time, everything is connected. We tend to think that BRT (and the present plan is less-than-BRT) will not make the best “spine,” but, setting aside the BRT definition for now, if we are going to build it, it needs to be done right.

And finally, there was an article in the Business Journal about the thoughts of a USF urban design professor:

First, the proposal is not a fixed system, which discourages lucrative transit-oriented development.

“The fixed part allows developers to be confident enough that they’ll actually go after development proposals,” Sabia said.

* * *

It also lacks consistency, Sabia said. Fully dedicated transit corridors offer a precise travel time.  The transit vehicles can’t be slowed down by congestion.  For example, the BRT plan would operate in express lanes along the Howard Frankland Bridge where people in cars could pay to use the same lanes.  Providing those lanes on a pay-per-use basis helps with consistency, but if traffic is bad enough, motorists who don’t mind paying for it could clog that corridor.

Other areas of the route would operate in shoulders.  That could slow buses down if emergency vehicles need to access the lane.

There’s also the issue of walkability. Interstates carve through neighborhoods separating people on one side from businesses on the other.

“You’re aligning [the transit] with something that naturally divides,” Sabia said. “Transit lines usually connect from all directions.”

Transit-oriented development should be within about a five-minute walk from stops, Sabia said.  With a bus that runs along one side of the interstate or in the median, riders would have to cross from one side to the other on pedestrian overpasses.

“So there goes your five minute walk, Sabia said.

Let’s review the points of agreement (or at least not clear disagreement): express lanes are a poor place to put BRT (But, as you can see from this 2014 PowerPoint, express buses in express lanes, which is what the proposed plan really is, has been a consideration for a while in this area.); you need frequency; the local bus system needs to be revamped; creating transit oriented development also requires investment.  The main disagreement is that the planner says interstate based systems and using the shoulders is a problem, but one BRT advocate says to use what you have, with the implication of using the shoulders.

The bottom line is that the issues we raised are the obvious issues, and they need to be addressed.  And, of course, the elephant in the room is money, not just money for the plan but also to revamp the entire local bus system (and expand and modernize the streetcar).  And don’t forget the political will to see it through.

Given all of the above, the real question becomes, is $400 million a fair amount for express bus service.  And, now that so many people who have for years pushed buses over rail have gotten their way, are they, and officials, going to invest the time, money, and effort (and political capital) to actually do it right?  Or will it just be another idea done on the cheap without full commitment just to say there is something?


Downtown – Riverwalk Place

There was more news about Riverwalk Place.  From the Business Observer:

The developer and partner Tower Realty Partners, of Orlando, hope to break ground on Riverwalk Place by the end of this year and have portions of the building occupied and its “skin” on in February 2021 — to take advantage of national television coverage of Tampa’s next hosting of the NFL Super Bowl.

Here are some details:

The “softened triangle”-shaped Riverwalk Place, being designed by architectural firm Gensler, is slated to contain roughly 200,000 square feet of Class A office space and 210 luxury condominiums.

Additionally, Feldman told FGCAR the project will contain as many as five restaurants and a rooftop bar, and have outdoor seating for roughly 200.

To accommodate that number, Feldman and Tower Realty are planning to double the width of the city’s Riverwalk that stretches in front of the pair’s property.

That description seems to fit with this rendering that has recently circulated (and we had a few weeks ago):

From drob44 at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

The article says the official renderings should be released in the next few months, but that has been the line for a while.

As for Water Street:

He also remains convinced that Strategic Property Partners, the Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investments partnership working to revamp a section of downtown Tampa with $3 billion worth of new residences, office and retail space and a University of South Florida medical school, won’t pose direct competition.

“We’re going for smaller users,  which does not mean low credit,” Feldman says. “We’re a more boutique play. Our floor plates for the office space are 14,000 square feet. That Vinik-proofs us. They’re going after corporate tenants, with larger floor plates.”

We like the idea of this project. It will be interesting to see what happens with all this.


Rays – Maybe Something Soon

There was a report this week in the Business Journal that the Rays would announce their preferred site for a stadium, and it would be in Ybor.  That would not really be surprising, as a Times columnist pointed out:

If you’ve been paying attention, that’s no shocker. Getting closer to the bay area’s business center has long been viewed as the antidote for the team’s lackluster attendance.

What’s far less certain is who pays for what.

And that, presumably, will be part of the team’s announcement.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. The Rays are not ready to commit to a specific dollar figure. Neither is Tampa nor Hillsborough County.

The columnist goes on to say that the amount the Rays will put up is directly connected to business support, which is also not really surprising, though business support in Tampa is hard to measure while the Rays remain in St. Pete.  At least there seems to be some movement on this issue. We’ll just have to wait and see if it amounts to anything.


Airport – Keep Growing

There was news about passengers at the airport:

“We had very, very strong growth,” Christopher Minner, TIA’s executive vice president for marketing and communications, said at the monthly Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board meeting Thursday. “We’re on very, very strong footing for growth going into the quarter,” he added, referring to the first three months of 2018.

TIA served 5,110,735 passengers in the final three months of 2017, which was 8.3 percent higher than the same period in the previous year and 1.4 percent higher than budgeted. With new flights starting up, TIA is expecting to see capacity growth increase of more than 12 percent in both January and February of this year and 9.9 percent in March.

Driving the increase from the first quarter of FY 2018 were two ultra-low-cost carriers: Spirit Airlines (NASDAQ: SAVE) and Frontier Airlines, with 44 percent and 135.6 percent in passenger growth respectively.

* * *

But international passenger traffic was up as well by 18.3 percent in November and 14.8 percent in December. The new flight on Icelandair that began last September has brought 2,500 passengers from Iceland and Europe to Tampa, Minner told the HCAA board.

More people mean more business (and revenue to the airport), and that is all good, as is this:

On the international side, Copa Airlines (NYSE: CPA) is increasing its nonstop service between TIA and Panama City to daily flights beginning July 17. This increases the flights from four days a week to daily flights and allows passengers to make more connections to other Latin American destinations.

Hopefully, that will help convince airlines to bring more international (and domestic) flights.

And in more news, the new rental car and SkyConnect is due to set on Feb. 14.


Port – More Cruising

Another Carnival ship arrived at the Port his week:

The Carnival Miracle arrived at Port Tampa Bay Saturday to become the second year-round ship by the cruise line to call make this its home port.

The 2,124-passenger cruise ship is joining Carnival’s other Tampa-based ship, the 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise. Together, the two vessels will carry a total of 280,000 passengers from Tampa annually, representing a tenfold increase from when the line launched service at Port Tampa Bay in 1994. Add in Carnival’s Holland America ship at Tampa and that number swells to 320,000 passengers a year. 

* * *

Next month, the Paradise will go into a 32-day, multimillion-dollar dry dock so it can undergo a major facelift, Duffy said. Cabins will be redone, balconies will be added to rooms, and new water features will come on board. There will also be new food and beverage venues and shops.

While it does not address longer term issues, it is a good thing.


USF – This Isn’t How You Do It

In one of the more bizarre (though in a way, very normal for this area) happenings in a while, there is a bill pending in the legislature affecting the structure of USF:

In the state capitol on Wednesday, lawmakers breezed through the bullet points of a higher education bill. They skimmed past a hot-button proposal to consolidate the University of South Florida System into a single university without a peep of pushback.

