FRIDAY REWIND – 2013 visit to Norfolk, VA

Friday Rewind New 1

Two years ago this month, I took a trip to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, VA to visit relatives and to embark on my first ride along a light rail line. In this Friday Rewind post, I will reflect back on my experience in Hampton Roads and how the area is pushing for more transportation choices,

In many respects, Norfolk, VA is very similar to Tampa, FL. Both have similarly structured bus systems that utilize Gillig transit buses, and both transit districts; HART and HRT, are facing the same budgetary issues when it comes to maintaining what they have, as well as trying to expand service wherever they can. Both cities have also had old style streetcar systems in the past, both of which were later dismantled. One key difference though, is that Hampton Roads does not have the type of street grid that Tampa Bay has. Most streets in Virginia Beach for instance, are spider web type, which means that roads either radiate around a central point or zig zag in multiple directions. This makes it much harder to run buses, especially routes with are crucial for employment centers. Another difference is that Norfolk has been able to build its starter light rail line, something that Tampa has been vying to do for many years, and may finally have a real chance of modernizing its heritage streetcar system in the coming years.

Reflections Tour

Now, let me take you through what I was able to experience while in Norfolk last April…

Train #401 departs towards downtown Norfolk. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.
Train #401 departs towards downtown Norfolk. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. April, 2013.

Ballentine Blvd

I first parked my car at the Ballentine/Broad Creek Park-and-Ride Lot, just next to the Ballentine/Broad Creek LRT Station. My original plan was to actually use the Military Hwy Park-and-Ride Lot, but I ended up wanting to go just a bit closer to the Norfolk State University Campus, where I could feel the historical charm of the entire city of Norfolk. These two Park-and-Ride lots are two of the four that Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) provides to its customers to allow them to use light rail to get to downtown, instead of hassling with city parking. The other two lots are located at Harbor Park (next to the Harbor Park Stadium) and the Newtown Rd terminus.

Once at the LRT station, I purchased a one-day GoPass that would allow me to ride the bus system and the LRT. I then snapped some photos of the surrounding area as I waited for the next train to arrive. The train shown in this photo arrived just as I walked up to the station. The next train arrived about 15 minutes later. Since this was a Saturday that I rode the train,the frequency of trains was at every 15 minutes.

Heading into downtown

Once onboard the train, I quickly took in the sights of the urban landscape and the sounds of the train rolling along, with automated announcements guiding customers to each station. I’ve noticed that the sound that the Siemens S70 LRV trains make as they pull in and out of each station is very similar to how the Alstom/Bombardier MF 2001 subway trains and Citadis LRV trains in Paris sound like as they arrive and depart. I also liked how sleek, clean, and modern the trains are, as I’ve always been fascinated with modern buses and trains. There are only a handful of light rail lines in the US that still use older, non-articulated types of LRV trains. One of those lines I’ve learned is located in Buffalo, NY. Actually, their system is an LRT/Pre-Metro line, which I’ll profile in a future post.

The track as it meanders through downtown Norfolk. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.
The track as it meanders through downtown Norfolk. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. April, 2013.

MacArthur Square

Once getting off the train, I quickly took in the sights and sounds of the heart of downtown Norfolk, specifically MacArthur Square. This wonderful urban space includes green space that surrounds the current LRT station. I understand that during the construction of the Tide LRT, a couple of buildings along Main St had to be demolished to make way for the stations and track. To the northeast of the MacArthur Square LRT station is the Douglas MacArthur Memorial statue and museum. The building that houses the museum was originally the Norfolk City Hall. The current city hall is located at a small complex of buildings near the Elizabeth River that are a part of Norfolk Civic Plaza. There is also an LRT stop at the Civic Plaza complex.

 The MacArthur Center

To the north of the station is the MacArthur Center Mall, which I would say is a “watered down” version of Tampa’s International Plaza. The complex comprises of trendy stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21, and H&M, as well as higher-end stores like Nordstrom.  Despite the mall’s relatively small footprint, it’s still a great place to visit if you have some extra time to shop and drop. And why battle for a parking space, when you can easily take the train into downtown?

The western fringe of downtown Norfolk. Photo taken by HARTride 2012 in April, 2013.
The western fringe of downtown Norfolk. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012 in April, 2013.

Walking through Norfolk

After visiting the mall, I decided to take a northwestward stroll through downtown and its flanking residential district to the west. The old charm of the multi-story apartment buildings really makes Norfolk a pretty neat place to live. There’s a good variety of parks, attractions, and museums to visit, as well as lots of shops and eateries to stop by at. The Virginia Beach Expressway provides quick access to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, and there’s plenty of opportunities to spend time with nature, including the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Proceeding northwestward, I came across the the Fort Norfolk area, just bordering the historic Granby district to the north and downtown Norfolk to the east. This area encompasses many healthcare complexes, including the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and the Eastern Virginia Medical Center (EVMC). This area also serves as the current western terminus for the Tide LRT. A little further west of this point is a ton of rail yards and industrial shipping docks.

I then proceeded northward towards the historic Granby district, where many centuries-old housing are located. A little further north of where I traveled is Old Dominion University, which is the second major college campus in the Norfolk area. I was really taken away by the unique charm of the older homes and beautiful landscaping. I even got to witness one of the area residents manicuring her wonderful bed of tulips, and these were pretty large tulips too! As I proceeded through the historic Granby district, I was taken even more into the historic charm that Norfolk has to offer, without all the nightclub hubub of Ybor City.

The Return Trip

Finishing up my wonderful walk through the Granby district, I stumbled upon the Cedar Grove Transfer Center, located along Princess Anne Rd and Salter St. On July 7, 2013, all transfer center operations moved to an interim terminal along Wood St, just steps away from the Norfolk Scope Arena. Cedar Grove reminds me a lot of the makeshift bus depot that HART once had at the former Tampa Bay Center Mall, because Cedar Grove is nothing more than a parking lot with a few bus shelters on one side. There were no restrooms or other facilities at the site either. Eventually, a new, modern bus terminal will be built in downtown Norfolk, equipped with restrooms.

It took me a while to locate a bus route that would get me back to the Tide LRT line, but I did manage to locate the shelter for Local Bus Route 44, which travels towards Fort Norfolk in the southbound direction. As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, HRT’s bus fleet primarily comprises of Gillig Low Floor buses. These buses have either a white or grey livery with waves at the bottom. The interiors are a lot like the 2001 series buses that both HART and PSTA have, but with primarily blue colors.

