Category Archives: Go Hillsborough

Go Hillsborough – Where we are, and where we go from here…

Go Hillsborough Part 7

Background

Lots of things have happened with Go Hillsborough since my last post. I first want to point out that my original plan to continue the piece-by-piece blog post series, as I was doing during the first set of public outreach workshops, just wasn’t going to work out. This was for several reasons; but particularly due to some of the discouraging news that came out in recent months that the Go Hillsborough recommended proposal was flawed. Because of this, I almost did not even write this post, but I felt at the same time that I had to provide my readers with some sort of an update to the process. So here it is…from the recommendation…to where we are now…and where we may be headed…

The Recommendation

In June of 2015, Go Hillsborough consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff presented a recommended proposal to the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group that would be built off of a half-cent sales tax referendum. This referendum would allow a portion of money to be allocated into repairing and improving existing roads, as well as new local road projects, transit expansion and improvements, and pedestrian/bike-oriented projects like Complete Streets.

Not the best proposal, but not the worst…

The proposal, while supported by some, isn’t quite the best plan out there because it allocates more money towards roads rather than transit. However, it isn’t to worst proposal either because this could have easily turned out to have been an all roads proposal. Additionally, any proposal to increase gas taxes would have likely had funds going towards roads only, which isn’t balanced at all.

So what does this proposal include…exactly?

Instead of boring residents with tons of bullet points with long-winded explanations, transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay came up with this neat graphic that clearly illustrates where funds would be allocated to.

Credit: Connect Tampa Bay.
Credit: Connect Tampa Bay.

I’ll discuss some of these elements in greater detail in a follow-up post.

Full Penny Comeback?

While the prospect of a full-cent sales tax continues to be dead-on-arrival for many, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill wants to make sure that residents know what projects a half-cent will fund versus a full-cent. While a full-cent proposal will no doubt allow more projects to be funded within 10 years, the chances of such a referendum passing is still pretty poor. In my opinion; a full-cent sales tax referendum will likely fail at an even worse margin than that of Greenlight Pinellas – which failed at a margin of 62/38%. I’m willing to bet in fact, that a full-cent referendum, if held today, would fail at around a 70/30% margin. A half-cent proposal on the other hand, would have a better chance at passing…though the vote might be real close.

We still have a chance to make this plan a good one

Is the recommended Go Hillsborough path good? Not really. But can it be improved? Definitely.

Right now, there are meetings being held throughout the county that are presenting which of the options (full-cent versus half-cent) would be better for residents. I strongly encourage you to attend a meeting before it’s too late. Unlike the previous series of meetings that were held primarily during the evening, these meetings are split between morning and evening sessions to allow a wider influx of residents to attend and voice their opinions. Please see my meetings post, which will be updated every Friday through October, for information regarding meetings for the upcoming week. For a full meeting schedule, and to RSVP (which is not required, but suggested), please visit the Go Hillsborough website.


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Legalese | Disclosures

Go Hillsborough – Public Outreach Meetings – Phase II

Go Hillsborough Phase II Meetings

Meeting Schedule Updated on 10/14/15.

This post will list all upcoming Phase II Go Hillsborough public outreach meetings. These meetings are focused on which specific projects that county residents want to see in the final community transportation plan. These meetings began yesterday, August 17, 2015, and will continue through the month of October. In November, a decision is expected to be made by our county leaders as to whether or not to place a sales tax referendum onto the November, 2016 ballot.

From the Go Hillsborough website:

Now, we need your input on which specific projects you want in your neighborhood so that we can finalize the Community Transportation Plan. Over the next few weeks, GO Hillsborough will host another 54 meetings in libraries across the County. We will also continue to host our website, our social channels and our comment line. Please join us online or in person and make your voice and your choice heard.

Important Notice

Despite recent developments, the planned Go Hillsborough meetings are still scheduled to be held through October. If anything changes, this post will be updated as soon as possible.

Upcoming Meetings

Below is a summary of upcoming meeting dates, times, and locations. Please visit the Go Hillsborough website for a full list of meetings. Please keep in mind that an RSVP is not required, you can simply show up to these meetings.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

North Tampa Area
North Tampa Branch Library
8916 North Blvd, Tampa, FL 33604
10:00AM to 12-Noon

Progress Village Area
78th Street Community Library
7625 Palm River Rd, Tampa, FL 33619
5:30PM to 7:30PM

Full meeting schedule is available at gohillsborough.org.