In St. Petersburg, frustration simmered. Local leaders wondered how, exactly, the city’s fiercely independent university would benefit were it to be reabsorbed by USF’s headquarters in Tampa. In many eyes, the small waterfront campus at USF St. Petersburg was gathering momentum. Why change course?

* * *

. . . the university wasn’t consulted on the bill, say USF officials and sponsor Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. Rodrigues said he expects to have those talks now that the bill is on the table.

The idea came to Rodrigues, he said, as he worked on the House version of a massive higher education package. He was pondering tweaks to the state’s preeminence program, which rewards top-performing universities.

USF Tampa will soon get that bonus funding, but because of their separate accreditation, USF St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee won’t benefit.

“Our concern from the student perspective is there is no incentive for USF to share the resources that preeminence is going to bring to them beyond the borders of the Tampa campus,” Rodrigues said in committee. “We want all students within the USF family to benefit from the preeminence that is coming.”

Plus, since USF is the only state university with separate institutions, consolidation would bring it in line with its peers.

Which, though there may be some merit in the argument, led, as would be obvious to anyone familiar with this area, to this type of reaction:

“It’s very clear that there are some inherent complications with the main campus,” said former City Council member Karl Nurse. “If the Legislature is interested in a campus that is growing and educating more students, they should just leave it alone.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch worried about losing a university committed to Pinellas needs.

“I’m trying to understand what problem this legislation is meant to solve because, in my view, USF St. Petersburg is a rising star,” he said.

Commissioner Charlie Justice agreed: “The fact that they’re taking this action without community input is incredibly troubling.”

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he’s watching the bill closely to understand the House’s perspective. 

Culminating in this quite odd comment in an opinion piece in the Times:

Under the proposal, USFSP would cease to be a regional campus and revert to being a satellite campus. USFSP has no desire to be the Chechnya to the empire in Tampa.

Setting aside the hyperbole (and a number of weaknesses in the analogy), we get that the author objects.  And, of course, this thought would arise:

Others — such as Kriseman, a former legislator — suspected that USF administrators played a role.

“My experience is that something like this doesn’t typically happen unless somebody at the university wants it to happen,” the mayor said.

State Rep. Chris Sprowls, who advocated for the provision, said he hasn’t spoken to Genshaft, but has talked with community leaders and policy experts.

Which is not really helped by this:

In her first public statement about a controversial proposal to consolidate the University of South Florida System’s three universities, President Judy Genshaft did not take a stance.

Instead, Genshaft sought to reassure students and faculty that the USF System will stay on track no matter what.

She said she was sure many viewers have questions about the potential change, which would strip accreditation from USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee, bringing those self-governing universities under centralized accreditation in Tampa.

“I want to reassure you that regardless of the outcome, we will remain focused on higher levels of student success, conducting high impact research and serving the entire Tampa Bay region,” Genshaft said.

“I also want to emphasize that at no time will any of our institutions risk losing accreditation or their distinct identities,” she added.

Which is not exactly a denial of involvement.  Nor is this:

University of South Florida System President Judy Genshaft offered her first public support this week for a controversial proposal to phase out the independence of USF’s two regional institutions.

After days of walking a neutral line on the idea, Genshaft sent an email to USF leaders Tuesday evening that said USF has long found strength in unity.

“It is still early, but we believe there is the potential for significant benefits to our students,” she wrote.”Benefits like enhancing the reputation of the entire USF System and having all students graduate from a preeminent research university, or helping students graduate faster and with less debt by providing a wider variety of course options and majors including those in health care and engineering. Or the benefits of graduate research and PhD opportunities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee.”

Whether it is beneficial to students or not (and we have no extra information either way), the whole affair has the appearance of possibly being questionable.

We don’t really feel strongly either way on the underlying issue.  We can see the arguments for both structures.  More importantly, though, is how this whole thing has been handled.  Regardless of who came up with the idea, why put it into a bill without first consulting people who are obviously very sensitive to the issue?  When we are trying to develop regionalism (and, aside from sensitivities, arguably in a way the idea promotes regionalism), why do something in a that will so obviously provoke this kind of reaction?

Really, even if there may be some merit to the idea, this is not the way to go about it.


Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street

There was another rendering of the JW Marriott on URBN Tampa Bay.  So why not put it here?

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We are not sure exactly what is going on with Greco Plaza in the picture or where the streetcar will go (it would appear that there are a bunch of people hanging out on the tracks).  We are also not sure what is on the left where Amalie arena should be (it looks more like green hills than the arena), but, as we keep saying, renderings are like that.

As for the building itself, it looks good.

Roundup 1-26-2018

January 26, 2018

Contents

Transportation – It Is What We Thought It Was

— The Plan

— Some Issues

— The Money

— A Question

— Reactions

— The Editorial

— The Next Phase

— Conclusion

Downtown – Um, No

– Still Not Good Enough

— Newly Not Good Enough

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Updates

Downtown – Renovate

Tampa Heights – Armature Works

Downtown/Tampa Heights – The Shuttle

Economic Development – Amazon Post Mortem

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

________________________________________


Transportation – It Is What We Thought It Was

This week, the Regional Transit Study group finally unveiled their proposal for our regional transit.


— The Plan

As we anticipated for a long time, an express bus plan. You can see the PowerPoint presentation here, and here is the video of the meeting where the presentation is made, which is kind of long:

 

Most of the coverage (and there was a pretty good amount) was basically the same. First, the main talking points:

The newest hope for transportation in the Tampa Bay area is a bus rapid transit system projected to cover the 41-miles separating St. Petersburg from Wesley Chapel and attract 4,500 new riders at a fraction of the cost of light rail.

Also known as BRT, it was identified as the bay area’s best bet to bring mass transit to the region by a 2½-year study conducted by Jacobs Engineering at the behest of state and local officials. The plan was unveiled Friday to political and business leaders and the public.

* * *

BRT is a transit system where buses use dedicated lanes to bypass traffic, but passengers still board at train-like stations. These would be expensive, high-ends buses, said Jacobs executive Scott Pringle.

“We’re not talking about your everyday bus,” he said. “We’re looking at something that looks like a train, behaves like a train.”

But it would cost far less than a train. That’s why many local leaders have given up on their dream of building a light rail system to focus on BRT. They’re also hoping to attract federal dollars to help pay for it.

It will cost less namely because it is not even BRT, but more on that later. (Interesting, on page 36 of the pdf, the consultants said that urban rail along the same basic path would get 8,600 daily riders – or almost double the bus numbers. Rail just from USF to downtown on the CSX tracks would get 4,900 daily riders.) Here are some details:

The longest trip projected along the route would be about 90 minutes to travel the full 41 miles from the Wesley Chapel station to the downtown St. Petersburg station.

The new system could attract 4,500 new riders — that is, people who aren’t using the counties’ existing bus systems. They would have their choice of using 21 stations along the 41-mile route.

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

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

There could also be elevated stations near Westshore Boulevard and at Howard and Armenia Avenues inside that corridor.

The BRT buses could exit the interstate in downtown Tampa to connect with the streetcar system.

For those headed north, the bus would then get back on I-275 and use the interstate shoulder to reach USF. To continue the journey to Pasco County, it could join regular traffic or use the shoulder of I-75.

The consultant said a BRT line could become a reality as soon as five years from now. However, the new, eight-lane Howard Frankland — which will add managed toll lanes the new buses could use — won’t be completed until 2024 at the earliest, according to DOT.

Here is the map and some information on the route:

From the Times – click on map for article


— Some Issues

While this can be an emotional issue all around, we think the most productive thing to do is simply point out some obvious issues with what is proposed.