With the height of the afternoon coming to a close, I decided start heading back to Broad Creek so that I could meet up with my family for dinner. Upon arrival to the EVMC/Fort Norfolk LRT station, the train had already arrived and was awaiting departure. I rode the train all the way back to the Ballentine/Broad Creek LRT station and took a few more photos along the way.

What’s next for public transit in Hampton Roads

If you missed my last few posts on The Tide, then you’ve missed quite a bit. Right now, the fight is on to extend the light rail line into Virginia Beach, specifically Town Center or Rosemont. The ongoing transit extension study has taken many twists and turns throughout the past several months, and now it’s come down to the wire as Virginia Beach city leaders decide on the next stage of the study. Unfortunately, the rail haters have mobilized and are threatening to kill off the entire process by convincing the Virginia Beach City Council to go for the dreaded “No Build” option instead of selecting a Locally Preferred Alternative for the ongoing transit extension study. If this happens, Virginia Beach stands to be set back anywhere from 20 to 50 years when it comes to public transit and providing better transportation choices. Any such setback will also jeopardize the Naval Station Norfolk extension study, as well as other transit expansion efforts in the area.

HART Service Changes for Spring, 2015

Markup 1

It’s that time of year again to report on service changes for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART). For this round of service changes, effective Sunday, April 26, 2015, several routes will see scheduling and/or time point changes to help improve efficiency throughout the system. Routes 8, 9, 31, 36, and 53LX will see scheduling changes and Routes 24X and 25LX will see deletion of a time point.

Summary of Service Changes

Please see the graphic below for a quick summary:

Markup 2

Scheduling Changes

Now, let’s go into greater detail about the changes for each route:

Route 8

The following weekday northbound departures from the Marion Transit Center will change:

4:30AM departure changes to 4:45AM
5:00AM departure changes to 5:15AM
5:30AM departure changes to 5:40AM

Plus various running time changes throughout the day

The following weekday southbound departures from Westfield Brandon Mall will change:

5:00AM departure changes to 5:10AM
5:30AM departure changes to 5:40AM

Plus various running time changes throughout the day

On Saturdays; all trips will depart the Marion Transit Center at :20 after the hour instead of :30 past. Trips from Brandon will remain the same, but running times will change.

On Sundays; all trips will depart the Marion Transit Center at :20 after the hour instead of :15 past. Departures from Westfield Brandon will adjust from :30 past the hour to :40 past.

Click here for the full schedule (Opens in a new window)

Route 9

On Saturdays; departure times from the Marion Transit Center will change from :50 after the hour to :00 past. Trips leaving the University Area Transit Center will change from :15 past the hour to :10 past. Layovers at the Yukon Transfer Center will also be adjusted, along with running times.

On Sundays; departure times from the Marion Transit Center will change from :50 after the hour to :00 past. Trips leaving the University Area Transit Center will change from :05 past the hour to :10 past. Layovers at the Yukon Transfer Center will also be adjusted, along with running times.

Weekday schedules will remain unchanged

Click here for the full schedule (Opens in a new window)

Route 31

Route 31 will see the following changes in the northbound direction:

5:10AM departure remains as-is, but running times will be adjusted
6:15AM departure changes to 6:20AM
7:30AM departure remains as-is, but running times will be adjusted
8:45AM departure changes to 8:50AM
10:00AM departure changes to 10:05AM
11:15AM departure changes to 11:20AM
12:30PM departure changes to 12:35PM
1:45PM departure changes to 1:50PM
3:00PM departure changes to 3:05PM
4:20PM departure changes to 4:25PM
5:30PM departure changes to 5:40PM
6:15PM departure changes to 6:20PM
6:45PM departure changes to 7:05PM

The following changes will be made in the southbound direction:

All morning and midday departures from Westfield Brandon will remain the same, but running times will change. The following departures will see adjustments:

4:20PM departure changes to 4:25PM
5:35PM departure changes to 5:45PM
6:45PM departure changes to 6:55PM

Click here for the full schedule (Opens in a new window)

Route 36

HART Flex customers will need to pay close attention to these changes, as they will impact their transfers to and from Route 36.

Weekday northbound departures will change from :00 and :30 past the hour to :05 and :35 past. Please note that the two early departures from the West Tampa Transfer Center will change from 5:20AM and 5:50AM respectively to 5:25AM and 5:55AM respectively.

Most weekday southbound departures will change from :00 and :30 past the hour to :25 and :55 past. There are a few exceptions however, please pay close attention to the following:

4:30PM, 5:00PM, and 5:30PM departures remain as-is, but running times will change
6:00PM trip changes to 6:10PM
6:30PM trip changes to 6:35PM
7:00PM trip remains as-as, but running times will change
7:30PM and 8:00PM trips change to 7:25PM and 7:55PM respectively
8:25PM and 9:25PM trips will remain as-is, but running times will change

On Saturdays; southbound departures will change from :40 after the hour to :35 past. Northbound departures will remain the same.

On Sundays; southbound departures will change from :40 after the hour to :35 past. Northbound departures will remain the same.

Please note that running times will change on ALL trips.

Click here for the full schedule (Opens in a new window)

Route 53LX

In order to accommodate the new bus stop at St. Joseph’s Hospital South, all running times have changed.

Click here for the full schedule (Opens in a new window)

Time Point Changes

Routes 24X and 25LX

The timepoint at S. Dale Mabry Hwy and Pinewood St will be eliminated from schedules and maps. The southbound stop will continue to be served on inbound trips (morning) and the northbound stop will continue to be served on outbound trips (afternoon).

Travel Tips

Please plan your day accordingly, as arriving too late WILL result in you missing your bus.

You can always download the OneBusAway app to your smartphone and check when your bus is predicted to arrive. The app is available through the iTunes Store (for Apple devices) and the Google Play Store (for Android devices). Don’t have access to an Apple or Android smartphone? No problem! View instructions for other supported devices, desktop/laptop computer, and text messaging on the HART website.

Did you know that OneBusAway Tampa now supports touch tone telephone lookup? Just call 813-452-4622 and follow the easy-to-use instructions.

If you’re on a desktop or laptop PC, you can also track where your bus is located before you go! Just visit the third-party Laicos Bus Finder and input the addresses of where you’re coming from, and where you’re going to. The interface will then show in real-time where your bus is traveling (very helpful when a bus is on detour and your nearby stop might not be serviced). Smartphone apps are in the works from what I understand.

