Monday, September 18, 2017

Add Capacity Not Tear Down Major Evacuation Route

We watched the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Texas and Louisiana and Irma's impact on almost the entire state of Florida.

We know Tampa Bay is vulnerable to hurricanes, tropical storms, storm surge and major flooding. Certainly the state wants all of our major evacuations routes available during times of emergencies and crisis. It is hard to imagine as Gov. Scott travelled the state telling people to get out of harm's way of a hurricane that was about to engulf the entire state, he could even fathom the idea of some major evacuation route in Tampa Bay being eliminated.
Major Evacuation Routes include I-275
But USF architecture student Joshua Frank and some others want to tear down a major evacuation route in Tampa Bay. Frank was even offered a unique opportunity no one else was offered to advance such an extreme proposal to a taxpayer funded entity.

In the midst of our hurricane season, Frank was invited by Hillsborough MPO Chair Commissioner Les Miller to present his "tear down I-275" proposal to the MPO at the August 1st MPO meeting. 

Frank, an urban architect student who is not an engineer or a transportation expert, provided a copy of his presentation titled "From Bifurcation to Boulevard Tampa's Future Without I-275" to the MPO prior to the meeting. His presentation can be found on page 201 of the MPO Agenda packet. His proposal is to tear down almost 10 miles of I-275 north of downtown and replacing it with a street level boulevard that includes a street level fixed guideway transit corridor.

Frank's presentation did not include any footnotes, no cost estimates or anything about such proposal's impact to local roads, evacuations or first responders. His presentation did not include any transportation/traffic modeling, any comparison modeling or how mobility/traffic congestion would be impacted if I-275 was torn down from downtown to Bearss Ave. 

Frank did include in his presentation some examples of highway tear downs (as if they simply just happened) but he left out some very pertinent information about them. We will put some context to the examples.

Embarcadero in San Francisco:
The Embarcadero Freeway was an elevated 1.2 mile freeway that ran along the waterfront. It was part of State Route 480 that was not a freeway or an interstate into downtown San Francisco. Demolition of the freeway was put to a vote in 1986 and was soundly defeated by a margin of two to one which was a major setback for then Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

In 1989, the Embarcadero was severely damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake, and of course, had to be closed. In January 1990, the CA Department of Transportation estimated they could fix the existing freeway and make it sturdier for between $14 and $15 million and do that in four months - much quicker than expected. 

There was much politicking going on as then San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos supported demolishing the freeway. Agnes had 14 years experience with the California legislature, both as a staff member and as an elected official, that gave him experience navigating state and federal agencies. He even hired his own consultants to haggle. 

Opposition to demolishing the freeway was growing again, especially from Chinatown. In January 1991 the CA Department of Transportation conceded it would cost as much to fix it as to rebuild it from scratch. Agnes used that and his politicking experience to convince the State and Feds to give San Francisco money for the demolition. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors narrowly voted 6-5 on February 27, 1991 in favor of demolition.

Agnes, who was up for re-election that same year as the incumbent, was defeated by an opponent who opposed tearing down the freeway.

Central Freeway in San Francisco: 
The elevated double decker Central Freeway in San Francisco was also damaged by the 1989 earthquake, It was a less than 1.2 mile long spur off US Highway 101 (not an interstate). The damaged northern portion was removed by the state in 1992 and an off ramp was built off Highway 101 just south of Market Street. 

From 1997 to 1999 numerous ballot initiatives were put on the ballot regarding demolishing the Freeway where both sides won. The initiatives in 1997 and 1998 were citizen led. In 1999 two referendums were put on the ballot. One ballot initiative was from citizens who wanted to rebuild the Freeway and the other one was put on the ballot by four San Francisco Board supervisors to replace the Freeway with a street level boulevard. The boulevard won in that election and four blocks of the north of Market Street portion of the Central Freeway spur was rebuilt as street level Octavia Boulevard that opened in 2005. 

There are now accident and traffic issues related to the Octavia Boulevard. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFTA) has done studies since the boulevard opened and what did they find?
Most of the traffic the freeway carried, however, has not disappeared and now city planners are tracking its displacement on city streets…The most obvious finding in the study is that traffic levels, while somewhat reduced on Octavia Boulevard itself since the freeway came down, nonetheless continue to choke the study neighborhoods and affect numerous areas further afield.
2012 Central Freeway/Octavia circulation study stated that after Octavia Boulevard opened
 ..traffic patterns were redistributed with various effects to local and citywide circulation conditions.  
The heavily‐utilized arterial network in the Study Area is the central transportation challenge confronting the community, both presently and in the future. Traffic congestion is significant during both AM and PM peak periods, impairing surface transit operations and degrading conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.
No surprise! About 100K vehicles used Central Freeway before it was removed. The traffic did not go away. It was diverted elsewhere as traffic was increasing.

