It’s once again time to wrap up the current year and usher in the new year. As 2016 comes to a close, I’d like to spend a few moments reflecting on some of the biggest transportation stories and developments of the year. Below is a quick synopsis of what I will be covering – in no particular order.
Go Hillsborough saga
Tampa Bay Express
Direct Connect/TD Late Shift/HyperLINK
First Coast Flyer Blue Line
2nd Ave Subway (and the return of the “W”)
Subway Developments in Paris
2015 saw the opening of Jacksonville, FL’s first Bus Rapid Transit line – the First Coast Flyer Green Line (Route 102). 2016 saw the opening of the system’s second line – the First Coast Flyer Blue Line (Route 107). As part of Jacksonville’s regional transportation vision – four BRT lines in all will be constructed and plans are in the works to upgrade and possibly expand the Skyway People Mover.
The FCF Blue Line opened for revenue service on December 4, 2016 and operates every 10 to 15 minutes during the day on weekdays, with 30 to 60 minute service during the evenings, and the last trips running through 12-midnight. Weekend service operates every 30 to 60 minutes all day, with Saturday service ending at 12-midnight and Sunday service ending at 10:00pm. The route operates from the heart of Downtown Jacksonville to The Avenues Mall off Phillips Hwy and I-95.
Both the FCF Green and Blue lines utilize sleek 40-foot Gillig Low Floor buses with the BRT Plus look, and all buses are powered by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). A total of 22 buses were ordered for both the Green and Blue lines, and that is on top of the batch of 35 and 40-foot CNG powered buses that were ordered to beef up local and express bus routes and replace the oldest buses in JTA’s fleet.
As we progress into 2017, the system’s third BRT line – the First Coast Flyer Red Line – will continue through the planning process and eventually move to the construction stage. The projected opening for the Red Line is sometime in either 2017 or 2018. The last of the routes – the First Coast Flyer Purple Line – will also continue through the planning stages, with the projected opening being sometime either in 2018 or 2019.
What was supposed to have been a second attempt to bring a countywide transportation plan to the citizens of Hillsborough County, FL for a vote was quickly marred in allegations of backroom dealings and tons of “Politics as Usual”. Go Hillsborough was originally envisioned as a mulitmodal approach to get the county’s existing roadways fixed and transit system expanded. The original intent was also to utilize multiple funding sources by which so that a sales tax hike wasn’t the only option to fund the improvements – something that effectively killed transportation referendums here in Florida in 2010 and 2014.
While the beginning stages of public input and planning were productive – and many transportation needs were identified, executing how the fund the improvements became a daunting task by which eventually led the Hillsborough County Commission to conclude that raising the sales tax was once again “the only viable option” to fund the plan. This got many fiscal conservatives up in arms and those who were originally supportive of the plan (myself included) became very skeptical as to whether the final plan would even be presented to voters.
As 2016 progressed, Go Hillsborough fell into a full blown circus act – with allegations that some of the people helping to put the plan together were engaging in backroom dealings. This led the Tampa/Hillsborough Tea Party to sound the alarm and call for increased scrutiny on the plan, which in-turn led to the erosion of public trust in the plan. At the end of the day, the Hillsborough County Commission voted against putting any sales tax initiative onto the November, 2016 ballot and eventually opted to go for a “money pot” approach for improving the county’s roads only.
This “money pot” approach would allocate x-amount of dollars each year for the next five years for roadway improvements. Yes folks, there is no provision for transit funding in the plan, and there is no doubt in my mind that some of this money will be siphoned off to help fund the controversial Tampa Bay Express toll lane project.
Speaking of Tampa Bay Express, the controversial plan to bring variable toll lanes to the Tampa Bay interstate highway system – the plan progressed at the local and state levels during the course of 2016, despite growing opposition from the communities that would be affected by the widened highways.
Those in support of TBX have largely comprised of larger non-Bay Area based companies, politicians, and lobbyists who believe that TBX would greatly improve traffic congestion throughout the Tampa Bay region and build a structured backbone for Premium Transit options such as light rail. However, those opposed to the plan – which comprise of many Bay Area residents, local business, and community leaders – say that the project is costly, wasteful, and destructive. Those opposed to TBX also believe that the state’s “promises” to enhance transit services will not be fulfilled and that traffic congestion will worsen once the toll lanes are built.