Need further info? Discover a discrepancy with the schedules? Please contact HART at 813-254-4278. Please keep in mind that all scheduling info posted here, I have pulled directly from the HART website. If you happen to see anything that I’ve posted incorrectly, please let me know.

Go Hillsborough – Part 3 – Exploring and Evaluating Options

Go Hillsborough Part 3

In the 3rd installment of my “This is Go Hillsborough” blog series, I will be taking a look at the second phase of the Go Hillsborough public outreach process, called Exploring Options. The purpose of this series was to get citizens to think about which projects are feasible, and which ones aren’t. It was a very tough process by which everyone had to really think about “are these priorities realistically able to be carried out?” Because while expanding our bus system may be something that is able to be done with added funds, building an expansive passenger rail network might not be as realistic as some people may think it is, given the current financial climate. Now while I was not able to attend this series of public workshops, a lot was learned from the meetings.

During these meetings, citizens were asked to take the top five countywide transportation priorities that were chosen from the Understanding the Issues meetings and rank them in top 3 order. Those top five priorities were: Resurfacing (of existing roads), New Roads/Widening, New/Expanded Transit Routes, Intersection Improvements, and Sidewalks/Bike Lanes. While there was great consensus on the fact that many of our roads are failing and need extensive maintenance to keep them in shape, disagreements were evident when it came to building new roads, transit upgrades and expansion, and pedestrian facilities. After the meetings, an Issues and Opportunities Report was compiled to show citizens detailed results of both series of meetings and what can be expected as the third series of meetings, Making Choices, gets underway.

Glancing at the Top Five County Transportation Priorities

In this section, I am going to provide my opinion on each of the five transportation priorities:

Roadway Maintenance/Resurfacing

Let’s face it, many of our roads are filled with potholes and failing pavement. Over the years, funding that used to go towards maintaining our roads have diminished, creating a situation where tons of commuters are facing increased costs of maintaining their vehicles. Our vehicles can only sustain so much wear and tear from deteriorating roadway conditions before substantial damage is done. At that point, then people have to spend tons and tons of money repairing their vehicles, which in-turn can result in a loss of wages if that person can’t get to work (and has no vacation time available) due to having their vehicle out of service. Transit buses also feel more wear and tear from deteriorating roads, not just our personal vehicles, so it’s imperative that we put some funding back into fixing our crumbling roads. With the HART system in particular, remember that the agency is currently experiencing funding constraints that has resulted in the loss of roughly twenty transit buses. This means that the loss of one transit bus will result in additional stress for the system, as no spare buses will be available during peak demand. A loss of five to seven transit buses at the same time, for a prolonged period of time, could mean the loss of service along a particular bus route.

New/Expanded Transit Routes

Because of budgetary constraints and limited funding avenues, HART is unable to greatly expand its system to meet the needs of the county.  HART will need to be able to increase service on existing bus routes, as well as create new ones to be able to serve areas that currently aren’t able to be served, including parts of eastern and southern Hillsborough. However, HART is in need of funds to build a second garage and order new transit buses and paratransit vans so that those needs can be properly met. Until additional funds can come in to be able to expand the HART system, commuters will continue to be left with few choices in being able to get around. In fact, things are currently projected to get even worse in 2018 if the funding situation does not improve, as HART is predicting a budget shortfall that year. That means that by 2020, with current funding levels, HART could be forced to slash transit service across the board – retracting a substantial amount of improvements that have been made over the past decade. Fares could also go up at more steep level as a result of the service cuts, and any passenger rail options will most certainly be inhibited by any such scenario.

Sidewalks/Bike Lanes

While many streets within the county have sidewalks, there are still many out there that don’t. The streets and highways that don’t have sidewalks create a dangerous situation for those needing to walk from A to B, especially children who are trying to get to a bus stop. For example; if it rains, then where else can someone walk? More than likely, won’t be in the wet grass, but on the pavement of the roadway. If a motorist isn’t paying close attention (or in some cases, the pedestrian, or even both parties), the result could be disastrous. For bicyclists; although more streets are getting bike lanes, it’s still not enough to create a network of safe biking routes for people to use. Because of these inefficiencies in large part, Hillsborough County really isn’t that pedestrian/bicyclist friendly. And because we have such an unfriendly environment to pedestrians and bicyclists, we unfortunately have gained the reputation of being among the worst environments by which pedestrian versus vehicle incidents occur. In fact, the number of pedestrian fatalities in our area continues to rise from what I’ve been hearing.

Intersection Improvements

Improving intersections to where traffic can flow better is crucial to not only personal vehicles, but to transit buses as well. I remember for years how the the lanes of MacDill Ave at Kennedy Blvd did not line up right. Newer traffic signaling technology and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) can also help in allowing traffic to flow more smoothly. We can further improve intersections by ensuring that there are adequate sidewalks and crosswalks, as well as accommodations for bike lanes at each approach where needed. When the time arrives for light rail or streetcar lines to go in, further improvements will need to be made to allow everyone to travel in harmony.

New Roads/Widening

This is the only priority in the cluster that I question deeply. While there are situations where new roads may be needed, often to relieve congestion on an overcrowded road nearby, we have to be very cautious in where we are building any new roads, as some routes will only create induced demand and urban sprawl. Keep in mind that you may be relieving congestion on roadway A by building roadway B, but only for a short time. Because as new developments are built along roadway B, and traffic increases, then it’s only a matter of time before both roads are overburdened with traffic. Then you’re back at square one, and your county must decide on whether to improve transit or build roadway C. See what I mean? Also, widening existing roads does not help relieve congestion in the long term for the very same reason; as traffic increases, there comes a point where you’re suddenly back at square one. And your county must decide on whether to improve transit, or start giving out notices to residents and businesses along the corridor to vacate. Bottom line; we can’t keep widening our existing roads, nor can we build three million more “reliever” roadway corridors to ease congestion. These methods will only exacerbate congestion in the long term by creating induced demand in the short term. It’s maddening to see the rail haters balk at the government using eminent domain to build a passenger rail line when the same thing is being done when a new road is built, or an existing one widened.

