Florida’s transportation agency now listens to neighbors it once dismissed

For years, the Florida Department of Transportation was known for its distant relationship with the public. Now the agency is trying to be a better neighbor.

 

Updated December 3

 

TAMPA — The Florida Department of Transportation has an image problem, and new hires within the agency are trying to fix it.

For years, the department was known for its antagonistic relationship with the public, which peaked with the Tampa Bay Express highway expansion. That project was quashed after a public outcry, and multiple leaders were replaced. Now, the agency is trying to move forward and rebuild trust in the community.

A new district secretary who is viewed as more open helps. So do events like a listening tour the state organized in West Tampa on Friday. Department heads and engineers boarded a bus with community members in hopes of developing relationships and learning more about the neighborhood.

The tenor of the current department is a far cry from the 2015 and 2016 Tampa Bay Express days, which were marked by a “take it or leave it” attitude.

“This was an agency that came to us with a prepackaged solution and no real room for discussion,” said Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “We were little more than an afterthought in a grander scheme.”

That’s changed in the past two years, Fernandez said. The state announced a “reset” of Tampa Bay Express and in 2017 rebranded its efforts in the area as “Tampa Bay Next.” The new name came with more than half-dozen staff changes, including the arrival of district secretary David Gwynn, who took over in July 2017.

“They do seem genuinely interested in trying to listen,” said Tampa Bay Express opponent Kimberly Overman, who was recently elected to the Hillsborough County Commission. “Which is light-years away from the FDOT we used to know.”

• • •

The bus on Friday was filled mostly with department employees and consultants. A handful of community members, several of whom grew up in West Tampa, sat near the front with Gwynn. They pointed out problems they’d like fixed and history they’d like preserved.

As the bus rolled down N Willow Avenue near the interstate, they spied the retention pond that often fills with trash.

“That’s our retention pond, there?” Gwynn asked. He knew the department was having an issue with its maintenance crews, and made a note to check on the status of the property.

It was one of the few sentences the secretary said in the nearly 90-minute tour. This was a listening tour, and that’s what he was going to do.

Next, the group came across one of the overpasses where the interstate cut through the neighborhood.

“We’ll show you why we need better lighting, Secretary Gwynn,” lifelong resident and engineer Joe Robinson said. “The lights are all up there on the road. There’s nothing down here in the so-called walking community.”

Many of the projects people highlighted didn’t fall under state jurisdiction, but it was still helpful to hear about them, Gwynn said. The department often partners with the city and county, and having an understanding of the community’s overall vision and desires helps the state on a macro level, he said.

Robinson and others praised the neighborhood’s history and cultural fabric. They pointed out the cigar factories and the brick roads, along with century-old buildings and some of the best Jamaican food in the area. Robinson wanted officials to see the good in the neighborhood, not just the road plans and diagrams.

“A lot of the times we’re looking at aerials, but then you get down here and see and hear the history of it,” Gwynn said. “As we get closer with some of these concepts, it might be good for us to come out again and talk a little more.”

Robinson thanked Gwynn and other staff for taking the time in the community. It was good to put faces to the names, he said.

“You know I’m one of FDOT’s biggest critics,” Robinson told the group earlier. “But I love the fact that we’re finally getting some communication and dialogue.”

• • •

State officials weren’t always so willing to engage.

The agency’s $6 billion highway expansion was met with almost instant pushback when unveiled in May 2015. People felt the project came out of nowhere, with no public input. State officials cited origins from the 1990s. Two years of contention followed.

It wasn’t uncommon during that time to attend a transportation meeting and see the seat designated for the district secretary or overseer of Tampa Bay Next empty. Calls to the office’s public information number would go straight to voicemail. At one public meeting, a staff member sat in the back and snickered at comments from crowd.

In 2016, members of the county’s transportation planning group requested the state do more to engage the public. But those meetings, too, had a tone of dismissal. When people made suggestions that didn’t fit the state’s already crafted plan, they were told those ideas would go in “the parking lot.”

“It was basically putting your idea in time-out,” Fernandez said. “It was the closet they could come to saying, ‘We won’t hear anything that doesn’t involve the plan we proposed.’ You weren’t allowed to speak about anything else.”

A forced reset from Tallahassee and new hires worked to change that mentality.

Richard Moss stepped in as director of transportation development in April, a role that directly oversees Tampa Bay Next. Moss was aware he was moving into an “antagonistic relationship between FDOT and the public” and knew work needed to be done.

