Sunday, October 15, 2017

Is the self-driving bus an option for Bay area public transit?

Why would you build a billion-dollar bridge and include a 19th century transit solution?

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.

The light-rail lobby is once again poking its nose around the Tampa Bay area with FDOT, including a light-rail path on the proposed new Howard Franklin bridge.

The problem is light rail is a last century technology, environmentally inefficient and single purpose limited. 

For example, take emergency evacuation. Quoting from Sharon Clavert from Eye on Tampa Bay: Drain the Regional "Swamp" Before Its Filled. “Expensive rail systems must shut down days before an approaching hurricane or major storm. Trains can do nothing to help any evacuation effort in Tampa Bay and it takes days or a week or longer after the storm for trains to come back in service.  

Evacuation routes must be considered with any proposed mobility solution in Tampa Bay. If taxpayer big bucks are being spent on transportation in Tampa Bay, it better include accommodating evacuations.”

Would you ride a train across the bay if a storm was coming?

A rail track is a rail track and nothing, but a train can run on it. We will pour millions into a single purpose, decades old, high-cost  solution.

Another solution is well along in development –  The Autonomous bus. Check out Aarian Marshall, Transportation: DON'T LOOK NOW, BUT EVEN BUSES ARE GOING AUTONOMOUS.

A lane or lanes on the new Howard Franklin dedicated to autonomous mass transit vehicles would not only look into the future it would also provide flexibility in those moments when we need it most such as the ever-increasing need for evacuation.

Dedicated roadways and autonomous vehicles make a lot more sense than dedicated rail paths. They allow for more flexibility, Uber like pickup,  smaller stations, less taking of private property, lower overall cost and upkeep. As technology morphs the dedicated roadway can adapt much more easily and inexpensively to new advances.

In the longer view, dedicated interstate and secondary road lanes for autonomous mass transit would meet the salivating needs of the relators and developers who put so much value in transit-oriented  redevelopment.

Let’s not waste the opportunity to solve the Tampa Bay Public Transit problem by taking a big leap into the past and build a bridge with a rail line that will usually be empty when we drive across the bay in our electric cars and automated vehicles while costing a fortune to operate and maintain.

I for one do not want to drive over the “new” Howard Franklin bridge and look out the window of my self driving electric car at rusted rails and dilapidated semaphore signals.

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Disclosures: Contributor to Rick Baker for Mayor Campaign

Please comment below.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fast Track HB13 to Stop Subsidizing Stadiums and the Pay to Play

According to this article, House Bill 13, that bans Florida sports franchises from constructing or renovating facilities on leased public land, is heading to the House floor. It does have a companion bill in the Senate SB352. House Bill 13 is identical to one that passed the House last year but died in the Senate.

The bill will pass the House but will it pass the Senate this time? With all the recent brouhaha going on over wealthy players protesting on their wealthy employers time and dime most often in stadiums paid for by taxpayers, will subsidizing wealthy sports team owners, franchises and players finally become toxic in Florida?

The bill went nowhere last year most probably because Senator Latvala, as the powerful Senate Appropriations Chair, did not want it to. According to Noah Pransky's latest post at his Shadow of the Stadium blog, which we highly recommend you follow, the wealthy sports team franchises love Latvala:
Why do pro teams love Latvala? In addition to his attempts to provide them stadium subsidies, he's also the biggest thing standing in the way of a House push to ban public land giveaways for new stadiums in Florida.
Senator Latvala's PAC is Florida Leadership Committee. As reported by Pransky, the Rays and the Dolphins have handed tens of thousands of dollars to his PAC. From the PAC's last campaign finance reporting the Rays and South Florida Stadium who operates the stadium the Dolphins play in handed Latvala's PAC $10K each on 9/29 and 9/30.
Rays, Dolphins big donors to Latvala
A real eye opener is Latvala's PAC received its largest amount of contributions of any campaign filing period ever this past February. With Latvala in his powerful role as Senate Appropriations Chair, his PAC received over $1 million (the most ever in a single filing period) in February 2017 right before session started. Go here and click the campaign finance activity and select the filing period to review the contributions for that period.

Follow the money….and follow the electeds who are beholden to that money and not you the taxpayer. The special interests give the big bucks to the PACs where there are no limits on their contributions. The special interests are giving the big bucks for a reason - they want something in return. The PACs then contribute to candidates they agree with who will help further their agenda. It's a big circle of money.

Pransky also reported that locally the Rays just gave $50K to Kriseman's Sunrise PAC raising the total to $81,500 that the Rays, the Rays owner Sternberg and Rays' executives have handed St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman. Kriseman faces off with Rick Baker in the St. Pete mayor's general election on November 7th.

What about over in Hillsborough County? Commissioner Hagan, the commission King of County Center who is selfishly refusing to abide by the spirit of term limits in the county charter, is also on the receiving end from the sports team franchisees. 