CANCELLED – All subsequent planned “This is Go Hillsborough” blog posts

This is Go Hillsborough Banner 2

This month, I was planning to complete my first cluster of blog posts revolving around the Go Hillsborough Transportation Plan. However, due to recent developments, I will no longer be publishing these posts and I have decided to cancel the remainder of the This is Go Hillsborough blog series altogether.

I will be releasing more details through my No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page blog soon.

Go Hillsborough – Part 5 – Working Together to Find Consensus

Go Hillsborough Part 5

It’s all come down to the wire. Now that we’ve identified the issues at hand when it comes to transportation, explored various opportunities to help improve Hillsborough County’s transportation network, and have made the tough choices in how we want to fund those improvements; it’s time for the public to gather around and work together to find consensus on viable community transportation plan. In this fifth installment of This is Go Hillsborough, I will cover what was discussed during the four final regional meetings and telephone town hall. I will then go over what is next in the process and what might come out of the final decision from county leaders. Finally, in my sixth and final installment of this series, I will recap everything that I’ve gone over in these five blog posts and how we can apply what we’ve learned towards building a viable community transportation plan.

Gather Around

Although I was unable to attend the final set of meetings due to my working schedule and long distance from the meeting venues, I was still able to get a basic idea of what transpired during these meetings. While the presentation boards made a return, showing everything that has transpired so far in the Go Hillsborough public outreach process, what was different this time around was that citizens were able to sit down with facilitators from the county and discuss what would the best way to move ahead with building a viable community transportation plan that can be supported by a majority of county residents. While we all understand that not everyone is going to like the final plan and how it will be funded, it is crucial that everyone is able to come to a common ground in determining the best course that the county should take in how they should carry out the plan.

There is emerging consensus on voting for a new revenue source

Credit: Go Hillsborough
Credit: Go Hillsborough

From what has come out of the Making Choices portion of the Go Hillsborough public outreach process, many citizens are willing to support either a gas tax or a sales tax to help fund transportation needs. If approved, these added funds would be able to go towards roadway maintenance, transit improvements, pedestrian/bike facilities, and perhaps some new roads.

There is emerging consensus supporting a Gas Tax (70% said yes) or Sales Tax (67% said yes) to fund our transportation needs, with maintenance as the largest allocation, followed by transit, roads, and bike/ped.

(From Go Hillsborough)

The percentages say it all, people want more transportation choices, and they are willing to put their tax dollars towards it.

Conclusions drawn from these meetings

So now that we have an idea of what these last few meetings were about, let’s take a look at what was concluded.

While some areas of Hillsborough experienced balanced agreements that would place transit, roads, and ped/bike improvements on equal footing, other areas of the county were much more polarized. For instance, parts of Central Tampa seemed focus on transit-only improvements such as light rail, while citizens in southern Hillsborough wanted roadway maintenance to be top priority before beginning to improve bus services.

What’s next?

Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consultant for the Go Hillsborough process and plan, will be compiling results from the public outreach sessions in the coming weeks and will present their findings to county leaders at a Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group meeting on June 11. County leaders from there will decide on what is the best course of action as far as putting forth specific projects and how to fund them. Along the way, there will be several more public workshops to allow citizens to give their voice in what they want in the final plan. When the final plan is completed and finalized, that plan will be presented to the public along with the final method by which the plan will be funded. If a countywide referendum is required to help fund the plan, specifics of the referendum will be announced at the appropriate time.

Prior to the June 11th meeting, I will be putting together a sixth and final blog post in the This is Go Hillsborough blog series called What We’ve Learned. This post will summarize the entire Go Hillsborough public outreach process and provide an outlook as to what is next in the broader process to build a viable community transportation plan.

Go Hillsborough Series 5B

Below is the estimated timeline for the Go Hillsborough process:

Credit: Go Hillsborough
Credit: Go Hillsborough

Go Hillsborough – Part 4 – Making the Tough Choices

Go Hillsborough Part 4

It’s time for Hillsborough County to get down to the nitty gritty as the final part of the Go Hillsborough transportation public outreach process begins. Starting on Monday, May 11, there will be four Finding Consensus meetings and one final telephone town hall. Before I go into Finding Consensus, I want to briefly recap my observations from this past set of workshops called Making Choices. This third series in the Go Hillsborough series focused on what funding avenues do citizens want when it comes to being able to fund transit improvements, roadway maintenance, new roads, and pedestrian/bike facility improvements. Options range from a sales tax, to a community investment tax, gas taxes, property taxes, and possibly other sources like tolls. No one said this process would be easy, but process has become better understood now that we know what the issues are regarding transportation in Hillsborough County, and what transportation options and opportunities are available.

