Sunday, December 30, 2012

As the sun sets on 2012 and the sun rises on 2013

As the sun starts to set on 2012, perhaps we can start on an Interstate 275 related topic - transit related, that is.

You probably know this already, but we are one of the few metropolitan areas in the United States that has no meaningful mass transit system.  In other words, we have just buses with schedules that are most of the time inconvenient.  Translation:  Owning a car is mandatory, unless you are lucky enough to live close to work (such as downtown St. Petersburg or downtown Tampa, for example).

For the Tampa Bay region (Tampa/St. Petersburg) to succeed and be competitive with other metropolitan areas in the country, our region's transit system needs a complete overhaul to include rail based mass transit.  Sure we can widen Interstate 275 in Tampa to eight lanes but it comes with a major price tag:  Land acquisition on either side of Interstate 275 in order to make the expansion among other things.  In other words, simply widening Interstate 275 is not enough to fix our region's transit woes.

I came across this article I found in The Tampa Tribune about bus service between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport.  According to that article, it is possible to ride a HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit) bus from downtown Tampa to Tampa International Airport to help save on uber expensive taxi cab fare but there is one catch:  Transit time between the airport and downtown is 42 minutes, give or take, and the route follows not Interstate 275 but Kennedy Blvd. (FL 60).

You know what taking Kennedy Blvd. to downtown from the airport and vice versa is, especially if traffic on Interstate 275 is backed up due to an accident and you have to use Kennedy Blvd. as an alternate route:  Several traffic signals and yet another major backup during the weekday on eastbound Kennedy Blvd. when you get past Lois Avenue, as Kennedy Blvd. narrows from three to two eastbound lanes just before Dale Mabry Highway (US 92).  The end result is stop and go traffic, which motorists and buses are subjected to daily.

The solution, according to The Tampa Tribune article, is this:  Transit service between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport can be made quicker but not using a rail-based solution.  Instead, the plan calls for bus rapid transit between the two locations utilizing not Kennedy Blvd. but Interstate 275.  That might sound OK, but I think bus rapid transit is not enough (in fact, not even the answer).  Why?

Even if such a route utilizes Interstate 275 between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport, buses would be subjected to the same delay as motorists, especially if there is an accident causing a partial or complete closure of Interstate 275 at some point requiring traffic to detour.  In downtown Tampa between the Marion Street Transit Center and Interstate 275 at Ashley/Tampa Streets (Exit 44), buses would have specialized equipment on board that would change traffic signals in favor of the bus.  Again, once a bus is on city streets it is basically subject to the same traffic delays as motorists are.

With the widening of Interstate 275 between the exit for Tampa International Airport (FL 60, Exit 39) and downtown Tampa just before the Hillsborough River now taking place, there is ample space in the median to accommodate rail based mass transit - a commuter rail line, a light rail line or even Amtrak service to St. Petersburg (which has not seen an Amtrak train since 1984; all Amtrak service is out of Tampa Union Station as we know today)!  Using that space in the newly expanded Interstate 275 median thanks to the widening that is taking place, perhaps a light rail line could be constructed between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport, perhaps as the first line of a network of light and/or commuter rail lines linking Tampa with St. Petersburg, Clearwater, New Tampa and other locations in the Tampa Bay region with buses providing the feeder service into the rail system.

Perhaps the folks at HART as well as TBARTA (the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority) ought to revisit transit between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport from a rail based perspective rather than a bus based perspective.  From what I have read, studies have shown that rail based transit leaves less of a carbon footprint in that electricity is used (especially for light rail systems - if you want an example, look no further than the TECO Streetcar Line that connects downtown Tampa with Ybor City, but the electric lines can be fixed using a third rail concept to make the surrounding area more appealing), rather than using diesel fuel as buses use today.  Commuter rail and Amtrak, from what I understand, uses diesel fueled locomotives but their consumption is greatly reduced when you compare it to a bus that uses regular streets and highways.

