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.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Bigger Mess with Tampa Bay Next?

Tampa Bay taxpayers keep funding more transportation initiatives. The consultants love us… 

FDOT has recently launched another two year transportation initiative Tampa Bay Next. This is a FOUR County (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk) TBX replacement initiative on steroids - complete with new graphics! We know they're really serious this time! 

It's another taxpayer funded public outreach free for all AGAIN.

This latest transportation public relations endeavor is underway at the same time as the $1.6 million Streetcar study, the $1.5 million Regional Premium Transit Campaign, HART's TDP update and an effort to regionalize our MPO's. They all have taxpayer funded public outreach creating confusion, chaos and public fatigue on the transportation issue. Maybe all that is intentional…

But logic defies how FDOT would dole out $1.5 million for a THREE county (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco) regional transit campaign BEFORE this latest FOUR county initiative - cart before the horse. 

Governor Scott just signed Latvala's egregious TBARTA bill creating an unnecessary new FIVE county (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee) transit agency. But Scott also veto'd all of TBARTA's funding that got appropriated this session. 

What a mess! 

But here we are…

FDOT states the obvious on their new web site: "Tampa Bay has a traffic problem".

We agree. Probably everyone agrees.

But Tampa Bay has wasted too much time, too much taxpayer money and too much energy on FAILED proposals at the detriment of getting other things done to actually help relieve congestion. 

This new initiative is not just an update to the 1997 Environmental Impact Study (EIS) done the Federal Highway Administration requires for interstate expansion projects. FDOT says TampaBayNext initiative is a new program to modernize Tampa Bay's infrastructure and prepare for the future but leaves out Interstate expansion that must be done if we don't want gridlock in our future.

  • Interstate Modernization
  • Transit
  • Bicycle/Pedestrian Facilities
  • Complete Streets (most expensive street built)
  • Transportation Innovation
  • Freight Mobility
This is what our federally mandated/funded MPO's do. MPO's already do extensive public outreach for long range planning paid for by taxpayers. We have an MPO Board who approves the MPO's five year Transportation Improvement Plan. Why is FDOT stepping way outside its normal jurisdiction and duplicating what we already pay our MPO's to do? 

In addition, TBARTA has an updated regional Master Plan consistent with each county's MPO Long Range Transportation Plan. They also did extensive outreach. 

Our local transit agencies do outreach to update their 10 year Transportation Development Plans. 

And our local MPO's in coordination with our counties and Planning Commission develop our highway level of service (LOS) reports. sets no realistic boundaries or expectations and is another free for all like Go Hillsborough.  

The kickoff meeting for FDOT's TampaBayNext Community Working Group meetings was held on May 24th. The Eye was there. 

Instead of putting dots on a board or writing on a map like what was done with Go Hillsborough, FDOT is using professional "facilitators" from the Collaborative Labs of St. Petersburg College. That's the same collaboration group that gave us the 2010 Hillsborough rail tax referendum and the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas rail tax referendum - both overwhelmingly defeated. That is not a successful record of gaining so-called "consensus' on the transportation issue in Tampa Bay.

The kick off meeting was over represented by StopTXers. They posted talking points to show up and were there to push their agenda that transit is our greatest need, we need to demolish our interstates and demand that TBX be removed from our MPO's five year Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

To digress - Some sanity still exists, at least for now. The Hillsborough MPO voted 12-3 this week to keep the interstate improvement and expansion project in the TIP. Good - because:
  • Expansion of our interstates have been in FDOT's plans for decades. TBX, or whatever name it is called, is funded by state/federal gas taxes we already pay - no tax hike needed. Those dollars are earmarked for highways, bridges and interstates and cannot be diverted to transit. 
  • If the project is removed from the MPO's TIP, the state can and will hand the $6 Billion of Tampa Bay interstate improvement and expansion funding to other parts of the state. Jax, Central Florida and South Florida are all currently expanding their own interstates with managed toll lanes and probably drooling over any possibility of getting Tampa Bay's interstate funding. They are not stupid.
  • If Tampa Bay rejects the FDOT funds, say goodbye to getting any more anytime soon and hello to gridlock. It would be decades before the state would consider handing such funds to Tampa Bay again. And with over a million people moving here by 2040, most bringing their cars, the result would be total gridlock and our surface streets becoming much more dangerous.
The "official" recording by FDOT of the May 24th meeting can be found here. Read through it. The basics for a kick off meeting were totally missing. No specific problem was defined, no goals were established and no timeline was provided. 