Observations and Thoughts from the Workshop

At the West Tampa "Making Choices" workshop. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.
At the West Tampa “Making Choices” workshop. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

At the “Making Choices” workshops, citizens were asked to fill out a paper stating what funding options they would prefer to help fund transportation improvements and how much percentage of funds should go to each of the transportation options that were identified during the Exploring Options meetings.

The paper asked two straightforward questions. Please see the photo below:

This is the paper that citizens were asked to fill out at the "Making Choices" meetings. Credit: Connect Tampa Bay.
This is the paper that citizens were asked to fill out at the “Making Choices” meetings. Credit: Connect Tampa Bay.

So first and foremost, are voters willing to help fund expanded transportation options through a higher surtax? So far, the answer to that question has been encouraging.

More than 50 percent of respondents at all 12 locations, from New Tampa to Thonotosassa, said they are willing to consider an increase in gas or sales taxes.

While this is great news, the battle is far from over. We must now work together to find consensus on a balanced community transportation plan while trying to keep misinformation from Tea Party interests at bay. Many Tea Party insiders and activists have already made it clear to Hillsborough County that the only thing that they are willing to do, is to continue an utterly failed pro-road status quo that we can no longer afford to continue.

Below are the illustrations used to layout each of the funding options being considered, how they work, and what improvements they could fund:

Revenue Sources
Credit: Go Hillsborough
Revenue Sources 2
Credit: Go Hillsborough

See the other “Making Choices” boards at the Go Hillsborough Website.

I personally would support an increase in the sales tax and/or gas tax to help fund transportation improvements.

Property taxes, I’m okay with as long as they are kept in place. Remember that the failed Greenlight Pinellas plan had a tax swap, which not all citizens wanted or understood.

Secondly, what percentage of funding should go to each transportation option, given the priorities that have emerged? This answer will be different for everyone, but I believe that there should be a balance between roadway maintenance, expanded transit, and Bike/Ped facilities. I strongly believe that until we pay more attention to the roads that we have, and complete infrastructure projects that were never completed decades ago (i.e. the Veterans Expressway through Lutz); that there should be ZERO percent allocated to NEW ROADS.

Here’s how I believe that each transit mode should be funded:

Roadway Maintenance/Safety – 30%

New Roads/Widening – 0%

Transit Improvements – 40%

Ped/Bike Facilities – 30%

Now, let’s work together…

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.

Be sure to tell our elected leaders that we want a balanced community transportation plan!

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 4B

Now that Part 4 in my This is Go Hillsborough blog series is complete, I invite you to stay tuned for Part 5 in the series, Working Together to Find Consensus, which will focus on the final series of meetings. I plan on publishing this post at some point on or before May 31, 2015. 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.

Go Hillsborough ON RED ALERT!

Go Hillsborough ON RED ALERT

The Anti-Tax Rail Haters are attempting to sabotage Go Hillsborough!

Yes, you saw that headline correctly. It’s a blatant act of sabotage, and we MUST do everything we can to stop it! In a Tampa Tribune article that was published on April 18, 2015, Hillsborough County Commissioners Victor Crist – who has been largely opposed to any sort of transit expansion efforts, and Al Higganbotham – who has been wary of any attempt to place another voter referendum on the ballot, have made their feelings known about Go Hillsborough…and they want to completely derail the public outreach effort before it is able to even wrap up.

Furthermore, these two commissioners want to make cuts to other non-transportation programs just to fund their pro-road status quo pipe dreams. It’s clear evidence that these two county commissioners are NOT LISTENING to what citizens want, which is for more transportation choices – including improved and expanded public transit, and better pedestrian/bike facilities. Instead, these two commissioners want to propose frivolous budgetary ideas just to appease the anti-tax rail haters, some of whom have fought hard to defund, slash, and eventually privatize public transit in Tampa Bay.

You can call it a typical game of “politics as usual” here, but to me…this situation has A LOT more to it. Whether these happenings are interconnected remains to be seen and is possibly unlikely, but this revelation comes on the heels of a transit privatization attempt in Manatee and Sarasota counties. If that attempt succeeds, it could pave the way for the rail haters to lobby officials in both Hillsborough and Pinellas to privatize both HART and PSTA. Privatization of transit has also been floated in Pasco County in recent years. During this month last year, anti-tax rail hater Barbara Haselden suggested that PSTA be privatized if the agency couldn’t “provide safe reliable service to 1.6 percent of our neighbors, for those who want a ride that doesn’t take all day to get to their destination.” Privatizing public transit agencies have brought along immense consequences to customers, including lower customer satisfaction and unstable transit schedules. Agencies in Long Island, NY and Fairfield, CA have struggled since they were outsourced to private operators.

