Sunday, July 21, 2013

Confusion on development and traffic

The Tribune seems to be troubled that too much development will lead to too much traffic these days.
Plans for the project on Bloomingdale Avenue near Lithia-Pinecrest Road were approved by the county years ago but lay dormant as developers and retailers rode out the recession.

Now, it turns out, there are even more surprises in store: The same economic recovery that is putting people back to work and energizing the housing market will add a lot more traffic to roads that can't handle it.
Would you rather have prosperity or empty streets?
Tampa traffic
Part of the ongoing problem in these discussions on development is that the Tribune and the development community, which drives much of what masquerades as business coverage  in the local media these days, confuse development with economic prosperity. This was also reflected politically in the recent Economic Prosperity Stakeholder Committee, which was dominated by developers, real estate, and land use attorneys.

For sure, transportation and development are not mutually exclusive goals, nor are they tied to the hip to each other. However, our political leadership in Hillsborough County continues to attempt to drive the two together, despite recent successes that don't align with the economic development plans as we discussed earlier this week.

Back to the Tribune this morning:
The impact of renewed growth, the Tribune's analysis shows, is likely to be greatest in a 45-square-mile area of Brandon where many roads already are graded "F," meaning travel lanes can come to a complete stop during peak hours.

It's an area where a dozen parcels are approved for the kind of development that would allow a big-box store, and it takes in the controversial Bloomingdale store - likely a Walmart, judging from planning documents - as well as a Bass Pro Shops the county is helping develop as a jobs generator by kicking in money for road improvements.
Some analysis is missing here, which of course, is always missing from the Tribune.  For your consideration:
  1. The big box stores are increasingly at their limit. Most national retailers are highly built out. Several are executing plans to get smaller, not larger.  Others are being competitively replaced in the market by internet retailers such as Amazon (which Hillsborough County is also seeking to attract) Some are no longer ... been to Circuit City or Borders lately, anyone?  It seems we are not at a big risk to see all these dozen parcels become big box developments any time soon.
  2. As a possible counter to the traffic woes mentioned in the article, there is an argument that locating retailers closer  to their customers can reduce traffic.  Go where the people are. Rather than drive 10 miles to a retailer, even a Walmart, driving 2 miles to a closer "box" can help alleviate congestion. After all, this is the basis of these centrally planned communities and economic development areas, only without the people nearby. It can happen with a new Walmart too,
We'll also call your attention to Walmart plans on Bearss and Nebraska Avenue in North Tampa.  This is currently under construction.  Immediately east of I-275 and Bearss Avenue (where I counted dozens of potholes on a 3 mile drive last week), this promises to make traffic around Tampa's northern-most and busiest intersection off I-275 even worse than it already is.  Where are the activists against this Walmart?
New Walmart Supercenter construction on Bearss and Nebraska
The State of Florida did change the development laws in 2011. Now developers only have to pay for road improvements based directly on their impact, and not be responsible for improving already failing roads.
[I]f a developer doesn't have to pay to fix overcrowded roads, that leaves the county. But the county doesn't have the money.

The recession, with its housing crisis and double-digit unemployment, sapped county sales and property taxes. Before it hit, commissioners borrowed heavily against the Community Investment Tax - a half-cent sales tax used to build parks, schools and roads. They essentially tied up all the tax's money-generating capacity, leaving nothing for future road projects.

Consequently, the county last year had to shelve $129 million worth of priority capital projects, many of them roads.

"Essentially, what needs to happen is the county needs to come up with new revenue sources other than new development to fund transportation improvements," Corbett said.
We've written before about the wasting of CIT tax and transportation.  The money is gone.  Our Hillsborough County Commissioners spent it all, then gambled on the transit sales tax increase in 2010 and did not invest further in roads, helping lead us into this current poor situation.  We have an estimated $2 billion backlog in maintenance and safety improvements on our roads, and no plans to improve.
Many agencies are studying the problem, trying to reach a consensus that will win support from voters. In March, Sharpe won commission approval to create a transportation policy group that includes mayors of the county's three cities, commissioners and transportation agency heads. So far, the group has made no decisions.
They've not exercised much leadership lately, other than commissioning yet another study group, using more taxpayer funds.
One idea taking hold is focusing growth more compactly along established mass-transit corridors, whether rapid-transit bus or light rail lines. Mass transit moves people more efficiently, and a dedicated transit line with its concentration of potential customers would create reliable opportunities for developers, said Beth Alden, assistant director of the MPO.

"Someone making a real estate decision can't have confidence that five years from now that transit line is still going to be there," Alden said. "But with a rail corridor or dedicated bus lines with nice transit stations, you'll see that confidence there if there is a commitment to a specific transit."
Really?  I thought we were talking about bad traffic in Brandon.  Exactly how will a fixed rail solution help Brandon in the next quarter century?  According to the Hillsborough MPO 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan, (hint, scroll to the bottom) Brandon might get rail by 2035.

So, its not about mobility or improved transportation options, it is all about development.  Which from the opening of this article, more development causes traffic problems.

Got it?

At least they got some new of our ideas,
The MPO is also looking for some quicker, less-expensive ways to relieve traffic congestion. One, called an Advanced Traffic Management System, uses computers to control traffic signals so motorists need not hit a red at every traffic light.

Another idea is reversing lanes during peak commuting hours to provide an extra lane for the heaviest flow of traffic. The MPO and the Florida Department of Transportation are also considering pay express toll lanes on interstate highways.
Emphasis mine.  Can we do the cheaper, easy, common sense solutions before we dive into committing billions on rail solutions?  Why is there even a debate about this?  Beware of the developers, for if we really start solving for mobility, they may not be pleased.
Meanwhile, motorists in Bloomingdale, like Dee Bristol, are "constantly looking for ways around the traffic," wondering when and if those in charge will ever get it right.

Said Bristol, "I think it's just poor planning overall."
Well, yeah.  But wait for government led central planning for transportation solutions that are not about transportation, but development.  Hopefully we won't have to find out how well that does not work.

UPDATE:  Fixed a broken link.


  1. I just want to say how much I love your articles. The duopoly of anti-development, pro-rail in the Slimes and the Trib are nauseating and it is very refreshing to have a common sense viewpoint that will likely never exist in the legacy media.

  2. Thanks. We're just trying to make a difference and hunt for the truth and common sense. Please share and help us get the word out.