Get Rid of Gridlock? Part 2 – Case Study Tampa

courtesy of Beltline.org

On July 31st, Atlantans will vote on the Atlanta Beltline and Transportation Referendum mentioned in Part 1 of my post Get Rid of Gridlock. We struck down a similar measure in Tampa/Hillsborough County over a year ago. There are many who criticize Tampa residents for not being forward thinking and not caring about mass-transit. I’m not one of those, I think everyone in Florida realizes how useful a regional transit system would be, they just want it to make common sense first and be done right. Here are four reasons in my opinion why the pitch for a tax might work in Atlanta and didn’t work for Tampa:

1) The BeltLine is truly visionary, they have done a great job with videos, renderings, and maps communicating what the BeltLine will be. Progress is already being made. They are turning vacant land into parks along the BeltLine so people can begin to imagine the possibilities. Runners are already having races along the BeltLine. The project is also very innovative, and a fascinating reuse of existing infrastructure that yearns for revitalization.

2) As mentioned above, Atlanta has been able to collaborate across 10 counties to come up with a plan and a referendum. The Tampa Bay Area has not been able to do that, with authorities in every county butting heads against each other and regional authorities that couldn’t get consensus from the counties. On Hillsborough County alone there were at least 4 groups involved in the lobbying for the tax and they did a pathetic job of creating one coherent vision with one common set of renderings/maps. And that was just Hillsborough County.

3) Atlanta already has the experience of MARTA and its citizens rally around mass-transit in theory especially due to Atlanta traffic. Atlanta sees the future and wants to grasp it. It is part of the culture. There seems to be less of a concern for frivolous spending in Atlanta and more of a sense of trust in local government and public/private partnerships. Recently, local media and government cracked down on the spending/accounting of the BeltLine team before anything egregious happened. All parties are working together on transparency, and that will be critical.

4) None of the plans for light rail in Tampa Bay made any sense financially, although no public transportation plans ever really do in terms of dollars and cents. The value of course are in the long term intangible benefits for future development and economic growth that can only be estimated, and in my opinion this was not done effectively by the agencies involved in Hillsborough County.

I think Tampa has a lot to learn from cities like Atlanta about collaboration, innovation, and planning. In this case though, I think the team in Atlanta could learn some good lessons from what did not work here in Tampa.

Question: What else is holding Tampa back?

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4 thoughts on “Get Rid of Gridlock? Part 2 – Case Study Tampa

  1. Forgive me for not knowing, but what is the population of each metro area? Living in Chicago, I sincerely appreciate the mass transit system, but it is not without its problems. Prices have gone up 5 or 6 times since I moved here in 2003 and I feel like the unions cause most of the problems because they constantly want more money – they make a very good living. I definitely like that high speed rail and public transportation are important infrastructure to build for the future, but for the HUGE amount of money that is spent on these projects, everything must be planned a budgeted and accounted for from start to finish.

  2. Good points! There are over 4 Million people in the Atlanta area, with 5.5M in the metropolitan statistical area which stretches almost up to North Carolina. Tampa Bay has 2.8M and 4.2M respectively. Public transportation (bus and trolley) total ridership in our two biggest counties Hillsborough and Pinellas last year was about 27 million rides. Sadly, that was record breaking, but shows no appeal for our current transit system as a regular mode of transportation.

    • Okay, so Tampa is definitely big enough for the light rail type of transit. I think 2 million is a viable number to establish it and sets up an area for good growth. The Tampa Bay area should start building the rail transit, I will be interested to see how the Atlanta situation turns out, it could definitely have implications on the Tampa Bay area’s situation.

      Have you ever been to San Francisco? I feel like they have an excellent and far-reaching mass transit (BART) that allows people extending way east of the city, to commute into the Bay Area. Also, the Denver area has an interesting setup of bus stops with small parking lots and bike racks that are located pretty far out from the city, like a Bike and Ride, that go into Boulder and other surrounding towns, it is interesting. Of course, I mention Boulder and San Francisco and you immediately know these two cities will put mass transit and environmentally-friendly transit options ahead of other issues, if you know what I mean. I have no problem with that, but I wonder how it was paid for along the way? I should investigate and get back to you! But, I am getting off of my soapbox now.

      I think that Chicago has a pretty good system of transit, see metrarail.com or transitchicago.com for the suburban and city options, but for years people up here have been talking about a “circle line” type of rail that would do just what it suggest, circle the metro area, not necessarily the perimeter of the city, and hit the main hubs/biggest suburbs, like Schaumburg, Naperville, etc. When Daley was mayor, he also had the grand plans to have a bullet train built from the Loop of Chicago to O’Hare, it would have been great for O’Hare, TSA and airline employees as well as tourists, locals, etc. It was to be housed in this shopping mall called Block 37 that was going to have a movie theatre, all these stores, corporate offices, etc. Well guess what, it started looking for tenants in September/October of 2008. So many of these great ideas tanked, Block 37 went into foreclosure and there are stores there but I think it was actually auctioned to new owners. Sometimes it just has to be the right time. Maybe Tampa’s time is coming! Perhaps the financing stars and resident/voter interest will align! One never knows.

      My comment is insanely long, Sorry!

      • So glad for the long reply. Tampa wants to do something and will one day do it right. Have you heard about the Gondola transit systems in South America? An interesting concept. 

        Chicago’s trains ARE pretty good, what a neat town you live in!

        Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

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