Saturday, August 19, 2017

Safety Tips for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse


The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse will be upon us this Monday, 21 August 2017!  What happens is that the Moon blocks out the Sun's view for a brief period of time, which may lead to nighttime-like conditions when the eclipse passes us by in the Tampa Bay region.

According to Bay News 9, the Tampa Bay region should see the maximum of the partial total eclipse sometime around 1451 (2:51 PM) on Monday, 21 August 2017.   Some school districts across the Tampa Bay region are allowing students to be absent as an excused day from school; you will want to check with your local school district for the specifics.

Here are some eclipse safety tips as eclipse day draws nearer (some of the eclipse safety tips are from NASA's 2017 Eclipse Safety page):

  • Most importantly:  Never, never look at the eclipse with the naked eye or with your regular eyeglasses on including sunglasses!  It will be so bright that eyesight damage can result!
  • The only way to view the eclipse safely without endangering your eyesight is the use of eclipse glasses or viewers that comply with the ISO 12312-2 safety standard.  If you purchase a pair of those safety glasses, make sure that it reads that it complies with the ISO 12312-2 safety standard. 
  • If you happen to be driving on Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region when the eclipse hits, never, never stop on either shoulder on the Interstate 275 mainline or any exit ramp!  It is illegal pursuant to Section 316.1945 of the Florida Statutes and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper can issue you a citation for stopping on the Interstate 275 shoulders or mainline.  Besides, it's also very dangerous.  Instead, stop in a safer place if you want to view the eclipse.
  • The same thing goes for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge - again, do not stop anywhere on the bridge including the 191-foot high main span.  Be aware that surveillance cameras monitored by the Florida Highway Patrol monitor all activity on the Sunshine Skyway main span and if you are seen stopping on the shoulder of the Sunshine Skyway, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper will be dispatched to see what is going on.  If you want to view the eclipse from the Sunshine Skyway area, use the rest areas or the fishing piers instead - it's much safer. 
  • When it gets momentarily dark during the maximum totality of the partial total eclipse, turn on your headlights even if you have automatic daytime running lamps.  This will turn on your taillights and you can be seen better.
  • Again, do not look at the eclipse with the naked eye or with your glasses (including sunglasses) on.  It will be so bright that eyesight damage - in fact, permanent eyesight damage - can result. 
If you're wondering where on Interstate 275's parent, Interstate 75, you can see the total solar eclipse in its entirety where it will get dark for about two minutes, it will take place in Tennessee between Cleveland just north of Chattanooga and Farragut just west of Knoxville, with the center of the totality between Athens and Sweetwater on US 11, which parallels Interstate 75 in central and southern Tennessee.  In fact, our Interstate 275 counterpart in Knoxville (actually a spur from Interstate 40 to Interstates 75 and 640) lies just outside the path of eclipse totality.

As NASA says, a solar eclipse is one of nature's grandest spectacles.  Let's be safe out there when the eclipse arrives on Monday, 21 August 2017 and you will have a memorable experience!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Revamped Interstate275Florida.com and Happy Birthday Sunshine Skyway!

By now the newly revamped Interstate275Florida.com is up and running!  It didn't take long to upload the new site albeit a few minor glitches along the way, especially when it came to deleting the old website files in order to make way for the new and revamped website.

Haven't you checked out the newly revamped Interstate275Florida.com?  I have organized the website into three general sections, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Manatee County.  From there it is organized into individual exits based on the location of the exit.

All of the photos have been revised in order to keep the content fresh and up to date as time permits.  In fact, there are new pictures of the segment of Interstate 275 in Tampa from Exit 39 (FL 60/Kennedy Blvd./Tampa Airport) to the Hillsborough river just west of Exit 44 (Ashley Drive) thanks to the mega-reconstruction project that has taken place.