That’s why the district continues to plan events like Friday’s listening tour, Moss said. The department did a similar tour in East Tampa, along with walking with community members through the neighborhoods of MacFarlane Park, Armory Gardens and West Shore Palms. Officials went door-to-door in Tampa Heights, VM Ybor and Historic Ybor seeking input.

“It’s important for us to be there with locals,” Moss said. “We need to listen as they show us what’s important to them.”

• • •

Not everyone on the bus tour was impressed.

Hillsborough County NAACP president Yvette Lewis watched as they turned through the neighborhood streets. While others on the bus praised progress and economic development, she saw a history of demolished properties and exclusion.

“Give something back of what you keep taking around us,” Lewis said. “You’re constantly taking, taking, taking.”

Her comments extend to everybody — the state, the city, the wealthy homeowners who move in and outprice others who can no longer afford the rising rent.

Elaine Illes, a historic preservation consultant, shared a seat with Lewis and listened to her concerns. Illes noted some of them were at odds with what Robinson and others on the bus called for. She encouraged Lewis to continue to speak up, saying every new administration change is an opportunity to start fresh.

“Hopefully they listen to you, then, because they’re not listening to us,” Lewis said.

The state agency has made strides since the Tampa Bay Express backlash, but some are worried it could turn at any point.

Fernandez said each morning he wakes up, he’s still afraid a Google Alert will notify him of some change in the department that hurts the community.

“As of late, it seems as though we’ve kind of gone back to, ‘Here are the white boards of what we’re going to do. Take your choice,'” Overman said. “It’s not as much of a conversation.”

Some in the community will always be skeptical of the state’s intentions and willingness to work with the public, Overman said. Still, she believes officials have made a greater effort at transparency. She said she sees less aggression in how the state interacts with the public.”There was a level of arrogance in the past that I think has either gone away or at least subsided,” she said. “There’s now at least a desire for greater collaboration with the communities. …

“Let’s hope that lasts.”

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

What the Florida midterms tell us about paying for our economic priorities

Traffic backs up on I-275 in Malfunction Junction in Tampa. Times files.

 

There’s a lot to unpack from the midterms.

Will the recounts change the outcome of any of the statewide races?

Can polling find a better model, one that predicts the actual winners?

Will felons who have served their sentences really get their voting rights back?

I’ll leave those to the political experts. Instead, I’m getting my head around what the results tell us about our economic priorities and how we want to pay for them.

Here are three takeaways:

1. For now, we’re okay with taxing ourselves.

Pasco County residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of three separate property taxes increases to improve parks, libraries and fire rescue stations. They also narrowly passed a fourth increase to pay for a jail expansion. Total cost: $241 million.

In Hillsborough, voters passed two additions to the sales tax — an extra half cent for schools and a full cent for transportation. That raises the sales tax to 8.5 percent, the highest of any county in the state.

The transportation victory comes after several failed attempts to raise funds for rail and transit in the Tampa Bay area, including a similar effort in 2010 soundly rejected by Hillsborough voters and the disastrous Greenlight Pinellas campaign in 2014.

It’s a good time to vote on a tax increase. The economy is chugging along. Unemployment is low. Consumers remain fairly confident about the future.

Kyle Simon, 34, who lives in Palma Ceia, said he would have voted in favor of the tax increase anyway, but it certainly helps that people have more money in their pockets.

“It takes the sting out of voting for it,” he said.

The sales tax passed, in part, because residents experience the transportation problems for themselves, not as some far off problem, said Tampa Heights resident Rick Fernandez, who voted for the increase. They get snarled in traffic or can’t walk safely to where they want to go.

“We need it and we weren’t getting it done,” said Fernandez, 63, who was a registered Republican until 2016, when he switched to be a Democrat. “So eventually people power takes over where the elected officials are failing you.”

2. But we aren’t so fond of Tallahassee politicians taxing us.

Voters easily passed Amendment 5, which will require the Legislature to muster a two-thirds super-majority if it wants to impose, approve or raise state taxes or fees. Blocking proposed tax hikes will be much easier now. The amendment does not apply to local fees or taxes, such as funding for schools.

Voting for local tax increases, and at the same time making it harder for the state to levy taxes, makes sense. Traditionally, voters have been more likely to support tax increases if they have a clear grasp of what the money will pay for and that it stays close to home. We don’t like far-away politicians spending our taxes on things we never see or don’t understand.