While I was initially open to the idea of variable toll lanes along some highways in our region, when details of the TBX project came out, I began to grow concerned as to how the project would be funded, how it would impact our communities, and what provisions (if any) would there be for transit expansion. When it became clear that TBX was nothing more than a political ploy from Tallahassee as part of a broader agenda to massively toll Florida’s currently free highways, I joined the #STOPTBX movement and have ever since been 100% opposed to the project.
While most of the movement with TBX has favored the supporters, there was a significant decision that favored the opposition – removing the “Starter Project” toll lane component from the Howard Frankland Bridge. This means that when the northbound span (built in 1959) gets replaced in 2021, it will not include any toll lanes that take up existing “free” lanes. The southbound span (built in 1987) will not be tolled either. Any toll lane provisions will likely be placed onto an expansion of the second span that would adjoin the “free” lanes. A third span could be built with Premium Transit provisions included – such as BRT lanes or a guideway for Commuter Rail.
After months of planning and debating over the course of a new passenger ferry network, the first route of the Cross-Bay Ferry launched in November, 2016 – allowing those in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties to sail across Tampa Bay between St. Petersburg and Tampa. The six month pilot project was funded by both counties as well as the Cities of Tampa and St. Pete. Ridership on the ferry so far has been a success, but many are wondering if the ferry will survive beyond the pilot project – which ends in April, 2017. The debate continues on how the ferry will be funded in the long term and how service can be improved, as well as the prospect of future routes.
The Cross-Bay Ferry currently operates seven days a week, excluding some holidays, and there are at least two departures each day from both Tampa and St. Pete.
2016 also brought upon two new innovative programs – the first of their kind in the nation – and both right here in Tampa Bay! The first is Direct Connect – which allows Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority customers to summon a taxi cab or ride share vehicle from their home or business within a designated zone and bring them to a designated bus stop, where they can catch the bus to their final destination. The second is HyperLINK – which allows Hillsborough Area Regional Transit customers to summon a van within a designated zone and bring them to a designated bus stop, where they can catch the bus to their final destination.
Both programs operate slightly different from each other but hold the same common goal of bridging the “First-Mile, Last-Mile” gap that exists with transit. This gap is especially problematic with those who are normally unable to access the transit system but have limited to no access to a personal vehicle. You will be able to read through how each program works in an upcoming blog post and through pages that are currently under construction.
Lastly, a separate program benefitting low-income persons considered as Transportation Disadvantaged launched during mid-2016, called TD Late Shift. TD Late Shift allows Transportation Disadvantaged customers in Pinellas County up to a set number of free Uber riders a month. The service is available during hours by which PSTA buses have stopped operating for the evening, and there is a provision for one free qualifying daytime Uber ride a month. Trips must be to a place of employment or residence. TD Late Shift allows those who are low income and have no access to a personal vehicle a link to and from work without having to worry about being stranded due to bus service starting late or ending early.
After decades of being swamped in delays, the first phase of the 2nd Ave Subway Line is poised to open on January 1, 2017 at 12-noon, though a ceremonial trip will take place later tonight, and several open houses have already taken place along the new stations to allow the public to take a glimpse of them before revenue service begins.
The concept of the 2nd Ave Subway goes back to almost when the New York City Subway System first opened. Back in the early 1900s, trains ran elevated above 2nd Ave and many residents and business owners complained that this environment was too noisy and drove down property values. While the 2nd and 3rd Ave elevated lines were eventually torn down, the 2nd Ave underground replacement was never realized right away. Budgetary and construction delays, as well as “Politics as Usual” delayed the opening of the first segments for nearly an entire century.
The 2nd Ave Line will be used for two Subway services – the “Q”, which runs between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and eventually the “T” which will run the entire length of the 2nd Ave line. The “Q” will operate seven days a week from 57th St to 63rd St/Lexington Ave, 72nd St, 86th St, and 96th St from 12-noon to 10:00pm on January 1, 2017. On January 2, trains will operate along the new stations from 6:00am through 10:00pm. Then, on January 9, 24/7 service will begin. All other “Q” stations will be served in the same manner as they are served today, with some scheduling changes as the new stations transition over to 24/7 service.
In preparation for the “Q” service to 96th St, the “W” was brought back on weekdays to replace service that was lost to the “Q” being moved out of Queens. The “N” continues to serve Queens during late nights and on weekends. The “W” originally operated in Queens and Manhattan in 2001 but was eliminated in 2010 due to budget cuts.
Across the pond in France, there have been several key happenings with the Paris Subway system. Among them are…
I’ll be outlining my thoughts in my next blog post. Until then, have a safe and Happy New Year!