And Octavia Boulevard has had some of the most dangerous intersections but the central planners just say it will take a while to work out all the roadway kinks…

According to this 2014 article Octavia Boulevard is bumper to bumper during peak commute times creating havoc and dangerous intersections for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles.

The latest solution currently being tested is to close a segment of Octavia Boulevard to cars. Of course the traffic does not go away, it gets diverted elsewhere while deliveries and ride-share services also get impacted.

Things can never be looked at in a vacuum. 

Today San Francisco is embroiled in another contentious tear down of a one mile segment of I-280. Opposition is brewing and at a public meeting held last year it was reported
Boos and hisses rang through the rec center as Kelley discussed the proposal to raze I-280. 
Surrounded by angry neighbors at the rec center, former Mayor Art Agnos — no stranger to fighting development, as evidenced by the recent “No Wall on the Waterfront” campaign — told the San Francisco Examiner he will personally combat any effort to tear down I-280. 
It’s a switch in position for a former mayor who, in the 1990s, not only tore down the Embarcadero Freeway, but played a key role in tearing down the Central Freeway at Octavia Street as well. 
“Listen,” he said, “there’s no one in this city who has demolished more freeways than I have.” But tearing down I-280 “will absolutely choke all of this area.”
Inrix traffic scorecard rated San Francisco as third worst traffic in the country (behind LA & NYC). Who thinks San Francisco is any model to follow? 

Westside Elevated Highway in NYC:
The Westside Elevated Highway was an elevated highway of about 5 miles that was part of state road NY-9A (not an interstate) that ran along the Hudson River in Manhattan. It started crumbling due to lack of maintenance. There were decades of political wrangling over it. In 1973 a dump truck accident caused the highway to collapse and forced it to close. All but the section from 57th Street to the Henry Hudson Parkway was dismantled. West St. ran under the elevated Westside Highway and NYC decided to simply improve the existing street level street by adding landscaping, a bike path, a park and a landscaped median. No new boulevard was built. 

Boston's Central Artery:
The Central Artery rerouted that segment of I-93 through Boston into a 3.5 mile underground tunnel as part of  Boston's infamous Big Dig project. The Big Dig cost almost $15 billion, had a cost over run of almost 200% and is the most expensive public highway project in US history. It caused a women's death and the tunnel continues to be plagued with leaks including corrosive salt water from Boston Harbor and road salt spread during freezing weather. All the corrosive salt has caused the light fixtures to fail and corroded the structural steel reinforcements holding up the walls and ceiling - adding more and more maintenance costs to the costly project.

Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle:
The Viaduct is a less than 2 mile double-decked elevated section of State Route 99 (not an interstate) that runs along the waterfront in downtown Seattle. It was damaged by an earthquake in 2001 requiring $14.5 million of emergency repairs from the Washington State Department of Transportation. The viaduct continues to have settling issues, i.e. issues of sinking and cracking. In 2009 there was agreement between the state, King County, city of Seattle and Port Seattle to replace the viaduct with a four lane two mile underground tunnel. At an estimated cost of $4.2 Billion, over a Billion dollars a mile, this is the most expensive transportation project in state history.

There was much criticism over the tunnel decision. The project started in 2013 and was scheduled to open in December 2015. But due to a boring accident, the project was delayed, is four years behind schedule and has incurred $233 million in cost overruns.

And the 2 mile tunnel is tolled with 4 rates: $1 daytime non-peak, $1.50 evening off-peak, $1.75 morning rush hour and $2.50 evening rush hour. Translated to take the tunnel during evening rush hour it will cost $1.25 a mile. The Eye has travelled 30 miles on I-95 Express managed lanes in South Florida during rush hour for $10 which is 30 cents a mile. 

And there are no exits in the tunnel to mid-downtown Seattle - it is a tunnel for going through Seattle.

All of the highway tear downs have been contentious, even those that were severely damaged by earthquakes or collapsed due to an accident and lack of maintenance. None of them can be compared to demolishing 10 miles of a heavily travelled interstate that serves as a major evacuation route in a state likely to be impacted by hurricanes.

Boston's Big Dig fiasco was a 3.5 mile interstate segment demolished that was replaced by a tunnel not a street level boulevard. Seattle's Viaduct is being replaced with a tunnel not a street level boulevard. 

Obviously we can't build tunnels in Florida….same reason our homes don't have basements…

I-275 is a major evacuation route in Tampa Bay and used by first responders - when every second or minute may matter. In addition, the arterial, connecting and parallel roads along that route are already negatively impacted today and many are failed roads. 

Bearss Avenue is a major interstate access and exit point for those in North Hillsborough and South Pasco. There is a lack of major east west roadways in that area and the current ones are failing and congested. 

Trains are rendered useless when there are mandatory evacuations as they shut down when evacuations are in full swing. All trains in South Florida were shut down by Saturday. Tri-Rail shut down on the Friday before Irma and was not back in service until 8 days later on 9/16. SunRail shut down early on the Friday before Irma and started limited service today, 9/18.