Go Hillsborough Part 3 - Illustration A

Different areas have different priorities

The Go Hillsborough process so far has revealed that different areas of the county have different priorities for transportation. For instance, SouthShore, and much of southern Hillsborough see new roads and existing roadway maintenance as top priorities. Meanwhile, improving transit is seen as a higher priority the eastern, central, and western portions of the county, including much of the City of Tampa. In the Go Hillsborough Issues and Opportunities Report, you’ll see how each area of the county ranked their priorities in both the Understanding the Issues and Exploring Options phases, including charts that were compiled from the dot board activities during each of the meetings. During the Exploring Options phase, citizens from the combined region of South Tampa, West Tampa, Central Tampa, Temple Terrace/University, and New Tampa, saw the following as their top transportation priorities: Transit, Bike/Ped Improvements, and New Roads/Widening. Meanwhile eastern and southern Hillsborough saw Roadway Maintenance, New Roads/Widening, and Transit as their top three priorities. The same was concluded in western Hillsborough, as well as out in Plant City/northeast Hillsborough.

What was concluded?

On page 28 of the Issues and Opportunities Report, you will see the different issues that were addressed by citizens, what they value in a transportation system, their top five transportation priorities, and areas where opportunities have been realized. Below are just a few points mentioned from that page:

Issues: Significant decline in standard of living, Ineffective transit system.

Values: Safety, Quality of Life.

Priorities: Transit Options, Better Roads.

Opportunities: Recognize that together we can accomplish much more than we can separately.

Key Takeaway: There is consensus that maintenance, including resurfacing, is our community’s top priority.

Now to make the tough choices

In a couple of weeks, the third series of meetings, Making Choices, will be wrapping up. This is where you decide how you want these transportation improvements to be funded; whether it is through gas taxes, a sales tax, property taxes, or a community investment tax. Keep in mind that each method may not be able to cover everything that you desire, and that establishing a dedicated sales tax towards transportation requires a countywide voter referendum – which has previously not been able to garner enough support to pass. Furthermore, state and federal grants are very limited given that we’re still recovering from a really bad economic recession, and that tolling roadways may not be economically feasible in funding certain improvements.

If you have not been able to make it out to a Making Choices meeting, you still have time. Please see the list below for meeting dates and times. There will also be a Telephone Town Hall for those who are unable to attend the meetings so that you can still have a chance to make your voice heard. If you’d like to place an RSVP for any of the following meetings, please do so on the Go Hillsborough meetings page and select the meeting that you wish to attend.

New Tampa

Monday, April 20. 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
New Tampa Regional Library
10001 Cross Creek Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33647

Southern Hillsborough

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
The Landing & Cafe at Waterset
7012 Sail View Lane, Apollo Beach, FL, 33572

Plant City/East Hillsborough

Thursday, April 23, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Trinkle Center
1206 North Park Road, Plant City, FL 33563

Thonotosassa/Northeast Hillsborough

Monday, April 27, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Thonotosassa Library
10715 Main St., Thonotosassa, FL 33592

New Tampa/Temple Terrace/University

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Omar K. Lightfoot Center
10901 N 56th St., Temple Terrace, FL 33617

Northwest Hillsborough

Thursday, April 30, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
St. Timothy Catholic Church
17512 Lakeshore Road, Lutz, FL 33558

Making Choices Telephone Town Hall

Monday, May 4, 2015 – 7:00PM to 8:00PM
Call 877-229-8493 (Toll Free) and enter PIN: 110301

Additionally, you can voice your opinions and suggestions on Twitter, Facebook, the online comment form on the Go Hillsborough website, or by leaving a message on the Go Hillsborough Comment Line (813-274-6922).

Please mark your calendars for the Finding Consensus meetings

On Monday, May 11, 2015, the last public outreach phase of Go Hillsborough, Finding Consensus, will begin. This is where citizens have the opportunity to work together to resolve remaining differences on building a comprehensive transportation plan. This is also where you can make a difference in which funding methods should be closely examined to help fund these transportation improvements. Please see the list below for meeting dates and times. There will also be a Telephone Town Hall for those who are unable to attend the meetings so that you can still have a chance to make your voice heard. You may RSVP for any of these meetings at the Go Hillsborough website.

Brandon/Southern Hillsborough

Monday, May 11, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Bell Shoals Baptist Church
2102 Bell Shoals Road, Brandon, FL 33511

New Tampa/Temple Terrace/University/Central, West, and South Tampa

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Omar K. Lightfoot Center
10901 N 56th St., Temple Terrace, FL 33617

Northwest Hillsborough

Monday, May 18, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Town ‘n Country Regional Public Library
7606 Paula Drive #120, Tampa, FL 33615

Plant City/Northeast Hillsborough

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Trinkle Center
1206 North Park Road, Plant City, FL 33563

Finding Consensus Telephone Town Hall

Thursday, May 21, 2015 – 7:00PM to 8:00PM
Call 877-229-8493 (Toll Free) and enter PIN: 110301

Look out for the next posts in the This is Go Hillsborough blog series

Go Hillsborough Series 4A

Now that Part 3 in my This is Go Hillsborough blog series is complete, I invite you to stay tuned for Part 4 in the series, Making the Tough Choices. This post will outline my observations from the third series of Go Hillsborough meetings, as well as the outcome of all of the meetings. This post should be published sometime in May, either before or during the Finding Consensus meetings.

At the end of May, I plan to publish Part 5 in the series, Working Together to Find Consensus, which will focus on the final series of meetings. Then in June or July, I will wrap up the This is Go Hillsborough series with What We’ve Learned, which will summarize the entire Go Hillsborough outreach process.

Finally, towards the end of the year, I plan to write a couple of follow-up posts to the This is Go Hillsborough series to see where the county is at with crafting its transportation plan, and what could be next as we enter 2016.

7 Years of Transit Blogging!

2015-blog-anniversary

Today marks the seventh year that I’ve been blogging about public transit, and I’ve certainly come a long way since I started blogging back in 2008. I’ve been able to not only profile transit happenings in my city of Tampa, FL, but also surrounding communities like St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota, Bradenton, and even Orlando and Tallahassee. I’ve also been routinely blogging on transit happenings in Norfolk, VA and Paris, France. Later this year, I plan to begin blogging about transit happenings in my home country of the Philippines, beginning with a post about how Manila’s metropolitan urban rail lines are gradually converting over to a “Tap and Go” fare payment system, the same type of fare payment system that you see on Orlando’s SunRail, as well as on the bus and urban rail system in Chicago, IL via Ventra.

