Tag Archives: Commuter/Suburban Rail

GREENLIGHT Pinellas; Where we are, and where we’re headed

YES on Greenlight Post Final Logo

GREENLIGHT Pinellas

Where we are, and where we’re headed

INTRODUCTION

Several months ago, I blogged about the Greenlight Pinellas initiative, which is aimed at dramatically changing the public transit landscape in Pinellas County, and how it’s funded. My previous post provided a summary of how the Greenlight plan will work, what successes the plan has had as of mid 2014, and what challenges the initiative faced at the time. In this update, the last before the November 4th General Election, I’m going to highlight how important Greenlight is for Pinellas County, and why voters need to say YES on the ballot.

Now I know this post comes a bit too late for many who have either submitted their ballots through the mail, or have taken part in Early Voting. However, for those Pinellas voters who haven’t made up their minds yet, there’s still a chance to get the information that you need so that you can make an informed decision. Many speculate that the final outcome of the Greenlight Pinellas vote is as too close to call as the Florida Governor’s race. And it’s true; both races are currently in a dead heat! Things are going to come down to the wire come November 4, and it’s up to the remaining Pinellas voters to get out and vote YES for Greenlight!

INFORMATIONAL WEBSITES

Now, I don’t want to portray myself as a transportation expert, because I am not. I am a passionate public transit supporter and have been gradually shifting towards an activist role as Hillsborough County prepares to put forth its second attempt at a voter referendum for transit in 2016. I therefore do not want to give you any information that isn’t accurate. So if you haven’t had a chance to read up on how Greenlight Pinellas will work, I strongly encourage you to visit the official Greenlight Pinellas informational website at http://www.greenlightpinellas.com. If you have a good idea about the plan, but just need that boost to make your final decision, you can visit the Friends of Greenlight PAC’s “Vote YES on Greenlight” website at http://www.voteyesongreenlight.com. I strongly encourage you to visit both sites if you can!

WHY THE PLAN IS IMPORTANT FOR PINELLAS

Moving onto the main point of my post, why is voting YES on Greenlight important?