Tampa Bay is expected to grow by 1.2 million by 2040 and most will bring their vehicles. 

We must have all evacuation routes available.  

Tearing down any interstate is not an option. Yet according to this SaintPetersblog article:
Gwynn [FDOT District 7 Secretary] has told neighborhood activists that FDOT is seriously reviewing Frank’s concept, but there is a caveat to his open-mindedness on the subject. 
“The only concern is we have a lot of traffic coming down from I-275 now, and if we turn it into a boulevard that demand is still going to be there,” he muses. “Some of it might go down I-75, but a lot of it is probably not. Traffic is like water. It takes the path of least resistance.”
FDOT must reject the tear down proposal now.

FDOT must plan for traffic congestion relief and mobility not gridlock or more dangerously congesting our local roads and neighborhood streets. 

The "tear down the interstates" crowd wants I-275 north of downtown to become a fixed guideway transit corridor. 

Some powers to be, some politicos and perhaps even some at FDOT are proposing to improve I-275 north of downtown by ONLY adding a fixed guideway transit corridor.

This is absurd. 

A simple math problem states what is required. 

I-275 must have additional vehicle capacity.

Or we will have gridlock.


Note: Want to weigh? Go here (FDOT's Tampa Bay Next initiative) and tell FDOT they must add additional vehicle capacity to I-275 and reject any proposal to tear down I-275 that is a major interstate/evacuation route.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hillsborough MPO Needs New Leadership

When the Chair of a powerful governing board uses their position to further their own  agenda, it is time for a leadership change.

Under Commissioner Les Miller Chairmanship of the Hillsborough County MPO, the MPO continues to offer one monolithic group of people opportunities no one else is offered. That is wrong.
Commissioner Les Miller is Chair of Hillsborough MPO
Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO's) are federally mandated transportation policy making organizations made up of representatives from local government and governmental transportation authorities. They are a critical and powerful organization because all Federal funding for transportation projects and programs are channeled through the MPO planning process. MPO's are tasked with establishing and managing a fair and impartial setting for effective decision making. 

According to our Hillsborough MPO's own website (emphasis mine):
The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is a transportation policy-making board comprised of representatives from local governments and transportation agencies. According to federal and state laws, the Hillsborough County MPO is responsible for establishing a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive transportation planning process for Hillsborough County.
Our local MPO does planning for Hillsborough County, not just the city of Tampa or the urban core. The MPO Board must consider the entire county in its planning and decision making process.

It has become obvious that Miller is playing his politics with Hillsborough's MPO.

He was MPO Chair last June 2016 during the MPO public hearing at that time. The Eye reported then that Miller voted against TBX (no tax hike required) while he supported the Go Hillsborough sales tax hike to fund costly rail/transit boondoggles. Miller got a Democrat challenger last year, StopTBXer Kimberly Overman, until she conveniently withdrew on June 23rd, the day after Miller voted no on TBX at the public hearing.

As we posted in May, it was Commissioner Miller who used his position as Chair of the MPO to offer only transit advocates an opportunity to attend FDOT's peer exchange in St. Louis. All but one of his six Hillsborough County invitees were from Miller's district and the city of Tampa, including four StopTBXers. 

The city of Tampa's population is only 27% of the county and Miller's district is much smaller than that. We are left assuming Miller does not think any others from a county of 1.3 million and 1100 square miles is worthy of such opportunity. We found no public vote or agreement by the members of the MPO Board for who Miller himself selected to participate in this unique opportunity.

We recently posted here that Joshua Frank, a USF masters student in architecture (not an engineer or a transportation expert) was offered an opportunity to present to the MPO. He, like Kimberly Overman, are part of the "tear down the interstates" extremists crowd. Frank was offered an opportunity to present his vision of tearing down I-275 from downtown to Bearss (almost 10 miles of a heavily used major interstate) at the August 1 MPO Board meeting. 

It was ironic that MPO Chair Les Miller was absent at the meeting. But MPO Executive Director Beth Alden told the Eye it was Miller who invited Frank and offered him 10 minutes. Frank took much longer than 10 minutes but no one moderated his time. 

Again we could find no public vote or agreement by the members of the full MPO Board to invite Frank - just Miller again making his own unilateral decisions. 

We could find no record of the MPO Board itself voting to solicit anyone from the public to present a lengthy presentation of "their" vision opinion. Is this a new precedent the MPO has set? Then those with differing visions than Frank and/or believe Frank's presentation left out critical information should be able present their vision too.

The federally funded MPO cannot be used to advance the agenda of a single board member, especially the Chair. As stated above, the federally funded MPO must govern in a fair and impartial way. It cannot be used as a platform to advance the Chair's political agenda, one person's vision or one group's opinion.

In addition, in January of this year, Miller was selected Chair of HART, our local transit agency. The same person should not be Chair of multiple transportation governing boards in Hillsborough County. That has potential for conflicts of interest, especially since HART is dealing with declining transit ridership and budgetary issues and the MPO is dealing with the overall contentious transportation issue in Hillsborough County.

