Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Forward Pinellas MPO/PSTA Road Diets: Deception, Arrogance and Non-Compliance

Governor DeSantis and the state legislature is funding much needed new road capacity to fast growing Florida. DeSantis publicly stated last month there will be no more ideologically driven lane eliminations in Florida. 

However, Forward Pinellas (FP) MPO is not complying and is continuing to impose road diets in Pinellas County for bus lanes.  

The "cost too much does too little" $45M SunRunner BRT boondoggle awakened the general public to the forced imposition of road diets by PSTA and FP MPO in Pinellas County. 

The SunRunner is a fiscal and operational failure. It's ridership is way less than half of the 4500 riders per day PSTA promised. PSTA spent $45M to build the SunRunner, is spending millions more every year to operate it and the ridership did not show up.

But FP MPO and PSTA do not care. 

PSTA continues to lose riders even during the March Spring Break peak season.  

PSTA and FP MPO know there is increasing public angst and opposition with their road diets. And there should be because we watch a valuable vehicle lane is empty, see many SunRunner buses running empty and watch buses simply pass bus stops because no one is there. 

There is NO consensus or broad public support to force road diets for bus lanes.  

FP MPO and PSTA do not care. Their ideological driven agenda trying to force us out of our vehicles is more important.

Now FP MPO and PSTA are trying to force a road diet on 34th Street S (aka US19) - a State maintained road that we as taxpayers have been paying to maintain for decades. 

Because PSTA has gotten such a public backlash against the failed SunRunner, FP MPO championed the 34th Street S road diet for PSTA and the city of St. Petersburg. 

And yes it is a road diet FP MPO championed for PSTA. FP MPO conducted their own 34th Street South Lane Elimination Study. Of course if the organization wanting to eliminate lanes does their own lane elimination study, they will get the outcome they want.

Cover page of FP 
34th Street South Lane Elimination Study

The Progressive St. Petersburg city council and Progressive St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch - who chaired PSTA during the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas failed rail tax boondoggle where PSTA got caught misusing federal transit funds on the Greenlight Pinellas campaign and had to hand back $350K to the feds - are all in for more road diets. 

It appears St. Petersburg wants to wall residents into dense communities with less and less available vehicle lanes so no one is able to get in and out in a car. 

While the city of St. Petersburg may think they are the "King Cheese" of Pinellas County, they cannot dictate road diets on a State maintained federal highway the city has never paid for.

FP has not been honest. They misled the public for years and years in their 5 year Transportation Improvement Plan about the 34th Street S road diet. 

FP described the project as a "$1 million Complete Streets upgrade to FDOT resurfacing project to construct a wide sidewalk on west side of roadway". 

FP MPO conveniently intentionally left out their lane elimination/road diet in their own project description. 

Deceptive FP MPO 34th Street S project description

A diagram of the 34th Street S project does not reflect the road diet. And the public has no idea what "urban corridor improvements" mean. 

FP MPO failure to properly document and inform the general public, and especially the communities who regularly use that corridor, is unacceptable. No wonder the public is angry. 

It appears FP MPO has become an agency who is now doing what MPO's were initially created in the 1960's to prevent.....ramming projects through communities without broad public support.

Due to the backlash to road diets, suddenly PSTA's CEO Brad Miller admitted at the February 28th PSTA Board meeting that PSTA does not need road diets/lane eliminations to implement an express bus service on 34th Street S.

PSTA - in their own documentation - has admitted there is only a POTENTIAL for express service on 34th Street S in 2025. There is no commitment by PSTA for such service or any service needing bus only lanes.

Let this sink in: FP championed road diets for PSTA on 34th Street S that are not needed. 

This information should make the public anger about forcing road diets in Pinellas County go straight to boiling. 

Since FP and PSTA got caught in their deception and arrogance, what do they do?

Double down!

At the FP MPO Board meeting last week, the MPO Executive Director Whit Blanton, PSTA and the city of St. Petersburg basically demanded the road diets on 34th Street S be implemented. 

Apparently desperate for support, they needed to stage it. A form letter supporting the 34th Street S road diet was circulated..probably to hand picked people. 

The form letters with the exact same language were then sent to FP astroturf. 

Below are just a few examples. Same verbiage with a different name and many of the addresses do not appear to be along the road diet corridor.

Unfortunately, the orchestrated form letter charade resulted in the FP MPO Board voting 8-4 to implement the road diets on 34th Street S. 

Some FP Board members stated they used the staged form letters as reason to vote for the 34th Street S road diet. We were left wondering if they even read them.

FP Board member, Gina Driscoll who is PSTA's current Chair, created a spectacle as she raised her voice in support of the road diet claiming she "follows the data".  Huh??? 

Well....PSTA's data is declining ridership with higher costs. PSTA's data is a dismal fare box recovery of 6% forcing taxpayers to subsidize 94% of every ride. PSTA's data is spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year for a tanked ridership of 1.5% and a potential financial insolvency by 2026. 

Fortunately, Governor DeSantis made his statement last month about no more lane elimination/road diets in fast growing Florida.

And now FP MPO is officially in non-compliance.

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