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Highway Boondoggles: Tampa Bay Express Lanes

In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2 (the original came out in 2014), U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group teamed up to profile the most wasteful highway projects that state DOTs are building. Streetsblog will be serializing the case studies in the report. Yesterday, we looked at Connecticut’s $11.5 billion I-95 widening. Today, we focus on a proposed $3.3 billion highway widening in Tampa. 

This is what $3.3 billion in express lanes looks like. Image: Florida DOT

This is where Florida wants to add $3.3 billion in highway lanes. Image: Florida DOT

The Florida Department of Transportation acknowledges that a decades-old plan to construct toll lanes allowing paying drivers to bypass congested traffic on I-275, I-75 and I-4 in Tampa would not solve the region’s problems with congestion, but is pushing the project forward anyway in the face of community opposition.

Starting in the late 1950s, the Florida Department of Transportation built I-275 through the middle of Tampa, “ripping holes through neighborhoods such as the historic Central Avenue business district, Seminole Heights and West Tampa,” as a local newspaper columnist put it.

In 1996, plans to expand that stretch of I-275 were approved by the Federal Highway Administration. That project was never built. For years the plans laid dormant. In the meantime, the neighborhoods began to rebuild themselves.

Under an agreement with the state, community institutions used land owned by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to expand their presence (on the condition that any structures would be demolished were the highway ever to go through). The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, for example, raised and spent $1 million to convert the former Faith Temple Baptist Church on the property into a community center that now offers pre-college and pre-professional classes for local teens.

Outside the center are a community garden, a playground and a walking and biking trail. Improvements in the building, both planned and already under way, were stopped by a November 2015 cease-and-desist order from FDOT, indicating the highway project is moving forward.

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What Happened When a Newspaper Became an Advocate for Bicyclists

In too many cities, newspaper coverage of bicycling has stoked some of the darker aspects of human nature. Opinion pieces about bike lanes tend to cater to the reactionary opposition, goading the trolls of the comments section, where casual death threats are standard fare.

News Press reporters Janine Zeitlin and Laura Ruane accept an award for their coverage of bike safety issues in South Florida. Photo: Florida Department of Health via News Press

News-Press reporters Janine Zeitlin (center) and Laura Ruane (right) accept an award for their coverage of bike safety issues in South Florida. Photo: Florida Department of Health via News Press

But a newspaper in South Florida has taken a very different approach over the last few years, unabashedly advocating for safer streets for cycling. And it’s earning accolades in the process.

The News-Press in the Fort Myers, Florida, region won praise from the Columbia Journalism Review and local safety advocates for its “Share the Road” series, highlighting the danger faced by cyclists in a deadly corner of the deadliest state for biking.

Starting in the summer of 2014, News-Press reporters have shed light on bicyclist fatalities on local roads, and what can be done to stop the loss of life.

In the year the series launched, eight cyclists were killed in Lee County (population 661,000), the News-Press reported. By comparison, in Portland (population 609,000), one cyclist was killed in 2014 and zero in 2013.

The News-Press dug into the problem, running a feature on each of the 12 people killed while biking in Lee and Collier counties, which include the communities of Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers. These areas are both huge tourist destinations and home to lots of low-income workers and immigrants. The roads are notoriously dangerous for people walking or biking.

Led by reporter Janine Zeitlin, who used to bike but stopped because it felt too risky, the News-Press combed through data about what was causing the collisions. Among the factors they identified: “wide and fast roadways,” “lagging infrastructure and laws,” “bad drivers,” and “lack of safety education.”

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Meet the Man on a Mission to Make Florida Walkable and Bikeable

Fowler Avenue in Tampa, one of the country's most dangerous cities for pedestrians. Photo: FDOT

Fowler Avenue in Tampa, one of the country’s most dangerous cities for pedestrians. Photo: FDOT

Billy Hattaway just might have the most challenging job in any American transportation agency. As the Florida Department of Transportation’s lead official on bicycle and pedestrian safety, he’s charged with making Florida — consistently rated among the deadliest states for walking and biking — safe for people to get around under their own power.

Since FDOT hired him for the post in 2011, Hattaway has been leading the effort to reform the way this enormous agency designs and builds streets, winning accolades from advocates and the national press in the process. He also heads up one of Florida DOT’s seven districts, directing policy for the southwest corner of the state.

Can Billy Hattaway change the culture at the Florida Department of Transportation? Photo: BikeWalkLee

Billy Hattaway’s job is to change the culture at the Florida Department of Transportation. Photo: BikeWalkLee

We recently spoke to Hattaway about how the reform process is going. Here’s what he had to say. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What were you doing before you were at FDOT?