  • Dramatic improvements to bus services will allow people to get around better using transit! Whether transit is your only mode of transport, or you want it to be your secondary mode of transport, passing Greenlight will allow the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) to immediately implement expanded bus services throughout Pinellas County. Such services will be able to get you to and from work, school, shopping, entertainment, dining, sporting events, or even just everyday errands!
  • One of the first huge improvements you’ll see is a shift from the current hub-spoke system, by which transfer to other routes are largely based on centralized centers, to a grid system, based on the county’s street grid. A grid system will allow for transfers to be done at key intersections, rather than transit centers, and will ultimately allow bus routes to run more uniformly in respect to direction, rather than zig zagging from one point of the county to the next.
  • More local, express, trolley, and Flex (Connector) services to get you where you need to go, faster, more frequently, and more earlier and later in the day/evening during all days of the week, not just Monday through Friday or Monday through Saturday. This will allow workers who work non-traditional work schedules (outside the traditional Monday through Friday, 9AM to 5PM schedule) to have commuting options available, which will in-turn increase job competition and creation throughout the county, and eventually the entire region! As many of you know, our area continues to lose out on job competition and creation due to a lack of an efficient transit system, we can’t continue to let this trend occur!
  • Purchasing a monthly bus pass is by far cheaper than all of the costs associated with driving and maintaining a car! Let me stress that last part…maintaining a car…because that’s the part many opponents don’t talk about, is the rising costs of maintaining a car, which adds up to your gas bills real fast! I also want to stress that the 65% increase in bus service through the passage of Greenlight, is the main thing NTFT refuses to talk about. All they want to talk about is bashing light rail.
  • Freedom to do what you want with savings! Instead of wasting money on gas and vehicle maintenance, purchase a monthly transit pass and use the savings on other things while still being able to get around! If you currently drive and are sick of sitting in traffic, the increased transit options mentioned earlier will allow you the freedom to get from A to B to C without hassling with merging, changing lanes, exiting, parking, and other hassles. You can also get work done while commuting (time savings)! With WIFi being gradually rolled out onto the PSTA system, you’ll be able to prepare for your meeting, get homework done, or even surf the web, all while on the bus! Or, you can even just sit back and relax while your bus operator does all the driving for you! If you reside in areas like Northern Pinellas, expanded Flex (Connector) services can easily get you from your doorstep to wherever you need to go, faster, and more efficiently than these services do today! And with buses running more frequently, you won’t have to wait too long for your next bus to arrive!
  • Premium transit options, like bus rapid transit (BRT) and light rail (LRT), will be constructed further down the road, as the increased funding continues to roll in. Once the core and supporting bus systems have been strengthened, then BRT corridors will be implemented along key highways (such as US 19) to get people from longer distance population centers quickly and efficiently. Then, by 2025, the planned LRT line from Clearwater to St. Pete via Carillon/Gateway is expected to open, allowing people to get to work, school, or even a Rays game, without sitting in traffic! As one Greenlight supporter has said, “More Mass Transit, Less Mass Traffic!” Hey! I’m all for that! And so should you!
  • Better for the environment! From the American Public Transportation Association (APTA): “Public transit produces 95% less carbon monoxide, 92% fewer volatile organic compounds, and about half as much carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions per passenger mile as private vehicles.” (Source: Conserving Energy and Preserving the Environment, American Public Transportation Association: 2002). PSTA is among many transit agencies heavily investing in clean air, hybrid electric-diesel buses, and the number of hybrid buses in the PSTA fleet continues to grow!
  • More buses! And speaking of buses, PSTA’s “Smartbuses” are currently being funded by a federal grant, one that won’t last forever. Once these added funds run out, PSTA will be in the same situation as Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) across the bay, they’ll be losing buses as the oldest ones come up for retirement. PSTA cannot sustain its current bus fleet with the limited resources they have, nor can they greatly expand for the future. Let’s make things right now, before PSTA runs into that dire situation later.

BUILDING THE FOUNDATION FOR A MODERN REGIONAL TRANSIT SYSTEM

Many in Pinellas know about the failure of the 2010 referendum in Hillsborough and how poorly planned out it was. Most voters didn’t know what they were getting. Pinellas has long refused to repeat Hillsborough’s mistakes, and Greenlight isn’t all about rail, as I described earlier, it’s about modernizing and expanding the bus system first. Once the bus system is strengthened, the rail lines will follow!

Currently in Hillsborough, elected officials have gradually been putting together their own plan to put their own referendum on the ballot by November of 2016 that will include a mix of bus improvements, funding for a starter light rail line from downtown Tampa to Tampa International Airport, roadway improvements, and pedestrian/bike facility improvements. If the Greenlight measure passes this November, the chances of Hillsborough pushing ahead with their plans will greatly increase, as well as the chances of their 2016 initiative passing!

The northbound Howard Frankland Bridge is now functionally obsolete and needs replacement by 2025! The passage of both referenda will increase the likelihood that the replacement bridge will have the necessary accommodations for a cross-bay light rail line to connect with both counties’ starter lines, creating a much-needed transit link. This will also allow for further bus and rail improvements to follow more easily. Passing Greenlight builds this foundation, and will allow for numerous transit links to be developed much faster than if PSTA remained on the status quo funding situation.

GREENLIGHT SUPPORT INCREASES

To date, the support for Greenlight has been overwhelming, with a vast majority of municipalities within the county supporting the initiative, additionally, many businesses, political, and community leaders, as well as all three regional sports teams (the Rays, the Bucs, and the Lightning) have all thrown their support behind Greenlight, knowing that it will not only improve Pinellas transit, but also build that needed foundation for a modern regional transit system!

NTFT RAMPS UP THEIR FEARMONGERING TACTICS

Sadly, along with the increased support, NTFT has increased their opposition tactics by instilling classic Tea Party style fear mongering tactics. The recently exposed racist video put out by one of these Tea Party insiders, along with efforts from outside conservative groups like The Cato Institute, show just how desperate NTFT is to not only shutting down Greenlight, but to privatize our region’s transit system.

