Tag Archives: Light Rail (LRT)

Tampa Dreams of SunRail

Metro Orlando is very grateful to have SunRail! Because here in Tampa Bay, it’s hard to build a better transportation network without a meaningful passenger rail system.

In collaboration with the SunRail Riders group – which advocates for better service on the SunRail Commuter Rail system in Orlando – I’m going to talk about SunRail and the challenges that Tampa Bay faces being without a passenger rail system. This post highlights the 7-day-a-week congestion along I-275, challenges with keeping the TECOline Streetcar Line running, and the ongoing battle between transit advocates and supporters, and the rail haters.

I invite you to read the full post at sunrailriders.com and tell us what you think. I want to take a few moments to thank the SunRail Riders for giving me this opportunity, and for everything that they do to help make SunRail even better! I hope to be able to write other pieces for the SunRail Riders in the future.

NOTE: Corresponding media in the post (except this photo) is not mine. Credit goes to their respective authors.

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FRIDAY REWIND – 2013 visit to Norfolk, VA

Friday Rewind New 1

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

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

Reflections Tour

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

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

Ballentine Blvd

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

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

Heading into downtown

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

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

MacArthur Square

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

 The MacArthur Center

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

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

Walking through Norfolk

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

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

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

The Return Trip

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

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

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

What’s next for public transit in Hampton Roads

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

Go Hillsborough – Part 1 – An Overview

Credit: HARTride 2012
Credit: HARTride 2012

Let the discussion begin

You’ve likely been hearing about it over the past few months, but now the official public outreach process has begun in Hillsborough County. What is this outreach process about exactly? It’s about building a better transportation network throughout the county. Because let’s face it, we’re at a pivotal crossroads right now, and unless we act to fix the situation at hand, things will only get worse from here.

Continue reading Go Hillsborough – Part 1 – An Overview

Downtown Norfolk, VA Transit Center to temporarily relocate

Post Updated on 1/19/15.

ATTENTION HAMPTON ROADS TRANSIT (HRT) CUSTOMERS: If you transfer out of downtown Norfolk, then you’ll want to pay close attention to what will be happening towards the end of this month. On Monday, January 26, 2015, all stops at the makeshift Downtown Norfolk Transit Center will move one block over to the west due to construction activities at the site. This temporary relocation will be in effect until further notice. Please see the map below for details.

NOTE: Map has been revised by HRT.

Credit: Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).
Credit: Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).

As indicated in RED, all stops at the current makeshift terminal at Wood St will temporarily move to E Charlotte St and Montecello Ave. Most local routes will board and de-board in the BLUE area along E Charlotte St. Local Route 2 and Express Routes 960 and 961 will board and de-board in the GREEN area along Monticello Ave. The BLACK area indicated on the map is a staging area for buses, and customers SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO BOARD A BUS FROM THIS LOCATION. Please keep in mind that these changes may adversely impact your transfer to adjoining bus routes, as well as The Tide Light Rail Line nearby, so please be sure to plan accordingly.

Any questions or concerns about these changes should be directed to HRT.

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 Tourism – Norfolk, Virginia – Part 1

Westbound train headed towards the Eastern Virginia Medical Center. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. April, 2013.
One of the Tide Light Rail trains heading towards the Eastern Virginia Medical Center. Photo taken by HARTride 2012 on April 13, 2013.

Greetings everyone!

I recently took a vacation that included a weekend trip to the Hampton Roads, Virginia area to do some sightseeing and visit family in the area. During my stay there, I was able to utilize the transit system in downtown Norfolk, including the city’s light rail line. I’m going to document my observations and experience in three separate posts. In this first installment, I will describe the transit system in Hampton Roads and how the system is similar, yet different from the transit system here in Tampa. Then, in my second installment, I’ll document my transit experience and what the Tampa area can grasp from my observations. Finally, in my third installment, I will point out various attractions and other points of interest that you can easily access via public transit.

Continue reading Transit Tourism – Norfolk, Virginia – Part 1

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

Revised plans arise for a WestShore area transit hub

Greetings everyone!

As many of you know, the recent economic downturn has forced many transit districts to re-evaluate their current levels of service,  as well as future plans, based on the level of funding that is available. In addition, many districts are searching for new ways to fund their transit districts, but some scenarios bring up more challenges and questions than they do answers and solutions. In the case with HART in Tampa, HART currently must rely on property taxes to fund a large chunk of its transit operations, a source that has been dwindling during the past several years. Put on top of that, the recent economic downturn and  consolidation of the airline industry. Both of those factors have led Tampa International Airport to not only cancel its ambitious North Terminal expansion plan, but to also abandon plans to have an on-site transit hub for HART and PSTA buses, as well as any rail connections.