Hagan has raised a special interests war chest of over $400K dollars for a SINGLE MEMBER District seat. A quick review of donors to his campaign include a thousand dollars each from:
  • Stuart Sternberg, Rays owner
  • Strategic Property Partnership, Vinik
  • Amalie Arena, where Vinik's Lightning and Storm play
  • Tampa Bay Lightning, Vinik
  • Tampa Bay Storm, Vinik
  • Yankee Global Enterprises
  • Robert Dupuy- attorney in NY firm Foley and Lardner, recently was president and COO of Major League Baseball
  • Latvala's Florida Leadership PAC
Those donations are just the tip of the iceberg of Hagan's special interests donor war chest. After 16 years of being a county commissioner and being term limited out of his county seat next year, Hagan thinks he is entitled to 8 more years. Hagan is leap frogging back to a District 2 seat he has already held.

Since the county charter was enacted 34 years ago, no one else has ever done what Hagan is arrogantly and selfishly doing - violating the spirit of the county term limits in the county charter by abusing a loophole. And his donors know it…

For WTSP, Pransky reported on August 23rd about Hagan's idea of handing the Rays the HCSO property in Ybor:
"In his search to find the Rays a new place to play in Tampa's urban core, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has toyed with the idea of relocating the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office headquarters out of Ybor City to make room for a new stadium."
Providing public land for stadium development could be another possible avenue for taxpayers to subsidize the project. Hagan, who once advocated "no public dollars" be spent on a Rays stadium, has recently said he thought taxpayers should help with the "infrastructure" side of a new stadium.
And voila! More money goes pouring into Hagan's Pay to Play war chest. As Pransky posted on his stadium blog on September 18
"Companies controlled by Darryl Shaw, who has been dubbed "Ybor's big new (development) player," gave $5,000 to Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan last month, according to campaign finance reports. Shaw's wife and a company she controls also each chipped in $1,000, the maximum-allowable donation for the 2018 election.
H/T Noah Pransky
Hagan's Ybor Pay to Play donors

Nothing about how taxpayers would be on the hook for paying for a brand new HCSO HQ facility somewhere - can't let those silly little details get in the way….

Not only is Hagan a leap frogger from one county commission seat to another and back, he's also a flip flopper on the issue of public funding for a stadium.

We posted this expose of Hagan and his tactics back in January 2016 during the Go Hillsborough tax hike debacle.  

At the October 1, 2014 county commission meeting, Hagan stated
At the next BOCC meeting on October 15, 2014, the county commission "quietly" hired the major league baseball law firm Foley and Lardner. They did it egregiously through the use of the Consent Agenda where there is no discussion - just a rubber stamped approval. See above - Foley and Lardner is now one of Hagan's Pay to Play donors.

No wonder Pransky reported for WTSP in August that the county was eyeing federal transit dollars to help pay for a stadium aka Hagan's quest for costly trains and stadiums. 

Hagan and his baseball attorney took the baseball meetings secret and behind closed doors. Hagan likes the Atlanta model for how the Atlanta Braves got a new stadium because all their negotiations were behind closed doors too. 

That new stadium effort was led and shepherded by Cobb County commissioner Tim Lee. 

According to this article in May last year:
Lee cut a deal in secret to give nearly $400 million in tax money to multibillion-dollar conglomerate Liberty Media (AKA the Braves) to get the team to load its gear into moving vans and head north on I-75 to the Smyrna area. Lee even had a code name for the clandestine negotiations with the team — Operation Intrepid — which kind of gives it that Invasion of Normandy feel. 
What summarized the process was a May 2014 meeting where commissioners approved a series of legal agreements with the Braves without serious debate. The bond documents weren’t even made available until one business day before the meeting. 
As an exclamation point — or slap in the face — the 12 slots for public comment at the meeting were gobbled up hours earlier by sneaky pro-deal forces. Complainers were sent packing. The image of citizens getting shut down and marched out of a public meeting by cops doesn’t say Open Government. 
But this is what eventually happened to Tim Lee according to a July 2016 Atlanta Journal Constitution article (emphasis mine):
By the time the first pitch is hurled from the mound of SunTrust Park stadium next spring, the man who lured the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County will be out of office. 
Incumbent Chairman Tim Lee lost his reelection bid Tuesday to challenger Mike Boyce, a retired marine colonel, in a runoff seen by many as a litmus test for support of the deal to bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb.
Boyce beat Lee, winning 64 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting.

Once these deals are made, it never ends for taxpayers.

Hagan liked the Atlanta "speedy" process done in secret. Why? Because it enables electeds  to make deals behind closed doors to commit hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to a baseball stadium while prohibiting citizens and voters from appropriately weighing in. 

We bet that Hagan's Pay to Play donors likes the arrogant Atlanta quick and dirty process too but it should scare taxpayers in Hillsborough County. Hagan is being paid to deliver for his special interests - why their bucks are pouring into his Pay to Play campaign.

Beware Hillsborough County taxpayers and stay aware! Who knows what Hagan's going to hit them with when the St. Pete Mayor's race is decided next month.

Hagan does have a challenger who has filed, Chris Paradies, who is a West Point graduate.