THIS IS NOT A PARTISAN ISSUE!

Greenlight should NOT be a partisan issue! Greenlight has received support from both sides of the aisle! It’s only the Tea Party insiders and activists who don’t want Greenlight to pass, because they don’t want any public investment in transit…period! Why do you think the Tea Party has been so adamant at attacking transit all over the country? They clearly do not want the taxpayers investing anymore money into the system…simple! They’d rather have the private sector run our transit systems while we pour more money into toll roads. How’s the infusion of toll roads and tolled express lanes going to fix our crumbling bridges? I mean really?

WHY ONCE AGAIN, PRIVATIZING TRANSIT IS A BAD IDEA.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous Greenlight post, privatizing public transit does not always bring out the intended results. Buses continue to run very late at times, creating the environment for unstable and unpredictable schedules, various performance issues, and episodes of miscommunication between the public transit boards and the private contractors have also been ongoing issues. Out in California, a few agencies have seen infusions of privatization, including Fairfield and Suisun Transit, and the merged body today known as SolTrans. Both agencies continue to have operations contracted out, but the inefficiencies still exist according to one transit rider I’ve spoken with, who resides out in the San Francisco Bay Area.

HOW YOU CAN HELP!

Believe it or not, there’s still time for you to be able to make an impact on how Greenlight will fare at the polls! Every hour that you can spare to tell Pinellas voters who have not yet made their decision, can help bring the vote closer to passage! Below is a quick breakdown of volunteer opportunities that were outlined in an email sent from Connect Tampa Bay earlier today.

  • Phone Banking: Thursday, Oct 30th, 5-8pm at the Pinellas Realtor Organization, 4590 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater, 33762
  • The Walk to End Gridlock: Saturday Nov 1st, 10 am at Gulfport Public Library, 5501 28th Ave S, Gulfport, FL 33707
  • Door Knocking: Sunday, Nov 2nd, 10 am at the Pinellas Realtor Organization, 4590 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater, 33762 LAST “CALL”
  • MONDAY: Phone Banking on Monday, Nov 3rd, ALL DAY starting 10:00 AM and ending at 8:00 PM at the Pinellas Realtor Organization, 4590 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater, 33762
  • ELECTION DAY: ALL HANDS ON DECK! We need volunteers to give out information at precincts, waive and put up signs, call voters, and knock on doors.

View the full email from Connect Tampa Bay.

The Pinellas Realtor Organization is coordinating all volunteering efforts and can be contacted in case you have any questions, or would like to put in an RSVP for volunteering (which is strongly advised). You can email the campaign at jfarrell@tampabayrealtor.com or call 727-216-3029.

CONCLUSION – TRANSIT WILL REMAIN A TOP CONCERN FOR TAMPA BAY

As I mentioned earlier, the Greenlight referendum race is in a dead heat right now, and it’s up to the remaining Pinellas voters, who have not yet cast their ballot, to make a difference! Regardless of the final outcome of Greenlight, the issue of building a better transit system will not disappear. In fact, the issue will only become ever hotter as other metro areas like Charlotte, Phoenix, San Francisco, Norfolk, and now even Detroit, surpass the Tampa Bay region when it comes to having meaningful public transit systems. Hillsborough County will be trying again in 2015/16, and if Greenlight should go downhill, there’s no doubt that Pinellas will try again before 2020, even before 2018.

FINAL NOTE – WEBSITES TO AVOID

I want to end this piece by mentioning a few websites that you’ve probably at least heard about, that are full of lies and misinformation about Greenlight, and I want to point these sites out to you so that you don’t get swept into them thinking that they are providing the real stuff. These sites are operated by Tea Party insiders, the same Tea Party insiders that are vehemently opposed to the Affordable Health Care Act (or Obamacare). They are also among the same group of insiders that likely would support a government shutdown…AGAIN! Don’t get sucked into their websites. They want Greenlight to crash and burn so that they can push their underlying agenda, which is to fully privatize public transit throughout Tampa Bay. Later in this post, I’m going to re-iterate why privatizing transit is NOT A GOOD IDEA.