I was working in the private sector. I worked for 25 years at Florida DOT in three stints. I was trying to advance these [street safety] concepts in the late 80s and early 90s and I didn’t have much success. So I went to the private sector.

I was consulting with VHB [Engineers], which is based in Boston. Most of the work that I did was bike and pedestrian planning. I was doing station area planning for the extension of the Phoenix light rail. It was all form-based code and street design basically for the Phoenix light rail.

It sounds like you have been given a very hard job.

We had to do a lot of structural changes to the organization to drive the change. We have 6,500 employees and you’re trying to change 50 years of planning and design culture.

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The Koch Brothers’ War on Transit

Fanning the flames of Agenda 21 paranoia just scratches the surface of how the Kochs and their political network have undermined transit. Image: screenshot from “Koch Brothers Exposed” via Salon

Transit advocates around the country were transfixed by a story in Tennessee this April, when the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity made a bid to pre-emptively kill Nashville bus rapid transit. It was an especially brazen attempt by Charles and David Koch’s political network to strong-arm local transportation policy makers. But it was far from the only time the Kochs and their surrogates have taken aim at transit.

The Koch brothers, who owe their fortune to fossil fuels, are best known for funding global warming deniers and Republican insurgents aligned with the Tea Party. With their political influence under greater scrutiny during election season, now’s a good time to pull together the various strands of Koch anti-transit activism.

The Kochs fund a wide-ranging network of “think tanks,” non-profits, and political organizations. Their best-known political arm is Americans for Prosperity and its various offshoots and subsidiaries. David Koch was founding chairman of Americans for Prosperity, and both brothers provided funding for its launch. Among other activities, the group does plenty to manufacture Agenda 21 paranoia, which has cable subscribers around the country convinced that smart growth is a United Nations conspiracy that will lead to one-world government.

The Kochs also have plenty of ties to widely quoted, transit-bashing pundits like Randall O’Toole, Wendell Cox, and Stanley Kurtz — people employed by organizations that receive Koch funding, like the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation, and who spout the same talking points against walkability and smart growth.

Fake experts like O’Toole and Cox have been making the rounds for ages, but the Nashville BRT story raised new questions. How many local transit projects are drawing fire from the Koch political network? And what impact is it having?

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Complete Freeways? Florida Tries Bike Lanes on Highway Bridges

The Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami. The white stripe between the traffic lane and the bicycle lane will vibrate if a car crosses it, but that's all the protection there is. Photo: Miami-Dade MPO

The Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami. The white stripe between the traffic lane and the bicycle lane will vibrate if a car crosses it, but that’s all the protection there is. A hand railing was added to the wall after this photo was taken. Photo: Miami-Dade MPO

A few years ago, a person living in a working-class neighborhood of Miami and commuting to the tourism district in Miami Beach could pretty much forget about walking or biking there. Her choices were either to pay for the bus or buy a car, but healthy, active transportation was impossible — or at least, illegal. Biking and walking were banned on the causeways between the mainland and the barrier islands.

But in 2012, the Florida legislature changed that by creating a minimum two-year pilot program permitting and accommodating bikes on limited access roads. The state DOT was directed to choose three roads for the experiment, all of which had to cross bodies of water and lie no less than two miles from the nearest bike crossing.

David Henderson of the Miami-Dade MPO and Stewart Robertson of the design firm Kimley-Horn both worked on the redesign. The presented their results to the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh earlier this month.

Julia Tuttle Causeway was one of the selected bridges. It’s a six-lane divided interstate highway that connects Miami with Miami Beach. About 105,000 vehicles cross it every day. The posted speed limit is 55 miles an hour.

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Tampa, Florida: A Case Study in Saddling the Poor With Traffic Violence

You can see, on the right hand side of this image, a memorial to one of two teenage girls killed while trying to cross Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. Image: Google Maps

You can see, on the right hand side of this image, a memorial to one of two teenage girls killed while trying to cross Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. Image: Google Maps

You’d be hard-pressed to fund a more deadly place for pedestrians in all of the U.S. than Tampa’s Hillsborough Avenue.

On an eight block stretch of this road, 21 bicyclists and pedestrians were hit by drivers between 2008 and 2012. Two of those people, 15-year-old Middleton High School students Shenika Davis and Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, were killed in separate incidents. Another teen, 18-year-old William Hogan, was gravely injured just a month after the second death.

And that’s not the only dangerous road in this low-income community on Tampa’s east side, according to City Council Member Frank Reddick, a lead advocate for safer conditions. Not far away, on 43rd Street, a woman pushing her baby in a stroller was struck and killed recently. The intersection of 34th and Chelsea Streets is another problem area. There have been seven collisions there over the last few years, including a triple fatality — the victims were motor vehicle occupants — during a short time span.

