Tuesday, October 1, 2019

And Another Hillsborough Misleading Survey

We recently reported on ABC Action News coverage of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Fall 2019 survey results, and how misleading it was. We wondered why ABC was covering a dated survey. Now we know. 

The Hillsborough MPO is due to report on a supposedly more specific survey at the October 1, 2019 board meeting. We can expect more accolades about the survey, but it suffers from similar pathologies as in the earlier survey -- seriously flawed in its construction, unless its goal is to drive to a preferred agenda.

The details are buried in the MPO Agenda packet for October 1 meeting.
B. Draft 2045 Cost Feasible Plan: Open Public Comment Period
  • “It’s TIME Hillsborough” Survey Results (Lisa Silva, MPO Staff)
  • 2045 Plan Major Investments (Todd Brauer, MPO Consultant and Sarah McKinley, MPO Staff)
We largely addressed the issues in the first item, “It’s TIME Hillsborough” Survey Results, in our recent post

The second presentation is regarding the 2045 Plan Major Investments, from the agenda
The second presentation will focus on the draft 2045 Plan, which is required to be cost-feasible. To be considered “cost feasible,” the Plan must demonstrate that project costs in future years can be funded with funding available through 2045. Therefore, the investment programs identify available funding allocated to: 
  • Good Repair & Resiliency including pavement & bridge maintenance, transit asset maintenance, stormwater and resiliency projects;
  • Vision Zero including safety projects for walking, biking, and driving; 
  • Smart Cities including advanced traffic management and intersection improvements; 
  • Real Choices When Not Driving including transit expansion and trails
Major Projects including specific road capacity and fixed-guideway transit projects for economic growth. Road capacity is defined as additional through lanes, road extensions, and separated-grade interchanges. Fixed-guideway transit is defined as any bus or rail system running in its own right-of-way so that it does not get stuck in traffic. These projects are required to be itemized in the plan, unlike the types of projects listed above, which can be described by category.

The draft Plan was reviewed by the MPO committees in September and will be presented to the MPO Board in October. This will open a 30-day public comment period on the draft Plan. The final 2045 Plan is slated to be adopted by the MPO at a public hearing the evening of November 5th.
The MPO has sifted through the results of the Fall 2018  “It’s TIME Hillsborough” Survey and crafted another survey, slightly more specific, to identify specific project priorities.

But it's flawed with many of the same issues as the earlier survey.

First of all, it appears the demographics in the survey are greatly skewed to the highest earners in Hillsborough County.

Household income amongst surveyed respondents
The most transit dependent, the lowest income brackets, those with the least resources to pay higher taxes and fares, were dramatically underrepresented. Yet the highest earners, most able to pay more taxes, and more likely to be transit riders by "choice", are over represented in this survey.

This major demographic skew alone raises significant doubt about the quality of the survey.

Compared to the Fall 2018 survey, this does have more project specifics, but is lacking in details that anyone, particularly a planning organization, would want to know in developing and prioritizing plans and alternatives.

As we stated previously, while the newer survey has a little more data, it is lacking in key metrics of ridership, congestion relief, costs, safety metrics, travel time reduction, traffic volumes, environmental impact, economic impacts, etc. to help the respondent understand the value of the options the MPO is interested in.

It also suffers, perhaps most severely, in the well known issues with these type of preference surveys. It measures the respondents preference at the time of the survey. It does not measure the respondents action in the future, or what is known as their "revealed preference" in economic theory. These two are dramatically different.

One may respond positively for a BRT route or a bike path that appears to beneficial to them. That does not mean they will actually be a regular BRT rider or bicyclist. Especially when the benefit may be years away. Many if not most, will chose convenience and timeliness over transit or biking most of the time, and use their cars.

This is a huge danger in this survey that not only misleads the respondents, but more significantly the planners who will use these misleading results to develop bad plans. 

Shall we dive a bit deeper?

The first question was regarding Bus Rapid Transit routes. (Note there was an online version as well with the same questions).

BRT Question
The survey only asks about some pre-selected routes. It also suggests BRT is fast, high quality, with "pleasant stations", and modern vehicles.

It sounds mighty fine! Who could be against that?

It did not ask how much the respondent might be willing to pay in BRT fares or additional taxes to cover the costs... which are not mentioned anywhere. Level of ridership is also missing. Nor is there any statement regarding the time frame BRT may be ready, nor if any traffic lanes may need to be removed, which is common in BRT lines.

The next question is about a limited set of "major investments".

Major Investment question
Again, they totally miss any exposure of costs, ridership, how to pay for it, economic impact, congestion relief, etc.

For example downtown streetcar extension plans to date appear very limited to downtown. How does that benefit the nearly 1.4 million residents in Hillsborough, to be over 2 million residents by 2045?

Likewise, the Reuse Freight Rail Tracks does not expose the failures of other attempts at commuter rail in Florida such as Sunrail in Central Florida and Tri-Rail in South Florida.

Yet the Reuse Freight Rail Tracks and downtown streetcar extension were 2 of the top 3 Major Investment responses in the survey.

Nor does it expose the tremendous costs associate with Elevated Roadways or the low ridership with water transit systems thus far in Tampa Bay.

Interestingly, the MPO does introduce the cost element when it comes to the I-275/I-4 interchange.

Downtown Interchange question
This was the most specific question in the survey. It did offer statements on safety, project differences, travel times, and surprisingly, construction costs. Perhaps this is due to the ongoing studies by FDOT to rebuild this interchange.

Again, is this even really enough information?

The answers to this questions were interesting, as Option - 1 No Build had the highest amount of negative. Clearly people are fed up with the interchange delays and crashes. But they seemed to split their answers amongst the other 3 options, and Option 4 - Full Rebuild with Express Lanes being most "divisive" with many negative and positives. One would think the failure of the last "fix" would be enough to rule out more half measures.

Given the multiple options on this one topic, of course, the answers were more spread around compared to the other survey questions, which were comparatively simplified.

The MPO did publish several responses on the proejcts by home zip code which shows the different prioerities in the different parts of the count.
Interstate Toll lanes response by zipcode

Bloomingdale/Fishhawk Roads response by zipcode
The Interstate toll roads are more popular in the further reaches of the county than in central Tampa. South county is more positive about roads in their area than Tampa and west county, which is to be expected. There are many more similar charts for the "major investment" projects.

Perhaps a better approach would be to offer a more real world survey, oriented around the constraints of costs, improved mobility, social impacts, etc. For example, the MPO should know the range of costs for many types of projects. These might be (these are not authoritative costs),  $100 mile per mile for light rail, $25 million per mile for suburban highway, metrics of expected improvements, etc. and have the respondent prioritize these various projects, BRT, and major investments against a fixed budget and timeline, say $10 billion for 20 years, factored against the growth off 700,000 new residents by 2045. A simplified "Sim City" for the MPO. Then many more folks will understand the compromises that must be made. Perhaps the MPO planners will as well.

There is no perfect solution to Tampa Bay's mobility needs. There are only limited resources of time and money, and many other trade offs such as costs, level of traffic congestion, safety, environment, property loss, social and economic impacts etc. that must  to arrive at a solution that is hopefully better than today.

When the planners of the MPO are not exposing most of these factors to the public in their poorly crafted surveys, avoiding cost considerations, and many other tradeoffs with any major project, the MPO is doing the citizens of Hillsborough a tremendous disservice.

Yet the MPO will never be held accountable.

No comments:

Post a Comment