Instead, Hillsborough County officials are now exploring different options for a transit hub alongside the I-275 corridor. As many of you are well aware, the corridor is currently undergoing a massive reconstruction project that will allow for additional capacity. I mentioned in a previous posting that future plans for the interstate also include “Managed Lanes” and possibly either a light rail or commuter rail line down the median. There’s a rendering that you can view through my Facebook page of one option that is being considered along Cypress St & I-275. Regardless of where the final location may be, the transit hub would have an airport connection via a people mover system that is similar to what is already set up at the airport, as well as other airports throughout the world.

Tampa isn’t the only city looking into such an option. In fact, Miami just recently constructed an off-site transit hub that has a rail connection to Miami International Airport and their facility has become a model for others to consider. However, any intermodal center in the WestShore district is several years away and will likely hinge on any new funding avenues being opened. In my next post, I will be going more in-depth as to what Hillsborough County officials are doing to slowly revive rail talks and how the advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay is helping to make that happen.

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 2

As I mentioned in my last posting, I will be going over the Red Line of my fantasy light rail system for Tampa Bay. This is one of the key lines to this fantasy rail system, as it links the community of Wesley Chapel to the USF area, downtown Tampa, and MacDill Air Force Base. This fantasy corridor mostly utilizes existing CSX rail lines, while the northernmost and southernmost portions are along roadway medians. To view a route map that I’ve created via Google Maps, click here.

In reality, a corridor like this is very much possible, being that it would mostly run along existing freight rail lines. The southern terminus is near the main gate of MacDill AFB, where it would easily be able to pick up military personnel working at the base. The route would then run along the median of Dale Mabry Hwy until it reaches the CSX freight rail line that runs alongside the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. There would be a stop at Gandy Blvd before the Red Line transfers onto the freight rail line.

From there, the line would travel towards downtown Tampa, making stops at Bay to Bay Blvd (Palma Ceia Station), Hyde Park/Swann Ave, and Kennedy Blvd (to serve the University of Tampa). Once in downtown, the Red Line would connect to the Navy Line loop, which acts at the eastern terminus of the Navy Line LRT. There would be two stations in downtown Tampa: one at Ashley Dr, and one at Nebraska Ave (by Tampa’s Union Station).

Next, the Red Line would enter Ybor City, making a stop in the heart of the historic district near the TECOline Streetcar Line and 6th Ave. The line would then switch over to the freight rail line that runs northward towards Florida Ave and I-275.  There would be subsequent stops at Columbus Dr, MLK Blvd, Hillsborough Ave, Sligh Ave, and Busch Blvd.

Any light rail link into the USF area is vital, which is why I’ve made the Red Line utilize the freight rail line that lies just south of Fowler Ave. The line would then shift northward once reaching Bruce B. Downs Blvd; making 2 stops by the USF Tampa Campus. The next couple of stops include Bearss Ave and Cypress Preserve Dr (Tampa Palms Station).

The final, and northernmost section of the Red Line crosses underneath I-75, running through the median of Bruce B. Downs Blvd, and enters into New Tampa and Wesley Chapel. The final stops here include Cross Creek Blvd, a provisional station at County Line Rd, State Rd 56 (next to Wiregrass), and State Rd 54. At State Rd 54, there would be a commuter rail link that would allow connection from eastern Pasco County into Pinellas County.

Although the stations that I mentioned above would serve most of the population centers surrounding the line, things could change. Originally, I had more stations put in on the map, but then realized that there were just too many to be able to run efficient service in real life. After all, that’s why we have local bus service, to provide feeder service to the rail stops. As for express service…yes, this line does operate express service by which a few stations are skipped during the height of rush hour. For instance; express service between downtown Tampa and MacDill would involve the Kennedy Blvd station being skipped. Express service between downtown and Wesley Chapel would involve the Columbus Dr, Hillsborough Ave, Sligh Ave, and Bearss Ave stations being skipped. The skipped stations would have a provision of a third track to allow express trains to easily bypass these stations.

In my next post, I will go over Line 3 of the Norfolk, VA fantasy subway. Please feel free to comment if you have anything to share!

 

Warmest Regards,

HARTride 2012