How can congestion relief not be a top priority of any ideal transportation system in the Tampa Bay region? But removal of urban highways aka demolish I-275 that 200K vehicles and a half million people use everyday is?  How can any ideal future transportation system include removing I-275 north of Tampa? That is extreme! Why would FDOT be considering such extremism?

This is what happens at free for alls that set no boundaries. StopTBXers are a vocal group but they represent a very small percentage of the millions who live in the four counties and use our interstates. 

The same artist is used at all these transportation gatherings to sketch a drawing during the meeting. Here is the picture of the drawing that was made from the 5/24 kickoff meeting. The picture confirms FDOT's latest transportation initiative is Go Hillsborough over four counties. And yes they are at it again - Costly light rail that voters consistently reject.
Drawing from 5/24 FDOT kickoff meeting
How much does all this cost and who and how would all this be paid for? Those silly little questions

Since over 98% of us drive in Tampa Bay, where's congestion relief for vehicles? MIA in that picture.There is not one car/truck/vehicle in this picture except for a car with a caption "Car Optional". That is absurd! The urbanists want to demolish our interstates that a half million people use everyday and move Mayberry RFD to the urban core and have you pay for it. 

And stop using the term "choices" which is rhetorical and over used. Perhaps my choice is for Scotty to beam me up - can we include that too? The private sector is rapidly innovating to provide new services and the "choices" that people actually want and are willing to pay for. 

The millions who use our interstates in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Pasco everyday know we need to fix our interstates FIRST. Most, if not all, of the 1.2 million people expected to move here by 2040 will bring their cars.

Be realistic. Billions spent on costly transit could never begin to relieve congestion. And we all will count the noses of which electeds willing to hand Tampa Bays funded TBX interstate expansion and improvement money (state/federal gas taxes we already pay) to another part of the state for them to wisely improve their interstates.

The amount of taxpayer money spent in Tampa Bay on transportation/transit studies, public outreach, reports, plans, public relations campaigns, tax hike referendums, meetings and rhetoric seems endless. 


Because special interests, our local media, taxpayer funded agencies, unelected bureaucrats wanting to grow bureaucracies and some politicos, especially those eyeing a new big pot of money to dole out, keep trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. 

The same people keep pushing costly transit projects and tax hikes on voters who consistently reject them. So little or nothing gets done except enriching the same consultants over and over and over.

Unfortunately, FDOT District 7 has decided to join their games launching another taxpayer funded two year transportation charade.

FDOT District 7 will be getting a new Secretary since Paul Steinman recently resigned.

Whoever takes over that position needs to reset this free for all. It is not the responsibility of FDOT to duplicate what our MPO's already do. FDOT should exercise realistic boundaries so that expectations can actually be achieved.

Otherwise, Tampa Bay Next just creates a bigger mess.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Where should Bay Area Business spend its campaign contributions? Not on light rail proponents?

Light rail will not work in the Bay area; it will be a publicly subsidized disaster as it has been almost everywhere it has been built.

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

The subject of transportation was on the agenda this past week as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn St. Pete Council member Darden Rice and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos met with business leaders to get them involved in the ever growing bay area transportation crisis.

You can get some detail from Caitlin Johnston, Tampa Bay Times; Government Governmentleaders urge businesses to become transportation leaders.

It is completely understandable that political leaders are frustrated by the in ability to make progress on transportation solutions. What is much more difficult to understand is why they have such a hard time figuring out why the public will not support their plans?

Here are some quotes from the CREW Tampa Bay's ninth annual Economic Summit:

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called transportation the area's Achilles' heel and singled out rail as a much-needed option.

Buckhorn’s comments are representative of the major problem in developing a Bay area transportation solution. Twice light rail has been a centerpiece of a transit referendum, and twice the public has sent it down in a flaming defeat. Obviously, Mayor Buckhorn has not gotten the message.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said it's an embarrassment Tampa Bay hasn't moved yet on a transit plan.

Mayor Cretekos’s frustration is the direct result of the politicians camping out on ideas the public does not believe will work. Light rail, water ferries, regional transit authorities, and TBARTA are examples of issues the public does not want and will not support.

St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice said local leaders need to be willing to work together for the good of the region, even if it doesn't directly benefit their own jurisdiction.