1.) This is not BRT (let alone “gold standard” BRT), at least not the vast majority of it. (Because it is just a bus, we don’t even need to get into the “BRT is like rail” discussion.) From Wesley Chapel to “USF” (see #3 below) it is in regular traffic lanes (not BRT).  After that, it is running on the shoulder to downtown, which is not a dedicated lane (not BRT).  The stretch from downtown to Westshore seems to be BRT, though not in downtown (mostly BRT).  The Howard Frankland Bridge will be in express lanes, which, once again, is in traffic (not BRT).  In Pinellas, it is back on the shoulder (not BRT).  Simply put, it is not BRT, it is an express bus.

2.) There is a problem running on the shoulder.  Namely, what happens if a car has trouble, as inevitably some will?  Does it pull over and block the buses or does it stay in traffic and block the interstate? (If so, how does that help congestion?) What about an accident?  What happens to bus timing and trip length? Will that be dependable?

3.) The connections to activity centers are problematic at best.  First, based on the map, this plan does not seem to go to USF.  It seems to stop miles from USF.  Downtown is a little better assuming the streetcar actually is extended to the Marion Street Transit Center.  The connection to the airport in Westshore should be ok assuming the people mover is extended as planned to the multimodal center.  However, getting around Westshore will require using another circulator.  Same in Gateway.  Downtown St. Pete seems the best thought out portion if the system actually uses the same dedicated lanes there as proposed for the much more BRT-like proposed route to St. Pete Beach, and assuming that is built.

We get that you cannot directly connect every location of interest, but most real transit systems make an effort to get pretty close to where people want to go in major urban areas, at least basic walking distance. Otherwise, you get transfers to get to the system and transfers getting off the system.  The more transfers you have to make, the longer and less sure every trip becomes. That hurts choice ridership and makes the whole thing unwieldy and less dependable.  Moreover, due to the lack of connections, feeders and circulators are critical.  Given that we cannot even fund the poor systems we have now properly, there is the question of funding them later when the plan gets built and the entire bus system has to be redone in all the counties to feed into it.  If people can’t get to this route quickly, they won’t use it.  (And if you have park and ride without garages, you just have large surface lots around stations, which goes to #5.)

4.) In addition to #3, there is an inherent problem with basing a system on the interstate.  Even if the stations are nice, the interstate is inherently a hindrance to walkability and proper development around transit stops, one of the main features and benefits of a true transit system. While being in the interstate may be ok for the origination of some commuter trips with park and ride stations, it is not optimal for regular stops and main activity centers, especially since, aside from Westshore, the interstate does not actually run through them.

5.) This plan will create basically no incentive for transit oriented development (except maybe Westshore).  First, the design in the interstate does not naturally lead to transit oriented development.  Second, the lack of a fixed guideway or truly dedicated path aside from the stations will not lead to confidence in investors. This condition exacerbates #3. (and see “Reactions” below)

We have often said that express buses for people in Wesley Chapel to get to downtown Tampa and Westshore makes some sense (assuming it is done right). That being said, basing our transit on express buses is not really a strong idea (not to mention there is nothing new or innovative in the plan). Sure, some people will ride it – some Wesley Chapel commuters, some visitors who need to get to the airport from one of the downtowns, and some other commuters.  However, aside from being cheap and just being something (plus justifying some express lanes), the issues above (and others) remain.

And all that comes before this major issue:

Details about frequency of service will be worked out in future planning.

Without regular, frequent service (which, of course, is more expensive) all the above issues will be made even worse.


— The Money

Which gets us to the question of money.  This plan is definitely cheaper than rail (or fixed guideway systems), which, as far as we can tell, is really the main selling point.

The plan aims to split funding between federal, state and local sources with the federal government kicking in half. At a $450 million price, the state government would kick in about $112 million with a combination of local governments splitting the other $112 million match.

And

. . . if government leaders are willing to move forward, each county will have to decide how to pay their share. Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco would have to split the annual $8.6 million in capital and operating costs.

Setting aside that it is not even clear what the stated cost goes to (it has to be the stations and buses, because there is nothing else, really), it is not “savings;” it is just cheaper than buying something better. Nevertheless, the number is workable (assuming the Federal government does not change its funding system. See here), but, because local officials have underfunded what we already have, one wonders where the money will come from.  And then there is the question of reorganizing the existing bus systems to take advantage of and feed this (including all the circulators) and the cost of that.


— A Question

So how did we get this plan?  If you watch the video of the presentation, the presenter says it plainly. He explains that to be competitive for Federal funds each trip generally needs to be $10 or so.  With real BRT or rail it would be higher, so they designed a plan to hit the $10 dollar target. (See @1:10-1:12 cost per trip; @1:14:20 explain why the cost is high; @1:15:30 fit project to the cost $10/trip competitive for federal program.)  We’ll assume that their figures are true.

First, what that means is that this plan is not the best plan or the plan the area really needs, it is just the idea the consultants think could get federal money fastest. Whether or not you think that is the criterion that should be used, that needs to be kept in mind.

Second, it leads to the question of why our area can only come up with a less-than-BRT plan while other areas can build real transit (BRT or rail) systems and still get Federal money (especially given that the Howard Frankland replacement is to be built by the State with room for transit).


— Reactions

So what were the reactions?

Initial reaction was positive but cautious.

“This is relatively low cost. This doesn’t mean we have to do a sales (tax),” Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp said. “We do need to put our general dollars in this. We don’t need to be afraid of a sales tax. But a sales tax can be over and above.”

Forward Pinellas executive director Whit Blanton, who leads that county’s transportation planning agency, said this project has a better shot of earning federal funding.

“When we talk about going for federal money it is not only a very competitive but risky process…,” he said. “We’ve got a project that really does lower the risks.”

Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen said this project, more than previously proposed options, seems doable from a financial perspective.

“It is not so expensive that it really is out of the realm of us figuring out how to pay for it,” Cohen said.

We get it.  It’s relatively cheap (though you get what you pay for). Is there anything else?

Ask local politicians like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and they’ll say that the region needs a transit win — any kind of win. And if BRT is more likely to succeed than light rail, then BRT it is.

“Candidly, I’m tired of talking about it,” Buckhorn said. “We need a victory. .?.?. I can say with a great deal of certainty if we move toward a BRT model using the existing interstate, we can get this done much more quickly than another prolonged debate in a political referendum about whether or not rail is appropriate for our area or not.”

Kriseman said he and other regional leaders still want to see a light rail system take shape one day. But the reality, he said, is that BRT is more affordable, easier to build and quicker to get running.

“Unless we are willing to ask the public to tax themselves significantly in order to make it happen,” he said, “then realistically, light rail is really not going to happen.”

It is something, but we are not sure it is really a transit victory.  It seems more like a placeholder to us.  (But, yes, we agree that to invest properly, you do need money.)

And there was this.

Those who have opposed past transit proposals watched the presentation warily.

Hillsborough Tea Party co-founder Sharon Calvert urged leaders not to apply for federal funding.

“Once federally money is taken, you’re really tied to what you have,” she said. She added: “We need flexibility to move forward with it…. Flexible enough to eliminate it, reduce it and change it.”

Barbara Haselden, who organized No Tax For Tracks and helped defeat the Greenlight Pinellas transportation sales tax in 2014, said she hoped this meant rail was officially off the table in Tampa Bay.

