Friday, March 8, 2013

Transportation plans and alternatives

We have the right to move about as we please. Mobility is right implied in our Constitution. Paying for it is a different question. We have other rights explicitly stated in the Constitution, including the right to bear arms. Why not subsidize firearm purchases? No, I didn't think so. And no, I'm not proposing that firearm purchases be subsidized.
The first question to understand some underlying principles around sound transportation policy is,
Why should we subsidize other citizens transportation?
If for some reason we continue to subsidize transportation, does our government not owe the taxpayer the most cost effective option? The roads we drive on are paid and should be paid for by our gas taxes (minus what goes to support transit, which is another issue). All roads are in effect toll roads. Those who drive on them pay for them, and should pay for them. So first principle is, if you want it, you pay for it. If your preferred mode of transportation is a nice new shiny light rail, you should pay for it, not the taxpayer. My preferred mode of transportation is a Ferarri. But I can't afford it. Should the government subsidize me? But if that's not feasible, I'll take a Trek Madone (that's a nice shiny bicycle). We at The Eye are for multi-modal transportation. So please subsidize me. NOT.

In the year 2035, if we are still alive, and woman can survive, the MPO says we will have 46+ miles of light rail (actually in their Long Range Transportation Plan). That's about 2 miles of rail per year. Now compare that to the thousands of road miles in Hillsborough County. Light rail will have nearly ZERO improvement in mobility. We will have spent billions! They say we can't pave our way to transportation Nirvana, but we for sure cannot lay rail to Nirvana with 2 miles of rail per year, digging up and cannibalizing many roadways as light rail tends to run along or on existing roadways.

In both the Trib and Times articles this week covering Hillsborough County Commission meeting on transportation, there was ZERO mention about improved mobility, reduced commutes, etc. There was no statement on our commute times, which are about the national average. It was all about development, and pairing transportation with development. This is more proof these plans are not about mobility, but more development. I thought the developer heavy Economic Prosperity Council (or whatever it was called) they appointed a couple of years ago was supposed to work on economic development. Why this meeting this week? If we want to talk development, talk development. If we want to talk transit, talk transit. Don't conflate the two topics. Developers want us to, since they will gain from subsidized transit development. Urban planners want us to, since they want us all to live in big boxes downtown when the power goes out in a hurricane for days and we have to walk down 30 flights of stairs. If it were such a good idea, there would be a great demand for it, and they would do it without our help.
Where will the money come from? Well, they'll raise some local taxes, of course. There will be some unrealistic ridership estimates and fare calculations. They will also go after federal transit grants to fill the gaps. Last I check, the Feds have a bit of budget and fiscal mess on their (our) hands. $17T in debt and growing, > $100T in unfunded liabilities and growing. What can't go on forever, won't go on forever. Those federal grants will disappear at some point, probably way before the MPO 30 year plan is implemented. Then we'll be left holding the bag.

Now for some options,

In the year 2035, if we are still alive, and woman can survive, we are more likely to be driving Google driverless cars, or something similar from other automotive manufacturers who have similar projects in R&D. Google’s claims for the car, as described by Sebastian Thrun, its lead developer, are:
  1. We can reduce traffic accidents by 90%.
  2. We can reduce wasted commute time and energy by 90%.
  3. We can reduce the number of cars by 90%.
Even if he's off by a factor of 10, the impact is tremendous compared to other proposed modes of transportation. The key point is these driverless cars will be are a better driver than you or me, and they will open up new and creative ideas about mobility. Driverless Zipcar everywhere? Think about that.
Yes. technology is rapidly improving, even in cars! This is tracking well and Google has logged > 300K miles without an accident (well one, but the guy was actually driving). This will greatly improve safety, and improve utilization of the EXISTING roads with denser traffic, yet the intelligence of the cars will allow them to travel in packs faster and more fuel efficiently. It may also promote car sharing, thus reducing the number of cars on the road. This is well known by technology and automotive analysts tracking this. Many cars now have adaptive cruise control, and driverlesscars are expected to be in the market within 10 years (that would be 2023 for the math challenged) by most analysts. It will take a while for the fleet to turn over, but these cars should be a big deal. This will be done without hardly any infrastructure investment in new roads, so the cost to the taxpayer is very little, and it will have a sooner and bigger impact that rail. This is much more likely to help than rail, and the government has to do exactly NOTHING. Well, they need to get out of the way (legal and insurance will be interesting, but that's workable). No shiny new rail cars or holes to dig, which of course, is part of the problem.

In the mean time, there are several more smart tactical solutions that are available NOW that can improve mobility without tremendous infrastructure costs:
  • Apply analytics for traffic prediction, and sequence lights and adjust tolls based on forecasted traffic patterns
  • Use traffic signal coordination technology with emergency vehicles and transit buses
  • Improve and apply technology on transit operations and assets to improve maintenance, reduce wear and tear and extend the life of the assets
  • Route optimization for existing transit
  • Bus arrival prediction apps (actually in the Trib this week)
  • Road use charging (yes, we will eventually likely have to go there as gas taxes decrease with new more efficient modes of transportation)
  • Improved asset (buses) management and fleet optimization
  • Pair business promotional offers or coupons with HART transit to encourage more ridership to business (restaurants, bars, shops, malls...) locations, such as a project in Miami is doing, with a smart phone app, paid by business, at no cost to taxpayers. Increases ridership, and increases business.
These are applying IT, mobile apps, and analytics, and require practically ZERO new infrastructure.