Another new feature I have added is a Tampa Bay Transit:  The Justification for Rail Based Mass Transit in the Tampa Bay region page.  This page was badly needed, as we have the resources to support rail based mass transit in the Tampa Bay region and one of those resources is the wide median in the newly reconstructed Interstate 275 in Tampa.  Just why does Miami and Orlando have alternative modes of transportation yet the Tampa Bay region has very limited choices?  It's well worth a read!

Please feel free to check out the newly revamped Interstate275Florida.com!  Like I said from a previous blog entry just before I uploaded the new site if you have pages that link to Interstate275Florida.com check the links to make sure that they work and update as needed.  For example, the web pages used to end in .htm but now they end in .html, so you'll want to check that.  Additionally, if you happen to find a broken link anywhere on Interstate275Florida.com please feel free to contact me (you can even post a reply to this blog entry) along with the URL in question and I will take a look at it.

Now with the newly revamped Interstate275Florida.com up and running, today (7 February 2017) is the new Sunshine Skyway's 30th birthday!  Dedicated on Saturday, 7 February 1987 it was a gloomy day but the sun peeked out a few times for an awesome dedication ceremony.  A major highlight of the day was that pedestrians were allowed on the new bridge only once - I made the hike to the hump of the new span and back!  I call that quite a workout!

Another highlight of the day is the actual dedication with many important dignitaries in attendance.  The new Sunshine Skyway dedication is a day I'll never forget - in fact, it seems like if it was yesterday even though it was 30 years earlier!

On 30 April 1987, traffic was stopped while workers set up barricades blocking access to the old Sunshine Skyway.  It would be no more cantilever through truss with steel grid deck span that we were used to since the first Sunshine Skyway opened in 1954.  The old Sunshine Skyway served the Tampa Bay region well, both in triumph and in tragedy especially on 9 May 1980 when the Sunshine Skyway's southbound span was hit by the Summit Venture, resulting in the tragic loss of 35 lives.  Shortly after the barricades went up on the old Sunshine Skyway, it was time to take down the barricades and open up a new chapter in the history of the Tampa Bay region:  The opening of the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

In fact, I have even revamped the Sunshine Skyway page as part of the newly revamped Interstate275Florida.com and it has pictures from the dedication ceremony on 7 February 1987.  Come by and check it out!

After all, the new Sunshine Skyway is not only just an icon of what the Tampa Bay region is all about.  The new Sunshine Skyway is a signature icon of our great Sunshine State of Florida, similar to what the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco being a signature icon of the Golden State of California.
 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Revamped Interstate275Florida.com is Just Around The Corner!

As mentioned in a previous blog entry Interstate275Florida.com is getting an awesome makeover!  Interstate275Florida.com will get a new look and feel, and I am very excited!

Everything has been tested, and all that remains is to upload the new site.  I plan on doing this the weekend of 4-5 February 2017 during the nighttime hours.  While the old site is deleted and the new site is being uploaded, you may get an error page if you try to access Interstate275Florida.com during that time.  Hopefully by Sunday morning (5 February 2017) the new Interstate275Florida.com will be up and running.

Like I mentioned previously, if you or someone you know has web pages that link to a specific page on Interstate275Florida.com please make sure to test your links when the changeover takes place to make sure that the correct page is being displayed.  For instance, if your link points to a specific page it will more than likely end in .htm; the new pages will have an .html extension, so that you will probably have to change the file extension in order to keep your visitors from seeing the 404 error page.

Once again, the changeover to the new and revamped Interstate275Florida.com will be taking place this weekend, 4-5 February 2017.  Once the revamped Interstate275Florida.com is online, if you notice any broken links that should be fixed by all means please contact me using the Contact page, or you can post a reply to this blog entry and I will take a look.

Are you ready for a new and revamped Interstate275Florida.com?  I am!
  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Interstate275Florida.com to get a new makeover!

Since 2003, Interstate275Florida.com is and continues to be a great resource on Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region.  But coming soon, Interstate275Florida.com will be getting a fresh new overhaul.

