Florida DOT reveals 94 percent of youngest passengers riding safely

BY CHRIS GALFORD  |   OCTOBER 2, 2018   |   NEWS

 

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) released a report last week highlighting the efforts of most drivers to keep their children safe.

© Shutterstock

The 2018 Child Restraint Survey showed that 94 percent of the state’s infant passengers were restrained properly, and 84 percent of children between 0 and 12 were so restrained. Aiding this has been an increased use of rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster car seats — safety functions which have been shown to reduce fatalities by as much as 71 percent among infants and 54 percent for toddlers.

“As a parent or caregiver, keeping your children safe is always a top priority,” FDOT Secretary Mike Dew said. “Using car seats that are age and size-appropriate is the best way to keep children safe and can reduce serious and fatal injuries by more than half. Make sure your child is always bucked in safely and correctly–every trip, every time.”

Florida law specifically required children to be restrained in separate carriers or integrated car seats until age three. Between ages four and five, children must also ride in a separate carrier, integrated child seat, child booster seat or with a safety belt. FDOT also recommends but does not enforce the notion that children under 12 should ride with seatbelts on in the back seat.

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.)

Millennial workforce split on transit options

September 17, 2018 11:14 AM
Updated September 17, 2018 11:14 AM
This week’s question to South Florida CEOs who are on the Miami Herald CEO Roundtable: Statistics show millennials don’t want to own cars and prefer to use Uber and public transportation whenever possible. Have you seen this trend reflected in your workforce?

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While there are Community Care Plan employees who will use Uber or public transportation on an occasional basis, given that our office isn’t in a downtown urban location, I don’t believe that it has been a trend for our employees.

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We have quite a few millennials working for us, and they all enjoy their automobiles. The statistics which shows that many millennials prefer not to own cars are heavily influenced by cities that have had far better public transportation for many years than most major cities in Florida. The independence of owning our own cars is deeply entrenched in the minds of all Floridians, including millennials.

Armando Caceres, CEO, founder, All Florida Paper

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Many of our younger employees choose to live downtown and put off owning a car. I’m noticing the buses, trolleys and Metrorail are bustling with people and all of these services are becoming more reliable because of increased use. This is all great news for our city.

Kelly-Ann Cartwright, executive partner, Holland & Knight Miami chair of the firm’s Directors Committee

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Although I have not yet seen it in my workforce, I have seen it with millennial family members. There is something to be said about being able to shed the expenses and headaches that come with automobiles/commuting and instead, using that time and money for more fulfilling endeavors. I think millennials are on the right track with this trend.

Ralph De La Rosa, president, CEO, Imperial Freight

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None of our employees use public transportation, likely because we aren’t located near any major transit system. Uber has been a great addition to the market, but as a company, we don’t use it all that much.

Jalal Farooq, principal, Al-Farooq Corporation

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In the last several years, we have seen a steady decline in students bringing a car to campus. Students are using Uber and Lyft, Zip Cars, biking and bike-share, public transit, e-scooters, and other ways to get around. The university is encouraging carpooling, especially through app-based services, to further reduce traffic on and around campus. The University of Miami is working with community partners to make a variety of transit options more available and we strive to create a campus that is increasingly pedestrian-friendly.

Dr. Julio Frenk, president, University of Miami

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We haven’t seen that phenomenon with the millennials at our workplace. They all still enjoy owning their own cars.

Kaizad Hansotia, founder, CEO, Gurkha Cigars

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I can’t say that any of our employees have given up their cars completely. Miami is a big city and the truth is you need a car. That being said, I know that the employees based out of our Coral Gables office are constantly taking advantage of the Freebee cars and trolleys. They’re extremely convenient to get around Downtown Gables — particularly in these hot summer months. Uber and Lyft also are good options when you need to get to a meeting in Downtown or Brickell and want to avoid the inconvenience and high cost of parking.

Javier Holtz, chairman, CEO, Marquis Bank

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Yes, most millennials do not want the cost and commitment associated with owning, insuring and maintaining a vehicle and are used to shared concepts as opposed to private ownership. We are living in the Uber generation and developers need to consider this when planning future developments. For example, our upcoming Miami River Walk apartment development is a transit-oriented project, which will appeal to millennials due to its extensive amenity offering, close proximity to offices and entertainment options in Downtown and Brickell, and value price offering.

Camilo Miguel Jr., founder, CEO, Mast Capital

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We find most people are still driving to work. However, I have recently experienced upper level management using Uber for daytime meetings in order to maximize efficiency.

Noreen Sablotsky, founder, CEO, Imalac

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I have witnessed a few employees opting for Uber/Lyft service going to and from work. Though it only seems to make sense monetarily if they use the shared ride option, which cuts costs and lowers their carbon footprint. Otherwise, it can cost more than the expenses for a used car, depending on how often they are out and about, i.e., monthly note, gas, car insurance, parking.