So voters in Hillsborough County could do to Hagan next year what Cobb County voters did to Lee and toss him out. 

The continuing pursuit of a new taxpayer subsidized baseball stadium in Tampa Bay is why HB13 needs to be fast tracked and quickly passed by our state legislature next year.

All the Pay to Play to put taxpayers on the hook to subsidize wealthy sports team owners in Florida must stop. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Drain the Regional "Swamp" Before Its Filled

We're being setup AGAIN! 

As we posted here, Senator Latvala unscrupulously used his position as Senate Appropriations Chair to ram his crony TBARTA bill written by special interests thru the state legislature to create a new transit agency "Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority."

While citizens in Tampa Bay never requested another transit bureaucracy, the largest supporter of tax hikes for rail boondoggles Tampa Bay Partnership did. Latvala obliged them by doing a back door end around the local delegations filing theTBARTA bill the weekend before the session started. He ensured the bill did not go through any of the local delegations and intentionally prevented citizens (including his own constituents) from weighing in.

While difficult for everyday citizens to get to Tallahassee, it's very easy for special interests to get there and lobby for their cause, as the Times reported Tampa Bay area business leaders lobby on contentious transit bill
The business delegation included Tampa Bay Lightning owner and developer Jeff Vinik, University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft, Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes, Ashley Furniture founder Ron Wanek, influential Tampa attorney Rhea Law and the top Tampa executives of TECO Energy, BlueGrace Logistics, the BayCare Health System, PNC Bank, Vology and Florida Blue.
"It's so important for the legislative delegation from Tampa Bay to come together and support this," said Homans [CEO of Tampa Bay Partnership], "and recognize that transportation is unquestionably the biggest challenge facing the region."
Transportation needs addressing but we do not need another taxpayer funded transit agency to address it. We already fund our local transit agencies and local voters keep rejecting tax hikes for costly transit.

Because they keep losing locally, the special interests were forced to take their quest for costly transit boondoggles regional. The rail cartel needed a new regional bureaucratic "Swamp" to control that would empower them and take away local control.

Once a regional "Swamp" gets a big pot of money and a long term funding source, it becomes almost impossible to drain these Swamps no matter how deceitful, crony or corrupt they become. 

While Governor Scott unfortunately signed Latvala's bill to create the new TBARTA Swamp, he veto'ed their one-time appropriation from the state. 

The cry from the new TBARTA Board at their first meeting in August was TBARTA needs money and where is the money coming from. Hint: it's going to come from you thanks to Senator Latvala and the rail cartel. Watch out next legislative session.

Ray Chiarmonte, TBARTA's Executive Director, stated that TBARTA was established to be the hand off from the $1.5 million taxpayer funded regional premium transit campaign
That is exactly what the Eye predicted. 

But the timing of this regional transit campaign could not be worse.

Trust remains a big issue and all the campaign shenanigans does not help. There is probably less trust today than when transit tax hikes were on the ballot in 2010 and 2014.

Transit ridership is declining while vehicle miles travelled is set to be a record this year. More people are choosing (no coercion needed) to drive and/or use personal vehicles like ride-share than transit.   

Expensive rail systems must shut down days before an approaching hurricane or major storm. Trains can do nothing to help any evacuation effort in Tampa Bay and it takes days or a week or longer after the storm for trains to come back in service.  

Evacuation routes must be considered with any proposed mobility solution in Tampa Bay. If taxpayer big bucks are being spent on transportation in Tampa Bay, it better include accommodating evacuations.

Most importantly, this is a time of disruption for transportation/transit. 

But costly rail/fixed guideways are never about transportation and mobility. They are about land use and development.

The rail cartel cannot help themselves. Special interests want costly fixed guideways because they will greatly benefit from those projects paid for on the backs of the taxpayers. 

This latest taxpayer funded regional transit campaign was so predictable.

Taxpayers keep enriching the same consultants over and over who think the public is stupid.
Slide from Jacobs Engineering who is leading the
Regional Premium Transit Campaign
But these consultants, who operate mostly within their own echo chamber, keep pushing the same costly transit solutions repeatedly rejected by voters. They keep expecting a different outcome. Hmmm…Where's the stupidity?

This transit campaign is part of the regional "Swamp" shenanigans to set us up again for costly transit boondoggles. Rail is toxic in Tampa Bay but the rail cartel is tone deaf and prefers to ignore the will of the people and consent of the governed. 

We anticipate the regional "Swamp" herd will push another round of massive tax hike referendum(s) on voters in 2020 to pick the pockets of taxpayers to pay for their largesse.

But just as Amazon disrupted traditional retail, innovation, new and emerging technologies are disrupting traditional transit.

And the public knows it. 

Tampa Bay is well positioned to optimize and pursue new technology and rapidly emerging transportation innovation because we are not stuck paying for outdated costly rail boondoggles or bogged down yet in a regional "Swamp" bureaucracy.

Let's keep it that way.

Let's drain this regional "Swamp" before it's filled.


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.