I know, Interstate 275 in Tampa just got a major reconstruction from Exit 39 (FL 60) to the Hillsborough River which was finished in 2016.  (Got to like those four lanes of traffic each way for a total of eight lanes and that wide median for hopefully commuter rail someday!)  What we're talking about is Interstate275Florida.com the website, and I have given it a major overhaul!

With that in mind, here are some of the new features you will see on the revamped Interstate275Florida.com:

First, I decided to rebuild Interstate275Florida.com - the website, that is - from the ground up.  I decided to use a web design software product called CoffeeCup HTML Editor which gives me a lot of flexibility in coding the HTML needed to run the perfect website.  In fact, I have even converted my other websites, EdwardRingwald.com and the Edward Ringwald Websites Portal, using CoffeeCup HTML Editor.  Additionally, another website of mine that covers the drawbridges of Pinellas County, DrawBridgeAhead.com, was built from the ground up using CoffeeCup HTML Editor.

Like what I have done with EdwardRingwald.com, Interstate275Florida.com was written using Microsoft FrontPage when I first introduced Interstate275Florida.com in 2003.  I have made so many changes over the years in FrontPage; unfortunately, Microsoft ended support for FrontPage and a majority of web hosting providers - including the web hosting provider which hosts my websites including Interstate275Florida.com - no longer support FrontPage written websites.

Besides, a FrontPage written website depends on FrontPage-specific features that are maintained on the web server end, which are called FrontPage Server Extensions.  Once I began to find out that Microsoft no longer supports FrontPage and web hosting providers no longer use the FrontPage Server Extensions, I had to find another web design product which would let me code HTML the way I want without having to depend on something on a web server end to make my websites work.  I looked at a lot of web design software out there and I found a great web design program that would best serve my web design needs, and that is CoffeeCup's HTML Editor.

As I mentioned earlier Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region from Exit 39 (FL 60) to the Hillsborough River west of downtown Tampa has been reconstructed, and the pictures that were there was that section of Interstate 275 in Tampa before reconstruction.  What I did is I incorporated the old pictures on some of the Tampa pages along with new reconstruction pictures just to give you a perspective of what Interstate 275 looked before and after reconstruction.

On the sections of Interstate 275 in Tampa that were reconstructed a longer time back (before the mega-reconstruction of 2016) as well as Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg and Manatee County, I have refreshed the site with newer pictures.  After all, the pictures that were on there were getting a little stale and the website needed newer pictures.  In fact, this is what I tell my students when I give my presentation on web design at the Great American Teach-In that content should be updated as needed in order to avoid having stale content.

As you go through the new Interstate 275 Florida website you will see a Page Highlights on the left hand sidebar that tells you the highlights of the page in question.  On the top part of the page you will see a navigation bar that is customized based on what section of the website you're in.

Another new feature you will see is the pictures themselves.  I have arranged them in a photo gallery format, which is you can click on the thumbnail version of the picture to see a full size version of the picture.  In fact, while you're in there you can page through the photo gallery by hovering over the top left or top right corner of the picture and clicking on the Previous or Next button to see the previous or next picture.

Moreover, I made some updates to the Interstate 275 Frequently Asked Questions and the Getting Around the Tampa Bay Region from Tampa Airport PDF document pages.  And there is one new page that I made that I feel is definitely needed - a Tampa Bay Region Transit Page, as the need for other forms of getting around in the Tampa Bay region, especially rail based mass transit, is very crucial if we want to be competitive among other Florida metropolitan areas such as Miami and Orlando.  After all, both Miami and Orlando have commuter rail systems in operation and commuter rail is the key to making the Tampa Bay region competitive.

I know you are very excited to see the new look and feel of Interstate275Florida.com, and I am very excited myself to launch the new version of all things Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region on the web.  All the pages are done, and it's just down to checking to make sure that all the links work properly and to do a test of the new pages in the web browser to make sure that everything renders correctly.