So onward to the misinformatonal websites in brief; first the No Tax For Tracks Pinellas (referred to in this post as NTFT) website at railtaxfacts.com. Believe me, this website, despite its URL, is not full of facts. But full of blatant lies, many of which NTFT has already been exposed for. There are also two blogs notorious for lies and misinformation; greenlightpinellasfacts.com and sunbeamtimes.com. Both of these blogs are run by staunch Tea Party insiders who are also passionate NTFT supporters/contributors. Both are also known for insulting voter intelligence when their debunked talking points get refuted. Yet Greenlight opponents continue to reference both of these websites in their social media posts. I don’t about you, but I sure don’t believe anything that is posted on any of these three sites.

Now, there are a few other websites that you should avoid. But I don’t want to take up anymore time going in-depth, as it will derail from my main points of this post. However, you need to be aware that there’s lots of misinformation being spread, and for you to be able to make an informed decision, you need to be able to decipher fact from fiction.

 Good Luck Pinellas Voters!

HARTride 2012

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Transit Roundup for the week of April 1, 2013

There’s been quite a lot going on this week in respects to public transit. Rather than creating 6 or 7 different posts, I’ve decided to list everything in one single post. Each tidbit of transit news is grouped by geographical region (or Focus Area) that I cover.

Continue reading Transit Roundup for the week of April 1, 2013

Some MI 84 commuter rail stock trains to be re-assigned…

I heard from the Symbioz forums a few days ago that the STIF is proposing to re-deploy twenty trainsets of the MI 84, the commuter rail rolling stock that is gradually being phased out from the RER Line A. This latest development appeared in a media release from the STIF dated February 13, 2013. The release is in French, so you will need a translating service to translate the document into your native language.

Until new rolling stock is ordered to replenish the aging fleet of trains along the RER Line D and Suburban Rail Line R, the STIF is proposing the use of outgoing MI 81 rolling stock to reinforce a portion of both lines for the meantime. The sections that would utilize the MI 81 include the Melun/Juvisy segment of the RER Line D and the Melun/Montereau branch of Suburban Rail Line R. The MI 81 stock along the RER Line A is currently being replaced with the new MI 09 stock, which was introduced in 2011.

Some in Paris may wonder why the MI 81 is being replaced before its predecessor, the MS 61. My understanding is that the MI 81, though similar to its counterpart on the RER Line B, the MI 79, the MI 81 was constructed in a cheaper manner than the MI 79, resulting in greater wear and tear. As a result of this, none of the MI 81 stock have been heavily refurbished, unlike the MS 61. However, it seems that the STIF can put some of the MI 81 trains to good use for a few more years because they will not need extensive refurbishment to run on the other lines, probably just some minor aesthetic and mechanical improvements.

In addition to the possible movement of the MI 81 stock to the RER Line D and Suburban Rail Line R, the STIF is also proposing to bring forth 12 Z2N commuter rail trains to the northern portion of the RER Line D to strengthen service. These trains would be transferred from Suburban Rail Line P, which is currently getting the brand new Z 50000 series rolling stock (known also as the Francilien).

 

HARTride 2012

Paris RER E Extension Approved

Happy February everyone!

For those of you who reside in Paris, I have some wonderful news to report! The planned extension of the commuter rail line E has been approved, making way for a possible start of construction date in 2014!

Note: I’ve obtained some the information used for this blog post from the International Railway Journal article, Paris RER Line E extension approved. I’ve provided a formal citation at the end of this post using the MLA format (via Citation Machine). The remaining parts of this post uses info from Symbioz, which is in French. You can use a translating service to view Symbioz in your respective language.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Parisian transports, Line E is part of the RER Commuter Rail network in Paris, France. RER stands for Réseau Express Régional, or Regional Express Rail. Much of the system was built in segments during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, with some segments utilizing former passenger rail lines that were established long ago (such as the Ligne de Sceaux, which is a part of the RER Line B today). Line E opened to passengers in 1999 and is the fifth line to be constructed in the RER system. The line was originally known as project EOLE (which meant Est Ouest Liaison Express) during its planning and construction [1][2].