Given the comments, it is not clear that this faction will support the wholesale changes necessary to our transit systems to make this plan effective. And given certain local official’s behavior over the years, those comments should make anyone considering building something transit oriented wonder if it is a sound idea.


— The Editorial

The Times ran a very strong editorial regarding the plan (you can read it all here). Here is the heart of it:

Express buses are an integral part of mass transit systems. While the costs vary depending on the route and the need to buy right-of-way, construction and startup expenses could be one-third or half the costs of rail. The DOT study estimates the regional bus line could cost $450 million to construct, compared to $2.5 billion to $4 billion for rail. Bus routes also are easier to move than fixed rail lines, though changing express routes could also hurt demand if riders lose confidence that the buses will be there. But the false choice of buses over rail is like choosing apples over oranges. They are two distinct systems with their own advantages, drawbacks and customer bases. That’s why the ideal transit plan would include a mix of each.

The reality is that this proposal isn’t even a robust bus proposal. While some communities operate buses in the shoulder, or in toll lanes, these proposed lanes are not reserved entirely for mass transit. Buses would still share much of the road with vehicles, and they could travel only so fast as the slowest car ahead of them.

The transit mode — whether it is bus, light rail or whatever — is less important now than acknowledging the need for dedicated corridors and a generous new revenue stream to build and operate them. Light rail should have a role in moving the tens of thousands of people who cross county lines in the bay area to work every day. Rapid buses could fill the medium-range gaps by offering fewer stops to commuters traveling across the county. Traditional bus systems, bike and ridesharing programs and other options such as downtown trolleys could take it from there. The point is that no one form of transportation operates in a vacuum. The best premium transit — BRT or rail — won’t work unless local bus service is robust enough to move people between stations and their final destinations.

It’s understandable that the change of heart about rail comes after failed voter initiatives for light rail in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties over the last eight years. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman have cited political fatigue as a factor in their sudden embrace of BRT. But while rapid bus may be cheaper, this region doesn’t have the money at the moment for BRT or rail. It cannot even adequately fund its existing bus system. And any meaningful improvement in mass transit in the bay area today will require more revenue from the federal and state governments, and from local taxpayers. There is no free ride here and no easy path toward securing a new revenue source.

Tampa Bay has a history of mistaking political decisions for smart planning. The move away from rail contradicts the arguments that area leaders have made for some two decades — that rail is a long-term investment that will move people more efficiently, redevelop urban cores and spare the suburbs and the environment further damage from sprawl. The argument that the region is more competitive for BRT because we don’t have rail now is self-defeating. The study says a rail line in Tampa could come at a later date. But moving away from rail as a regional solution is a shortsighted approach that reflects a lack of confidence in years of planning and ignores the arc in growth coming this way.

* * *

The DOT study reflects a regional consensus that the existing transit system desperately needs work. It focuses on the correct priority of crossing the bay and linking the major cities. But Tampa Bay should be bold in seeking solutions rather than declaring victory by settling for the cheapest option that risks the least political capital.

There is not much to add to that, except to point out that a small win just for the sake of winning is often used as an excuse for inaction on the bigger, broader solution.  That will likely be the case with this plan.


— The Next Phase

Which brings us to another thing:

But that would be just the start of a transportation makeover for the region, supporters said.

“This is not the ultimate endgame for transit in the Tampa Bay region,” Florida Department of Transportation local secretary David Gwynn said. “It’s nothing even close to that … What this will hopefully be is a first step.”

Jacobs also outlined what kind of system the bay area should build after BRT: a passenger rail system connecting downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida using 9 miles of existing CSX tracks.

Setting aside that the rail idea mentioned is essentially parallel to the bus line and not the logical starter line, since it has taken 30 years to get to this point, we are not even entertaining the idea that this is basically what we will get without much more. (Maybe we will, but don’t bet – or plan – on it.)


— Conclusion

In sum, the plan is basically what we expected (though we thought it would at least try to get to USF). Setting aside all the hype in the coverage, we think there is a place for something like this plan (though not necessarily this exact plan) in the transportation system of this area.  We do not think it is a replacement for a real, coordinated transportation system with real transit.  We do think it will be used to delay really addressing our transportation issues for many more years.  We also wonder how it and all the changes needed to our present system to make this work at all will be paid for and whether there really is the political will to do it and do it right.

Last, but not certainly not least, setting aside pitches, do you think that building out this plan will truly change the answer to this question:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?


Downtown – Um, No


– Still Not Good Enough

HRI’s proposed hotel on the city block across from City Hall (405 E Kennedy Blvd for those of you interested in Accela), was reviewed by staff. From URBN Tampa Bay:

HRI’s Hyatt proposal has been reviewed by city staff. We wanted to point out the images below. It demonstrates the city’s code requiring “transparent store frontage” along the sides of buildings. As you can see, HRI was proposing blank walls on two sides of their project. The city staff has pointed out that this is against code, and HRI will have to change it.

We still of course oppose the project, due to the ugly look of the project, lack of density and lack of mix of uses. We also don’t believe there should be such a large curb cut across from Historic City Hall.

Here’s an annotated rendering:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for article

And annotated site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for article

As we have said many times, we oppose this proposal, which in our opinion is not good enough for a private lot downtown.  (We also oppose the first proposal, though it was a little better (and, for the most part, may be ok for a private lot).  There is no reason to sell this block now for anything like this.  It is not an “icon.” It is not a “signature” development.  There is just no solid justification for the deal, especially with the Business Journal reporting about how high our hotel rates are and how office rents are rising.  And how we keep being told how great our tourism market is.  We can do much better than a cut-rate design on a prime lot that does nothing for our downtown.  We could even wait for an iconic, signature project.

The City should aspire to much more, and its choice of developments on City land should reflect that.  From the beginning, this proposal has done the opposite.


— Newly Not Good Enough

URBN Tampa Bay also had news of a proposed small office building downtown.

A new office building has been proposed for the northeast corner of Marion and Washington Streets in Downtown Tampa. The building is 3 stories with approximately 17,000 square feet of office space. All of the office space is on the 2nd and 3rd floors, on top of parking.

This project really should have a retail slip on the corner, even if it’s not a very big one. This proposed street interaction of blank walls is insufficient for approval.

We don’t mind that it is small.  It is on a small lot.  However, this is a rendering:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for article

And a site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for article

Frankly, that is awful.  It is downtown and, you may have noticed, facing the Marion Street Transitway, where the automated shuttles are supposed to help develop localized transit.  There needs to be street interaction of some sort. It could be retail.  It could be the offices.  It should not be bunker-like, blank walls covering parking.  If the developers can’t get a waiver on the parking requirement, they need to figure another parking solution off-site.

If the City is serious about having a vibrant downtown, it cannot accept this 1970’s design.


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street Updates

There were three announcements this week on the Water Street project.  First, the Business Journal reported that SPP is going with a primary contractor rather than what apparently was a group of contractors for various project.

The second change was a reveal of the renovations to the Marriott Waterside, from the Times:

SPP plans to spend $40 million updating the 719-room Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, which it bought for $150 million in 2014.

The renovation will add eight rooms, bringing the total to 727, bring in a new operator for the hotel’s main restaurant, and relaunch Champions Sports Bar as a gastropub serving high-end food and beer. The project will add 3,111 feet of meeting space at the northwest corner of the hotel along Water Street. The project is scheduled to be finished by early 2019.

Here is a video on it:

That’s all fine with us.  We just hope they don’t forget the previously announced retail on the northeast corner.

