With 2015 coming to a close, I always publish a quick WordPress-generated rundown of how my website did during the year. Here are some quick highlights that may, or may not be included in the WordPress report:
HART Transit Routes continues to be them most popular information page with over 25,000 page views this year alone. To date, the page has had over 34,000 views since its 2013 creation.
This year to date, I’ve seen a shift from blog posts being viewed more often than the information pages to the exact opposite, meaning that the transit information component of my website is becoming more vital to my viewers than many of the subjects that I blog about.
While my website did not hit the 60,000 views mark this year, it was very close. As of December 30, 2015, total website views for the year was nearing 57,000. I’m expecting to reach this milestone by March of 2016.
Most of my website viewers are residing in the US, but two other countries aren’t far behind. Can you guess which countries they are?
To date, I’ve published roughly 458 blog posts (this includes posts from my former Blogger blog, but does not include the five or six posts that I published to my former news roundup blog, so the actual count is around 463).
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 56,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 21 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
2015 was a big year when it came to transportation matters; not just in the Tampa Bay area, but also in the Hampton Roads, VA and New York City, NY areas, and other parts of the globe. Let’s first take a look at what made the headlines in 2015, then I’ll go through what we can look forward to in 2016.
2015 Year In Review – Tampa Bay, FL Area (Full Rundown)
Whether it’s the monumental terminal expansion project at Tampa International Airport, the start of the Gandy Freeway project, or the framework for a regional transit farecard system; here are the movers and shakers that made 2015 a memorable year for transportation in Tampa Bay.
HART’s 2015 CNG Buses Arrive
In an effort to move towards a more environmentally sustainable future, HART purchased 22 CNG-powered 40-foot Gillig Low Floor transit buses. These buses, while similar in many ways to their counterparts from 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013, the buses are able to travel without spewing about dirty diesel fumes. The buses also have more comfy seating and a smooth ride, which are enjoyed by customers like myself. HART is aiming to purchase more of these buses in the future, with 13 already on the docket for 2016 and 53 more on the planning books should state funding allow.
Tampa International Airport Expansion
It was originally envisioned that by this time, Tampa International Airport (or TPA Airport) would be preparing to build its second terminal complex. However, the economic downturn of 2008 and the subsequent consolidation of the airline industry – which brought upon the mergers of the six “legacy carriers” Delta, Northwest, Continental, United, American, and US Airways – forced the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority to effectively cancel those grand expansion plans and instead re-focus its resources on modernizing and expanding the current terminal complex that opened to passengers in 1971.
The ongoing construction will bring forth immense improvements in the passenger experience, as well and the layout of the airport complex. Such improvements include new shops and restaurants, a new rental car center, and a people mover line that will connect that new center to the main terminal. Additionally, plans are in the works to gut out the entire third level of the main terminal (pictured above) and implement a new layout that will have some shops in kiosks and other retailers and eateries on the outer banks of the building. Two new outdoor terraces are also being constructed on the east and west ends of Level 3, and each of the concourses will see upgrades in some form.
Longer range plans call for the construction of a new Airside D, the relocation of the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower, and a possible extension of the people mover line from the rental car center to a multimodal hub that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is proposing as part of its plans to bring toll lanes to I-275.
Possible Extension of the TECOline
2015 also brought upon significant news in the future of the TECOline Streetcar in Tampa. In April, FDOT announced that it would assist in funding a feasibility study to evaluate extending the streetcar through Downtown Tampa, allowing for an eventual upgrade to modern railcars and the foundation of a meaningful passenger rail network in Hillsborough County. For the past few years, especially due in large part to the recession, ridership on the streetcar has plummeted, forcing upon a cut in service and the depletion of an endowment that was originally set aside back in the early 2000s. Additionally, maintenance issues have resulted in nearly all of the railcars to be stalled at the barn until recently.
Once the study is complete, then the city – along with HART – can begin to evaluate where exactly will the extended line will travel and begin securing the funding that is needed to build the extension.
Go Hillsborough takes shape, but strikes some hurdles
The “This Is Go Hillsborough” blog series was put together to help summarize the public outreach process.
Six posts were made to summarize the first round of workshops that occurred during the Spring of 2015.
Each post would go through what was discussed at each workshop and what was to come in the next round.
While I was not able to attend all of the workshop phases, I was able to attend two of them.
Working together to find consensus was really tough to do, and even at the end of the day, not everyone was willing to compromise.
At the end of the first series, I recapped everything that happened during the first round of workshops.
And then, I summarized where the process was during the summer and what was to be expected for the fall. Unfortunately, due to the scandal that broke out shortly after this post, I cancelled the remainder of my blog series in order to re-evaluate my standing on the efforts, what can be done to improve the fundamental plan, and see if the referendum process moves ahead.