3. Enough of us were feeling bullish to forgo a tax break.

Amendment 1 would have increased the homestead exemption by an additional $25,000, saving many homeowners about $200 to $350 a year depending on the value of their home and where they live. Of the 12 proposed constitutional amendments, it is the only one that failed.

Now, most voters — 58 percent — favored the amendment. It was popular, just not popular enough to get over the required 60 percent threshold.

The amendment language was a bit confusing, which likely didn’t help. Many voters, however, appeared to heed the cries of local officials, who said they might have to cut services or raise rates to make up for lost revenue.

Fernandez said he wasn’t tempted by the tax break.

“It felt like we would be starving local governments, and I didn’t want to be a part of that,” he said. “… I love Tampa and I am willing to pay the little extra that is being asked of me to allow the area to thrive and grow.”

The results show he isn’t alone.

Contact Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com. Follow @GrahamBrink.

Will Hillsborough voters approve a new 1-cent sales tax for transportation this time around?

Since the end of the Great Recession, the Tampa Bay area has been among the leaders in Florida when it comes to job growth and the economy. But the region still suffers when it comes to adequately addressing its growing transportation needs.

In Hillsborough County, voters rejected a one-cent sales tax on transportation back in 2010, and it hasn’t been on the ballot again for years — until now.

“All for Transportation,” a group of citizens frustrated by the county government’s reluctance to spend more on transportation projects, generated the more than 77,000 signatures needed this summer to get a new one-cent transportation tax on the ballot in Hillsborough County on Nov. 6.

The group received generous funding from Tampa Bay Lightning owner and real-estate developer Jeff Vinik.

While much attention is garnered by statewide political races, such as who will become Florida’s next governor, regional issues are often compelling enough to grab voters’ attention.

“We have 700,000 people moving into Hillsborough County over the next 30 years,” All for Transportation member Christina Barker said on Friday while addressing a community gathering at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange.

“If we do not do something, this is the best it’s ever going to get,” she said, referring to the area’s increasing traffic congestion.

The one-cent cent tax over 30 years would raise $276 million annually, and would be used for everything from improving roads and bridges to expanding public transit options, fixing potholes, enhancing bus services, and making walking and biking safer.

Brian Willis, another member of All for Transportation, says that Hillsborough County has had plans for transportation that go back 30 years, but a lack of funding to pay for the projects.

“What we’re doing is providing a solution that funds the plans that are on the books and it fully funds them,” he said.  A quarter or half-cent tax proposal would not suffice, he added.

There’s no question that the county has underfunded its transportation needs. Hillsborough County is the fourth largest state in Florida, yet ranks 62nd out of the 67 counties in terms of transportation funding, according to FloridaTaxWatch.

The measure, if approved Nov. 6, would distribute 55 percent of the funds to Hillsborough County and its three cities (including Tampa); another 44 percent to HART, the region’s transit agency, and other mass transit projects, and 1 percent for planning and development.

The measure also calls for a citizen-led independent oversight committee that would produce annual audits to make sure that the money is spent as advertised.

The big question politically is whether residents outside of Tampa will back the measure – or at least not strongly oppose it.

Though the 2010 Hillsborough sales tax measure lost by a wide margin (58%-42%) it was actually successful in Tampa, the most urban part of the vast county.

But there are critics.

Sharon Calvert is with No Tax for Tracks, a political action committee created to oppose the measure. She says one of the problems with the measure is that too much of the funding would go directly to the city of Tampa “but it will be the unincorporated (part of Hillsborough County) that will be paying for it.”

Americans for Prosperity Florida, the Koch Brothers-funded group, is also actively campaigning against the measure. The group has run radio and television ads touting their opposition.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is a strong supporter of the plan, as are several other elected Democrats in the county.

All for Transportation officials say that while they have heard plenty of registered Republicans express their support, no elected Republicans in the county have come forward with an endorsement of the plan.

No ‘fake news’: All For Transportation clears up myths

With less than a month remaining before the Nov. 6 election, the All For Transportationcampaign is trying to combat what it says is misinformation about the 1 percent sales tax referendum on the Hillsborough County ballot.

“With an existing backlog of $9 billion in transportation projects and an estimated 700,000 more people expected to move into Hillsborough County within the next 30 years, we can’t continue to ignore our transportation and transit problems,” said Tyler Hudson, All For Transportation chair.

“But a ‘Yes’ vote in November will be a decisive step toward reducing congestion, making our roads safer, and improving our overall quality of life.”

The group documented several misconceptions it has heard from voters.

