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 Interstate275Florida.com (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 Interstate275Florida.com!

The Sunset of 2011 and the Sunrise of 2012

It’s New Year’s Eve, and that means everyone will be out there partying until the stroke of Midnight when 2011 gives way to 2012. However, New Years Eve can be a memorable experience for you if you celebrate responsibly.

I posted some helpful tips on celebrating New Year’s Eve safely that was inspired by a Bay News 9 article on this subject. I recently expanded this topic and turned these tips into a PDF document which I have made available on Interstate275Florida.com on a permanent basis simply by clicking on this link. It’s easy to celebrate the holidays safely, and it’s not just restricted to New Year’s Eve.

I put these tips here as a reminder of the most common danger of being out and about on New Year’s Eve (as well as any other major holiday), especially out there on Interstate 275 as well as other major highways in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area: Drinking and driving. I post these tips out there as a public service in the hope that needless accidents can be prevented, especially around New Year’s Eve.

After all, the Florida Highway Patrol – along with other law enforcement agencies in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area – will be out in full force looking out for impaired drivers. If you drink and get behind the wheel, and a state trooper sees you driving erraticly or you have the misfortune of going through a DUI checkpoint, expect to spend the beginning of the new year with a pair of steel handcuffs, placed behind your back and double locked, and being taken to either the Pinellas or Hillsborough County Jail depending on where you get arrested and spending time in a holding cell until you sober up.

As a reminder, if your New Year’s Eve celebrations include drinking, please, please do one of three things:

1. Designate a driver.

2. Call a taxi to take you home. You can retrieve your car the next day.

3. Spend the night at a hotel or a friend’s house. Even if rates are high for New Year’s Eve or any other major holiday, it’s much better (and much cheaper) to pay for a room at the Hilton Downtown St. Petersburg Bayfront or any other hotel than face the consequences of DUI if you are caught.

Ask yourself: Would you rather pay $120 for a hotel room for one night or $20,000 for taking a chance by drinking and driving? Let’s see:

$120: Can pay for one night’s hotel room on New Year’s Eve (approximately).

$20,000: Can pay for your first DUI, and we’re talking DUI that does not involve property damage, bodily injury or even death. It includes, among other things:

Court imposed fines
Court imposed costs
Attorney’s fees
Cost for ignition interlock
Cost to retrieve your vehicle from the impound lot
Mandatory DUI school
Increased insurance costs
And the list goes on and on…

It’s your choice.

Again, do yourself a favor and if you had even one drink, don’t get behind the wheel and drive! Let’s start 2012 on the right note!