Deborah Spiegelman, CEO, Miami Children’s Museum

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While there is an uptick in use of Uber and ride-share as options, many of our associates are millennials and they still drive to work daily. We haven’t yet seen an increase in the use of public transportation among the millennial demographic specifically.

Steve Upshaw, CEO, Cross Country Home Services

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Bob Knight: Public money wasted on unnecessary water projects

Posted Sep 11, 2018 at 2:00 AM

 

Nature’s water cycle is amazing and free. Solar energy lifts fresh water from the ocean as vapor, transports it over the land with wind currents and deposits precipitation on Florida at an average rate of about 150 billion gallons each day.

About 15 billion gallons of this rainfall daily recharges the state’s natural underground water storage and conveyance system. The remaining 90 percent evaporates or runs off in rivers to the ocean. This is like a natural Jacuzzi, bathing Florida’s environment in life-giving freshwater at no cost.

Fast forward to 2018. Humans have corralled and re-directed Florida’s natural water cycle to fulfill their own desires. Florida’s rivers and lakes are widely impaired due to poorly regulated pollutant discharges and excessive withdrawals. Increasingly, Floridians have turned to underground waters for supply, first for drinking water and then for nearly every other use, including landscape and crop irrigation that was traditionally supported by rain.

The consequence of this shift is the increasing depletion of Florida’s most precious and least plentiful fresh water supply — the groundwater in Florida’s aquifers. In north and central Florida, the resulting destruction of our natural springs and rivers that rely on groundwater inputs for dry-season baseflow is visible to all who care to look. Downstate in the absence of springs, aquifer depletion is harder to see.

Rather than facing this calamity head on by establishing a cap on groundwater pumping to reserve adequate water to protect natural environments, Florida’s leaders continue to kick the can down the road under cover of poor science and public apathy.

Some of us consume less than 30 gallons per day of groundwater for drinking, bathing and cleaning and are content to rely on rain to water our grass. But the average Floridan consumes closer to 100 gallons per day of groundwater. Just by cutting out unnecessary water uses, we could reduce the public’s 3 billion gallon per day groundwater habit to less than 1 billion gallons per day.

Fortunately, a few areas of the state are concerned enough about depleted aquifers to have already cut historic water uses in half. Unfortunately, the benefits realized by this growing Florida water ethic are undone by a much smaller group of water users — namely for-profit business owners who shamelessly drink for free at the public water trough. With no charge for using groundwater, the cunning few who control the water-permitting system easily gain permits to withdraw gigantic quantities of groundwater at no charge.

While water bottlers are a convenient target for public wrath about this corporate welfare, they are a drop in the bucket compared to phosphate mines, paper mills, industrial farms and others. More than 30,000 consumptive use permits allocate nearly half of all groundwater recharge in Florida’s Springs Region. Averaging more than 150,000 gallons per day each, these permits legalize groundwater extractions that are collectively killing our springs.

Despite compelling evidence that Florida’s springs are drying up, the state’s leaders continue to promote their costly charade justifying new water consumption permits based on obfuscation and flawed groundwater flow models. While restoring Florida’s springs is as easy and free as reducing permitted groundwater allocations, the water management districts would rather bilk taxpayers for the cost of their own water.

For example, St. Johns River Water Management District leaders seriously considered putting a pipe in the Ocklawaha River downstream from Silver Springs and pumping the water to a treatment and recharge system next to the spring at an estimated capital cost of more than $100 million and annual operating costs of nearly $1 million. District employees privately dubbed this ridiculous idea the “Jacuzzi Project.”

The same water district is implementing a $40 million scheme to pump water from Black Creek to restore water levels in the Keystone area lakes. Once again, the cost for this Ponzi scheme will be borne by taxpayers rather than by the businesses who continue to profit by depleting the aquifer.

A series of similar projects are in the planning stages in the Suwannee River Water Management District. Together these two water districts have projected a $300 million price tag to provide “alternative” water supplies to meet future demands.

How can these “public servants” continue to expend public money to implement these unnecessary water supply projects? The simple answer is that they are desperate enough to try anything to keep their jobs. If we don’t demand better of our leaders, you can bet we won’t get it.

Dr. Bob Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in High Springs.

Welcome to water world!

Updated

 

Welcome to water world!
The sunset from South Pointe Park in Miami Beach.

Head for the coast, and on a good weekend, thousands of people are at the shore, enjoying the sun, water and sugar-white sands.

Beaches are the original Florida — the lure that drew Northerners to a swampy peninsula decades before Walt Disney’s company decided to make the Sunshine State home.

Today, these original tourist attractions generate billions of dollars for the state economy and support nearly 400,000 jobs. Their salt-air allure is part of the foundation of modern Florida.

“If the beaches weren’t here, Disney would have thought twice about locating (its theme parks) in Florida,” said Kevin Murphy, professor and chair of the Hospitality Services Department at Rosen College of Hospitality Management at University of Central Florida.