According to the latest Bylaws of Hillsborough MPOtenure of the Chair and Vice-Chair is for 1 year or until a successor is elected but any officer may be removed by a majority of the total members. 

Miller has been MPO Chair for almost three years since January 2015. That is long enough, not withstanding that Miller is now also Chair of HART.

Hillsborough County has endured enough shenanigans regarding its transportation issue. Transportation remains contentious in Hillsborough County. Miller's recent actions add to that contentiousness. Therefore, it is time for someone else to take over as MPO Chair.

The Hillsborough MPO will soon begin updating their federally mandated Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). The MPO cannot be used to offer opportunities to one group of people not offered to others in a large and very diverse county or the MPO will lose their credibility of fairness.

Hillsborough MPO needs new leadership.

Time for the MPO Board to select a new Chair NOW.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Janet Long's Scandalous SANDAG

Commissioner Janet Long

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long proposed the Regional Council of Governments Cronies last year and is one of the biggest advocates for regionalism and taking away local control in Tampa Bay. Long used a late midnight rule by the Obama Admin mandating regionalizing MPO's as her excuse for such proposal. However, we posted here her excuse went away with the November election. The mandate rule was eliminated overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis by Congress in early May.
Long's proposed Regional Council of Governments
Regionalism is all about money and higher taxes. Regional entities are the structural mechanism used to ram all the tax hikes thru for costly rail boondoggles. Voila! Long's regional vision for transportation includes regional taxing for transportation in addition to local jurisdiction funding. 
Long's regional vision includes regional taxing
Long's proposed Regional Council of Cronies was modeled after SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments). SANDAG put a 40 year half-cent sales tax hike on the ballot last year that failed.

However, Long thought so highly of SANDAG that she used her position as Vice-Chair of another bureaucracy, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC), to stage an event in February erroneously titled Innovations In Regional Transportation

The Eye was at the event and there was very little presented about real transportation innovation. Transportation innovation is occurring in the private sector but almost all the speakers at this event were the same recycled taxpayer funded bureaucrats we've all heard before who have nothing new to say. Long needed to stage an event so she could invite SANDAG's Executive Director Gary Gallegos to be the events featured speaker at lunch. 

But SANDAG's tax hike referendum not only failed last year, they were caught in a scandal. SANDAG tried to deceive voters by using flawed economic forecasts. They misled voters by overstating the projected revenues and understating the costs of the projects promised. SANDAG then tried to cover up what they had done by skirting California's public records law. (Hmmm sound familiar?) 

Last September it was reported that SANDAG was using taxpayer money advocating for the tax hike:
“The San Diego Association of Governments’ repeated use of public funds to promote Measure A is a blatant violation of the law, which clearly prohibits the use of public funds to promote the passage of ballot measures…..Because its communications violate civil and criminal laws prohibiting the use of public funds to support a ballot measure, we demand SANDAG immediately remove all materials from its website and social media, and cease and desist using any public resources that promote passage of Measure A – including the use of publicly paid staff and consultants to do so on the agency’s behalf.
An investigation was launched after the scandal was revealed and KPBS News recently reported:
An investigation has found the San Diego Association of Governments has "forfeited the public's trust" in its response to a scandal surrounding last year's Measure A tax proposal. Executives pressured staff to delete documents and shield them from public records requests.
Voice of San Diego investigative reporting led the way reporting on the scandal and the ensuing investigation. Apparently SANDAG has a history of deceiving voters as Voice of San Diego reported last month SANDAG Misled Voters on 2004 Tax Measure, Showing Pattern of Deception Goes Back at Least 13 Years
SANDAG knew a year before the 2004 election that TransNet wouldn’t collect $14 billion, but it didn’t tell voters. This is now the third instance in which SANDAG either knowingly overstated how much money it could collect to pay for transportation projects, or understated how much projects would cost to complete.
It was reported last week that Long's role model, SANDAG's Gary Gallegos, decided to resign amidst all the mess created on his watch. Of course Gallegos resignation occurs after SANDAG's Board gave him a 4% bonus last December boosting his salary to $310K - even though the sales tax hike failed, lawsuits were filed against the tax hike ballot initiative, SANDAG illegally and unethically used public money on advocacy and the scandal was brewing. 

Long is misguided, misinformed, has bad judgment or cannot Google because scandalous SANDAG is no model to follow. 

And as WFLA reported last month, Long is a globe-trotting county commissioner who likes to spend other people's money traveling the world. 

So what does PSTA, already known for its own scandals, bad judgment and mismanagement, do? 

Reward Long by appointing her to the new highly politicized TBARTA regional transit agency already stacked and packed with too many politicos.

But Long is just a piece of the puzzle being put together and orchestrated for what's ahead.

