Sunday, September 9, 2012

Have you noticed something new before 4 St N (Exit 32)?

If you have been on southbound Interstate 275 coming into St. Petersburg from Tampa lately, you may have noticed a new structure that has been erected on the right hand side just before you reach the 4 St N exit (Exit 32). What is that structure being erected just north of the 4 St N exit?

That structure is an entry monument welcoming everyone to the City of St. Petersburg. The monument is similar to the downtown St. Petersburg entry monuments located on the eastern terminuses of both downtown feeders, Interstate 375 and 175.

The entry monument was proposed for the location north of the 4 St N exit for many years from what I understand. Unfortunately, there were no monies in the budget for the City of St. Petersburg to erect this important entry monument; however, a prominent St. Petersburg businessman, Bill Edwards (whose company, Big 3 Entertainment, operates the City owned Mahaffey Theater), stepped up to the plate and donated money for the entry monument's construction.

Here's a picture of what it looks like:

The new entry monument on southbound Interstate 275 just before 4 St N (Exit 32) does indeed put the City of St. Petersburg's best foot forward in welcoming our visitors to our city. After all, first impressions last a lifetime!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Charlotte and San Diego have it. Why can't Tampa?

I came across this interesting article in the St. Petersburg Times while I was enjoying Labor Day weekend in the San Diego area. This is about how Charlotte's light rail plays an important role when a major convention such as the 2012 Democratic National Convention is in town.

Here is a link to the article: Light rail helps Charlotte avoid Tampa's bus woes.

I have also contributed a comment on this article which I would like to share with you:

The article about Charlotte's light rail and its role during the Democratic National Convention says it all. We are ashamed to be one of the major metropolitan areas in the United States that does not have a comprehensive transit system including light rail and commuter rail. If we tried to put our best foot forward for the Republican National Convention here in Tampa, we certainly did not.

The lack of a comprehensive mass transit system including light rail and commuter rail is one of the many reasons why large companies will not relocate their major operations to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. The RNC delegates, especially those that rode chartered buses to and from the Times Forum, got to experience what our way of life is when it comes to getting around our region.

If we want to be competitive with other metropolitan areas such as Charlotte or San Diego, then we need to seriously revamp our transit system completely. Simply adding 20 lanes to Interstate 275 is not enough - it's like adding 30 lanes to both Interstates 5 and 8 in San Diego and that does not do the trick.

Bottom line here: If the Tampa/St. Petersburg region wants to succeed and thrive, especially if and when the economy recovers, then we need a comprehensive mass transit system including light rail and commuter rail. Not 20 years. Not 10 years. Not even five years. Our region needs light rail and commuter rail now! Besides, if we decide to proceed with building a light rail and commuter rail system it would provide jobs to those who are unemployed.

By the way, if we did construct a light rail and commuter rail system in our region with a line going down the middle of the Howard Frankland Bridge, then we should impose tolls on the Howard Frankland for one reason: Get commuters out of their cars and onto the train to work. (After all, the people of Singapore use their Metro as a means to get to work: Commuting by car is expensive due to variable tolling during the work day called Electronic Road Pricing, among other things).

Yes, it is very true. Charlotte has their light rail system. San Diego has their MTS light rail system (you can even ride on San Diego's trolley south to San Ysidro and walk across the Mexican border into Tijuana!) and Coaster commuter rail system, with a connection to Los Angeles' Metrolink commuter rail system in Oceanside plus frequent Amtrak service between San Diego and Los Angeles. (Compare this to Tampa's twice a day service by Amtrak's Silver Star, southbound to Miami and northbound to Jacksonville, Washington and New York). Miami/Ft. Lauderdale has Tri-Rail serving three counties of South Florida plus Miami's Metrorail. And Orlando is about ready to have commuter rail of its own in a few years, SunRail.

But as far as the Tampa/St. Petersburg region is concerned, we are the laughing stock, not to mention the sore thumb, of the United States as far as rail based mass transit is concerned. No matter why more and more people are stuck in traffic every morning trying to get to work and vice versa in the afternoon.

Yes we can widen Interstate 275 to 20 lanes to accommodate the increased traffic. Yes we can widen other roads such as Gandy Blvd., Dale Mabry Highway and Bruce B. Downs Blvd. to keep up. But land needed to widen roads is at a premium, and with real estate prices making a slow comeback these days land will definitely be at a premium, forcing the Florida DOT and officials from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties plus our outlying counties to have to look at alternatives, including rail based solutions such as light rail and commuter rail.

As I mentioned in the comment I made to the St. Petersburg Times article I mentioned earlier, a rail based mass transit system would make things attractive for major companies that want to relocate their headquarters to our region. A major company that relocates their headquarters into our region means an economic boost for us. Furthermore, I am ashamed that our visiting delegates for the 2012 Republican National Convention had to experience first hand at our region's inept transit system.

On a side note, for those so-called "Tea Party" members that think rail does not work in the Tampa/St. Petersburg region and that commuting to and from work by car is the norm, think again. Try buying a home or condo in the New Tampa area of Tampa (Bruce B. Downs Blvd. and Interstate 75) and commuting to work in not downtown Tampa, but downtown St. Petersburg - yes, downtown St. Petersburg (or even Carillon for that matter):

1. Your commute to work will be at least 20 minutes long, if not longer. You will be stuck in Interstate 275 traffic trying to get to work on time.

2. You'll be paying a lot for gas every week. Does the prospect of $4.00/gallon gas scare you? (I was in San Diego over this past Labor Day weekend - $4.30/gallon on average).

3. You will pay a lot more in automobile insurance. When you get an auto insurance quote, you are asked how many miles is your commute one way. The more miles you commute to work one way, the more you will pay for automobile insurance.

4. You will pay more often for needed automobile maintenance such as oil changes, etc.

5. Your work-life balance will more than likely be disrupted. You can't enjoy quality time with your family, especially on the weekends.

6. You will be paying a good sum every month for parking in one of the parking garages in downtown St. Petersburg. An average of $60 per month is the norm from what I understand. Try to budget this if you commute a long distance to your clerical job in downtown St. Petersburg from your New Tampa home. Or New Tampa condo. Or whatever.

Charlotte - the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention - has it. San Diego has it. Why can't Tampa/St. Petersburg have rail based mass transit?