“Our sun, sea and sand is the primary reason why people come here.”

Modern threats from toxic algae, erosion, rising sea levels and oil spills have failed to dim the public’s love of these natural wonders. If the weather’s good on a holiday like Labor Day, the sun-loving crowds prove it again and again.

But the numbers prove it, too.

The United States Lifesaving Association, which compiles data from public safety agencies on ocean rescues, estimates that more than 85.7 million people visited Florida beaches in 2017. That’s the highest attendance the organization recorded in the last 10 years.

It also represents more than a quarter of the more than 385 million people nationwide who visited beaches last year, the group said.

At least 43 of Florida’s state parks have beaches. Combined, they welcomed 14 million to 17 million visitors during each of the last five years, according to data from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the Florida Park Service.

That’s higher than the number of people who visited any one of Florida’s theme parks in 2017, except for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

Florida’s most popular state park with a beach is Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, near Clearwater. It drew more than 1.5 million visitors in each of the last two years, as many visitors as Universal Orlando’s newest theme park Volcano Bay in its first year of business.

And that’s just part of the story.

The more you look, the more it becomes clear that Florida is the nation’s undisputed beach king.

How Florida leads in beaches

Florida has a geographic advantage that favors its high beach attendance.

It has about 1,350 miles of coastline, more than any other state in the continental U.S, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Although the Sunshine State doesn’t come close to matching Alaska’s 6,640-mile coastline, it has at least 825 miles of coastline with beaches, according to the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association.

“Florida uniquely has beaches on two different U.S. coastlines, the Atlantic and the Gulf. This means different wave and water patterns, temperatures and culture,” said Derek Brockbank, executive director of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. “Florida also has beaches with different sand composition, ranging from sugary-white, to filled with tropical shells, to golden-hued.”

This diversity in beach landscapes offers different experiences that attract not only tourists, but also Villagers and other Florida residents.

“Our people love to swim,” said Sharon Jones, the Village of Hemingway resident who leads beach trips with The Villages Barefoot Beachcombers, one of at least five beach clubs in the community. “They’re not the kind of people that sit in a chair all day.”

Beyond the abundant coastline and three distinct beach regions to explore, Florida beaches have other significant advantages.

One selling point stands apart in the minds of many tourists planning their beach getaways: a mild climate for most of the year.

So when blizzards cover Nassau County, New York, with piles of snow, visitors can head south to bask in the sun in places like Amelia Island in Nassau County, Florida.

“If you look at some of the great tourist destinations in the world like New York and Paris, they’re not necessarily surrounded by beaches,” said Murphy, of UCF. “But when you look at millions of people coming to Central Florida, which encompasses two coasts, they often plan that visit around the beaches like Daytona Beach and Clearwater. To attract people to the coastal communities is paramount.”

Leading by acclaim

Florida doesn’t thrive as a beach tourism hotspot only by having beaches open all year.

It also has some of the best beaches in the nation, as ranked by several authoritative travel sources.

Florida beaches featured prominently on TripAdvisor’s annual list of the best beaches in the United States, including six in the top 10: Clearwater Beach at No. 1, Siesta Beach in Sarasota at No. 2, South Beach in Miami at No. 4, Fort Lauderdale Beach at No. 6, St. Pete Beach at No. 7 and Hollywood Beach at No. 8.

Those destinations also are favorites on the annual top 10 lists of Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a coastal ecologist at Florida International University. Although he’s one of the world’s top researchers on sea level rise and rip currents, Leatherman is perhaps best known by his nickname, “Dr. Beach.”

This year, he ranked Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa Beach at No. 3 on his list, and Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin at No. 7. In 2017, Siesta Beach — a frequent entrant on his annual lists — was No. 1.

Attendance to Siesta Beach that year likely received a boost from press coverage of its ranking on the Dr. Beach list that received more than 600 million audience impressions, he said, citing tourism officials in Sarasota.

Other Florida beaches that won his acclaim in prior years include Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys, St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Port St. Joe, and Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg.

“Florida has clean beaches, clean water, clean sand and good access,” Leatherman said in an interview. “And (Florida beaches) are well-managed.”

To compile his lists, he grades beaches using a set of 50 criteria that includes the color and softness of sand, whether wildlife is present, and whether the beach has scenic vistas or is close to urban areas.

The most important qualities Leatherman looks for in a beach are the cleanliness of the water, public safety, and how well the beach is managed.

“If you don’t have clean water, you don’t have anything,” he said. “The Department of Health checks our water, and it’s excellent. There’s places where it’s not very good, but overall, our water quality is very good in Florida.”

Why beaches matter to Florida’s economy

Depending on where you go, the cost of a beach visit in Florida ranges from free to inexpensive.

Yet, they play a major role in Florida’s economy.