Darden Rice, lives is a world somewhat detached from reality. The concept of a regional transit authority that operates independently from the local jurisdictions that it supports is just a fantasy. All politics is local, and there is not one jurisdiction in the Bay area that will be willing give up its autonomy or revenue on transit issues.

Then there was this from Bob Buckhorn.
"We can't be silenced by a very small minority of agitators and dissenters and Internet trolls that continue to say that we don't need rail and we don't need mobility options and that, instead, we can build more roads to get out of this problem," Buckhorn said. "We absolutely cannot."

As one of those trolls, I would like to thank the mayor for his support.

Business people at this conference should take away the fact that these politicians are living in the past, and they are trying to implement solutions that have a record of failure.

I agree that as a business person or business owner in the Bay area when you are asked for a campaign contribution you carefully consider who is asking. If their solution is light rail, transportation redevelopment and solutions that have a history of failure in construction and implementation you should probably contribute elsewhere.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

HART Hits a Wall

It was just a year or so ago we could not read the Tampa Bay Times or the now defunct Tampa Tribune about HART or PSTA setting new ridership records. Those days have been over for quite a while.

Buried deep in the HART Board Packet for the June 5, 2017 meeting (PDF) is the April 2017 ridership summary on page 6-4.
April 2017 bus ridership declined 10.7% compared to April 2016 and all mode ridership is off 7.3% for the first seven months of FY 2017.
April 2017 streetcar ridership is down 10.6% compared to April 2016. Year-to-date streetcar ridership is up 4.9% compared to the same time period of FY 2016.
HART April 2017 Ridership
Perhaps a few more riders are enjoying the trolley as the revitalization of downtown Tampa slowly progresses. Or perhaps because parking has been "gobbled up".

Outside of New York, transit ridership is largely down nationwide the last couple of years. DC Metro in particular has taken some big hits as they've cut service in an attempt to catch up on a multi-billion dollar backlog of much needed maintenance. But many others that have invested billions in developing mass transit, particularly light rail and fixed guideways, are down in ridership as well.

In a recent rare article lamenting decreased local transit ridership, it looks like HART is getting ready for a reboot.
“If you see fewer people using your services across the board, at some point, you have to ask yourself, ‘what’s going on with your business model? And how can we reboot?'” asks Katherine Eagan, the CEO for HART.
The economy reportedly is heating up, gas prices are down, millennials are buying cars, and rideshare services are increasingly popular (particularly since the PTC is being disbanded...yay!). Choice transit riders have exercised their choice, and their choice is less transit, and more driving. USF CUTR's Steve Polzin:
A few months ago, the Federal Highway Administration released 2016 vehicle miles of travel data, indicating robust travel demand growth in 2016, up 2.8%. The increase pushed total vehicle miles of travel (VMT) to a new record and boosted travel per capita to levels not seen since mid-2008. That disappointment was compounded by the recent release of 2016 transit ridership data, indicating a decline of 2.3% in 2016, which compounds last year's 1.3% decline. The disheartening news continued with the recent release of Census data indicating growth trends that had many highly urbanized counties loosing population while growth flourished in predominately suburban style counties. The top ten shrinking counties had a transit commute mode share over twice as high as the top ten growing counties. Piling on, other data indicates that millennials are morphing toward more traditional characteristics as "Millennials are starting to find jobs and relocating to the suburbs and smaller cities," according to a recent Bloomberg article. "Everything we thought about millennials not buying cars was wrong," says the title of a Business Insider news story.
As the country goes, Hillsborough County and HART head in the same direction.

HART of course will try to reboot, as stated above. We wish them the best of luck.
“What we’re doing with service is going to be pretty transformational,” says Marco Sandusky, director of government and community relations with HART. “We’re shifting the way our network is set up to try to build up a higher frequency core grid-based network, and we realize that’s going to have an impact on people who use our service today.”
The good news is that HART is solely a rubber-wheel bus oriented transit agency. It can make these changes as their transit market changes. Changes in their ridership, less demand, more demand, new destinations, can all be relatively easily changed without major capital investment. Especially compared to light rail and fixed guideways.