Finally, you can find a video about the JW Marriott here.


Downtown – Renovate

There was news of another renovation (or at least modernization) of a hotel downtown, the Sheraton Riverwalk.

“We went into every single room and upgraded the air conditioning with new vents,” he said from a sixth-floor standard king guest room. That was one of the behind-the-scenes improvements made in the rooms. They were also rewired for Wi-Fi with more charging stations, allowing travelers to stream multiple laptops, tablets and mobile phones. 

And that is all good, but this is more important to us:

The Sheraton Riverwalk is one of only two hotels with direct access to the popular Riverwalk and is one of only a handful of approved vendors who are allowed to sell alcoholic drinks on the waterfront, said Melissa Stenson, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. Those strolling along the Riverwalk “can get a drink here and resume their walk,” she said. 

The 2018 phase of the hotel’s renovation will bring a new poolside bar to attract those Riverwalk visitors. It includes redoing all of the pavers at the outdoor pool as well as its cabanas that face the Riverwalk, she said. Additionally, the hotel’s lobby and its River’s Edge restaurant will also get facelifts.

While it is true that the hotel connects to the Riverwalk, at present the connection is not very obvious or good.  Hopefully when they are done, it will be a solid connection that really helps take advantage of the location.

And one more thing.  The fact that these hotels are getting renovated and raising their game, plus the increasing rates, once again makes clear that the HRI proposal is below par.


Tampa Heights – Armature Works

There was sort of news on Armature Works:

The first phase of the transformation of Tampa’s historic Armature Works is almost complete.

Armature Works is the anchor of The Heights, a 43-acre mixed-use development on the northern fringe of downtown Tampa, situated on the Tampa Heights waterfront.

* * *

SoHo isn’t ready to disclose an opening date for the market, but says it will be “very soon.”

Meaning:

Those doors are expected to open soon — think weeks, not months — after a $20 million job to transform a century-old warehouse into a mixed-use space that retains a lot of its industrial character.

* * *

So far, the reviews are good. Harden and Bruck had a coming-out party for the project Wednesday when they hosted an Urban Land Institute conference on real estate trends. A Who’s Who of 500 bay area developers, financiers, attorneys, philanthropists and real estate specialists — including Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, WellCare Health entrepreneur Dr. Kiran Patel and former Raymond James Financial chairman Tom James — filled the new ballroom.

Good. It has been a long wait.  You can see what the project will include at the Business Journal article here.

And there is more:

In coming months, Harden and Bruck plan to start construction on two more projects at the Heights. One will be a $41 million office building with 150,000 square feet of space on six floors. It’s expected to be done in July 2019.

The other will be a boutique hotel — number of rooms, cost, hotel operator and other details to be announced.

Eventually, a 195-foot-tall water tower salvaged from Bartow will go up outside the building as yet one more bit of steampunk branding.

Overall, we like the Heights project, so we are happy it looks to keep moving.


Downtown/Tampa Heights – The Shuttle

There was news about the Downtowner shuttle.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership wants to expand its special taxing authority to areas north of Interstate 275 where development activity is increasing.

A proposal before Tampa City Council on Thursday would allow the group to expand its Downtowner shuttle into the Heights.

Money collected by expanding the group’s special district would mean the popular free electric shuttle could expand its services to popular places like the Hall on Franklin, Ulele and Armature Works. 

Setting aside that Armature Works is not popular (yet) because it is not even open, that’s fine with us, if the landowners in the new area want to be part. What would the timing be?

Council is expected to schedule its first public hearing on the special assessment district for Feb. 15. Final approval would come in August with the assessment taking effect in October.

The Partnership is hosting two public meetings about its plan: Jan. 31 at 7:30 a.m. at the Hall on Franklin and Feb. 8 at 5:30 p.m. at the Rialto Theater.  

That seems like a while, but so be it.


Economic Development – Amazon Post Mortem

The Business Journal had an article about what Amazon told the head of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., about our area’s failure to make the finalist list. The head of the EDC said:

. . .  the call went deeper, complimenting the Tampa Bay area’s proposed sites for HQ2, the talent pipeline and local universities, as well as the data analysis provided and the videos that economic developers produced about the area, Richard said.

While the area did not make the top 20 cities still in contention for the $5 billion, 50,000-job project, the Amazon representative who called said that the “Tampa Bay area is definitely an emerging market within the Southeast,” Richard told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “While we were not successful in landing this particular project, they will keep us in mind for future projects.”

The EDC head pointed out that we lack mass transit (and the express bus won’t fix that), and, regarding talent, the Business Journal noted that, based on a CBRE report, we had a “good” tech workforce but not a “very high” quality one, like most of the finalists.

It is nice that Amazon will keep us in mind for something (though who knows what and keep in mind that the EDC’s head job is selling the area). However, what is important is that they really see us – a top 20 metro area, the 11th largest media market – as an “emerging market in the Southeast.”  That is quite telling about where we are relative to where we need to be.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Phoenix is continuing the expansion of their light rail system.   In addition, Tempe is building a streetcar.

Roundup 1-19-2018

January 19, 2018

Contents

Economic Development – Amazon

Transportation – Waiting for the Bus

Built Environment – Is This the Measure of Walkable, Cont.

Westshore – Doing Their Job

South Tampa – It Begins

Downtown – Not So Quiet on the Railroad Front

Built Environment – Bury That

Economy – Wages

St Pete – Sometimes You Just Wonder

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

__________________________________


Economic Development – Amazon

On Thursday, Amazon released its list of the 20 finalists out of 238 applications for its second headquarters.  Because, aside from a minimum population, there really was no limit to who could apply, making the finalist cut as close as you can get to being invited to the game. Here they are:

From Amazon – click on map for website

Some are completely expected like all the cities in the Northeast, Toronto, Atlanta, LA, Chicago, and Dallas.  We also expected Austin, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and Denver because they were obvious usual suspects/known tech cities.  Miami made the cut which is not that surprising.  Some, however, were a bit surprising, like Nashville, Indianapolis, and Columbus.

We did not expect to get Amazon’s HQ2, but not making the finalist cut while some of these other cities did is quite disappointing.  As benchmarking exercise, it also shows the work we have to do relative to our competition.


Transportation – Waitingfor the Bus

Last week, we noted that the Regional Transit Study is going to apparently propose some fashion of bus system along the I-275 corridor as the main regional transit solution.  That was not surprising to us.  Equally unsurprising was the continued slow roll out of the idea in the local media to prepare the ground for the idea (which is the usual method of presenting plans in this area).  While the actual findings will not be out until after this is posted, let’s look at some more of the discussion that was featured to see what we can divine.  First, from the Times:

. . . BRT supporters have a bold vision. They’re not talking about plopping county buses into everyday traffic and using the same, worn-down stops. No, they’re dreaming bigger. So big, in fact, they say they want to build something no one has seen before.

“We have to do it in a way that has a ‘wow factor’ and dispels everyone’s stereotype of a bus,” Homans said. “From what I can see, there is not a model in the U.S. that provides us an example of what we would want to emulate.”

Instead, Homans pointed to something Tampa Bay residents are familiar with: the automated people movers at Tampa International Airport.

“That is essentially a bus, but it feels like a form of light rail,” Homans said. “To me, that has to be our aspiration here.”

* * *

The ideal regional BRT system would feature covered stations with platforms, Homans said, where sliding glass doors open and people step from the platform onto the vehicles. The buses are expected to have a dedicated lane for a majority of the route, allowing them to bypass regular traffic. What constitutes a dedicated lane might change based on what portion of the 40-mile route people are using.