Tampa’s Fifth Ward — Reddick’s district and one of the city’s poorest — exemplifies the neighborhoods Governing Magazine singled out in a recent study that found that poorer communities are disproportionately affected by unsafe road conditions. The study found that pedestrians die at about double the rate in low-income neighborhoods compared to wealthy ones.

The Tampa area, Governing reports, has the second highest pedestrian death rate in the nation. In the metro area, 403 pedestrians were killed between 2008 and 2012. And poor neighborhoods, like Tampa’s Fifth Ward, are paying a high price. In Tampa’s Hillsborough County, people living in low-income neighborhoods are six times more likely to be killed while walking than those living in wealthier areas, according to the report.

In Tampa ... Image: Governing Magazine

Data for Tampa’s Hillsborough County 2008-2012, via Governing Magazine

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The Most Dangerous Places to Walk in America

Pedestrians are especially at risk on wide, fast arterial roads like this. Photo: Smart Growth America/Cheryl Cort

Walking should be the healthiest, most natural activity in the world. It is, after all, one of the first things humans learn to do.

But in far too many places, walking can be fatal, thanks to roads designed for speeding cars.

In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians lost their lives in traffic collisions in the U.S., and over the last decade, nearly 50,000 people have been killed while walking — that’s 16 times more Americans than were killed by natural disasters. Another 670,000 pedestrian were injured over that period, one every eight minutes.

Not all streets are equally dangerous. In a new update of its Dangerous by Design report [PDF], released today, Smart Growth America catalogs the most perilous places in the U.S. to walk. By looking at the places that are especially hazardous, we can determine the factors that are putting people at risk and figure out how to fix them.

Here’s a look at what America’s most dangerous streets for walking tend to have in common.

They’re in the Sunbelt

Don’t let the sunshine lull you into a sense of security. Sunbelt cities have hazardous streets.

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A Crosswalk Too Far: The Hunt for America’s Least Crossable Street

n_military

Good luck walking to church on North Military Trail in West Palm Beach, if you happen to start on the other side of the street.

Last February, Streetsblog readers determined the worst intersection in America. Then you pinpointed a suburban area with streets so windy and disconnected, it would take a seven mile trip to travel between two houses that shared a back yard. And for two years running you’ve helped shame the nation’s most parking-scarred downtowns.

But there’s a special class of shame-worthy street we have yet to fully examine — and they haunt all corners of America. We’re talking about the street with an enticing destination on the other side, but no access, no crosswalk, no safe way to get across. A street that separates more than connects.

Put in this position, a rational person would just make a dash for it rather than walk as much as half a mile out of the way. But that decision can also put you in danger. And that’s the problem.

With some help from our readers and Twitter friends, we’ve put together a little collection of these divisive streets. Please share your own examples in the comments or send them to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org.

Cincinnati: MLK Boulevard at Vine Street

Here’s an unfortunate scenario in Cincinnati. A key stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard operates much like a moat. On one side of the street visitors to the University of Cincinnati stay at the Hampton Inn. Almost directly across the street is University Commons — a park area designed to be a “contemplative space.” Wouldn’t it be nice if visitors had access?

But to do that, they have to walk approximately a quarter mile out of the way:

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 2.53.23 PM

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It’s Rochester vs. Jacksonville in the Parking Madness Championship!

parking_madness_2014_14

Forget Huskies vs. Wildcats — today is all about parking crater vs. parking crater.

Through 14 matches pitting some of the most hideous parking expanses in the world against each other, two cities are still standing: Rochester and Jacksonville.

These are the worst of the worst downtown asphalt scars. But only one city can claim the Golden Crater, and the teachable moment that comes with it. Now it’s up to Streetsblog readers to choose this year’s champion.

Let’s look at Rochester first:

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Parking Madness Final Four: Chicago vs. Jacksonville

We started with 16 parking craters and now we’re down to the Final Four of Parking Madness.

After two bruising rounds of competition, four hideous parking expanses in Kansas City, Rochester, Chicago, and Jacksonville are still in it to win it. Each one is an ugly and awe-inspiring waste of potential in its own way.

Today’s matchup for a shot at the championship pits Jacksonville against Chicago.

The contender from Florida is a riverfront travesty:

jacksonville1

Jacksonville has been a real force in this tournament, easily knocking off impressive entries from Calgary and Dallas. You can see there are a few very tall buildings in this area, but since it’s been mercilessly carved up by highways, parking has become the land use of choice.

Meanwhile, the Chicago site is a different kind of crater.

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