Another tax hike referendum(s) in 2020….Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Downtown to Ghost Town

The Hillsborough MPO and TB Next charade continued today, as MPO Chairman Les Miller invited yet another urbanist proponent, USF masters student in architecture Joshua Frank, to present his demolish I-275 plan. From downtown Tampa to Bearss Ave., the proposal would replace the interstate with a street level 6 lane boulevard with bike paths, sidewalks, a transit/train corridor and an urban canopy park like setting on each side.

Sounds nice doesn't it?

Well, Mr. Frank, who is not an engineer or a transportation expert, apparently has not yet calculated the costs to demolish I-275, nor the economic impacts of removing a major commerce and transportation corridor for the Tampa Bay region.

As we demonstrated here, this will not be a 6 lane boulevard, but is more likely to be 30 lanes.

Unless of course, the intention is to create a congested road so intolerable that no one will drive on it. This will result in traffic finding a way down neighboring streets, just relocating traffic from one managed highway to multiple jammed up surface streets.

SaintPetersBlog also reported on Frank's presentation.
Although supporters of TBX said it was needed to bring commuters from Pasco County into downtown Tampa, Frank says that only 35 percent of those who drive on I-275 come from Pasco, with the other 65 percent traveling from the USF area at Fletcher Avenue to the Floribraska exit around Columbus Drive.
Mr. Frank seems to have a problem with math as well. 35 percent drive from Pasco, and the rest of the drivers on I-275 only use it from Fletcher to Floribraska?


That section of I-275 supports upwards of 200,000 vehicles a day, and forecasted up to 300,000 per day by 2040.

It is an major thoroughfare supporting the business, sporting events, arts and museums, weekend activities and residences of downtown Tampa.

If I-275 is demolished and replaced with a 6 lane boulevard, downtown Tampa will take a severe nose-dive.

Employees will not put up with the congestion to get in and out of downtown. Businesses will be forced to relocate.

Similarly, patrons for the arts, museums, and sporting events won't put up with the hassle of getting in and out of downtown for big events. Parking around downtown, particularly near the Straz Performing Arts Center, is already a problem. A problem manufactured by urban planners increasing density and not developing enough parking.

All those urbanist dreams of skyscraper canyons will fade away if people cannot easily get in and out of downtown.

Oh, but what about transit? That'll solve our problems!

Not quite. Pop quiz. Name one city that has reduced congestion as a result of transit investment.

Answer: None.

Transit ridership is decreasing nationwide. After a brief uptick in ridership after the financial crisis and recession, once the economy picked up after the recession, more people choose to leave transit and buy a car or use ride share services, as vehicle miles traveled nationwide is up near record levels and transit ridership is down. Even in metro areas with heavy investment in fixed guideways to attract the unicorn "choice" riders, transit ridership is down. Like our local politicians, people have made their choice, and it is not transit.

Tear down the interstate. Create a corridor of congestion so vast FDOT might as well build a wall around downtown Tampa.

Yeah, that's the ticket… to turn downtown Tampa into a ghost town.
Downtown Ghost Town
Then watch Vinikville...move to Wesley Chapel.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Get Real FDOT! Acknowledge Reality or TampaBayNext will Fail

Considering extremism while ignoring the will of voters and the consent of the governed reflects tone-deafness and not acceptable.  

But that is what FDOT's TampaBayNext is doing.

Tearing down our interstates that 200K vehicles and almost a half million people use everyday is extremism and is not an option for reducing congestion or addressing our transportation issue in Tampa Bay. 

FDOT made a unique outreach to transit advocates that the rest of us were not afforded. They are not representing the rest of us.

How did that special outreach to extremists turnout? Not well. 

What did FDOT gain from spending your tax dollars on one monolithic group of people? Nothing.

Because after the StopTBXers returned from their taxpayer funded St. Louis trip, they still want to demolish our interstates

Now the StopTBX extremists posted recently on Facebook they are targeting the newly named FDOT District 7 Secretary David Gwynn and plan to "unleash" on him. 
StopTBX extremists to "unleash" on FDOT
The extremists do not represent a majority of the citizenry in Tampa Bay. No matter how vocal they are or how many meetings they show up at or what the Tampa Bay Times falsely reports or ignores, we are not San Francisco Bay.  

TampaBayNext is creating another big mess - confirmed by the urbanists Facebook post above. 

TampaBayNext, which is costing taxpayers millions, is setting unrealistic expectations that can never be met. They are using misleading and inaccurate information and ignoring relevant information. Sound familiar? Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010, Greenlight Pinellas in 2014 and the recent Go Hillsborough debacle used the same tactics. And they all have basic 3rd grade math problems.

These tactics are used time and time again to ram tax hikes thru for costly transit boondoggles. Has FDOT joined in?

Click the Transit link and what pops up?
FDOT knows Tampa Bay wants transit options, and we’re committed to transit investment. 
FDOT provides no annotation or footnote for any details behind that statement. Did FDOT conduct a survey or a poll or what? When we asked FDOT how they "knew" this. The only answer provided was it is what people (we don't know who they are) have told them.