For example, BRT could use the managed express toll lanes planned for the new Howard Frankland Bridge while crossing the bay. Once it hits the West Shore area, it might travel in its own lane along the expansive median of I-275 — which has been set aside as a transit corridor — until it reaches downtown Tampa. On other parts of the interstate, it could use the shoulder or breakdown lane, a concept that transit agencies have used in cities like Chicago.

The vehicles might not even look like traditional buses. Instead, they could be smaller, more agile vehicles.

“I think the idea is to get vehicles that don’t look like your standard bus, that have more of a rail feel to them, but the technology is still rubber tire,” Kriseman said. “So you’re kind of combining the feel of rail with the cost and flexibility of BRT.”

That system would ideally be able to accommodate autonomous vehicle technology in the future.  

Once again, we are hampered by a lack of detail (though one has to assume the people speaking have some of the information, though it is possible they are speculating), but we’ll deal with what was said.

First, the people mover at the airport does have rubber tires, but it is also on fixed guideway.  It is not “mostly” in a dedicated lane.  It is completely in a dedicated right of way, not in express lanes or traffic.  And, yes, as far as large transit systems, there is nothing like the people mover in the US (for a number of reasons we won’t count the Jacksonville Skyway, Miami Metromover, Morgantown Personal Tranist thingy or Las Colinas), as far as we know. But there is something rubber tired but like a regular train in Canada – the Montreal metro. But, as the name implies, that is a metro system.

Second, a dedicated lane is a dedicated lane. In other words, a dedicated lane is a lane only used by the transit system.  It is not a lane shared with other traffic (which includes express lanes), and it is not a shoulder that is used at rush hour but not at other times (by definition, if it is truly dedicated, it is no longer a shoulder).  It is not an express bus.  And it is not in the street and traffic when it gets to an urban area.

Third, yes, there are doors one has to go through to get on vehicles, whether there are a set at the station as well is immaterial.

We would be perfectly fine with the Montreal metro, or even a big automated system like the airport people mover.  However, because neither one is BRT and both have fully dedicated rights of way and fixed guideways, we seriously doubt that is what the proposal will be (and, given the guideways, we doubt either would be considered is “agile”).

Which brings us to a Business Journal article.  It tells us much of the same as the Times, except it gets closer to simply describing express buses.

. . . the plan won’t answer bigger questions like what the system will look like and, more importantly, how to pay for it.

“What we’ll probably do is look at it county by county,” said Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller. “We can see how we might be able to maximize our existing resources.”

* * *

Plans to replace the Howard Frankland Bridge in 2020 also make regional BRT a feasible option.  That plan includes two express lanes in each direction that could be used for BRT.

Miller said that would be a big part of making regional BRT work, but details about where to let buses on and off the lanes would still have to be worked out.  That, he said, would likely be near key business centers like the Gateway area in Pinellas County and Westshore and downtown Tampa on the Hillsborough side.

Setting aside the lack of details, like where it will go, and the complexities of doing it county-by-county, that sounds like express buses for commuters (hopefully it will actually connect to where people live so they can use it to get to said business centers).

And, aside from having tires, it is not is like the people mover at the airport.  But more importantly, from all the description so far, it does not seem like a real transit system.

And here is the kicker:

It’s too soon to tell how much a regional BRT line would cost.  That would depend on how much build out was necessary and the design configured stops along the route.  But it is believed to be much cheaper than light rail, which would require all new infrastructure.

Two things.  First, if what the report provides really does lack information on costs, routes, stops, etc., it will not be a plan, it will be much more of a vague idea.  Second, if they do not know how much it will cost, they do not know how much cheaper it is than rail.  Third, if it is real BRT in really dedicated lanes, it would require all new infrastructure (which, if the report holds to the quote, makes it clear that, whatever it is, it isn’t even that).

So while we actually agree with this:

Tampa Bay Lightning owner and developer Jeff Vinik, who previously supported light rail and has called for local politicians to do more for transit, said in a statement that he’s encouraged by this new direction.

“Gold standard BRT may well be an excellent addition to our transportation options in Tampa Bay,” Vinik said.

Unfortunately, nothing said so far leads us to think it will be “gold standard” BRT.  (If it is the “gold standard,” fully using truly dedicated lanes, there are questions of long-term operating and capital cost. See “Transportation – Inadvertent Truths” and, regarding a report that probably will sound very similar to this one, “Transportation – More Muddle.” And, in any event, however much it costs, it will have to be paid for, but that will be another discussion.)

And then there is the more general issue of sales pitches.  We remember the not-so-long ago sales pitches for MetroRapid, which was held out as BRT (see here, here, and pages 11 and 13 here) with comments like this:

“MetroRapid will have special stations, off-bus fare collections at the largest stations to speed boarding, special branding and marketing and ITS (Intelligent Transportation System) features, including technology to shorten red traffic signals and extend green lights,” Hale said.

And

County Commissioner Sandy Murman is a member of HART’s board of directors.

“We’ll really send a message that riding the bus is a cool thing to do,” Murman says. “And I think it just sends a message to our community that we are really solving our transportation issues.”

(See more here) MetroRapid is fine for what it is, which is what a normal bus service should be with decent bus stops rather than ratty benches without a connecting sidewalk (like many, though certainly not all,  HART stops), but it is not “premium” transit.

So we will have to see what is actually be proposed (maybe we will learn the details, though the Business Journal article makes it seem like we won’t get much), but all indications are that it will be some sort of nice buses running mostly on express lanes, including probably north of downtown on I-275, and some fancy stops, including some elaborate ones to get people out of the middle of the interstate.

Of course, we do not exclude the idea that we can be surprised, but, as we said last week, we are cautiously pessimistic.


Built Environment – Is This the Measure of Walkable, Cont.

The Tampa Bay area has been a dangerous place for pedestrians and cyclists for a while.  That has led to a number of programs and policies to make it safer.  So how is that going?

Another year gone, another year that Tampa Bay was one of the most dangerous places in the country for those walking or riding their bikes.

More than 100 people were killed walking in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in 2017, according to state data.

In addition, 22 bicyclists died last year.

Those unofficial numbers are fairly consistent with Tampa Bay’s history of being several times more deadly for pedestrians than its peer metro areas.

* * *

Back in 2016, the seven most dangerous metro communities for pedestrians were all in the Sunshine State, according to the annual Dangerous by Design report released by Smart Growth America.

That included the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, which was ranked seventh with 821 pedestrians killed over a 10-year period through 2014.

The numbers didn’t change much from 2016 to 2017. Pinellas County saw a small drop, according to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. State numbers said 44 people were killed while walking in Pinellas in 2016, with that number dipping to 34 in 2017. Bicyclist deaths rose from 2 to 4 in the same time period.

However, Hillsborough County — the most deadly county in the region — saw identical numbers in 2016 and 2017, according to the state. In both years, a total of 50 pedestrians and 12 bicyclists were killed.

One could argue that there are more people, arguably more people walking and biking, so maybe the numbers are a slight improvement.  One could also argue that there was no improvement at all.  Regardless, it is not substantial improvement.

While Tampa Bay routinely hovers in the top 10 most dangerous cities for walking and biking. Peter Hsu, a safety engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation local office, did notice a new trend this year: about a third of pedestrian and bicyclists killed statewide in 2016, the most recent year of data, were intoxicated.