The current route connects Gare St. Lazare and Gare du Nord (via station Magenta, where connections to RER Lines B & D are available) to the western suburbs of Noisy-le-Sec, Chelles-Gournay, Val de Fontenay (where it connects to RER Line A), Villier-sur-Marne, and Tournan (among many others) [1]. The planned extension would bring the RER E to Mantes-la-Jolie via the La Defense district,  partially via the existing infrastructure of SNCF (which is the French National Railway) and one of the branches of the RER A. The other segment of the extension will consist of a new 8km tunnel that would be dug between Gare St. Lazare and La Defense, paralleling it with Line A near station Auber. Once the extension is complete, it is expected that travel time between La Defense and the western suburbs will be reduced by roughly 15 minutes. The extension will also relieve congestion on parts of Lines A & B [3].

With final approval granted for the extension of Line E (which is known as the Declaration of Public Utility), construction is set to begin sometime in 2014, with completion estimated to be sometime in 2020 [3].

Citations:

[1] “Le RER E.” Symbioz. Symbioz Corp, 27 Apr 2010. Web. 3 Feb 2013. <http://www.symbioz.net/index.php?id=74&gt;.

[2] “La ligne de Sceaux.” Symbioz. Symbioz Corp, 23 Dec 2007. Web. 3 Feb 2013. <http://www.symbioz.net/index.php?id=70&gt;.

[3] Briginshaw, David. “Paris RER Line E extension approved.”International Railway Journal. 01 Feb 2013: n. page. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. <http://www.railjournal.com/index.php/commuter-rail/paris-rer-line-e-railway-extension-approved.html?channel=641&gt;.

 

Warmest Regards,

HARTride 2012

PSTA moves forward with transit referendum plans

Great news to everyone residing in the Tampa Bay area (particularly Pinellas County)! The PSTA board decided unanimously to move forward with plans to place a penny sales tax increase to help fund transit improvements. The current plan is to have the question on the November, 2014 ballot, however this could change if more time is needed to hash out all the details.

Although I’m very excited that the measure is moving forward, I must stress that the one thing that Pinellas County cannot do is make the same mistakes that Hillsborough County made in 2010. Specifically, I speak of the fact that not enough time was put in to really present a comprehensive plan that would benefit residents throughout the county. For instance, the plan was heavily marketing light rail, when the plan also included expanded local and express bus services, bus rapid transit, and roadway improvements. I also feel that the plan was “rushed” so to speak, because not everyone had a chance to really provide their opinions on the plan prior to the election season. Perhaps if more time was provided (let’s say putting the measure to 2011 instead of 2010), there would have been more time to convince those who typically do not use public transit that the plan would benefit them. On top of that, opposition groups quickly mobilized to associate Hillsborough’s penny tax plan with President Obama’s high speed rail plan, calling the whole issue a nightmare for taxpayers. Unless Pinellas spends the time and resources analyzing all the options available for their transit expansion plan, voters may end up feeling more confused about the Pinellas effort than Hillsborough residents felt about their’s in 2010.

In the coming months there are going to be lots of meetings and discussions on the matter so that residents can have their say.  I am also confident that the with the help of Connect Tampa Bay, the public will be better informed about the Pinellas plan than Hillsborough residents were in 2010. However, I feel that county leaders, PSTA, and others involved with the plan need to use extra caution in respects to economic conditions in the region and throughout the world. 2010 was clearly a bad time to bring up a transit referendum, as the economy was still in very bad shape from the 2008 financial crisis. Although the economy is slowly recovering now, things are still very fragile. Should economic conditions deteriorate again within the next few months, it is possible that the referendum could get called off completely.