Some think the All For Transportation plan is the same plan that was rejected in 2010. That referendum was similar in that it would have raised sales tax 1 percent, but its provisions were vastly different.

Moving Hillsborough Forward, the 2010 transit initiative, was mostly focused on transit enhancements. Of the money raised, 75 percent would have gone toward those projects and the plan lacked restrictions on how the money was spent.

This year’s transportation plan allocated 45 percent to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority with most of the rest going to cities and Hillsborough County to pay for roads and safety projects, among other non-transit needs.

That’s another misconception campaigners are hearing from residents worried the tax won’t ease congestion or pay for new lanes or roads.

The referendum would use about 20 percent of the $280 million raised each year to pay for all of the road widening and new road projects in the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range plan that are currently backlogged and un-funded.

All For Transportation campaigners are also reminding voters that the county does not spend enough on transportation. There’s a $9 billion backlog in transportation projects and that number gets bigger every year as the county continues to fall short on keeping up with transportation needs.

The campaign is also pointing to a provision in the referendum that provides specific oversight responsibilities on how revenue is spent. The referendum — No. 2 on the Hillsborough ballot — requires an independent oversight committee with 13 members who ensure money is spent in accordance with the referendum by conducting annual audits.

The members cannot be elected officials or earn or otherwise receive direct or indirect compensation from any of the agencies allocating resources. That includes the three cities in Hillsborough County and the county as well as HART.

All For Transportation has widespread backing from bipartisan groups included the Greater Tampa, South Tampa and Upper Tampa Bay chambers of commerce, Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Times.

But opposition is out there. The Florida chapter of Americans For Prosperity launched an ad last week that blasts the referendum as an unnecessary tax hike.

However, other than AFP, there is no local organized opposition to the transportation initiative.

No Tax For Tracks, the committee registered with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections that fought the 2010 referendum, has not raised funds. Meanwhile, All For Transportation has raised more than $2 million.

An urban future means growth for all cities, not just mega-cities

By Hania Zlotnik

This story is part of What Happens Next, our complete guide to understanding the future. Read more predictions about the Future of Cities.

The future is urban—but it does not lie exclusively in mega-cities.

About a decade ago, for the first time in history, the number of people living in urban areas surpassed that of those living in rural ones. But “urban” does not mean New York or Beijing or Rome. About half the urban population still lives in fairly small cities of fewer than 500,000 people (at least in developing countries) that may resemble rural areas more than mega-cities. Europe, for instance, has just two mega-cities and many smaller cities.

There are already 29 mega-cities with populations of 10 million or more—including Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Lagos and Kinshasa—but they make up just 12% of the global urban population. By 2035, we’re expected to have 50 mega-cities, but they would only account for 16% of all urban dwellers.

What’s more, urbanization has not advanced at the same pace in all regions. Europe and Northern America urbanized early, and their populations are already mostly urban (74.5% and 82% respectively). So are those of Latin America and the Caribbean, 81% of whose inhabitants live in urban areas. In sharp contrast, Africa’s population is still mostly rural (57%) and Asia’s has just become 50% urban.

Asia’s urbanization levels are largely determined by those of the two population giants, China and India. Until 1990, they were among the least urbanized countries in the world, with only 25% of their respective populations living in cities. Since then, China’s economic transformation has been accompanied by very rapid urbanization: China is expected to be three-quarters urban by 2038, up from 60% today. India, by contrast, still lags far behind with just about a third of its population living in cities, a proportion expected to rise to 45% by 2038.

High urbanization levels are associated with higher GDP. As the experience of China shows, rapid economic growth tends to accelerate urbanization. When high shares of the population make their living from agriculture, the productivity of that sector tends to be low. By contrast, during economic development, the most dynamic sectors of the economy tend to cluster in urban centers—or even give rise to them.

In China, for instance, the economic liberalization that began in 1978 promoted the development of enterprises in rural villages, which led to an economic boom in rural areas. The growth of rural enterprises spurred the development of new towns and cities by making villages become increasingly urban. As a consequence, the number of cities in China grew from 193 in 1978 to 655 in 2008, with the majority of new cities being small or medium-sized. The emergence of so many new cities—many located near the rural areas from which they derived their dynamism—helped reduce the impact of rural-to-urban migration on the large cities of China.

The movement of people from rural to urban areas is only one of the ways in which urban populations grow. Additions to the urban population also happen because births exceed deaths in urban areas, or because new cities emerge or existing cities expand, often encompassing former rural settlements. In some of the least developed countries, urban populations increase mainly because urban couples have many children who survive to be adults.