“That number really shocked me,” Hsu said. “We try to do these improvements. We do a lot of education, a lot of enforcement. But it’s a social issue, a human behavior issue. And that’s harder.”

Obviously, being intoxicated is not helpful for safety, but there are other problems.

There are a whole host of factors contributing to pedestrian deaths, including high speeds on area roads and limited cross walks. Hillsborough’s Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Beth Alden, who oversees that county’s transportation planning, specifically noted that poor lighting is a major factor in pedestrian deaths.

In Hillsborough, she said the county, cities, state and Tampa Electric have partnered on initiatives to improve lighting along roadways and crosswalks.

* * *

Alden was not disheartened by the fact that Hillsborough’s numbers did not drop at all, despite concerted efforts to bolster pedestrian safety. That’s because the county has more drivers than ever before, the result of an improving economy and more people moving to the area.

“We’re facing kind of an uphill battle,” she said. “It’s great that the economy is coming along, but more people on the roads means more crashes, just statistically.”

One unmistakable rising contributor to serious crashes is distracted driving, Blanton said. In the age of technology, it seems everyone is glued to their phone. And that includes when they driving, walking or biking.

“It’s a hard thing to report, because there’s not always evidence of it,” Blanton said. “But we’re seeing a much greater incidence of distracted driving being a primary or secondary cause of a crash.”

And all that is true.  But the one factor that does not seem to be on the radar is how our area is built, namely, the actual buildings and areas in front of them are car focused.  And people have to drive everywhere.  That creates a situation where people are focused on getting where they are going (and getting a parking space when they get there, are frustrated by all the driving and all the other frustrated drivers, and are not paying attention to people walking and biking (and people walking or biking do unpredictable things because to walk or bike anywhere is not natural).  All you have to do is bike or walk around the area to witness people just not paying attention to pedestrians and cyclists or really thinking they might be there. (Note: driving around you see how useless the unprotected bike lanes are.  People drive into them all the time.)  As we said last year (see “Built Environment – Is This The Measure of Walkable?“):

It is far safer to walk in downtown than on SR60 in Brandon or Dale Mabry pretty much anywhere (or Henderson or most of Kennedy) – namely because it is planned and built in a more walkable way. While putting some paint on a road or a crosswalk in the middle of a vast, unbroken sprawl may be better than nothing, it will not change the overwhelmingly anti-walking and anti-biking design of the area overall (like the many neighborhoods without sidewalks, even within the cities and the countless subdivisions that have sidewalks that are only useful for a little exercise). There must be a much more comprehensive change to how things are planned and built.

The bottom line is that this area – as an area – still has not really chosen to make itself truly walkable or bikeable. There have been some moves, but they are limited geographically and in utility. It is a matter of choices, and, aside from pockets, the real choices still have not been made. (And it should not take people dying to get something done.)

Until our built environment is actually focused on people, as well as cars, and there are alternatives ways to get around, the problem will likely persist.


Westshore – Doing Their Job

We have previously discussed the proposed Publix for the Westshore lot where Sports authority used to be.  The plan was not very good, and certainly not in line with creating a walkable/bikable area.  City planning staff have now had their say, and it is interesting (thanks to URBN Tampa Bay for posting the report):

Urban Design staff has reviewed the site plan, and associated documents, submitted and finds it INCONSISTENT with Westshore Overlay District Standards. The Overlay District sets forth standards to improve the mobility and aesthetic appearance of all roadways, by enhancing the public realm with specialty hardscapes, landscape and buffering. Enhanced pedestrian connections and increased public awareness of the Westshore District will assist in characterizing the district as a significant economic activity area with a development pattern dominated by a concentration of retail, business, high density residential and mixed-uses.

This site is located on West Kennedy Boulevard, which is a Regional Corridor. This site has pedestrian activity and activation along the south of the building. Ground floor activation should occur along the north of the building along Kennedy Boulevard, as encouraged in the Westshore Overlay District.

ELEVATIONS
• Code section 27-238(4)(b) – At least fifty (50) percent of the ground level of all principal building façades(s) fronting and visible from a public right-of-way shall be constructed of transparent material. The western façade has no embellishment. Although this side is not on Kennedy Boulevard, it is highly visible.
• Code section 27-238(4)(c) – At least seventy (70) percent of continuous front façade that is oriented to and visible at ground level from public rights-of-way shall be embellished with doors, windows and other architectural features as methods to break large wall planes into smaller components.
• 27-238(g)(4)(o) All buildings shall have pedestrian access oriented toward the public sidewalk adjacent to the street. Entrance proposed on the North side of the building, on Kennedy Boulevard? Please note staff will not support a waiver to this requirement.

WAIVERS
• Waiver #2 – Please explain the reason for this waiver, there appears to be an existing 6’ masonry wall along the south. Is the intention to demolish the wall and replace with a fence?
• Waiver #3 – Amend note to read reduce required sidewalk from 10’ to 5’ along the north (Kennedy Boulevard).
• Waiver #4 – Amend note to read reduce required sidewalk from 6’ to 0’ along South Gardenia Avenue. Please note, staff will not support this waiver request.

PROJECT NARRATIVE/WAIVER JUSTIFICATION
Comment: One waiver justification is to promote pedestrian access to the front or south side of the store which faces the local neighborhood, but there is a waiver to not provide a continuous sidewalk along Gardenia, which leads to the residential neighborhood. Staff will not support this request.

In summary, staff did their job and said this proposal does not comply with the Westshore plan.  It doesn’t address the main street, Kennedy, enough.  It does not even address the side street.  Basically, they are saying that it is just not good enough.  And it isn’t.

It is heartening to see staff stand up for what should be.  The real question, now that staff has done their job, is whether elected officials will stand with the staff or will settle.


South Tampa – It Begins

The large Westshore Marina District has broken ground, at least on parts of it.

Construction crews are breaking ground on the second largest new development in Tampa.

Dubbed the Westshore Marina District, the series of high rise condo towers, apartment buildings, townhomes will include retail shops and waterfront restaurants.

* * *

Already visible to drivers on Gandy is the wood framework for the new Town Westshore Marina Apartments.  It’s one of the two apartment complexes which will eventually surround a massive parking garage hiding it from view.

There will also be two separate townhouse projects, with plans for a grand total of as many as 1,500 new housing units throughout the entire development.

As for the centerpiece:

At the center of it all will be Marina Pointe, a series of three 16-story condominium towers overlooking Tampa Bay.

“You can see St. Pete and you can see downtown Tampa,” said Daniel of the view overlooking Tampa Bay.

Crews will break ground on the first tower this fall, with the sales gallery set to open next month.  

We assume that condo building start date is contingent on sales, but we like the ambition.  If you forgot what this is all about, here is a rendering:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

While we are not so pleased with the connection to Gandy (and the surface parking lots there), the main part of the project looks promising and should change the area for the better.  However, there is still the open question of people getting in and out of the project to access the nice amenities inside.


Downtown – Not So Quiet on the Railroad Front

A while back, the City sought to create a railroad quiet zone downtown so that the growing number of residents would not be subject to train horns at all hours, which is reasonable (though one wonders a bit about the soundproofing of the windows in new buildings).  Well,

Early last year, Tampa officials thought they had an agreement to pay CSX $3.2 million to install gates and flashing lights on nine streets with railroad crossings: Florida Avenue, Doyle Carlton and Ashley drives, and Tampa, Franklin, Marion, Morgan, Pierce and Jefferson streets.