(After all, rail based transit runs on dedicated right of way while bus based transit is a part of regular highway traffic.  Even if bus rapid transit is implemented with a dedicated bus lane, still buses would have to stop for traffic signals even though there is equipment installed that would give the bus priority.  However, dedicated bus lanes can't be everywhere depending on where the lanes are installed.)

In fact, a recent Bay News 9 I-Poll asks this question:  Do you think the Tampa Bay region is ready to support a light rail system?  As of 30 December 2012, 51% is saying yes while only 44% are not.  I think the people of Tampa and Hillsborough County are getting the message when they defeated a measure on the ballot that would allow a light rail system to be constructed using tax monies to finance its construction.  To me, I think the reality of congested traffic and longer commutes is setting in, and it is pronounced as every year goes by in the Tampa Bay region without a reliable and workable mass transit system based on more choices than what we have today.

And another Tampa Bay region mass transit issue should be fixed if and when the day light and/or commuter rail comes:  The merger of HART and PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) into one system, run by TBARTA which would be a comprehensive mix of light rail, commuter rail and buses.

OK.  Let's change gears and head towards the sun rising on 2013 and the new year.

Every New Year's Eve I put out a reminder on celebrating the holidays safely, whether it may be New Year's Eve, 4th of July or even the unofficial holiday of Super Bowl Sunday.  You can find these tips to celebrate the holidays such as New Year's Eve safely right here at (this link will open a PDF document in a new window).

Just remember, if you are celebrating New Year's Eve and the beginning of 2013 and alcoholic beverages are part of the celebrations, may I give you some words of advice, especially if you had too much?

1.  Designate a driver to take you home.

2.  Call a taxi cab and have a taxi cab driver take you home.

3.  Call AAA's Tow To Go at 1 (855) 286-9246, according to this recent St. Petersburg Times Dr. Delay article.

4.  Stay the night at a friend's house.

5.  Stay the night at a hotel, such as the Hilton Downtown St. Petersburg Bayfront, the Hampton Inn Downtown St. Petersburg or any other hotel in the Tampa/St. Petersburg region.  Rates may be high for New Year's Eve, but it's better to spend $150-$175 for one night's hotel room than spending at least $10,000 defending yourself against a DUI charge, if not more.  (Not to mention spending the first few hours of 2013 in the Pinellas or Hillsborough County Jails in their respective booking and holding areas, as you will not be able to even make bail until you are sober enough).

6.  The Tampa Bay region's law enforcement agencies - such as the Florida Highway Patrol, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, as well as the St. Petersburg Police Department and Tampa Police Department, just to name a few - will be out in full force New Year's Eve and New Year's Morning with active patrols looking for impaired drivers as well as the use of DUI checkpoints.  If you are pulled over and caught, you will be arrested for DUI.  Once the officer or FHP trooper puts those nickel plated law enforcement regulation handcuffs on you behind your back it is the beginning of what lies ahead as far as a DUI arrest is concerned.

7.  DUI can have serious ramifications as far as your future is concerned - your job, your career, even taking a trip to Canada.  (Convicted of a DUI?  You will have an extremely hard time entering Canada for a vacation trip!)  Besides, your auto insurance rates will soar right through the roof, so much that you will be a high risk driver and insurance companies will either charge you extremely high rates or drop you altogether.

And one more thing:  Forget about renting a car if you were recently convicted of a DUI - the major car rental agencies, such as Alamo and Dollar, do check driving records with the swipe of your driver's license; all it takes is for the car rental agent to find out that you had a recent DUI conviction and the agent denies your rental.  Besides, it's way more embarassing than your credit card being declined.

And you will have a record for a DUI, even if it's your first time.  Florida law prohibits judges from withholding adjudication of guilt on any DUI charge, if you are found guilty.

Sobering?  New Year's Eve, the stroke of midnight and the sun rising on 2013 doesn't have to end in a DUI arrest, or worse.

Let's start 2013 with New Year's Day on a positive note!  Happy New Year from!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Response to St. Petersburg Times article on the St. Petersburg entry monument

By now you probably drove by the entry monument for St. Petersburg when you head south on Interstate 275 just before the 4 St N exit (Exit 32).  If you haven't read my previous blog entry on the entry monument north of 4 St N in St. Petersburg, please feel free to do so.  After all, that entry monument really puts St. Petersburg's best foot forward.