Tourism and recreation in the state’s coastal counties — not limited to, but including beaches — contributed more than $16 billion to Florida’s gross domestic product in 2011, 2012, and 2015, according to the most recent research available from the National Ocean Economics Program, which monitors the ocean economies of the U.S.

Florida and California, a state with $22 billion in GDP and more than 418,000 jobs tied to coastal tourism, together comprise one-third of the nation’s total employment and GDP tied to coastal tourism.

“The reason we don’t have state income taxes (in Florida) is because of the people coming to the beaches,” said Luke Cunningham, a charter boat captain in Clearwater. “It’s a critical part of our economy, that’s for sure.”

It’s certainly critical to Cunningham and many other people, since coastal tourism and recreation supported more than 397,000 jobs in 2015, according to the National Ocean Economics Program.

In its latest economic study on Florida beaches, also from 2015, the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research found beaches generate $5.40 for every dollar the state invests on beach management and restoration.

The study reviewed tourist spending related to beach travel compared with state leaders’ beach management and restoration investments during the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 fiscal years.

During that time, state leaders spent about $44 million in taxpayer dollars in beach management projects that improved and enhanced the quality of Florida beaches.

That work contributed to more than $764 million in beach spending from domestic and international visitors, the report showed.

Many out-of-state visitors identify Florida with beaches more than they do theme parks.

In fact, the state Economic and Demographic Research study found that 25.5 percent of visitors to Florida called beaches the most attractive feature of the state’s brand. Theme parks trailed slightly at 24.3 percent.

“It may be noted that, while beaches are the most attractive feature to visitors, they generally do not directly generate revenue,” the report stated. “Instead, they facilitate an array of expenditures that collectively comprise the cost of the tourism experience.”

The beach tends to be such a lucrative destination, tourists will pay big bucks to stay close to it.

About 63 percent of hotel and motel business in Florida comes from coastal areas, according to a recent economic impact analysis for Visit Florida, the state’s public-private tourism marketer.

STR, a company that tracks market data, found that visitors to Monroe, Collier, Nassau, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Walton counties this year paid an average of about or more than $200 per night for lodging.

Other statewide indicators highlight the significance of beach tourism to Florida.

Of the eight Florida counties that state leaders consider high-impact tourism areas — places where bed taxes raise at least $30 million a year — six of them are counties where beaches are a primary attraction: Duval, Volusia, Pinellas, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.

The other two — Orange and Osceola — have no coastline, but plenty of theme parks to make up for it.

“When we’re reaching out to visitors outside the area, we always lead with the beach,” said Kate Holcomb, spokeswoman for the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau in Volusia County. “We definitely know our iconic beach is our main asset.”

Wide appeal, lots of activities

Saying you’re going to the beach offers only a broad description of how to spend the day.

A trip offers many possibilities, as simple or as elaborate as a visitor wants to make it.

Families with young children, teenagers and young adults, and senior citizens alike pack the shores of Clearwater Beach on an average weekend, their paths meandering around colored umbrellas, chairs and blankets.

If the kids aren’t in the water, they study the sands with toy pails and shovels in tow as they scout out spots to build a perfect sand castle.

Some adults, inspired by the childhood pastime, enjoy sand sculpting — an art that involves building more elaborate objects using the sand, not limited to, but including castles.

Depending on the beach, people also may find anglers casting rods and reels from fishing piers, players lofting volleyballs across an oceanfront net, standup paddle boarders gliding along the ocean, or parasailers soaring above the surf.

Add in surfers, snorkelers and scuba divers, and the beach becomes a moving spectacle of outdoor activity.

Grayton Beach, halfway between Destin and Panama City in Florida’s Panhandle, is where people can view the Underwater Museum of Art, America’s first underwater museum. It’s a sculpture garden accessible only by scuba diving.

Despite debuting only three months ago, Time Magazine recently named the underwater museum one of its top 100 places in the world to visit. Only one other Florida landmark made the list, Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Caladesi Island, a Dr. Beach favorite near Clearwater, attracts many paddleboaters because a canoe or kayak is the only other way besides a ferry to reach the beach.

Among those paddlers last year was a group of 12 members of The Villages Canoe and Kayak Club. Jim Zoschenko, who led that trip and now serves as the club’s vice president, said the paddle trail across Hurricane Pass from Honeymoon Island leads through tunnels of mangroves.

The Village of Pennecamp resident said the club organizes at least one coastal paddle every year. He’s planning a return visit to Caladesi Island for the club next spring.

More members enjoyed the paddle to the beach than the beach itself, Zoschenko said.

“It was interesting that on that trip very few of our club members got in the water,” he said, “which was bizarre since the conditions were idyllic.”

Michael Salerno is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or michael.salerno@thevillagesmedia.com.

Political waves over sea level rise

By Tom McLaughlin, tmclaughlin@nwfdailynews.com
Published Aug 24, 2018

 

deep political divide runs through American politics. It’s a gap stretching from a place where talk of sea level rise ends and conversation about climate change begins.While sea level rise is a subject most lawmakers are willing to at least touch upon, the topic of climate change is either ignored or ridiculed in many corners of Tallahassee and Washington.