The actual changeover to the revamped site will take place in a few days, but I can't provide an exact date just yet.  Once everything is all said and done, I will post another blog entry letting you know when the actual changeover will take place.  While we're on that subject, if you or someone you know has web pages that link to a specific page on Interstate275Florida.com please make sure to test your links when the changeover takes place to make sure that the correct page is being displayed.  For instance, if your link points to a specific page it will more than likely end in .htm; the new pages will have an .html extension, so that you will probably have to change the file extension in order to keep your visitors from seeing the 404 error page.

When the actual changeover takes place it will take I would say about a good hour and a half to two hours so that I can delete the old FrontPage based content and upload the new CoffeeCup HTML Editor based content as well as the pictures and their thumbnails.

Again, after the changeover is complete and the revamped Interstate275Florida.com goes live please check your links as well as your bookmarks to be sure that you are seeing our content.  If you happen to notice a link when the revamped site goes live that does not work for some reason please feel free to contact me and it will get fixed.

After it's all said and done, I can finally uninstall FrontPage from my computers and put FrontPage on the shelf.  Onward!    
 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Back To School 2016

Back to school has just arrived!  Just around the corner, you will be seeing those familiar yellow school buses and those school zones that will be a part of the Tampa Bay region commute.

For the majority of the Tampa Bay region, the 2016-2017 school year began on Wednesday, 10 August 2016 for Citrus, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Manatee Counties.  The only exceptions are Pasco and Polk Counties which starts school on Monday, 15 August 2016.

Like I mentioned in a similar blog entry last year, do you know what you need to do as a driver when you see a school bus?  You're on your way to work, and the school bus ahead of you slows down and then the yellow flashers come on first and then the red flashers along with the stop signs that extend from the school bus.  What do you do when you are faced with a stopped school bus?

If you are on a two lane road, traffic in both directions must come to a complete stop.  Remain in place until the school bus driver has turned off the red signals and retracted the stop signs.

If you are on a four or more lane road and the center is paved, such as a continuous left turn lane, traffic in both directions must come to a complete stop.  Remain in place until the school bus driver has turned off the red signals and retracted the stop signs.

However, if you are on a four or more lane road and the center is unpaved for at least five feet or if there is a physical barrier such as a Jersey barrier wall between the opposing roadways, only traffic traveling in the same direction as the school bus must come to a complete stop.  Remain in place until the school bus driver has turned off the red signals and retracted the stop signs.  Traffic going the opposite direction of the school bus need not stop, but reduced speed is called for as children may be around in the area where the school bus stops.

As our children make their way back to school for the new school year, please resist the urge to pass a stopped school bus especially if you are in a hurry to be somewhere such as work.  Passing a stopped school bus can cost you a $271.00 ticket and if you pass a stopped school bus on the side where children get on or off, it becomes a mandatory court appearance which can result in a much larger fine.

Now for a word on school zones.  You won't see them on Interstate 275, but chances are you will encounter them on the side streets as you make your way.

When you are driving near a school, more than likely the 15 mph school zone will be in effect with the yellow blinkers flashing.  If you encounter an active school zone, reduce your speed to 15 mph and do not go any faster until you reach the end school zone sign.  In addition, be sure to obey any signals from the on duty school crossing guard.  Remember, speeding fines are doubled for school zones starting at 1 mph over the school zone speed limit (starting at $156.00 in Pinellas County), so don't think about trying to be in a hurry to be somewhere.

Besides, the school bus and school zone fines are a lot more than your car loan payment.  Try to explain that to your auto lender if for some reason you cannot make your auto loan payment this month, the monies instead going to pay a school zone or school bus related traffic ticket!

So, if we know the basics of what you need to do when you see a school bus or if you drive near a school zone and see the school zone activated, we can get the 2016-2017 school year off to a great start for our children!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What to do if the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is closed

Happy New Year!  (Even though we are a few weeks into 2016!)