For those of you who haven’t followed my blog for a long time, you may not know what inspired me to start this blog in the first place. It was really a combination of a few sources of inspiration that led me to start blogging about public transit, and then transforming my blog into a full-fledged website. First is my long time love for transportation as a whole. Since I was a child, I was always fascinated with transportation, including airports, bridges, roadways, interchanges, tunnels, and rail lines. When I began using my county’s bus system (HART) in 2006, because I didn’t have a car, I quickly fell in love with public transit and wanted to find a way to be able to blog about it. I didn’t know where to start though. That leads me to my second inspiration; an online discussion bulletin board (or online forum) called SkyScraperCity; where I gained a lot of inspiration from their members to finally start up my original transit blog in 2008, which at the time I named the Tampa Transit Utopia Discussion. I later changed the blog’s name to The Transit Blog by HARTride 2012 as I began to expand on what topics I blogged about.

In 2009, I was approached by a transit bus operator who was in the process of moving back up north to Pittsburgh, PA after spending some time in my area. He asked me to take over a hobby site that was dedicated to showcasing the history through photos of HART, by which he had lost interest in. I did not hesitate to accept his offer and I quickly expanded the scope of my blog to include the new site. It was certainly a struggle trying to get the website online and be able to expand it, but once I got established with it, I was pretty much on a good pace with things. That same year, I began to blog about the transit system in Paris, France, and in 2011, I began blogging about transit in the New York City metro area. Both expansions allowed me to blog on a broader range of topics, including fare evasion. In 2012, I learned that a neighboring transit agency (PSTA) was using WordPress to host their blog. I also learned from a college classmate about how WordPress was very easy to use and displayed detailed stats. So I gave WordPress a try, and boy did it allow me to do a lot! I was able to finally integrate my full website into WordPress and have it operate as a single site with my blog. No more having to deal with switching between two different interfaces, no more having to deal with ultra low space limits, and above all…no more having to tell my readers about two different web addresses to go to and bookmark. Upon the merger of my blog and website into one host, I renamed my site to Public Transit as told by HARTride 2012.

In 2013, my website and blogging expansion continued with the addition of Norfolk, VA. A year later, 2014, I expanded to two other Floridian cities; Orlando and Tallahassee, and I gained inspiration from a fellow transit advocate to create the No Tax for Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page. Now while life has gotten in the way of me being able to reorganize my website, it is something that I haven’t given up. Later this year, I will be making my site more uniform in the way it looks, as well as completing unfinished sections and building my new Asia Transports area. I also plan to restart my Transit 101 education series to give new transit riders an overview on how to use transit, as well as continue to expand my Alternative Fueled Vehicles page. In the meantime, my main focus is on completing my latest blog series that is focused on my county’s transportation public outreach process, Go Hillsborough. This series called, This is Go Hillsborough is in it’s second of six blog posts, with a third to be published very soon. I might also publish some follow up posts after the outreach process is finished.

I hope to be able to keep on blogging for another seven years at least. There’s just too much at stake when it comes to transit, including funding and political issues. Because of this, I have been gradually transitioning to an activist role, participating more in advocating for better public transit in Tampa Bay, as well as in Hampton Roads, VA. I want to thank everyone who has played a role in inspiring me to create and grow my website and blog, as well as thank all of my readers for stopping by to read my posts and website content. I truly hope to be able to one day have my own domain name for this site. It is something that I have been floating around for the past couple of years now, but haven’t been able to do due to the costs involved with keeping a dedicated domain name. Sometimes domain names can get quite expensive.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions, or…if you want to contribute some transit photos. 🙂 You can also follow me on Facebook at /HARTride2012Tampa and /notaxfortrackshillsborough, on Twitter @TampaBayTransit and @ntfth_truthpage, as well as on Google+ and YouTube.

It’s crunch time for Virginia Beach light rail

Over the past several months, I’ve been blogging about the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study and the developments, updates, and yes…even monkey wrenches that have been thrown into the process. Now, things are coming down to the wire as the Virginia Beach City Council debates what decision they will make for the proposed extension of The Tide Light Rail into their city limits.

A recap of what’s at stake

Around this time last year or so, Virginia state officials proposed paying for roughly half of the costs (up to $155 million dollars) to extend the Tide to Town Center. The city of Virginia Beach would then be required to pick up the remainder (roughly $130 million) of the costs. Since this deal was announced, Virginia Beach city leaders have been debating as to whether to formally accept the state proposal and move forth with building the light rail extension, or whether to put the brakes on the extension study altogether. If the deal is declined, the one-time fund being offered by the state would vanish.

Also still on the table, even if the state deal is accepted, is a controversial maglev rail proposal that some city officials really like. Moving forward with that plan would require a redundant transfer to two completely different modes of rail transport. The same private company that has been pitching the maglev corridor to Virginia Beach officials, American Maglev Technology, is part of a consortium trying to bring a maglev corridor to the city of Orlando, FL.

All the while, fiscal conservatives have been questioning whether any rail extension is even worth it. And some forces, which I’ll explain more in a moment, have already banded together to ensure that the eastern light rail terminus remains at the Virginia Beach city limits.

Study update public hearings set for April and May

Hampton Roads Transit, the regional transit authority that operates the Tide, as well as local, express, and shuttle bus services, as well as paratransit van services, has announced four public hearings to go over the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the transit extension study. These hearings will be held on the following dates/times at the following locations:

Monday, April 13, 2015, 6-7:30pm
Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library
4100 Virginia Beach Blvd.
Virginia Beach, VA 23452
Served by Route 20

Thursday, April 16, 2015, 6-7:30pm
Linkhorn Park Elementary School
977 First Colonial Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23454
Served by Route 29

Monday, April 20, 2015, 6-7:30pm
ODU-NSU Higher Education Center
1881 University Drive
Virginia Beach, VA 23453
Served by Routes 25 and 33

Saturday, April 25, 2015, 11am-12:30pm
Renaissance Academy
5100 Cleveland Street
Virginia Beach, VA 23462
1 block from Route 20

Please attend these meetings if you can.

For those not able to make it to the hearings, you can still send in your comments to HRT. Please be sure to address your envelop as follows:

Hampton Roads Transit

c/o Marie Arnt

509 E. 18th St.

Norfolk, VA 23504

Decision Day is fast approaching for the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) selection

May 8 is currently set as the date that city council members must come to a decision on the Locally Preferred Alternative (or LPA). The selection of the LPA means that more thorough engineering work and cost analyses can be performed. In addition, the selection of the LPA allows for HRT to build a Final Environmental Impact Statement (or FEIS). The council has the option to stick with the Town Center proposal brought forth by the state, carry out one of the three original options (Rosemont, Oceanfront via Norfolk Southern Railway Corridor, Oceanfront via Laskin Rd), move towards a Bus Rapid Transit corridor instead of light rail, or simply do nothing (the dreaded “No Build” option). If the “No Build” option is chosen, the transit extension study will cease.