Rural-to-urban migration has not in general been the major contributor to urban population growth in developing countries.

 

For instance, in Niger, where the population is mostly rural (84%), the number of urban dwellers is doubling every 17 years because fertility is still a high seven children per women. Similarly, in much of Africa, high fertility is fueling rapid urban population growth, implying that increasing urbanization in the region is often not indicative of economic dynamism.

Demographers estimate that in most developing countries since the 1960s, the excess of births over deaths has accounted for well over half of the population increase in urban areas. Therefore, rural-to-urban migration, though significant over certain periods, has not in general been the major contributor to urban population growth in developing countries. Furthermore, in highly urbanized countries the majority of internal migrants already originate in cities and simply move to other cities, therefore having no impact on the overall size of the urban population. That is the case in the United States, in most European countries, and in highly urbanized developing countries, such as Brazil.

Urbanization is mostly positive. Evidence from developing countries shows that, on average, people living in urban areas are better off than rural dwellers. Because urbanites have better access to health care, they have better health and live longer than rural dwellers; their educational attainment is higher because educational institutions are better and more easily accessible in urban than in rural areas; and they benefit from a more diversified labor market than that typical of rural areas.  Nevertheless, cities in developing countries are not free from stresses: high levels of underemployment, the growth of slums, lack of adequate infrastructure, and costly services are problems that remain on the agenda of countless cities.

The expected expansion of cities in the developing world poses a number of challenges, including the necessity of generating decent jobs for their growing populations and providing them with adequate urban services in terms of housing, water and sanitation, transportation, electrification, nutrition, education, and health care. Furthermore, over the next few decades, cities will have to increase their resilience to the consequences of climate change, especially considering that many populous cities—such as Shanghai, Osaka, Mumbai, New York, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Alexandria, and Durban—are located in coastal areas that are very likely to be affected by rising sea levels. Though a few of the coastal cities are beginning to take measures to increase their resilience to floods and storm surges, if the average global temperature increases beyond 2° celsius, large tracts of urban land will be submerged and people will have to move elsewhere.

Technology and economies of scale may facilitate addressing some of these challenges. But in most countries, proactive planning for ensuring the resilience of urban centers is still the exception rather than the rule. Innovative approaches will be necessary to ensure that urban centers may continue to offer the best chances of enjoying long and productive lives. These approaches will require educating and nudging people to practice resource conservation, especially with regard to energy and water use. Technology may provide some solutions but it is ultimately the adoption and consistent use of appropriate technologies by each of us that will make a difference.

(Note: All statistics cited in this piece are derived from World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, produced by the Population Division of the United Nations.)

Citizens Group Files Lawsuits to Stop Neal Project in Sarasota

Staff Report•TheBradentonTimes.com
Sunday, Aug 19, 2018
SARASOTA — A group of affected neighbors filed two lawsuits against Sarasota County on Friday that could put a massive Neal Communities subdivision east of I-75 and south of Clark Road on hold.
The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners approved the Neal Village development, known as Grand Lakes, on July 11 in a series of 4-1 votes, as part of the county’s 2050 Village concept, an optional development framework that permits additional density. Neal is set to build 1,100 homes on 500 acres he purchased for $20 million last December.
This extra density is in exchange for public benefits that guide development in the rural areas east of I-75 into compact, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly villages by protecting large areas of open space, and ensuring that supporting infrastructure is paid for by the development.
Casting the dissenting votes, Commissioner Charles Hines asked, “Where is the walkability? Where is the compatibility? Where is the connectivity with the larger overall village?”
A large group of Serenoa, Serenoa Lakes and nearby large lot homeowners, along with Twin Lakes Park users, presented their objections during the public hearings leading up to the boards’ July decisions.
The citizens group argue that developer Pat Neal’s privately-initiated comprehensive plan amendment, which enabled the rezoning to proceed, violates the county’s long-range growth plan. They also say the rezoning itself violates several of the county’s zoning regulations.
The lawsuit asks that the State of Florida hold an administrative hearing to find that the Neal amendment is inconsistent with the other goals, objectives, and policies in the county’s comprehensive plan because eliminating the village mixed-use requirement promotes urban sprawl.
Eliminating the mixed-use requirement was previously considered by the county in 2014 during a public initiative known as 2050 Revisited. At that time, several large landowners and developers, including Neal, proposed eliminating the mixed-use center. County staff rejected the developers’ proposal because staff’s analysis determined that, without direct access to a commercial center, a core 2050 plan principle would be violated.
Nevertheless, when Neal proposed eliminating the mixed-use requirement as a privately processed amendment, the 2018 county staff reported that they had no objections and recommended approval.
“It is a shame when citizens have to dig into their own pockets just to make sure the planning officials follow their own rules, said David Anderson, spokesperson for the petitioners. It is very discouraging that the commissioners ignored the merits of our arguments and approved the Grand Lakes proposals, so, our only recourse available is very costly litigation.”
The second suit asks the Sarasota County Circuit Court to reverse the rezoning approval because the Grand Lakes application did not satisfy the protected open space and non-residential use requirements in the county’s village zoning regulations.
The petitioners’ attorney, Ralf Brookes, says the outcome could have major implications throughout the county for future 2050 village development.
The Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club, a leading environmental group, and 1000 Friends of Florida, Inc., a leading smart growth advocate, are providing financial support and legal assistance in the Grand Lakes challenges.