Lately we have been having a good share of bad weather, sometimes it would get so bad that the Sunshine Skyway Bridge has to be closed due to high winds.  Let's say you are in St. Petersburg and you are headed south over the Sunshine Skyway to an event taking place at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish.  Perhaps Hole in the Head Gang Train Robbery?  Hobo Campfire Cookout?  Murder Mystery Express?  Day Out With Thomas?  Or a regular train ride?

OK.  Florida Railroad Museum tickets ordered and ready at will call?  Check!
Vehicle ready to go?  Check!

Now you got that covered, you find your way onto Interstate 275 south.  All that stands between you and the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish is the reliable Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the tremendous time saver between St. Petersburg and Bradenton since 1954.

You are about to pass the last exit before the Sunshine Skyway, which is Pinellas Point Drive South, Exit 16.  Uh-Oh!  Florida Highway Patrol troopers or St. Petersburg Police officers directing you to exit at Pinellas Point Drive South instead of continuing south onto the Sunshine Skyway.  The trooper or officer tells you that the Sunshine Skyway is closed due to high winds.

Bummer.  High winds.  What do you do if the Sunshine Skyway is closed?

If you are in St. Petersburg, you unfortunately have a 40-mile detour through Tampa via Interstate 75.  It will take a lot more time to get from St. Petersburg to Parrish and the Florida Railroad Museum, but you'll get there.

In order to bypass the temporary Sunshine Skyway closure due to high winds, you have two choices from St. Petersburg.  Both routes involve transit through Tampa.

1.  Follow Interstate 275 north over the Howard Frankland Bridge to Interstate 4 (Exit 45B).  Next, follow Interstate 4 east for a short distance to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway by way of the connector highway which will enable you to transition seamlessly from eastbound Interstate 4 to eastbound Selmon Crosstown Expressway.  Once on the Crosstown follow it east to Interstate 75 south, then follow Interstate 75 south.

2.  Follow Interstate 275 north but exit the highway at FL 694/Gandy Blvd. (Exit 28), then east across the Gandy Bridge into Tampa.  Enter the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and follow it for its entire length to Interstate 75 south.

Remember to keep your SunPass funded, as the Selmon Crosstown Expressway is a cashless toll facility.  Unlike the Sunshine Skyway, there are no toll booths on the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

Now if you are headed in the opposite direction from Bradenton to St. Petersburg and the Sunshine Skyway is closed, it's very simple.  Simply reverse the directions as given above, just allow for extra time going through Tampa.

As I mentioned in a post from 2012, this is a great time to let you know what criteria is used in deciding to close the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to dangerous weather. On the main span of the Sunshine Skyway are wind speed detectors which send a wind speed report to the Florida Highway Patrol's Tampa Bay Regional Communications Center. It is the personnel in the communications center that make a recommendation to FHP troopers whether to close the Sunshine Skyway due to dangerous weather. Moreover, the FHP troopers out there patrolling the Sunshine Skyway also keep a close eye on weather conditions including how windy it is out there on the main span.

When wind speeds hover close to 40 mph (60 km/h) FHP troopers keep a close eye on conditions on the Sunshine Skyway, including activating the yellow flashing lights that warn motorists entering the bridge of high winds. Once the winds get sustained above 40 mph, FHP troopers will order the Sunshine Skyway closed.

Once the order to close the Sunshine Skyway is given, FHP troopers will direct motorists off of Interstate 275, southbound in St. Petersburg at Pinellas Point Drive South (Exit 16) and northbound in Palmetto/Ellenton at both US 41 (Exit 2) and on US 19 north at the last turn before toll at Exit 5 (that is the northbound entrance to Interstate 275 from US 19). Additionally, the closure order is passed on to the Florida DOT so that the electronic variable message signs found on Interstate 275 as well as Interstates 75 and 4 are updated with closure information advising motorists to seek alternative routes.