If you have any feedback to provide, please feel free to comment!

Warmest Regards,

HARTride 2012.

Tampa Bay Fantasy Rail System – Part 1

Hi everyone,

As I mentioned earlier this month, I will be posting some things about a fantasy rail system that I started working on for the Tampa area during the course of 2010.

At the time that I began working on this fantasy system, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit was promoting a one cent sales tax increase for Hillsborough County to help fund road construction and transit improvements. The plan was very ambitious and included several light rail and bus rapid transit lines. However, the plan left many questions to be answered, thus confusing a lot of voters. On top of that, the economy was still in a very bad state and many anti-tax conservatives were lumping the sales tax hike with President Obama’s high speed rail plan. All of the massive confusion led to a massive defeat of the sales tax. After the defeat of the sales tax referendum, Governor Rick Scott pulled the plug on Florida’s high speed rail plan. With much of Tampa’s transit ambitions dashed, I halted all work on my fantasy rail system until a later time.

Fast forward to 2013: Pinellas County is gearing up for their own transit expansion plan and the chatter about rail has restarted, being led this time by the grassroots efforts of Connect Tampa Bay. Therefore, I have decided to go ahead and restart my fantasy rail system project for the Tampa area.

To read more about this project, click “Continue Reading”.

Continue reading Tampa Bay Fantasy Rail System – Part 1

Will we ever see any type of rail in the interstate medians?

As the title reads, this is a question that I ask myself from time to time. If you reside in the Tampa area, then you likely already know what exactly I am referring to. I am speaking of the wide open median that encompasses much of Interstate 4 from Ybor City going towards the Orlando area. In the next few years, Interstate 275 from downtown Tampa to the Howard Frankland Bridge will also have a much wider median upon completion of the ongoing reconstruction project.

For many years, it was envisioned that some form of rail would eventually fill the these wide medians; whether it be light rail, commuter rail, or even high speed rail. Since the early 2000s at least, high speed rail was planned to eventually run from Tampa to Orlando via the I-4 median, with a possible extension later to St. Pete on the west end, and towards Jacksonville and Miami on the eastern end, eventually being extended up the eastern seaboard.

However; a couple plans for high speed rail in Florida were rejected, most recently in 2010 by Governor Rick Scott, who was heavily concerned that the costs of construction and maintenance would supersede any financial benefit to the state. Although I have always questioned the ridership potential for a high speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, I knew that such a line would be beneficial to the state. We must now wait another 2 years at least before we know if we will have another chance at high speed rail.

Commuter rail presents another possibility for these wide open interstate medians. Although it would be practical to utilize existing freight rail lines that run alongside I-4, I can certainly envision a two or three-tracked commuter rail line running the entire length of the I-4 median from Daytona Beach to Tampa and St. Pete. Light rail has also been talked about in recent years, but I strongly believe that light rail in the interstate median is not a good choice. I believe that light rail should remain on surface streets unless it is absolutely necessary to have it run through an interstate median.

Unfortunately, ever since Rick Scott was elected as Florida’s Governor, there has been increased talk about “Managed Lanes” which are basically tolled HOV lanes that would run through the median of various freeways to alleviate congestion during rush hour. These lanes would allow carpooled vehicles and buses to flow freely past gridlocked traffic for a fee. With the state cash-strapped due to the recent recession, the possibility of managed lanes is gradually increasing. In fact, managed lanes already exist in the Miami area along a portion of I-95. And so far, its been a success.

To read up on what exactly managed lanes are, and how they’re already in use in Miami, click here. Although this news article is somewhat dated, it was published in the Tampa Tribune in December of 2011.

So what to you think about all this? Do you think we will ever see rail in the median of I-4 and I-275? Or will these managed lanes eventually take over the state? I invite you to answer my corresponding poll question and comment on this post. I definitely want to hear what you have to say on this matter.

Please know that the poll question will be open for 30 days. After that period has passed, the poll will close.

Have a great week!

HARTride 2012