Where Ride-Hailing and Transit Go Hand in Hand

Partnerships between traditional public transportation agencies and Uber and Lyft have boomed since 2016. Where are they going?

Ever planned to take the bus, but wound up calling an Uber? That’s what the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority did in 2016.That year, ridership across St. Petersburg, Florida’s fixed route bus lines plummeted by 11 percent—twice the drop PSTA experienced in the first year of the recession, and one of the deepest declines of any major U.S. system. Pinellas County constituents had recently rejected the concept of transit even more directly: PSTA’s one-cent “Greenlight Pinellas” sales tax proposal to spread bus service and build a light rail system bombed at the ballots in 2014.That forced the agency to eliminate some of its existing routes, and to rethink how it was doing business. So it called in the apps. To cover the areas it had left transit-bare, PSTA became the first agency in the country to subsidize Uber trips. Since its “Direct Connect” program launched in February 2016, PSTA has given $5 discounts on rides provided by Uber and a local taxi company (and as of more recently, Lyft) to and from 24 popular bus stops in its service area to as many as 1,000 riders per month. “This is the future,” PSTA CEO Brad Miller told reporters on the day of the launch of the program, which was widely hailed as an example of what an amicable partnership between mass-transit and ride-hailing would look like.

By and large, much of the North American transit industry would seem to agree. According to a report released this week by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, since 2016 at least 27 more communities across the United States have joined arms with Uber, Lyft, and other transportation network companies (TNCs) to supplement or substitute traditional service—even as questions linger about the wisdom of undertaking these kinds of programs.

In many ways, the same factors that pushed Pinellas County to the world of ride-hailing have pushed the rest of these cities: a desire to provide higher-quality mobility in areas where transit options fall short or where there’s not enough parking. There’s also a degree of brand-consciousness at play, said Joseph Schwieterman, the director of DePaul’s Chaddick Institute, who co-authored the report with Mallory Livingston, a DePaul graduate researcher. “Transit agencies can’t afford to become like the taxi industry and let the world pass them by,” Schwieterman said.

Working in tandem with Uber, Lyft, and other similar offerings is a way for transit agencies to insert themselves on the primary communication channel riders are already using—their smartphones—and could be a step towards reimagining the on- and off-board customer experience.The question of whether ride-hailing apps are pulling riders on or off public transit—complementing it, or cannibalizing it—has been a cloud over the transportation industry for years. Transit ridership is declining on systems across the country, particularly on buses, and especially in smaller and mid-sized cities. While Uber, Lyft, and others TNCs have frequently taken the blame, the more significant drivers in ridership declines are likely service cuts and lower gas prices. “The writing is on the wall for many lightly used bus routes,” Schwieterman said. “Everybody is scratching their heads about how to better deliver their product, given how fast-paced society is becoming.” Establishing a link to on-demand transportation could be one way to do it.But as the transportation analyst Bruce Schaller has recently written, surveys in several major U.S. cities show in aggregate that a majority of TNC users in those cities would have taken public transit, walked, biked, or forgone their trip if the ride-hailing apps hadn’t been available. These services are siphoning off some transit passengers who can afford it, in some areas.