A CALL TO ACTION!

Since the publishing of the Tampa Tribune article, transit activist group Connect Tampa Bay has been pushing harder than ever to get citizens to attend the last few Go Hillsborough “Making Choices” workshops. As a transit activist myself, I share the same concerns as members of CTB do, and believe that it is more crucial than ever before for citizens to make their voices heard when it comes to wanting more transportation choices for Hillsborough County. Because of everything at stake, I am sharing with you a Facebook Event that CTB has set up (prior to this news article being published) where you can make a commitment to attend the upcoming Go Hillsborough workshop on April 28 in Temple Terrace. Together as transit activists and supporters, we are calling on as many Hillsborough County citizens as possible – who support more transportation choices – to show up at this workshop. The bigger the attendance of transit supporters, the better the chance we have to stand up for transit, and make it known to our county leaders, specifically Victor Crist and Al Higganbotham, that we will NOT tolerate an attempted hijacking of the Go Hillsborough process just so they can pony up more of OUR TAXPAYER MONEY FOR MORE ROADS. In addition, CTB has created a petition that will be sent right to County Center to make it further known to these two commissioners that we want them to listen to what the citizens want! Please sign this petition and share with all those you know who reside in Hillsborough. The more signatures that we gain on this petition, the louder the voice that will be projected to these two commissioners, and the rest of the county commission for that matter.

Please join me in supporting Connect Tampa Bay as they make sure that our voices are made LOUD AND CLEAR to our county commission. Thank you.

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.

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.
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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.

No relief in sight for clogged Gandy Blvd in Tampa

Let’s face it, Gandy Blvd in Tampa is just too clogged. Traffic routinely backs up for miles during rush hour, and despite plans for either a bypass expressway or an elevated structure being planned for the last two decades at least, nothing has materialized.

There is currently no funding available for construction, nor will there be funding available for at least another decade, unless Governor Scott throws in a Hail Mary at the last minute. Even then, studies would have to be updated, which alone could take up to five years. Then you have the ongoing rash of “Not in my backyard) opposition from area residents and business owners, who fear any expressway or elevated structure would cause excessive noise, plummeting property values, and dire loss of business traffic. YET, a WalMart SuperCenter was allowed to be built along the very same stretch of road in 2010 with very little community opposition. Now that’s just messed up.

So what can be done about this problem? Well, unless we have money, there really isn’t a lot that can be done. The past proposals for a bypass expressway are dead due to the need to acquire land that today has either been built up or has been otherwise purchased by private developers. And the elevated structure plan faces continual community opposition, as I just mentioned. Light rail would be nice, but that too costs money, and you’d have double the opposition…not just from area residents and business owners, but also from No Tax For Tracks and the rest if the Tea Party anti-transit folks.

Unless as I mentioned, Governor Scott throws in a last minute Hail Mary, don’t expect anything significant to happen with the Tampa stretch of Gandy for at least another 10 years…

Trolling at Go Hillsborough

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As the Go Hillsborough public outreach process continues, out have come the trolls on the official Facebook page. Yep, you heard right…trolls, and many of them too. In fact, though I am not naming anyone specific, these are the same trolls that consistently trashed PSTA’s Greenlight Pinellas Facebook page last year. These are also the same trolls who support No Tax For Tracks, and who do not want the rest of us to have any transportation choices.

It’s bad enough trying to get a discussion back on track due to these trolls, but try to simply acknowledge that you disagree with their point of view, and that’s when the insults start flying. These trolls often love to insult voter intelligence and will stop at nothing to make you think that they’re right and we’re wrong. Pitiful and childish name calling quickly becomes the Plan B for many of these trolls, and it really is sickening to see then stoop so low to get what they want.

The point of this post today, the folks at Go Hillsborough need to make it clear that such trolling won’t be tolerated. Put these trolls on a very short leash and discourage them from derailing the conversation on transportation choices. If the trolls ignore the warnings, ban them immediately. We cannot afford to have another meaningful discussion on transportation be sidetracked by those who have made it known to us that they only want what suits them, even if what they (the trolls) want causes the rest of us to suffer.