“Sea level rise is more palatable,” said Susan Glickman, the Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “That’s due in part to its undeniability.”

Long-time Republican strategist Mac Stipanovich, who splits his time between Tallahassee and Destin, lays climate change “denialism” squarely at the feet of the party he represents.

“Denying climate change has become a part of the right-wing Republican dogma, just like Second Amendment absolutism and lower taxes in all cases,” Stipanovich said.

If climate change is real, and manmade, Stipanovich said, it becomes “a huge serious problem” to be dealt with, and attempting to address the issue, either through carbon taxes, zoning restrictions or other means “would be politically unpopular.”

That, the strategist concluded, makes addressing climate change a low percentage play for Republicans. Implementing policies that will only make a small group of environmentally concerned activists happy “would be politically unpopular.”

“It’s now enshrined in Republican dogma to be a climate denier,” Stipanovich said. “And if we’ve learned anything recently, you can’t twitch a bit when it comes to the new right wing Republican dogma or you’re excommunicated.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has proven the equal to any Washington D.C. denialist. Arguably the state’s most famous Republican, the governor turned U.S. Senate candidate made national news in 2015 when he was credibly accused of preventing state employees from even uttering the words “climate change.”

Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis, who are competing as Republicans to replace Scott in the governor’s mansion, appear poised to stay the conservative course where climate change and sea level rise are concerned. Neither Scott, Putnam nor DeSantis responded to several Gatehouse Media requests to complete a short sea level rise survey.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam. (Associated Press / John Raoux)

Putnam was the only Republican offered the survey who even responded to it with a statement.

“The threat of sea-levels rising presents a challenge to our beautiful beaches and booming tourism industry,” Putnam said. “This is an issue of focusing more efforts into investing in the infrastructure for Florida to be a strong, resilient state. We need to have beach re-nourishment, we need to support our estuaries, we need to invest in infrastructure that will harden our coastlines and allow us to move well fields inland.”

Asked to differentiate between sea level rise and climate change, a Putnam spokeswoman offered “we have no change to the statement as submitted.”

Long after the survey was sent, DeSantis, at a campaign stop in Englewood, did acknowledge that climate change “may be a factor” in creating an ongoing red tide crisis in the Gulf of Mexico in South Florida.

“I certainly wouldn’t rule out warmer waters having an impact; it seems reasonable,” DeSantis told Gatehouse Media’s Zac Anderson.

He termed climate change “more of a national and international issue” than one facing Floridians.

Share your thoughts on sea level rise in Florida by completing this interactive survey

 

Tide gauge measurements at several points across Florida provide proof that not only are the world’s oceans rising, but that the pace with which they are doing so has accelerated since 2006. Studies consistently show the flooding is happening with more frequency.

This year flooding caused by high tides is anticipated to occur 60 percent more often in the United States than it did in 2000, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study.

A dock is submerged after heavy rain moved through the area in 2017 in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. (Nick Tomechek / Daily News)

Glickman said sea levels can be expected to rise between six inches and 2.9 feet by 2050. Experts say that between 2005 and 2017, $7.4 billion has been lost in home value across 5 coastal states due to sea level rise, and Florida’s $5.4 billion in losses are the most of any state.

“No matter what we do now we’re looking at an impact,” she said during a recent conference call. “We need to be making long term decisions.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine. (Associated Press / Chris O’Mear)

Phil Levine, one of five Democrats running this year for governor, became known as an advocate for steeling Florida against sea level rise when he was mayor of Miami Beach. Levine even boasts of having campaigned for that job from a kayak, paddling down the middle of a busy street inundated by flooding for which sea level rise was to blame.

“While some people get swept into office, I kind of got floated into office,” Levine likes to say.

Levine and two fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Andrew Gillum and Chris King, provided lengthy answers to the Gatehouse Media survey questions about sea level rise.

Gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham and Jeff Greene did not participate. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson also declined to participate.

Levine used the survey to point out that hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent in Miami Beach to raise roads, install seawater pumps, improve building codes and erect sea walls to protect the city.

“The city has become a model for others around the world confronting climate change,” he said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. (Associated Press /  Lynne Sladky)

Gillum called for state-wide investments in infrastructure, the elimination of carbon emissions and coordination between local, regional and federal governments to find solutions to climate issues.

“I would direct all relevant state agencies to begin planning for sea level rise mitigation and adaptation, and to prevent further salt water intrusion,” he said. “And I would put scientists and science back in charge of our state’s climate change policies, not lobbyists.”

King said he has made environmental policy a cornerstone of his campaign.

“I have big, bold ideas for Florida on issues such as climate change, rising seas, Everglades’ restoration, clean water and air and building a clean energy economy,” he said in response to the Gatehouse Media survey.