Unfortunately, the St. Petersburg Times - er, the misnamed Tampa Bay Times - has decided to go pro-Tampa and be anti-St. Petersburg.  This article written by Times staff writer Michael Kruse (in print on 2 December 2012) is nothing more than the worst anti-St. Petersburg article I have ever seen since the day the St. Petersburg Times became the Tampa Bay Times on 1 January 2012.  As such, this blog entry shows my disappointment with the St. Petersburg Times over how it covers its stories in this present day and age.

Mr. Kruse, let me tell you a few points about your anti-St. Petersburg article regarding the newly constructed entry monument on Interstate 275 just north of the 4 St N exit:

1.  You mention that the sign is "monstrous".  This sign is not monstrous in any way whatsoever - it is a beautiful sign seen by St. Petersburg residents as well as visitors, not to mention commuters headed back home to St. Petersburg after a busy work day in Tampa.

2.  The sign was not paid for with our tax dollars.  The City of St. Petersburg was going to construct this sign but it had to be put on the shelf because of budget cutbacks.  However, a prominent St. Petersburg businessman - Bill Edwards, whose company, Big 3 Entertainment, manages the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg - came up with the money to build that monument.

3.  You took it on yourself to compare that entry monument to something from Celebration (which is next to Disney World) or Lakewood Ranch (a community south of Bradenton), an entrance to an apartment or condominium complex or a gateway to an outlet mall.  How dare you say that about the sunshine city of St. Petersburg?

4.  I was born and raised right here in St. Petersburg.  In fact, I grew up as every section of Interstate 275 was being built southward in segments from the Howard Frankland Bridge to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, including the two downtown St. Petersburg connectors, Interstates 375 and 175.

Here's a comment I made on the St. Petersburg Times' site regarding this article I would like to share with you:

The St. Petersburg Times - of course the misnamed Tampa Bay Times - should be ashamed of themselves for even writing this article to begin with. This article is definitely pro-Tampa and anti-St. Petersburg on the spot.

Speaking of the entry monument on Interstate 275 right before you get to the 4 St N exit (Exit 32), this is the most beautiful and welcoming work of art that welcomes residents and visitors to the sunshine city of St. Petersburg. Even in the tough financial times the City of St. Petersburg is facing, at least one prominent local businessman - Bill Edwards - stepped up to the plate and provided the funding to get this entry monument built and done.

First impressions always count.  After all, this entry monument puts St. Petersburg's best foot forward.

Besides, this article shows clearly why the misnamed Tampa Bay Times does not care about St. Petersburg anymore. After all, the St. Petersburg Times made a monumental mistake on 1 January 2012 when it changed its name to the pro-Tampa, anti-St. Petersburg Tampa Bay Times.

We have two other entry monuments at the eastern ends of both Interstates 375 and 175 in downtown St. Petersburg.  Those entry monuments are not "monstrous" contrary to what the St. Petersburg Times mentioned in the article I have recently seen.  As a St. Petersburg resident, I am proud of these entry monuments every time I ride by them.

As for the St. Petersburg Times, it used to be a great newspaper until it started covering more and more Tampa related stories.  As time wore on, the St. Petersburg Times covered less and less St. Petersburg, even going to the point of calling St. Petersburg "South Pinellas".  And, on 1 January 2012, the St. Petersburg Times did a lot of collateral damage to themselves by renaming it the Tampa Bay Times.  All you will find in the St. Petersburg Times today are articles that are nothing more than sensationalized and speculated for maximum fear effect.  You can read more about this in one of my blog entries over at the Edward Ringwald Blog (that's my other blog) about the credit crunch and the news media.

And one more thing:  Even though the St. Petersburg Times is now the Tampa Bay Times, it will still be referred to as the St. Petersburg Times in my book, especially for at least as long as it still maintains a headquarters at 490 1 Av S in beautiful downtown St. Petersburg, if not more.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What you need to know about the Florida Welcome Center

Just recently (in fact, over the past Thanksgiving holiday weekend) I took a trip to the Jacksonville area, which included not one but two incursions into the State of Georgia:  One in Folkston (a railfan's paradise as so many CSX and Amtrak trains come through here in order to get to Florida destinations) and the other in Valdosta.