In an attempt to brush off a 2010 referendum loss, Hillsborough County officials have put together a new transportation referendum called Go Hillsborough, that aims to improve exiting roads, pedestrian/bike facilities, and transit elements throughout the county. While the foundations of the plan are good overall, I feel that not enough is being done to address the need for more transit funding on the local level. To make matters worse, the Go Hillsborough effort hit a major stumbling block during the summer by which consultant Beth Leytham and engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff were apparently conducting backroom dealings with county officials. Investigations are currently ongoing as to whether any wrongdoing was done in the process, but in the meantime…the chances of Go Hillsborough moving to the November, 2016 ballot remains slim if at best. County leaders are set to vote on whether the effort moves forward in February, 2016. In the meantime, support for the initiative has grown – with Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Downtown Partnership recently voicing their support.
Could Commuter Rail one day come to Tampa Bay?
That is a question that I’m still pondering. Back in October, I blogged about the news that CSX Transportation was considering selling off two of its key freight rail lines to FDOT to facilitate commuter rail service similar to SunRail. While I am happy that this development has come about, I remain heavily cautious as to whether it will happen. I’m also concerned that the prospect could possibly be a way for FDOT to force upon the unpopular toll lanes that they want to build along our interstates. I’ll be following this development closely as we enter 2016.
Regional Farecard Project closer to being launched
For the past several months now, HART has been working with other area transit agencies to bring forth a unified, regional, smart-card based fare structure. In late 2015, I received the news that HART is preparing to award which agencies will take part in the initial pilot project that will lay out the foundation for the new fare structure. However, the timing of the full launch of the initiative will depend of state funding. Last legislative session wound up being a circus with the budget and congressional map redistricting sagas, and unfortunately during this time, some of HART’s funding requests died in committee. I will be watching closely as to what the result will be and where the initiative goes from here.
PSTA Announces Bus Rapid Transit Project
As I recently blogged about, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) announced that it is planning a bus rapid transit corridor to run at least partially along the Central Ave Corridor. This route, which will likely be structured off of HART’s MetroRapid North-South Line, is seen as a consolation prize between transit supporters and advocates, like myself, and those who are heavily opposed to any form of passenger rail. While I applaud PSTA on the announcement and where this project will eventually go, I threw caution to the winds in my blog post that “BRT Lite” isn’t really the long-term solution to building a more viable and robust transit system for our region.
2015 Year In Review – Hampton Roads, VA Area (Summary)
2015 brought upon the progression of both the Virginia Beach Light Rail Extension Study and the Naval Station Norfolk Light Rail Extension Study, both are very crucial to the future of transit in Hampton Roads. However, many divisions were exposed when it came to the Virginia Beach Light Rail project, as there are many supporters going against those who are opposed to extending the light rail line from Norfolk to the seaside municipality – or building any form of passenger rail at all. For the region’s bus system, while there were some new buses that arrived during the course of 2015, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) continues to face funding challenges to replace its aging bus fleet. These challenges will continue to persist through 2016.
2015 Year In Review – New York City, NY Area (Summary)
2015 brought upon the progression of several key construction projects throughout the New York City Subway system. The Second Ave Subway Phase I and the Long Island Rail Road East Side Access project continue to progress, with both on track to open by 2017 and 2022 respectively (though these timeframes can change). In addition, work to restore services and stations following SuperStorm Sandy continue; including work to restore and reopen the “newer” South Ferry subway station. Work on South Ferry will continue through the first half of 2016, with a projected reopening sometime in 2017.
Among other significant developments in the NYC area; the opening of the Line 7 subway extension to Hudson Yards, the continuation of the construction of the new Port Authority World Trade Center Transportation Hub (projected to open sometime in 2016), and the continuation of the construction of the new Line 1 Cortlandt St Station (projected to open sometime in 2018).
Long Term US Transportation Bill is Passed!
If this wasn’t a good way to end the year, then I don’t know what is. For the first time in over a decade, both chambers of Congress passed a long term transportation funding bill that will include money for both roads and public transit, known as the The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or “FAST Act”. For the past several years now, Congress has been relying on general fund transfers and other short term measures to fund federal transportation needs. This method has not been going well with much of the populace here in the US because we’ve continued to see roads and bridges crumble as well as public transit become more and more defunded as ridership continues to rise. While the FAST Act isn’t perfect, it is getting us somewhere.
For additional information of the FAST Act, please visit the USDOT website.
As we head into 2016, there are many predictions as to which projects and initiatives could move ahead, which transit services will be launched, and what kinds of developments that we may see within local, state, and federal governments. I will be having a full rundown of what to look out for in 2016 up very soon!
It is also a crucial year when it comes to elections, so I strongly encourage everyone to register to vote and to actively participate in the election process.
In my first post about Polk County’s transit services, which have been unified in recent years to operate under the Citrus Connection name, the agency is enacting various scheduling, routing, and/or timepoint changes on January 4, 2016. Below is a quick rundown of what to expect.