Glickman and Rafe Pomerance, a former State Department official, contend that now is a crucial time to be talking about sea level rise and risking the leap to the scientifically linked proposition of climate change.

The Washington D.C. culture, though, has come to be exemplified by people like GOP Sen. James Inhofe, who, as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, once famously tossed a snowball onto the floor of the Senate and asked how snow could exist if the planet were warming.

Politics is hindering the country from moving forward on climate issues at a critical time in the nation’s history, Pomerance said.

“Congress is tied down fundamentally because of denialism,” he said. “This is holding us hostage to actually doing something about the issue.”

U.S. Rep Charlie Crist, a Democrat representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District, said unlike many others, Florida’s congressional delegation seems willing to see things differently when sea level rise and climate change are debated.

“Our delegation, they’re pretty moderate on the thing, for the most part. It’s hard to be a Floridian and not kinda get the environment thing,” Crist said.

Florida’s First Congressional District U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Fort Walton Beach, is as conservatively Republican as anyone in the House, but he’s also a member of the 84 member Climate Solutions Caucus.

“I don’t agree with some of the views some Democrats and even some Republicans have about the strategy to combat the problem, but I certainly can acknowledge that the earth is warming and humans make some contribution to that warming,” Gaetz said. “I see sea level rise as a consequence of climate change.”

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) answer questions during a Freedom Tour” campaign stop in Navarre, Saturday, August, 18, 2018. (Michael Snyder / Daily News)

The sea level rise/climate change discussion is “far too driven by peoples’ partisan lens,” Gaetz said.

“I think Republicans and Democrats need to be able to look at the same data and come to the same scientific conclusion, and then we can disagree about what the best strategy is to deal with the problem,” he said. “I’ve been very disappointed that too many in Washington aren’t even willing to establish a common set of baseline facts.”

The Climate Solutions Caucus, Gaetz said, is a “Noah’s Ark” caucus, that only admits a member of one political party alongside a member of the other political party. He said he’s encouraged to see the 84-member caucus continuing to grow.

The Caucus was actually founded by Florida House members Carlos Curbelo, a Republican and Ted Deutch, a Democrat. Fellow Floridian Bill Posey, also a Republican, recently became the newest of the state delegation to become a Caucus member. Republicans Gaetz, Brian Mast and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrats Crist and Stephanie Murphy are members.

The Caucus has established three primary short term goals.

Its first is to bring Democrats and Republicans together to acknowledge the basic science behind sea level rise and climate change, Gaetz said.

“It’s hard to deny the clearance on bridges in Florida is changing,” Gaetz said. “That seems to be indicative of sea level rise.”

The second Climate Solutions Caucus objective is to educate House members about bad climate-oriented legislation.

“There are times in bills when someone will try to ban a review or study about the impacts of climate change,” he said. “Usually the Caucus sticks together to maintain an analysis of climate change in the other work that the Congress does.”

Water from the Santa Rosa Sound in Mary Esther Florida in the Panhandle laps against seagrass. This year flooding caused by high tides is anticipated to occur 60 percent more often in the United States than it did in 2000, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study. [Devon Ravine / Daily News]

The third objective, Gaetz said, is coming together as a non-partisan caucus to find “solutions we can agree on.”“I think the federal government is going to have a role in dealing with the consequences of climate change because many federal assets will be impacted by the affects of climate change, notably our military,” he said. “We cannot expect states to deal with the evolving territorial claims in the Arctic that are exacerbated in their complexity by climate change.”

The military and protecting the nation’s military assets from rising seas has continued to be a priority in Washington, even while other agencies, notably the Federal Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency have slashed programs.

On Aug. 13, President Trump signed a defense authorization bill that includes a requirement that the military design and modify its buildings to better resist flooding, and calls for new military installations constructed in the 100-year flood plain be designed to withstand an additional two feet of flooding.

It also authorizes the U.S. Coast Guard to acquire six new ships capable of moving through sea ice, and calls upon the military to look into Chinese activity in the Arctic.

As with many other sea level rise or climate change-related issues, even the proposed military appropriations ran into resistance. Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.) attempted to delete a requirement for a climate vulnerability study that had been added to the defense bill.

The amendment was defeated by 234-185, with the victory secured, at least in part, through the work of the Climate Solutions Caucus.

“It’s challenging, with the makeup of the body as it is, at present,” Crist said of moving climate-related legislation through Congress. “There’s an opportunity, though, this year, for things to change, at least in the House. If that occurs, maybe we can do a lot of good things.”

Senator Bill Nelson speaks to members of the media recently in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. (Nick Tomecek / Daily News)

With primary elections fast approaching in this year’s governor’s race, and the U.S. Senate showdown between Nelson and Scott on the horizon in November, a coalition of environmental organizations on Aug. 15 released a study meant to advise competing candidates on the state’s gravest concerns.