Voters in Tampa Bay (Hillsborough, Pinellas and twice in Polk) overwhelmingly defeated all transit tax hike referendums - FOUR TIMES since 2010. And transit ridership is declining in Tampa Bay. FDOT needs to reword that statement. 

FDOT ignores declining transit ridership while vehicle miles travelled is set to be a record this year. Is that intentional?

Rhetorical statements can be made but they insinuate false narratives. Even in South Florida, the densest part of the state where the Central Planners were forcing stack and pack densities (that creates more congestion), people are rejecting transit and choosing to drive or use ride-share and the sharing economy: Traffic's bad but South Florida commuters find bus, trains worse.
"Planners may be pushing for more buses and trains, but South Florida’s commuters are no longer on board. 
The numbers reflect a national trend, but the results mean current efforts to narrow roads and focus more attention on pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders may have to be rethought. Planners had expected that the worsening traffic situation would encourage commuters to leave their cars at home. 
Greg Stuart, executive director of the organization that coordinates transportation projects in Broward, said planners need to find other creative ways to solve gridlock instead of focusing only on alternatives to cars. 
"We’re going to have to work on roadway capacity improvements," he said.
This is abject failure again by the central planners - taxpayers wasting billions on transit failures. No matter what the central planners say in Tampa Bay, South Florida is no model to follow.

SunRail in Central Florida is such a fiscal disaster and its dismal ridership so low that fare box revenues do not even cover the cost of its own ticketing system. Farebox revenue covers only 5% of its annual operating costs forcing axpayers to pick up 95% of the operating cost of this boondoggle.

And Jacksonville made it's 2.5 mile elevated monorail Skyway free to riders (nothing is really free) years ago and still its ridership is dismal.

After Jacksonville, Central Florida and South Florida unwisely spent billions on costly failed transit projects, they have wised up. They are now ALL expanding their interstate capacity with managed toll lanes which actually help relieve congestion. 

Taxpayers in Tampa Bay should not be forced to pay for more costly transit failures.

Yet FDOT includes this:
In major metro areas, transit services typically attract between 5-10% of total travelers.
That is a misleading and disingenuous statement.

The metro areas where transit commuter ridership is greater than 5% are few including NYC, Chicago, LA, Boston, San Francisco. It is unfair and very disingenuous to compare Tampa Bay to any of those very large metropolitan areas.

Transit ridership in the four largest metro areas of Florida is well BELOW 5% and transit ridership is down across the country.

As we posted previously, FDOT's false assumptions have a basic math problem:
HART serves about 1.5% of the daily workforce (American Community Survey), or about 11,000 riders per day. Over 600,000 commuters get to work by automobile. Pretty simple math.
ACS 2015 Commuting Data, Hillsborough County
(click to enlarge)
Today almost 200K vehicles are using our interstates and will increase to about 300K vehicles by 2040. If magic suddenly occurred and transit in Tampa Bay magically took 5 - 10% of vehicles off the road, the number of new vehicles would dwarf the very overly optimistic number taken off the roads. In other words spending billions on costly fixed guideways will not reduce congestion in Tampa Bay.

While FDOT uses data from the biggest transit LOBBYIST in the country American Public Transportation Association (APTA), where is data from our own transportation think tank at USF - Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) who provides objective expertise? FDOT is shamefully ignoring CUTR's data.

We posted previously this article and honest assessment from Steve Polzin, a transportation expert, Director of Mobility Policy Research at CUTR and former HART Board member. Here is a Webcast by Polzin about overall transit on March 30, 2017 and his accompanying presentation. FDOT should take note of Polzin's honest assessment.

FDOT ignores that even analyzing the annual data published by lobbyist APTA, ridership on the New York City Subway accounts for all of the transit increase since 2005. On services outside the New York City subway, there was a loss of nearly 200 million riders between 2005 and 2015. And last year even New York City subway ridership FELL .8%.

After voters in Tampa Bay consistently reject higher taxes for costly transit projects and trains, FDOT ignores them and created this presentation: Making Tracks - a Primer for Implementing Transit Fixed Guideway Projects. The data used is very misleading. 

Slide 10 of the presentation states some average costs per trip and costs per mile (not including right of way which can be huge) which are also misleading. This article Outrageously Expensive Transit reflects actual costs. FDOT fails to mention huge cost overruns and totally ignores future long term major rehab and replacement costs taxpayers get stuck paying for.

While Slide 12 states costs run from $40 million per mile for light rail to over $250 million per mile for heavy rail, reality is very different. This is reality:
  • Latest light rail boondoggle from Seattle's regional Sound Transit is $54 BILLION for 62 miles of light rail - almost $900 MILLION per mile 
  • Honolulu's 20 mile elevated rail has doubled in cost to $8.6 Billion and may escalate further to $10.8 Billion, over $500 MILLION per mile. 
  • Durham's proposed $3.3 Billion 17.7 mile light rail is almost $200 MILLION per mile
  • Minnesota's proposed $1.858 BILLION 14.5 mile light rail is over $128 MILLION per mile.
Light rail projects today more likely cost $80 to $100 MILLION per mile or more yet carry a very small percentage of commuters and overall travelers. Estimated capital costs for any fixed guideways in Hillsborough County in the AEComm report are all over $40 million per mile. No wonder Hillsborough County refused to publicly present this report…..