By stopping traffic, the gates would allow CSX engineers to go through downtown without the warning blasts that federal regulations otherwise require as they approach ungated crossings. Without the gates, engineers have to sound their horns 15 to 20 seconds before they reach a public crossing, day or night, as they do now.

The $3.2 million agreement was based on preliminary design work that CSX had done. But in late summer, more detailed estimates came out showing it would cost $3.6 million just to reconfigure electrical conduits and do related work at the crossings.

By late October, McDonaugh said CSX told city officials that the project cost would top $7 million and could be more if other unforeseen circumstances arose.

Why the increase?

But CSX said in a statement released through media relations manager Laura Phelps that “the preliminary cost projections for the city of Tampa’s quiet zone project were based on similar quiet zone projects CSX has completed in other areas of its network.

“These were estimated costs,” the company’s statement said, and that was spelled out in the construction agreement the City Council approved last year. “Each quiet zone project across our network is unique and can differ according to variables such as geography/environment, power source availability and changes in scope or design.”

The company added: “After conducting preliminary engineering, the expected costs to construct a quiet zone in downtown Tampa increased significantly, and the city informed CSX of its decision to terminate the project.”

The Times article does not say what exactly led to the cost increase, just that CSX has the control and the City will not pay.  Consequently, we can’t really judge whether there is a legitimate reason for the increase (and who, if anyone, might be at fault) or it is just a case of CSX being CSX (see the streetcar).  In any event, it is unfortunate but not that surprising.


Built Environment – Bury That

Which leads to another interesting episode in corporate citizenship.  For years, when TECO was a local company, it maintained the overhead electric grid.  Not only did it maintain it, it expanded it without warning onto big poles in the front yards of houses on side streets.  It would have been really nice if they had spent that time and money burying power lines for aesthetic, safety, and emergency management reasons.  But they didn’t.  Now, TECO is owned by a Canadian company, with no long historical connection to this area.  Last week, the CEO of a new subsidiary of that company had some interesting things to say, from FloridaPolitics.com:

. . . what Bennett said next was even more noteworthy: TECO must find a way to begin to install power lines underground.

Acknowledging that underground power lines will be expensive, Bennett told the crowd the technologies to put such systems below ground are better today than they were two decades ago, and will become better over the next two decades.

“My mission is to figure that out and find the cheapest way to put it underground,” he said.

After Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida in September, millions of Floridians lost power for days — some for more than a week — prompting calls from citizens (and some government officials) throughout the state, urging utilities to consider moving power lines underground.

Bennett pointed out his recent job change, becoming CEO of a Tampa startup called Emera Technologies, tasked with developing technologies to enhance the ability to put the power system underground and making them more resilient.

“Just because there’s a storm, even a hurricane, there’s no reason for the power to go out,” Bennett said.

That is great to hear (including the attitude).  Not only would it be better in a hurricane, it would look much better.  Hopefully, there will be follow-through. We know burying the power line is a long-term effort, but you have to start somewhere.

And add to that:

In total, TECO projects it will install 600 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic solar energy to its fleet, creating enough electricity to power more than 100,000 homes. When complete, nearly 7 percent of TECO’s energy generation will come from the sun — a higher percentage of solar than any other Florida utility.

That is an equally laudable goal.  We just have to wonder why this is happening after TECO stopped being a locally owned company.


Economy – Wages

Last week, we discussed job growth and high wages jobs.  Coincidentally, the Times had an article on wages:

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties had the highest year-over-year wage growth of Florida’s metropolitan hubs from 2007 to 2016. According to data released Thursday, Pinellas, which had the highest increase of any major county, jumped about 25 percent from $37,302 in 2007 to $46,496 in 2016. Hillsborough County rose just over 23 percent from $41,216 in 2007 to $50,768 in 2016.

* * *

Wages in Florida bumped up from $38,963 in 2007 to $46,346 in 2016.

Oddly, the information was not sourced, but, for the sake of discussion, we will go with it.  The growth numbers are good.  But how good? Let’s look at the Social Security Administration numbers for national averages:

2007       40,405.48
2008       41,334.97
2009       40,711.61
2010       41,673.83
2011       42,979.61
2012       44,321.67
2013       44,888.16
2014       46,481.52
2015       48,098.63
2016       48,642.15

We do not know if the collection of the stats are entirely comparable or about the numbers for 2017, but, just looking quickly, it appears that, over that time, Hillsborough has maintained wages a few percentage points over the national average (maybe increased it a bit), while Pinellas has stayed a few percentage points below, but probably narrowed the gap. (National growth between 2007 and 2016 was a little over 20%, but, as we said, we don’t know about 2017)


St Pete – Sometimes You Just Wonder

There was a really interesting article in the Times regarding sewage.  You may remember that St. Pete has had some issues with wastewater, storm runoff, and sewage.

ST. PETERSBURG — The city wants the state to change its environmental rules to make legal an illegal maneuver it has relied on a lot lately: flushing wastewater down into the aquifer.

The idea was proposed by a consulting firm the city is paying $4 million to create a master plan to guide revamping the sewage system and other water utilities.

Jacobs Engineering project manager Leisha Pica told the City Council on Jan. 4 that this could help improve St. Petersburg’s image after its mishandling of 1 billion gallons of sewage spilled during the 2015-16 sewage crisis.

Legalizing that tactic, she said, would give the city “operational flexibility.”

“It seems to be a better perception of the city’s management when you’re doing something that’s not a violation,” Pica said at the council meeting, using air quotes when she said “violation.”

“So that’s what we’re going for … It’s a perception of an approach.”

What does the State say?

The Tampa Bay Times asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection whether it would consider such a request.

The answer was an emphatic no.

Why is it illegal right now?

Injecting partly-treated sewage or “reject water” deep underground had been part of St. Petersburg’s approach for nearly half a century until the Environmental Protection Agency banned the practice in 2005, fearing that sewage pumped into the aquifer could seep into the drinking water supply.

During emergencies in recent years, the city opted to flush sewage underground rather than have it spill into local waterways or streets. The proposal seeks to make that policy legal.

City officials said that they would still alert the state whenever it flushed dirty wastewater into the aquifer. The change, they said, would be aimed at protecting plant operators from potentially losing their licenses.

And flushing sewage hundreds of feet underground into an oxygen-free environment poses far less risks than the alternatives, said Public Works spokesman Bill Logan.

“It would clean itself,” he said.

We are inclined to agree with this:

City Council vice chairman Steve Kornell questioned the city’s plan, saying it doesn’t make sense why the city would want legalize what is illegal.

“I don’t see why environmental regulations should change because you’re violating them,” Kornell said.

We get that St. Pete has some issues with wastewater that are politically messy and that fixing them will be expensive.  However, the real solution is to bite the bullet and fix them, not move the goalposts.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

In Charlotte:

The $1.1 billion light-rail extension will open for passengers on Friday, March 16 – on the same day the Spectrum Center hosts the NCAA basketball tournament, the Charlotte Area Transit System announced Monday night.

The Blue Line Extension will add 9.3 miles and 11 stations, from uptown to UNC Charlotte. The entire Blue Line will allow passengers to take a roughly 45-minute ride from Interstate 485 in south Charlotte to the university.

* * *

CATS hoped to open the extension in August. But the project was delayed, and CATS announced the new opening date of March in early 2018. The end of March is the transit system’s deadline with the federal government, which paid for half of the project’s construction costs.

Lewis said the project is still under budget.

Do with it what you will.