Crossing back into the State of Florida I happened to stop by the official Florida Welcome Centers, one on Interstate 95 north of Yulee and the other on Interstate 75 in Jennings, which is south of Valdosta across the Georgia border.  Not only you get information on which area of Florida you are headed to, you can also sample the beverage that makes Florida so famous:  Orange juice.  While you are there, you can also pick up a copy of the official Florida state map, which is free of charge.

Visiting the two Florida Welcome Centers gave me an inspiration for my next blog topic:  What you need to know about the Florida Welcome Center.  I was originally going to post this over at my other blog, the Edward Ringwald Blog, but for the convenience of our visitors to the Sunshine State as well as our residents headed home to the land of Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay Region, I thought I would post this here on the Interstate 275 Florida Blog for the convenience of our visitors.

Now here's what you need to know about the Florida Welcome Center, and there are two types:  The official and the unofficial Florida Welcome Center.

The official Florida Welcome Center is found on interstate highways leading into our great State of Florida:  Interstates 75 and 95 from Georgia and Interstate 10 from Alabama.  Signage for the official Florida Welcome Center is always erected by the Florida DOT and you will see blue overhead signage letting you know that the State of Florida Welcome Center is coming up just after you cross the state line from Georgia or Alabama, like the example shown below of the Florida Welcome Center on Interstate 75 just after crossing over the Florida state line from Georgia:

The official Florida Welcome Center is where you get official Florida tourist information.  The helpful and friendly staff will assist you in getting the information you need for the part of Florida you are headed to - even if you are headed for the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and the land of Interstate 275!  In addition, you can also get major road construction information straight from the official source:  The Florida DOT.  (In fact, this information is also posted at Florida's rest areas and Florida Turnpike service plazas too!)

Now for the other type of Florida Welcome Center I need to tell you about:  The unofficial Florida Welcome Center.

You will see them advertised not on official Florida DOT signage, but on huge billboards that line Interstates 75, 95 and 10 either before you cross the state line into Florida or after you cross.  In order to get to one of these unofficial Florida Welcome Centers, you have to exit the interstate highway.

You may think that these unofficial Florida Welcome Centers feature the same thing that is offered at the official Florida Welcome Centers, but there is a difference:  The sale of Orlando area theme park tickets such as Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios Florida or even Legoland in Winter Haven, especially at cut rate prices or given away for free.


You never know what these unofficial Florida Welcome Centers may be offering:  Information that may be outdated.  As for the Orlando area theme park tickets, those tickets offered either at a cut rate price or for free will more than likely come with an overly aggressive presentation for a time share which you will more than likely have to sit through to get these tickets.  And another thing, you never know how good the tickets are:  You fall for the time share pitch and you get the tickets, only to be refused admittance at the gate because the tickets are no good!

In fact, the unofficial Florida Welcome Centers is one of eight common mistakes when traveling to the Orlando area and the land of Mickey Mouse, according to this article on  Besides, you don't need to endure plenty of fear and anxiety after a long trip thanks to those time share hucksters perched on the sides of Interstate 75 whose sole purpose is to part you from your hard earned money.

As in any real estate transaction, consultation with an attorney who specializes in real estate law is highly recommended.  This is very true if you are considering buying a time share.

The bottom line is this:

Whether you are a visitor to our great State of Florida or you are a resident headed back home after a long trip, if you need traveler information the best resource is the official Florida Welcome Center.  There you will get the latest up to date information you need and the information is given to you - and you don't have to fall to an unwanted time share sales pitch!

And by the way, if you're headed south on Interstate 75 towards the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, approximately 193 miles stands between the official Florida Welcome Center in Jennings (the first exit on Interstate 75 southbound in Florida is FL 143, Exit 467) and the northern terminus of Interstate 275 (Exit 274) located on the Hillsborough-Pasco county line in Wesley Chapel.