Climate change is one of six issues specifically addressed in the document, called Trouble in Paradise.

“With approximately 75 percent of this state’s population in counties lining the coast, Florida must prepare for the increasingly severe weather and sea level rise caused by climate change,” the report states.

The study calls for Florida to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, harden vulnerable infrastructure and steer development away from “areas vulnerable to the impact of severe weather,” Gatehouse Media’s Dale White reported.

It also calls for opposition to offshore drilling, the adoption of building codes the promotion of higher energy efficiency and expanded tax incentives for electric vehicles.

Pointing out the risks and economic impacts from flooding and higher storm surges, the report issues “a clarion call for leadership,” calling on the new governor to hire and appoint respected leaders who understand the myriad issues facing the state, the report said.

“Addressing community resilience and climate change in a proactive manner not only prepares this state for future challenges but also will result in more livable communities and long-term economic savings for taxpayers.”

_____________

GateHouse Media reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver contributed to this report.

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.

Legislative ‘usurping’ brings costly lower Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority bond rating

Written by on August 14, 2018

Legislative ‘usurping’ brings costly lower Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority bond rating

Citing “unprecedented intervention” by the Florida Legislature, one of the nation’s top credit-rating agencies has downgraded the outlook on all Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority (MDX) senior-rated bonds from “stable” to “negative.”

By “usurping local autonomy” in reducing state tolls and diverting surplus revenues to other county projects, state lawmakers forced MDX to slash its tolls system-wide by an average of 6.28% this year, overriding MDX’s plan to increase tolls to match the rise in the consumer price index in 2019, according to a July 27 report by Fitch Ratings.

The May 2017 bill, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila and supported by Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeanette Núñez and Sens. Anitere Flores and Rene Garcia, also requires MDX to allot at least 20% of its surplus revenues to other county transportation and transit projects near MDX roadways.
Ms. Núñez, Ms. Flores and Mr. Garcia did not respond to requests for comment, and Mr. Avila’s office was not provided sufficient time to respond.

Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo Jr. at the time said he applauded the move, adding it would “provide much needed toll relief and further development of transit operations” for county residents.
Mr. Bovo, currently on recess, did not provide a comment for this article.
This June, MDX’s then-chairperson Shelly Smith Fano said she was “thrilled to announce” the toll reductions, effective July 1.

“The MDX board has always acted on the best interest of Miami-Dade County, MDX bondholders and most importantly our valued customers,” Ms. Smith Fano said in a prepared statement for the June 8 release. “MDX has been an exceptional steward of our customers’ toll dollars and have continually kept our promises by delivering roadway projects on time and on budget.”
MDX officials declined to comment for this article. “The press release has all the information,” MDX spokesperson Tere Garcia wrote.

But Florida Transportation Commission member Maurice Ferré, a former MDX board member and four-term Miami mayor, says the toll reduction and revenue rerouting were done for political reasons, and any short-term savings for residents will be undone by even higher tolls down the road, the result of increased bond interest rates whose costs will be passed on to drivers.
“It really should be categorized as criminal negligence,” he said. “It’s a tragic move by ignorant people going in the wrong direction with good intentions based on political considerations without understanding the consequence of their actions. They don’t understand the system.”

Other major metropolitan areas in the state, like Tampa and Orlando, whose Central Florida Expressway Authority last year froze tolls while voting to keep future toll increases to 1.5% over five years, are further evidence, Mr. Ferré said, that state legislators are discriminating against MDX.

“Even after we increased our tolls in 2013 and 2014, which is why Jeanette Núñez is angry, we were still the average, so Miami users – the toll users of MDX – are not paying more than toll users in Tampa, Orlando or other places around the country,” he said. “MDX had to be very cautious to not go over these averages. The question is, why did the legislators in Tampa and Orlando react differently than the ones from Miami-Dade County? They mean well – I don’t think they do this out of malice or to hurt. But what Jeanette Núñez is doing – she thinks she’s being bold and brave, but what she’s really being is brazen.”

MDX has maintained its system and facilities satisfactorily and kept a “robust’ roadway inspection schedule, Fitch Ratings personnel wrote, but ongoing maintenance could be impacted by the state-ordained reductions.

Such a “fundamental policy shift,” the report states, raises concern about the state intervention’s long-term impact on MDX’s future fund allocation for capital expenditures, its ability to issue additional debt and future legal actions further impacting the organization’s independent rate-making flexibility.
“In the near term, the measurement prompted MDX to suspend $192 million worth of projects not currently under project,” the team, led by primary analyst Stacey Mawson, wrote. “However, the majority ($561.6 million) of the authority’s five-year $678.2 million work program is earmarked for expansion and capacity improvements, leaving a manageable amount for system maintenance and repairs.”

That budgeted amount, which runs through fiscal 2022, is reflective of a larger $1.2 billion project cost encompassing 50 projects, 45% of which is already completed.