NEW Route 4X – Lakeland Park Center Express
This route will serve the Downtown Lakeland Terminal, Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, Lakeland Park Center, and the Salvation Army facility on Kathleen Rd. There will be three trips a day Monday through Friday, leaving the Downtown Lakeland Terminal at 2:45PM, 3:45PM, and 4:45PM.
Effective Monday, December 21, 2015, SunRail will be operating on a new schedule that will have just a bit better midday frequency. Believe me, it still isn’t good, but it’s somewhat better than the old schedule.
The new schedule can be accessed via SunRail.com by selecting the Schedules link.
There’s been a lot of movement in the transit realm again in the Tampa Bay Area, and it’s not necessarily just the discussion with Go Hillsborough. On the Pinellas side, a key transit project that was once a part of Greenlight Pinellas is back in the forefront, and hopes to be able to change people’s minds about the way they use and view public transit.
That project is known as the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Corridor.
The Central Avenue corridor in St. Pete has long been seen as one of the top transit corridors for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and currently has the popular Central Ave Trolley running along it. Some people will ask right off the bat, “why BRT along Central Ave, when you have a trolley already?”. The answer is very simple; the trolley is primarily aimed at tourists, though many residents and other commuters like to use it too (myself included). However, PSTA has been eyeing a faster, limited stop, way to get people from the beaches and into downtown St. Pete…and vice versa. The portion of Central Ave that runs east of 31st St N dwindles down from four to two lanes, and isn’t able to support optimal bus service without bearing the risk of heavy congestion. On the other hand, 1st Ave N and 1st Ave S between Pasadena Ave S and downtown St. Pete are vital three-lane roads that currently function as one-way streets; 1st Ave N runs westbound and 1st Ave S runs eastbound. It is these two streets that will be used for a portion of the line. From 58th St N and westward, there are three divergent alignments that take shape. Two of them would continue along both of these streets to Pasadena Ave S and split off from there – one traveling down Pasadena Ave S and the Corey Causeway while the other continues along Central Ave over the Treasure Island Causeway. The third divergent alignment heads northward on 58th St N to 5th Ave N and Tyrone Blvd, crossing the Tom Stuart Causeway. You can see a better overview of all three route proposals via a Google Map that I created. I will be posting official maps from PSTA when they become available.
Now, I stress that while some people may be looking at this project as possible “True” BRT model – with dedicated lanes, it is very likely going to instead be structured off of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART)’s MetroRapid North-South Line, which opened in 2012 and operates in mixed traffic. This method of rapid transport has become known by some as “BRT Lite”, because it integrates elements of “True” BRT, such as stylized stations, bus queue jump lanes, and Transit Signal Priority (or TSP), but keeps buses in normal traffic lanes for much of the route. While this is a downer for transit advocates like myself, who want to see “True” BRT services be implemented sooner than later, the Tampa Bay Region simply does not have the infrastructure available to execute such lines – this will require many vital arteries to be reconstructed. So it’s better in this sense, and also on the cost front, to start out with “BRT Lite”, rather than go all in for a “True” BRT corridor. Upgrades to 1st Ave N and 1st Ave S for instance, can be done later on that would allow for dedicated bus lanes to be constructed.
One thing that we’re likely to see for sure out of this project is more Real-Time bus information integration. If funding allows, we will likely see dynamic Real-Time bus information screens at each station, something that HART was not able to accomplish with the MetroRapid North-South Line due to funding constraints.
Will this be a game-changer for transit in Pinellas?
There is no doubt that with the downfall of Greenlight Pinellas in 2014, that any kind of “BRT Lite” line will change the landscape for PSTA and the way that people commute throughout Pinellas. MetroRapid was already on the books when Moving Hillsborough Forward was launched in 2009 and subsequently failed in 2010. HART then made MetroRapid a top priority, knowing that light rail was out of their reach for the moment. However, PSTA must learn from the shortcomings of MetroRapid and how it isn’t running as efficiently as some would like it to, the latter by which I’ve discussed previously. Choosing the correct alignment will no doubt play a key role to the line’s success, and will definitely be key to determining other “BRT Lite” and Express routes in other areas of the county. Another possible game-changer, is a similarly planned line for State Road 60 between Clearwater Beach and Tampa International Airport, which I’ll discuss in another post, since this route could either turn out to be a “BRT Lite” line, or an ultra express route.
Is “BRT Lite” the answer for transit agencies?
Not really. Though it is a short-term stepping stone so-to-speak when it comes to building a more robust transit system, “BRT Lite” is not a cure-all for situations where “True” BRT or passenger rail could be more viable. However, in a climate where sales tax referendums are apparently fizzling out in Florida as of late, “BRT Lite” can become a win-win between transit supporters and advocates, and also fiscal conservatives who loathe any form of passenger rail.