Note: Due to federal funding requirements and constraints, it is highly unlikely that either of the proposals to bring light rail to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront will move ahead at this time.

Additionally, the city is trying to craft the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, and transportation funding is on the line. The city council is scheduled to vote on the budget May 12. Information can be found at: http://www.vbgov.com/government/departments/budget-office-management-services/budget-archives/Pages/fy2015-16.aspx – Among the budget proposals is a possible property tax increase to pay for more city services, including the light rail extension (if it is decided to move along with the proposal).

On Thursday, April 16, Virginia Beach City Council members Ben Davenport, Bob Dyer and Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond will host a town hall meeting to discuss the proposed city budget. This meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Kempsville High School, 5194 Chief Trail in Virginia Beach, 23464. A Facebook Event has been set up by the folks who run the Bring the Tide to Virginia Beach social media accounts.

Two public hearings are scheduled on the following dates/times at the following locations:

Thursday, April 23, 6 p.m.

Green Run High School

1700 Dahlia Drive

Virginia Beach, VA 23453

April 28, 6 p.m.

Virginia Beach City Council Chambers

2401 Courthouse Drive

Virginia Beach, VA 23456

Please attend these meetings if you can.

Rail haters threaten to derail the effort

Just like here in Tampa, FL, Hampton Roads has its own flock of rail haters who clearly do not want the region to have any transportation choices. Many of these haters are composed of staunch Tea Party conservatives who would rather see the region continuing to subsidize and toll roads while forcing transit to decline and eventually be privatized. Many of these same people are also against “True” Bus Rapid Transit, but might not mind so much mixed traffic “BRT Lite” like HART’s MetroRapid. From what I’m hearing as of late, the rail haters have been out in full force drowning city officials’ voicemails with angry messages stating that they don’t want any rail proposal to move forward.

My question here is; why is it always that these rail haters are getting prime loudspeaker time? It’s time for us transit advocates and supporters to step up to the plate and make it loud and clear that we want transportation choices for Hampton Roads. If we let this opportunity for the state to partially fund this extension pass by, then the entire region stands to be set back 30 to 50 years, or even more, when it comes to being able to build a robust transit system. Because what the rail haters fail to realize, is that by killing the Virginia Beach light rail study, they’re also jeopardizing the fate of the Naval Station Norfolk light rail study, and similar efforts to bring light rail into Hampton, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake.

Get Involved

So I ask everyone in Hampton Roads to get involved in supporting the Virginia Beach light rail extension and send a clear message across the region that we want better transportation options and will not back down to demands from the rail haters to give up and walk away. I strongly encourage everyone to please attend the upcoming meetings and to let your elected officials know that you care. Additionally, I ask everyone, whether you’re a Virginia Beach resident or not, to please contact city officials. Please let them know why extending the Tide is so important for not just Virginia Beach, but for Hampton Roads as a region. Also, please spread the word to friends, family members, and colleagues about the transit extension study, why its so important to extend the light rail line, and to attend the upcoming meetings and contact Virginia Beach city leaders.

Below, I’ve listed the names and contact information for each of the Virginia Beach city council members, the mayor, and the vice mayor. I want to thank the folks who run the Bring the Tide to Virginia Beach social media accounts for getting this information out there. The contact info is also listed on the Virginia Beach municipal government website.

Mayor William D. Sessoms, Jr.
January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2016
Office:(757) 385-4581
wsessoms@VBgov.com

Vice Mayor Louis R. Jones – Bayside
January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2018
Work:(757) 583-0177
Home:(757) 464-2151
lrjones@VBgov.com

Benjamin Davenport – At Large
January 1, 2015 to December 31,2018
bdavenpo@vbgov.com

Bob Dyer – Centerville
January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2016
Home:(757) 467-3130
bdyer@VBgov.com

Barbara M. Henley – Princess Anne
January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2018
Home:(757) 426-7501
bhenley@VBgov.com

Shannon DS Kane – Rose Hall
January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016
Work:(757) 802-3236
skane@vbgov.com

John D. Moss – At Large
January 1, 2015 to December 31,2018
Home:(757) 363-7745
mossjohn@cox.net

Amelia N. Ross-Hammond- Kempsville
January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2016
Home:(757) 646-1709
ahammond@VBgov.com

John E. Uhrin – Beach
January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2018
Work:(757) 200-7005
juhrin@VBgov.com

Rosemary Wilson – At Large
January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2016
Home:(757) 422-0733
rcwilson@VBgov.com

James L. Wood – Lynnhaven
January 1, 2015to December 31, 2018
Work:(757) 340-8411
Fax:(757) 498-6324
jlwood@VBgov.com

The street address for all members of Council is:
2401 Courthouse Drive
City Hall, Building #1
Municipal Center
Virginia Beach, VA 23456

PSTA Driver Trades Clown Car for 40-foot Bus in State Competition

Good luck to all those participating in the Bus Roadeo!

Ride PSTA

Roadeo

On a typical weekend, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Bus Operator Maurice “Danny” Cheatham can be found wearing his uniform and name tag.

However, this particular uniform consists of face paint, funny shoes and a big, red nose. His name tag will read: Moochie the Clown.

Cheatham is a longtime member and leader of the Shriner Clown Troupe in Tampa, Florida. Driving motorized mini-cars and sporting colorful wigs, the troupe entertains young patients in the burn unit at Shriners Hospital for Children.

This weekend, Cheatham won’t be clowning around. Instead, he will be representing PSTA in the 2015 Annual Florida Triple Crown Bus Roadeo in St. Petersburg, Florida. The competition is a grueling test of skill, safety and proficiency for bus operators and mechanics.

Drivers will give it their all as they navigate and maneuver through a mine-field of cones and tennis balls, and only the best will make it through…

View original post 141 more words

Go Hillsborough – Part 2 – Overcoming Challenges

Credit: HARTride 2012
Credit: HARTride 2012

Blogger’s Note: I originally intended to publish this post right after the first round of Go Hillsborough workshops. However, due to several problems, including my computer crashing in February, I had to basically start all over with writing this post. 