Fitch Ratings affirmed MDX’s “A” rating on $1.434 billion outstanding revenue and refunding bonds.

The rating, the report states, reflects the essentiality of MDX’s roadway system to Miami area commuters, its logistical proficiency in managing system assets and effective maintenance, planning and expansion, such as its recent implementation of the Open Road Tolling system.

Because limited alternative routes exist for commuters to travel through the corridors MDX serves on its five expressways, the system has “a mature traffic profile with steady annual increases in toll transactions,” though the report added that growth is “projected to level off in forthcoming years.”

Future potential developments that Fitch Ratings determined could lead to negative rating action include:
■An unclear long-term toll policy and/or continued legislation requiring toll rate reductions.
■Transferring surplus cash for non-project county uses, which limits economic rate-setting and timely investment in system assets.
■Demonstrated lack of legal independent rate-setting authority.
■Underperformance of traffic and revenue with an unwillingness or inability to accordingly adjust tolls.

In 2017, transactions on all MDX roads stabilized, increasing 5% to approximately 495 million transactions in fiscal 2017, the second year 100% of tolls were collected electronically. SunPass collections accounted for 81%. Toll-by-Plate accounted for 17%.

Actual transactions for the first 10 months of fiscal 2018 are 6% lower than forecast due to 18 days of lost toll collections due to Hurricane Irma, though the Fitch report states transactions would still be 1.1% lower than expected if hurricane days were excluded.

MDX, formed in 1994, is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving an expressway system currently comprising the Airport (SR 112), Dolphin (SR 836), Don Shula (SR 874) and Snapper Creek (SR 878) expressways, as well as the Gratigny Parkway (SR 924).

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.

A Toxic Tide Is Killing Florida Wildlife

Dead fish, most likely killed by a toxic algal bloom, in Florida in 2016. The current outbreak has been going strong for about nine months. Credit Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG, via Getty Images
By Tryggvi Adalbjornsson and Melissa Gomez,

 

Florida has an algae problem, and it’s big. This year, an overgrowth in the waters off the state’s southwestern coast is killing wildlife and making some beaches noxious.

The toxic algal bloom, known as a red tide, is not unusual. They appear off the state’s coast almost every year. But this one, still going strong after roughly nine months, is the longest since 2006, when blooms that originated in 2004 finally abated after 17 months.

The blooms can poison marine animals like sea turtles and manatees, while waves and ocean spray can carry toxins into the air and cause respiratory problems in people.

They can also hit the local tourism industry hard.

“We’re all being really devastated,” said Rachel Wells, 24, who manages an ecotourism business in Englewood, Fla. that runs catamaran tours in the Gulf of Mexico. “Business is just being hurt because we can’t conscientiously suggest for our guests to come out.”

Her company has not done a tour in two weeks, she said, and has temporarily laid off six employees until business picks up again.As for the wildlife, almost 300 sea turtles have been found dead since January in four counties south of Tampa that have been affected by the bloom, far more than the usual number.

Although some of the turtles may have been tangled up in fishing lines, hit by boats or died from diseases unrelated to the algae blooms, Allen Foley, a wildlife biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said he believed that a majority of the turtle deaths were attributable to the red tide.

“It’s a very safe bet,” he said.

Beaches have been covered in dead fish, too, causing a foul smell on top of the respiratory problems that have hit some people, Ms. Wells said.

An algal bloom off Coquina Beach, Fla. in 2006.  Credit Paul Lamison/Tampa Tribune-News Channel 8, via Associated Press

“It is nasty here,” wrote Beth Camisa of Englewood, Fla., in a Facebook group dedicated to sharing information about the red tide. “Haven’t been to the beach in weeks.”

The blooms generally appear in late summer or early fall and tend to die off sometime before the following summer. In a normal year, factors like winds, currents and competition from other types of algae cause them to dissipate. This time, though, the bloom hasn’t gone away.

Toxic freshwater algal blooms, originating inland at Lake Okeechobee, have also caused concern in southern Florida this summer. Spread by controlled water releases from the lake, the blooms prompted Governor Rick Scott of Florida to issue an executive order this month to help battle the algae.

These blue-green algae, which appear in the lake almost every year, are promoted by stagnant water, high temperatures and nutrients from sources like fertilizers, said Christopher J. Gobler, professor of marine science at Stony Brook University.

“That lake is heavily impacted by citrus agriculture,” he said.

Climate change is expected to intensify the freshwater algal blooms, according to Timothy Davis, associate professor of biology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

“They really flourish in warm waters,” he said. Also, increased rainfall can bring more nutrients into lakes. “We’re expecting to see larger blooms that last longer and could potentially be more toxic.”

The extent to which climate change is affecting the blooms at sea is unclear. For the red tides off Southwest Florida, researchers “don’t have enough data to really answer the question,” said Richard P. Stumpf, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who studies harmful algae. “It’s a hard problem.”