On the other hand, Uber and Lyft also appear to be penetrating neighborhoods with poor transit coverage and low car ownership rates, places traditional taxi services would not go. And in some cases, when it’s late at night and transit options are scant, calling a car is a far more time- and cost-effective option.In most cities, rider demand for Uber and Lyft trips through these transit agency partnerships has not been overwhelming. That much-ballyhooed pilot program in Centennial, for example, was not extended due to insufficient demand. PSTA has seen consistent ridership increases with its Direct Connect program, growing 210 trips per month in March 2017 to 994 trips per month by August of that year, according to PSTA data provided to CityLab. That’s still not much: A mixed-traffic lane with frequent buses can move at least 1,000 people per hour.These TNC partnerships have hardly boosted transit demand. And plenty of transportation advocates fear they could be counterproductive, by unwittingly contributing to the perception that Uber and Lyft can meaningfully replace mass transit. “I’m sure we’ll get some criticism with this report for creating a risk that funding for transit will fall as these partnerships come to the table,” Schwieterman said. “It’s a fine line between maintaining the system and outsourcing parts of the system.”

There are other risks tied to partnering with TNCs. These companies are notoriously protective of ridership data, which is a limitation for transit agencies trying to judge the success of these subsidy and tie-in programs. When PSTA signed its original contract with Uber, for example, “there was nothing in it about data,” said Bonnie Epstein, a senior planner at PSTA. The agency did eventually get some ridership totals from Uber (as noted), but nothing about the origin or destination of the trips, for example.

Similarly, there’s nothing stopping Uber, Lyft, or any other private transportation company (including taxis) from raising minimum fares without notifying public agencies first. Uber has done this repeatedly in Pinellas County since the Direct Connect program launched in 2016. According to Epstein, some riders have complained that the $5 public subsidy is no longer as useful as the cost of the Uber becomes equal to (or greater than) the cost of a second bus ticket in addition to the one they’re already buying at their connecting station. This story will be updated with responses by Uber and Lyft to requests for comment.Partnerships between ride-hailing companies and transit agencies are still in a delicate courting stage, said Jon McBride, a business strategist with a focus on emerging transportation modes. As far as agreements go, “I expect public agencies to become more specific about their data sharing requests, ways to influence equitable access and compensation models,” he said.

Babcock Ranch In Florida Is To Sustainable Living What Tesla Is To Sustainable Transportation

July 15th, 2018 by

Tucked into a corner of Southwest Florida about a half-hour from Fort Myers, Babcock Ranch is what developer Syd Kitson calls the most sustainable new community in America. It started when Kitson, a former NFL player, purchased the 91,000 acre ranch in 2006. He immediately struck a deal to sell 73,000 acres of the property to the state of Florida for a wildlife preserve. He then donated 440 acres to Florida Power & Light with the stipulation that it construct a solar power plant on the land. Today, that parcel is covered by 350,000 solar panels that feed electricity into the electrical grid.

Then Kitson went to work with local partners to design and build a new community on the remaining 17,000 acres. “We want to be the most sustainable new town in the United States,” Kitson tells CBS News. “We had the advantage of a green field, a blank sheet of paper. When you have a blank sheet of paper like this, you really can do it right from the beginning.”

The town gets most of its electricity from the nearby solar power plant during the day. Although the community has 10 small battery stations, Kitson says large-scale battery storage is still too expensive (Elon Musk would disagree), so at night or on cloudy days, the community draws power from the utility grid. “The people here pay the exact same amount that everybody else pays in the Florida Power and Light network,” he says. “Clearly, if you have a number of cloudy days in a row, it will impact the efficiency and the available electricity that comes from the solar field, but this is Florida, and if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.” Last year, when Hurricane Irma swept across that part of the state, not one solar panel was damaged.

The first residents began moving in at the beginning of this year. 500 homes are expected to be completed by December. 19,500 dwelling units are planned over the next two decades. All of the structures in Babcock Ranch will feature the latest energy efficiency technology and offer 1 gigabit internet access. Alexa will handle all smart home functions. Outside, there are 50 miles of nature trails through the wildlife preserve next door. A farm-to-table organic gardening project is underway and a K-8 charter school is planned. Residents will be encouraged to leave their cars at home as they walk, bike, or take advantage of the electric autonomous shuttle bus fleet that will service the community.

“This community is a unique opportunity to really implement sustainable technology in a practical way,” Haris Alibašić, a professor at the University of West Florida, tells Good.com. “Cities around the world have started adopting 100% renewable energy targets, but it’s both intriguing and encouraging to see this happening from a developer.” He adds he would like to see more affordable housing included in the plans for the community. A three bedroom home in Babcock Ranch sells for $195,000 and a four bedroom town house lists for $795,000. “I think the ultimate key to long term sustainability is attracting people from diverse incomes and backgrounds,” he says.