After all, closures of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to dangerous weather are not taken very lightly. If in the event the Florida Highway Patrol has to close the Sunshine Skyway due to dangerous weather, it is for one good reason: Your safety. After all, no one - including me - wants to be out there on the Sunshine Skyway's 191-foot high main span during dangerous weather.
 

And if you have to be somewhere across the Sunshine Skyway such as an event at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, plan ahead.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why does our commute in the Tampa Bay region get longer and longer?

I recently came across an article in the St. Petersburg Times, written by staff writer Michael Van Sickler, about why we Tampa Bay region residents are mired in our cars while other metropolitan areas (such as Miami and Orlando) have rail based commuting alternatives.  I wrote a reply to this article via the No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page on Facebook and I would like to share it with you.

After all, we need to fix the Tampa Bay region's traffic and transit woes in order to be competitive with Miami and Orlando.  The obvious solution is rail based mass transit, not the Florida DOT's proposed Tampa Bay Express (TBX) for Interstate 275.

Sad but true.

Why do the anti-rail activists such as Sharon Calvert advocate more roads and more congestion instead of providing a more logical solution for getting around the Tampa Bay region? Why build a 20 lane version of Interstate 275 in order to accommodate TBX?

Let's put it this way:

1. It is impossible for one to find a home close to work. Case in point: Downtown St. Petersburg has a residential downtown; unfortunately, for most people living in Downtown St. Petersburg - especially to be close to a Downtown St. Petersburg employer in particular - is financially out of reach.

2. With transit in the Tampa Bay region is spotty as it is now, the commuter is forced to rely on his or her own motor vehicle in order to commute to and from work. With living close to work out of the question, it means at least a 30 minute commute to work, if not longer.

3. The longer your commute to work, the more you pay in auto insurance. Case in point: Let's say you live in New Tampa and you commute to work in Downtown St. Petersburg. Yes, Downtown St. Petersburg. From New Tampa you have to make your way south on congested Interstate 75 over to doubly congested westbound Interstate 4 in order to get to southbound Interstate 275. And yes, you got to get through Malfunction Junction and the Howard Frankland Bridge. Once you are over the Howard Frankland into Pinellas County, you still got a ways to go before you reach the office in Downtown St. Petersburg. That said, how many miles from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg is your commute?

When you call around or go online for an auto insurance quote, one of the questions you are asked is this: How many miles is your commute, one way, to work daily? Give the agent the one way distance from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg and you will more likely get a high rate quote.

4. Don't forget, there is wear and tear on your vehicle for every day you commute to and from work. Factor in gasoline and maintenance costs. We are enjoying low gas prices right now, but wait until gas prices get back into the upper $3 to the lower $4 a gallon range.

5. More and more employers in the Tampa Bay region end up losing valuable employee talent due to long commutes to and from work plus the lack of reliable mass transit. This cuts into an employer's bottom line as once an employee quits, the employer has to hire and train a replacement employee which takes a considerable amount of time.

6. There are people out there for one reason or another do not want to own a vehicle due to the high costs of insurance and maintenance, not to mention the car loan payments you make every month if you finance your car purchase. Unfortunately, in the Tampa Bay region this is not an option due to the lack of a robust rail-based mass transit system.

7. More and more people are having to move from the Tampa Bay region to metropolitan areas which already have rail-based mass transit systems in place such as Miami/Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando as examples. With rail based mass transit it's as simple as getting on at the nearest commuter rail station and riding the train in to work downtown - no overly congested highways to worry about.

The need to fix the Tampa Bay region's congestion woes is clearly obvious: The Tampa Bay region needs commuter and light rail based mass transit. We do not need a 20 lane Interstate 275 and we definitely do not need those so-called "Lexus Lanes" such as TBX. And certainly the Tampa Bay region does not need to become another Detroit!

And we the residents of the Tampa Bay region deserve better choices when it comes to getting around.  Better choices for transit mean a better economy for the Tampa Bay region.