Observations from the first round of workshops

 On March 2, 2015, I had an opportunity to attend the first of four series of workshops being held throughout Hillsborough County. This first series, Understanding the Issues, allowed voters to voice what they believe the biggest concerns regarding transportation are. Below are a few photos from the South Tampa workshop that I attended.

This board allowed voters to place a sticker dot underneath each category (4 categories maximum) that they felt the biggest transportation concerns are to them. Credit: HARTride 2012
This board allowed voters to place a sticker dot underneath each category (4 categories maximum) that they felt the biggest transportation concerns are to them. Credit: HARTride 2012
A close up of the board. Credit: HARTride 2012
A close up of the board. Credit: HARTride 2012
These maps allowed voters to draw out corridors (whether it be road improvements, transit corridors, or bike paths/multi-use trails) that they would like to see in a transportation plan. Credit: HARTride 2012
These maps allowed voters to draw out corridors (whether it be road improvements, transit corridors, or bike paths/multi-use trails) that they would like to see in a transportation plan. Credit: HARTride 2012

While some out there may criticize this part of the process, specifically the “dots on the board” part, the public engagement process thus far has been pretty good from what I’ve been hearing. As I’ve told others on different occasions, we have to have a balanced approach to when it comes to improving our transportation system; which includes roadway fixes and upgrades, pedestrian facility improvements, and transit improvements. This engaging first phase of Go Hillsborough has allowed citizens to do just that, get involved and voice their opinions on what they feel is most important to them when it comes to transportation.

What I believe are the top priorities for Hillsborough

I now want to take a few moments to talk about what I feel are the top four priorities for Hillsborough County when it comes to improving its transportation system. These priorities I feel will provide the county with that balanced approach that it needs to be able to get a good foundation for the next generation transportation system going, while addressing issues that need to be resolved as soon as possible.

In an unranked order, here they are:

  • Repair and improve our roads: This is something that needs to be taken into high consideration, because let’s face it, our roads are crumbling. We have tons and tons of potholes that are causing damage to our vehicles, which in=turn increase the chances of having to call your insurance company to file a claim that they might not even be able to cover, which in-turn leads to higher costs out of pocket to have to get your vehicle repaired.
  • More new bus routes and improvements to existing ones: Hillsborough County has a huge bus system void that must be filled. Current funding levels however will not suffice, and in reality, will continue to force HART to only be able to make very small changes to its system just to maintain existing service. If another economic hiccup occurs, HART may be forced to slash service across the board, which is something that no one wants to see happen. Existing bus services need to be improved so that they can have more frequent service, and new routes need to be created to serve more people within the county, as well as across county lines.
  • Pedestrian/Bike facility projects: Right now, many sidewalks and bike/multi-use trails are lying incomplete due to funding constraints, making it very frustrating for walkers, joggers, and bicyclists to get around safely. Not enough roads have bike lanes for the very same reason, and without further funding, this situation is likely to remain as such for a long while. If we want to turn around the negative trends here in Hillsborough that is…pedestrian involved vehicular accidents, then we need to work on getting these pedestrian/bike facilities completed.
  • Modernize/Expand the TECOline: Many have complained that the TECOline is inefficient because it doesn’t run often enough, or to places where it really matters. Until the funding situation gets better though, we just can’t expect things to happen out of thin air. That’s why I feel that any transportation plan MUST include improvements and the eventual modernization/expansion for the streetcar. If we can show that this line can become viable, then I strongly feel that there will be much wider support for new light rail and commuter rail lines throughout the county.
IMG_20140127_134246
Credit: HARTride 2012

The outcome from this first round

Now that I’ve given you my perspective on Understanding the Issues, here are the compiled results of what citizens thought were their top priorities during the first round. This report also includes results from the second round of workshops, called Exploring Options. The latter I will be blogging about very soon.

To summarize the the first round, each region of Hillsborough has very distinct needs. Not everyone is in favor of light rail, something we learned the hard way in 2010 and 2014. In areas within the City of Tampa, transit expansion, roadway fixes, and pedestrian facility improvements were in balance for the most part. However, roads seemed to dominate discussions in South, West, and East County.

Many challenges lie ahead…

Go Hillsborough aims to reach out to as many Hillsborough County residents as possible to get as much feedback as possible about the county’s transportation landscape. While this interactive outreach process is great, much still needs to be done to address and overcome the many challenges to remain in front of us. I will be addressing such challenges and concerns in this next section.

The stings of 2010 and 2014 (Campaign Failures)

It’s very evident that as Go Hillsborough progresses, that the repercussions of the failed 2010 and 2014 transit referendums are still very fresh in voters minds. One thing that I feel was greatly neglected in both campaigns was that the campaigns themselves pitched way too much on one thing, and not enough on the other elements. I also believe that not enough public outreach and engagement was conducted, which is something that Go Hillsborough is seeking to solve. These failures have resulted in voters not really knowing what they’re getting out of a transportation plan.

HILLSBOROUGH 2010

In the 2010 Hillsborough campaign, a lot of emphasis was placed on a robust light rail system that would take decades to materialize. Many voters felt that this system would do absolutely nothing for them and didn’t feel that they should have to pay a tax to fund something they will never use. Additionally, not enough emphasis was placed on engaging voters in what they wanted to see, and there was a huge lack of emphasis on improving the county’s bus system (although a full-build out of MetroRapid was included in the plans).

On top of the problems faced on the local level, there was widespread confusion over what the county was proposing, versus the federal High Speed Rail plan. Some voters thought that they were also voting for the bullet train, which was not the case, as it was a totally separate project. Fiscal conservatives took that opportunity of voter confusion to pitch that the entire plan was bad because it was pitching President Obama’s “flawed” transportation vision. To further compound the problem, was that the nation was still gripping from the repercussions of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of 1929.

PINELLAS/POLK/ALACHUA 2014

The failure of not one, not two, but three simeoutaneous county referendums aimed at improving transportation sent a very loud and clear message to transit supporters, that voters simply were not ready to add on additional taxes when the state of the economy was still in limbo. Although the scope of the three referendums were different, all three had their challenges of trying to reach out to a majority of voters and seemingly failed to do so. In the case of Pinellas specifically, where a robust transit system was the focus, the campaign did not go far enough to engage voters in what they wanted to see in an expanded transit system. And once again, too much emphasis was placed on light rail, something that fueled fiscal conservatives to lash out against the plan as a whole. In the case of Polk and Alachua, where roadway improvements were the focus (though Polk mixed in transit and roads in their plan), neither campaign gained universal support from voters, and from what I heard, many businesses were opposed to their respective transportation plans as well.