Last January, Richard and Robin Kinley became the first family to move to Babcock Ranch. They chose a house near a lake, which has now been named Lake Kinley in their honor. “The air is nice and clean here and I think these types of communities are the future,” Robin says. “I felt very much like when I bought a Tesla back in 2013 and I said, this is definitely is going to make it,” Richard adds. “I felt the same way about Babcock Ranch.”

Their first neighbors were Donna and James Aveck, who moved in a few weeks later. “We love the innovation here,” Donna says. “We think it’s a very small planet and we want to do our part to conserve it.” Babcock Ranch has thought of every detail when it comes to sustainability. Jim says, “When I go to the gym, which is huge, and I get on the treadmill, the energy I generate by running actually feeds back into the electric grid.”

Communities that have already transitioned to 100% renewable energy include Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; Rockport, Missouri; and Kodiak Island, Alaska, according to the Sierra Club. But Babcock Ranch has designed sustainability into the entire fabric of the community from the beginning. Just as Tesla has driven change in the transportation industry, Babcock Ranch will encourage other cities and towns to make sustainability part of their community DNA.

Florida has more to lose with sea rise than anywhere else in the U.S., new study says

June 18, 2018 10:43 AM

Updated June 18, 2018 02:07 PM

We Need Bigger Cities, But We Also Need Unique Cities

“If you don’t want processed food, why do you want processed cities?” asks architect Vishaan Chakrabarti.

BY EILLIE ANZILOTTI  3 MINUTE READ

 

Think of the pedestrian bridges of Venice, or the steep, tiled streets of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Or the winding back alleys of Hong Kong, and the intricate apartment buildings of Paris.

And then, think about a modern downtown. Charlotte, North Carolina, the planned business district of Konza Techno City in Kenya, Shanghai. They all look the same.

That, says architect and Practice for Architecture and Urbanism founder Vishaan Chakrabarti at TED 2018 in Vancouver, is a major problem. “There’s a creeping sameness besieging our planet,” he says. And this matters, he adds, because more and more people around the world–hundreds of thousands every day–are moving into urban areas every day. By 2050, around 70% of the world’s residents will live in cities.

This, he says, is a necessary development against climate change–dense dwellings well-served by mass transit are the most sustainable ways to live, and must be done well to continue to convince people away from sprawling suburban developments. But our homogenous cities are beginning to fail their residents. “Are they condemned to live in the same bland cities we built in the 20th century, or can we offer them something better?” Chakrabarti asks.

His answer is yes, but first, we have to understand how are our cities homogenized over the last century. Mass-production of materials like concrete, steel, asphalt, and drywall, he says, equipped architects with building features that “we deploy in mind-numbing quantities across the planet,” he says. Developers, armed with this materials, “want to build bigger and bigger” to house as many people as possible to recuperate the cost of building, and that has brought about “the dull thud of the same apartment building being built in every city across the world,” Chakrabarti says. Not only is this trend homogenizing design, but it’s homogenizing societies, and fostering the affordability crises gripping our cities.

Chakrabarti is all for housing as many people as possible, and creating safe and accessible environments for urban residents. His issue is with the lack of creativity and local sensitivity with which we have gone about providing for these things.

We need, he says, to go back to building “cities of difference.” And that starts with injecting into the global, the local. While in the past, designers, architects, and planners have leaned on mass production and homogeneity to do their jobs, Chakrabarti suggests they look to food as inspiration to free themselves from this way of thinking. “Look at the way that craft beer has taken on corporate beer,” he says. He then asks the audience how many of them still eat Wonder Bread. Very few do. “If you don’t want processed food, why do you want processed cities?” he asks.

Instead, Chakrabarti suggests that designers and architects build cities “that respond to local communities, climates, cultures, and construction methods.” Some are already doing so: Balkrishna Doshi, who won the Pritzker Prize this year for his work on affordable housing in India, creates beautiful, culturally specific dwellings that invoke a sense of place while effectively housing thousands.

And Chakrabarti’s team at PAU is developing a 21st-century urban center for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Instead of leaning on generic buildings, Chakrabarti’s team is creating a catalog of colorful edifices–homes, shops, theaters–designed with local material, that work together in concert and create a diverse, culturally sensitive and unique city center.

“We’re searching for a new model for growing cities that could shape-shift in response to local needs and building materials,” Chakrabarti says.

By going back to designing urban areas with cultural sensitivity and difference in mind, “we can disincentive sprawl and protect nature, and build cities that are high-tech but respond to the cultural needs of its peoples,” he says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company’s Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

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