Regardless, as we take on the next phase of transportation issues in the region, with another reboot on the newly renamed Tampa Bay Next, it is increasingly important to understand the current state and trends of transit solutions, particularly here in Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay Next new graphic logo

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)

At least FDOT acknowledges that math on the Tampa Bay Next site, as FDOT is forecasting nearly 300,000 vehicles per day on Tampa interstates by 2040, which will require further expansion of the Tampa Bay interstates. In their rather optimistic transit forecast, FDOT believes transit may take up to 10% of the cars of the road by 2040, or just under 30,000. That would require a triple of transit ridership by 2040, which few if any regions in the USA have done despite many investing billions of dollars into transit. Still, with the interstates approaching 270,000 daily vehicles, again with FDOTs optimistic transit estimates, up from 180,000 today, investment in the Tampa Bay interstates is critical to future mobility and economic development across Tampa Bay.

Transit ridership is down locally and nationally. HART's contribution to commuters and therefore congestion relief is minor and will likely continue to stay that way. Choice riders have more money in their pocket and more choices. Not to mention the impact of future technologies on the horizon such as autonomous vehicles. More people are moving into Tampa Bay faster than transit can build out. They are moving into areas with sparse if any transit service - South Hillsborough and South Pasco - which will put further pressure on the already overload interstates.

We have no realistic choice.

Fix our roads - and our interstates - first!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Big Pot and the Usual Cronies

Well, that didn't take long.

Now that we have passed the statewide medical marijuana bill, the pot producers have gathered up their resources and lobbied the Hillsborough County Commission to restrict competition.
Just three months after declaring Hillsborough County open to boundless medical marijuana businesses, commissioners now may put a cap on how many dispensaries can set up shop.

If approved, Hillsborough would allow just 13 dispensaries. Those already operating would have a significant advantage: Licenses would be awarded on a point system that heavily favors experience operating here. 
Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp was on the case.
"This all just seems like going to an extreme to the benefit of monopolies," said Commissioner Pat Kemp, who led the charge against limiting dispensaries when commissioners first voted on the regulations March 7.
Yet other commissioners feel we need to be protected from medical marijuana.
"This is our community," said Commissioner Sandy Murman, one of several board members whose opinion has shifted since March. "And safety is first."
Medical marijuana
Why the change?

Medical marijuana has learned the old fashioned way. From big business. It comes down to lobbyists for special interests and their money.

Money for the politicians.
Lobbying records and emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times show opponents of caps were gearing up for round two the day after the March vote. 
Lobbyists for San Felasco Nurseries, one of the state's seven approved growers, huddled March 8 with several commissioners, including Stacy White, who had spearheaded the county's medical marijuana efforts, and Ken Hagan, who would ultimately request the re-vote on May 24. 
The meetings were the continuation of a campaign that began in September. San Felasco lobbyists Beth Leytham and Todd Pressman have registered more than 60 meetings between county commissioners and staff in the past seven months. (emphasis mine) 
Beth Leytham? Where have we heard that name before?

She's the controversial, yet highly connected lobbyist - advisor - PR consultant to certain career politicians, particularly those named (Hillsborough County Commissioner) Ken Hagan and (Mayor of Tampa Downtown Only) Bob Buckhorn.

Looks like she's back to her usual tactics as the Eye and WTSP's Noah Pransky documented in the last couple of years. But not from the Tampa Bay Times. They conveniently ignored her questionable practices while she was working the GoHillsborough campaign which the Times supported.
Leytham and Pressman have contributed to the campaigns of White and Hagan during the medical marijuana debate. 
White received $500 from Pressman two days before the Oct. 5 moratorium vote and another $1,000 from him and his business in April. Pressman and his associates gave Hagan $3,000 in April. Leytham and her associates gave $1,000 to White and $2,500 to Hagan in April. 
Both commissioners are running for re-election in 2018. They've received contributions from Leytham and Pressman in the past.
But its for your own good, right? As Commissioner Murman is quoted, "And safety is first." Hagan as well is concerned about you.
"Having lived through the pill mill crisis," he said, "I just feel very strongly that we do not want to potentially put ourselves in that position again."
But I was told medical marijuana is safe, and can treat everything from the heebie jeebies to toejam.

So why the concern all of a sudden?

Have the commissioners heard from their constituents? Has there been an uproar regarding the safety of medical marijuana since its been legalized? How many citizens were invited to those 60 meetings with Leytham and Pressman? Were there any public hearings on the safety of medical marijuana?

Or are they more worried about their campaign contributions and Big Pot protecting their profits?

Big business to Big Pot, its all the same cronies.

It's business as usual around County Center.

And they just keep on pushing.