Here are some more:
  • Look to good old buses and extend and adjust routes were needed.  Utilize BRT where it makes sense.  Quickly adjust add optimize routes quickly based on changing demographics, economics, and ridership.  Don't wait years for a rail line for a new route.  Perhaps a driverless bus is in our future.  But if there are driverless Zipcars...
  • Toll lanes, or "Lexus lanes". They now have this in Miami on I-95, and it has relieved the non-toll I-95 traffic. Note Miami, Atlanta, DC, Boston, etc. all have variants of rail and their traffic is much worse than ours. We have one of the greatest successes with the Selmon Expressway switchable elevated road. More like that please.
  • Encourage new transportation adoption models such as Zipcar. I'd like a Ziptruck as well for weekend errands.
  • Consider adding HART and PSTA bus routes to TIA, if there is the ridership. The big city airports do it.
  • Reduce regulations and get rid of the PTC. Why can't we have shared shuttle services or jitneys? Only the airport shuttles are allowed. Why is that?
  • Leverage the sprawl. Its not going away. There is no true city center in the Tampa Bay area. Encourage job development in the suburbs, not just preferred downtown or "corridors". There is now plenty of retail and commercial space due to business downturn.
  • Encourage development of bike and golf cart paths (think The Villages or Sun City Center), since the majority of most car trips are within a few miles of the residence.
Yes some of these are in the MPO's plan. Some are not.  But that's it for now.  Of course, there is much more to say on this topic, perhaps we will elaborate more over time.

What are your ideas? We are always looking for better ideas here at The Eye On Tampa Bay. We don't expect perfection, just good sound cost effective transportation, and open discussion.


  1. Did you commute to your job today, March 12th? Notice anything different? You got your roads back. School is out. About 35% of the normal commuting traffic is off the roads.

    Any transit or traffic planning that fails to factor in this massive use of our roads is DOOMED TO FAILURE.

    Plan of action:

    1. Encourage neighborhood schools. Students and teachers who walk to school, or have a very short commute, have a better lifestyle and education experience.

    2. Encourage telecommuting. The workplace of the 21st century is the laptop. If we fail to educate our new workforce with this new reality, we have placed a BARRIER on their success.

    3. Have local transit MARKET to the public school commuting public. For this commuter, transit planners know exactly, when the bell rings, and when quitting time is. The planners know where the commuter lives and where they are going. If the transit planners cannot market to this obvious commuter, either send them back to school, dock their pay, or fire them.

    4. Consider the four day work week. Four days of eight hours a day, instead of five days of six hours a day, will improve traffic conditions by by 5%.

    5. Extend spring break. This will be a boon to the tourist industry.

    1. Excellent points. I wish I could have gotten my daughter to walk to school that was less than a mile away years ago, but gave on that fight.

      As a telecommuter when not traveling, I drive less, when I drive it is more local, and I schedule my appoints before or after rush hour as much as I can. I also get more work done, and get a better work - life balance... which was seriously out of wack in the past.

  2. Mass transit only makes sense in a dense urban core, with specific destinations, that are in use on well known schedules. The two most important assets in Hillsborough County, and concentrated in our existing urban core are:

    The Hillsborough River, and Busch Gardens.

    Here is how we link them together, with a plan for the future, that makes sure they PROSPER.

    The Stanleyville Train should make a loop to the Hillsborough Riverfront. Rowlette Park, and Rogers Park Golf Course, are lagging assets, that should be leased, to Busch Gardens, for one dollar a year, in exchange for a comprehensive development plan, that includes, Municipal WATER TREATMENT, hotels, and other recreation Assets. Seminole gaming would have a dog in this hunt, as they bid against the Dog Track to be included. If Busch Gardens fails to participate, a good fallback partner would be Lowry Park.

    Glass Bottom boats that use the Hillsborough River, to MOVE PEOPLE back and forth are always a crowd pleaser. (Ask Disney World.)

    The estate of Steve Irwin, is actively seeking a Western Hemisphere Partner for a "Crocodile Hunter" theme park. You have seen what association with a major motion picture can do for an Aquarium. Winter's story is a big draw. The Revitalization of Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter, in Tampa, along the Hillsborough River, would SUPERCHARGE Hillsborough County tourism, and knock the other theme parks for a loop.

    The re-development of Sulfur Springs is the single most pressing need for the City of Tampa.

    1. Interesting thoughts. I used to play a ton of golf at Rogers Park. I like that track, nice scenery, a hidden gem. Needs some work of course, and the lease idea is something to really think about... all the muni course - Babe Zaharias and Rocky Point as well. There is a glut of golf courses in the area now, so it may be a bit tough regardless.

      Pairing something around Busch Gardens is another idea that has not come up in any recent discussions from the urbanist and planners.

      And good point about Sulfur Springs. We used to call it Sufferin' Springs. The park around there is another hidden gem in Tampa that is being ignored by the downtown crowd.

      Do you have info on the Steve Irwin estate plans? That does sound like a natural fit with the assets we already have in Tampa.