Credit: HARTride 2012
Credit: HARTride 2012

Proper Outreach

So with half of the Go Hillsborough outreach process finished, the question remains as to whether Go Hillsborough is doing enough to engage the voters. Based on my observations, I wil say a cautious “yes”, because while I think the interactive engagement process is a good start, I feel that turnout is going to play a huge role in the fate of the third round of workshops – Making Choices.

IS THE MEETING STRUCTURE DOING ENOUGH?

That depends who you ask. Personally, I believe that the first round of workshops was pretty good overall, but I strongly feel that county leaders need to step it up and get themselves involved more. I have already been hearing some criticism that county commissioners aren’t making it out to some of these meetings, and I believe that they should so that they can engage with the public and show their support for the process. This is extremely crucial as the Making Choices phase of the outreach process is now underway.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO ARE UNABLE TO ATTEND?

While the first and third set of workshops are spread out in a manner by which many citizens have an opportunity to attend, the second and fourth rounds will only have four regional workshops. Not everyone will be able to attend the regional workshops due to distance, traffic, and working schedules. Additionally, the telephone town halls are only one hour in duration, which isn’t long enough to capture a whole lot of callers. I believe that there should have been even more meetings and longer telephone town halls (or more sessions). The latter is what the Pinellas 2014 campaign did well, was that they had several telephone town halls at times and days that were convenient for certain voters.

Capturing Key Demographics

Capturing key demographics is crucial to ensuring that any transportation plan gains widespread support. That is something that I feel that the last few voter referendum campaigns have failed to do.

Repaving roads and creating more pedestrian/bike facilities are two very important factors in building a viable transportation network. Credit: HARTride 2012.
Repaving roads and creating more pedestrian/bike facilities are two very important factors in building a viable transportation network. Credit: HARTride 2012.

UNDECIDED AND INDEPENDENT VOTERS

While Florida remains a largely Republican state, Central Florida has become known for a large swath of undecided voters that runs along the I-4 corridor. These voters, some Democrat, some Republican, and some Independent or Third Party; wind up not being properly informed during the election cycles and either vote last minute or sit out altogether. I feel that in both 2010 and 2014 that these voters were largely left out of the fray when it came to voter engagement for these transportation plans. It is very crucial that Go Hillsborough reach out to this bloc of voters because they will utimately make a huge difference in whether any sort of voter referendum, whether it be in 2016, 2018, or even 2020, passes or fails.

SUBURBAN VOTERS

As I mentioned earlier, there were a lot of voters who felt in 2010 that they weren’t getting anything out of a light rail network that wouldn’t materialize for decades. I feel that while some of these workshops are allowing a wider reach into the suburbs, more needs to be done to actively engage these voters so that they have a clear idea of what they are being asked to support. We have to take into consideration that suburban residents may have a different mindset on transportation than those who reside towards the urban centers. Yes, no one likes to be stuck in traffic, and I think that is something we all share in common, regardless of where in the county that we live. But the key difference is that someone living in downtown Tampa may see light rail as an excelent element to a transportation plan, while someone out in Brandon may think of that same element as being wasteful because they might not ever be able to use it.

THOSE WHO ARE ON FIXED INCOMES

Those who are age 55 and older have an especially difficult time getting around as they continue to age. Having a fixed income is one of those huge challenges, and from what I’ve learned over the past few years, these are among the voters who may see additional taxation as being a very bad apple. While I believe strongly that improved public transit can greatly benefit seniors, including an expanded HARTplus Paratransit system, they want to see something that is clearly tangible before supporting a transportation plan. They want to see that any improvement to the transportation system will benefit them in making getting around a lot easier, quicker, and more cost effective.

MILLENNIALS

With respect to those who are in my age range (I am 27), a lot of Millennials want to see more transportation choices so that we’re not forced to having to drive from A to B and get stuck in traffic. I think that more needs to be done to get Millennials engaged in the process, especially being that they too have busy schedules. Social media is a great start, but I believe that face to face meetings with elected officials would be a plus as well.

Competitive Strategy

An effective competitive strategy is something that cannot be ignored. I strongly feel that the last few voter referendum campaigns failed to execute an effective competitive strategy and that this time around, if we mess up again, we’re not going to have another opportunity to convey a comprihensive transportation plan for not just the next several years, but the next several decades.

A map showing how local and HART FLEX service looks like in SouthShore today. From GoHART.org.
Do we want the status quo in South County to continue? How about elsewhere in Hillsborough? From GoHART.org.

THE STATUS QUO IS NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE

Some people don’t realize that if we don’t build a foundation for a comprihensive transportation system now, that our region as a whole, will be set back not just 5 to 10 years, and I’m not even talking about 15 to 20 years, I am talking about being set back as a region for the next 30 to 50 years! That’s almost an entire generation that has to deal with flawed policies and mistakes made from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. And yet no substantial progress will have been made to counteract that since. We cannot afford to let another 50 years pass us by with absolutely no progress in breaking the status quo. In fact, we are on track currently, if nothing changes in the transportation front, to become the next Detroit. Because sooner or later, companies will leave our region for other regions that have more robust transportation systems, including bus and rail. Detroit itself recently passed by Tampa Bay with the construction of its first modern streetcar line.

ADDRESSING THE OPPOSITION – NO TAX FOR TRACKS

Tea Party backed opposition group No Tax For Tracks (NTFT) was created in 2010 to combat the 2010 voter referendum in Hillsborough and seeks to shut down the entire process that is going on right now. NTFT is trying to convey the message of “Fix our Roads First”, citing that not enough county money is being allocated for roadway improvements. While I agree fully with NTFT’s leader in saying that we have to fix our crumbling roads, we cannot neglect the other elements in the transportation realm. We need to convey to NTFT that what they have in mind is not what many citizens of Hillsborough have in mind, which is to include improvements for not just roadway fixes, but for transit and pedestrian/bike facility improvements into a comprihensive transportation plan.

Conclusion

As the Making Choices portion of Go Hillsborough gains full steam, I strongly encourage you to attend an upcoming workshop, participate in a telephone town hall, and/or leave a comment on the Go Hillsborough website, social media pages, or their telephone comment line. At the very, very least, I ask that you please spread the word about Go Hillsborough with your friends, family members, and colleagues who reside in Hillsborough so that they can get involved. The bigger the participation, the greater the chances are that we will be able to lay out a foundation for a modern and expansive transportation network.