Slides 12 and 13 indicate rail projects "can" get 50-80% of the capital costs from the Feds. However, federal (or state) funding requires a local match for capital costs and a long term committed funding source for operations and maintenance into perpetuity. What state legislator is going to force another CSX/SunRail boondoggle on us?

Taking federal transit dollars has all kinds of strings attached which raises the cost. When the project goes financially south or bankrupt like the Tampa Streetcar, it's impossible to shut the fiscal disaster down. Taking federal transit money is like Hotel California - you can check in but can never check out.

Costly rail is not about mobility, it's about land use to benefit special interests.

All these initiatives are about fleecing taxpayers for more money. 

More taxpayer money - that's why FDOT funded the $1.5 million Regional Premium Transit campaign before they ever launched TampaBayNext. The transit propaganda machine is in full force again because the rail cartel thinks we are stupid.
Jacobs Engineering, the new consultant same as the old consultant,
trying to sell costly transit again
Others must think we are stupid too. According to this recent Times article, some of the electeds who want more taxpayer funded transit (even as ridership tanks) tell us their schedules are too busy to take the bus.  
Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp said taking the bus isn't possible with all the meetings she attends. "I would like to ride transit more if I wasn't so busy working on the transit issue. ... It's not very amenable to my kind of schedule. I'm not an 8-to-5 in one place type of person."
Hillsborough County Commissioner and HART chair Les Miller said his busy schedule makes it "awfully difficult to jump on the bus."
Transit for thee but not me…and how out of touch with reality. 

The reality is the rest of us have very busy schedules and that's why we prefer to drive too. During the course of a day we meet clients, drop kids off at school or daycare, go to work, run errands during lunch, go to doctor appointments, pick up kids, take them to after school or evening activities, check in on elderly parents, other responsibilities to attend to as well as civic, social or recreational activities. Who has a simple 8 to 5 schedule these days? Probably very few do and becoming fewer.

Note that Commissioner Miller, also Chair of the Hillsborough MPO, selected all six of the transit advocates and extremists from Hillsborough who participated in FDOT's unique outreach no one else was afforded. Miller voted for the unnecessary proposed Go Hillsborough sales tax hike to fund transit boondoggles and as MPO Chair voted against TBX managed lanes. 

A Times article reported (emphasis mine):
DOT officials presented seven alternatives to the downtown Tampa interchange and I-275 north to Bearss Ave. during Wednesday's meeting. None of them included toll lanes on that span of I-275 and they all had some sort of transit, such as light rail or express bus. 
Those concepts are versions of just one of the alternatives being considered. DOT consultant George Walton said the department also is looking at a beltway, turning I-275 north of downtown into a street-level boulevard or using reversible, elevated or sunken lanes.
Light rail is toxic in Tampa Bay. Why is FDOT considering toxic solutions and extremists solutions while ignoring common sense? Because taxpayers keep enriching the same consultants who keep pushing the same failed solutions over and over and over. George Walton was previously with Parsons Brinkerhoff who gave us the Hillsborough 2010 rail tax and the crony Go Hillsborough debacle - both failures. 

The largest commuter population into Hillsborough is from Pasco County, a county that is growing leaps and bounds. Eliminating the interstate north of downtown is absurd and ridiculous and would cause our local streets to become more congested and more dangerous. Does FDOT want to create more safety issues? 

TampaBayNext is costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars and is heading down the very same path as Greenlight Pinellas and crony Go Hillsborough. Both of those efforts were rife with dishonesty, misinformation and flat out lies.

If FDOT wants to restore their credibility, the new District 7 Secretary needs to reset TampaBayNext asap by being honest and acknowledging reality.

The public is fatigued of the transportation charades in Tampa Bay and tired of hokey meetings facilitated by the same people who gave us the 2010 and 2014 failed rail tax referendums.

FDOT must acknowledge reality. Innovation and technology is disrupting traditional transit. 

FDOT must acknowledge that voters in Tampa Bay have consistently rejected higher taxes for costly transit. 

FDOT must acknowledge the public has spoken numerous times that roads are the highest priority. 

FDOT must stop being tone-deaf to reality.

Get real FDOT. Get a reality check.

Or TampaBayNext will fail and we all lose.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tear Down this Interstate!

Tearing down the interstate, or "urban freeway removal", as it's proponents call it, is a rallying cry from the Stop TBXers. 

Removing parts of I-275 is regularly raised at the FDOT Tampa Bay Next and other outreach meetings.

From the Tampa Bay Times:
If some Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights residents had their druthers, the state would simply demolish Interstate 275, which now severs their neighborhoods. 
Loud, sustained applause and shouts of "Yeah," from nearly 100 people greeted just such a proposal Tuesday. 
"Tear it down!" said Joshua Frank, an urban planner who wrote his Master's degree thesis on an alternative to the controversial highway expansion program called TBX (short for Tampa Bay Expressway).
His presentation, "Bifurcation to Boulevard", showed how transforming the Interstate into a wide, landscaped boulevard, featuring bike and pedestrian paths and even light commuter rail, would transform the area north of Tampa's downtown core.
Similarly, WTSP reported on it:
The highway has wreaked havoc on neighborhoods, Frank said. He pointed to air pollution, noise levels and lower property values, the Times reports. He called for “reintegrating” six neighborhoods split by 275. That would improve residents’ quality of life and promote economic activity, he argued.

A neighborhood group held a meeting Tuesday and asked FDOT to consider Frank’s proposal, the Times reports. "They had at least 10 people here," said Kimberly Overman, president of the Heights Urban Core Chamber. "They are very interested. What boulevards do is open up opportunities."
Likewise, tearing down the interstate was highlighted in the May 24 Tampa Bay Next working group [PDF], where it was met with loud applause:

Screen capture from TB Next Community Working Group, May 24, page 18
When we spoke to FDOT about the possibility of the interstate removal, while skeptical, they stated they would have to study it, as if it is something "the community" wants to consider. Especially given FDOT's new kinder, gentler community outreach program.

Just how feasible is removing I-275? It is a rather highly utilized stretch of road in Hillsborough county.

Let's look at some data, and apply some 4th Grade Math.

Start with some 2015 (most recent) traffic counts:

Hillsborough County Traffic Counts Map

Road Segment AADT
I-275: FLORIBRASKA AVE - to - M L KING BLVD 143,500
I-275: ASHLEY ST - to - JEFFERSON ST NB 189,500
I-275: ARMENIA AVE - to - ASHLEY ST 203,000

Over 200,000 vehicles per day drive in some segments of I-275 today. FDOT expects substantial increase in traffic on I-275 by 2040, to nearly 300,000 vehicles per day:

FDOT Forecasted I-275 Traffic Increases
Which begs the question, How many lanes of a tree-lined boulevard will be needed to handle 300,000 vehicles per day?

For that, again, we can use traffic counts and the 2014 (latest) Level of Service [PDF] report, which also identifies the number of lanes and the the Level of Service, where A is good, and F is a failed road. We can check against some other Hillsborough County's busy roads.

Road Segment Lanes AADT LOS
6 69,227 F
6 64,515 F
8 82,403 F
4 37,626 C
6 49,000 C
Total 30 302,771

Taking a look at some of our busier road segments in Hillsborough County, and maintaining some semblance of the lanes required to maintain the current Level of Service, which is poor at best for the roads selected above, we can conclude that replacing I-275 with a tree lined boulevard will require 30 lanes of traffic.

That's right. 30 lanes of traffic.

Why is that? These "tree lined boulevards" also have traffic lights. Vehicles will stop. And wait. Stop. And wait. The vehicles will need lots of room to stop and maintain some decent traffic flow.

Replacing 12 - 14 lanes of the interstate with 30 lanes of of surface street traffic hardly seems like a neighborhood improvement program.

Destroying neighborhoods? Check.

Bulldozing more neighborhoods than Tampa Bay Next? Check.

Noisier surface streets? Check.

Cars mixing with pedestrians and children? Check.

Views blocked by semis and trucks? Check.

Massive congestion? Check.

Consuming more gas, cars and trucks idling away?

Spewing more pollution into nearby homes? Check.

When the traffic jams up, on the tree line boulevard, what will happen?

Drivers will find a way. They will use Google Maps or Waze and divert around the traffic. Into the neighborhood streets. Not just Florida Ave or Nebraska Ave, but onto the residential streets. Google Maps often navigates off the interstate during rush hour today.

That will not be a safety improvement for those neighborhoods where drivers are cutting through. Trust me, I know, as drivers used to regularly cut through our neighborhood when traffic backed up nearby. When our neighborhood approached the county, they were not moved. They had no reported incidents. I guess one of our kids needed to get hit or something. Our neighborhood was able to resolve the situation. We took control and closed off one end of the road cutting through our neighborhood. We paid for it, and it took 15 years.

Recall that FDOT stated they have to study removing the interstate in all the glory that it requires. That will include alternative analysis, environmental impacts, initial designs, feasibility assessments, surveys, etc.

Recall, as we reported, FDOT has made a unique outreach to those transit advocates that the rest of us were not afforded. They are not representing the rest of us.

In other words, a big waste of money. Your money.

When the urban extremists, a vocal minority enamored with all things urban, are trying to dominate the discussion around Tampa Bay Next. Shouting "tear down the interstate", they can't be taken seriously. They don't represent the nearly half a million of us in Tampa Bay that regularly use the interstates nearly every day.