Saturday, August 02, 2008

Tampa Transit: 10 years from now, 75 years ago

The chatter over rail in Tampa has finally began to heat up (albeit a couple decades late) as the Trib's front page story earlier this week indicates, and even though it's hard to get excited about something that might take at least a decade to get rolling, if it gets rolling at all, I have to hand it to Iorio for her commitment to lighting a fire under the bureaucracy and generally being fed up with the lame feet dragging and lack of vision. The voter referendum is still a ways off, and there's a lot of "ifs" floating around this town, but it's not too early to speculate about how rail could affect Tampa and Seminole Heights in particular if Pam's "starter line" from USF to downtown to Westshore ever gets built. Will there be a Seminole Heights station? Where would the best location be? Here's some comments the mayor made recently in Creative Loafing about the development of such a rail stop:

In the other cities I have visited, it is very clear that there is transit-oriented development at these stops that is very beneficial to the community: beautiful apartments and condos and mixed-use developments, all positive. And people can live in an apartment complex and then just jump on the rail line and go to work. That is what we're going to need more of.

But it does take a consensus-building. Neighborhoods need to know that their single-family residential neighborhoods will still be protected, and the fact that further down the street there's a transit stop, and there might be a condo or apartment project associated with it, with shops and so forth and office, that does not degrade their neighborhood.

Rewind about 75 years or so: Poking around the Tampa Rail site, I found these original Tampa Streetcar Brochures and Maps from the 53 mile Tampa Electric Company Service ("Carriers of Tampans for 50 years!"). They're pretty captivating. Did you know that Tampa once had Two Hundred and Twenty Three full time Street Car employees? I think we currently have three. And the service ran almost 24 hours a day: the first car at 4:30 in the morn and the last at 2am! Wow, sounds like a real city, don't it? Beats the Hartline by about nine thousand miles, which is incidentally the distance Tampa streetcars used to travel in one day! Here's a map of the Seminole Heights line that ran up Central to the Sulphur Springs Pool on the river. My grandmother used to ride these streetcars all over town for a nickel and has often lamented to me about how stupid, wasteful, and absurd the decision to tear up the tracks was (for that sad story, consult Wikipedia's Great American Streetcar Scandal entry). But now, due to the complete and total domination of our car culture, politicians must now attempt to build consensus amongst a population raised looking through windshields and thinking buses are for poor people, that mass transportation might not be such a bad idea.

Well, at least we Tampans can take solace in the notion that (maybe) in a decade or so we can finally catch up to where we were with mass transit 75 years ago. HooraY for the brave martyrs of the social experiment of car culture addiction. Too bad it's taken an entire lifetime to attempt to reverse the bad decisions and shoddy planning of our fair city! We is Tampa!


Anonymous said...

try 30 years, minimum. I watched Atlanta's still-limited MARTA service get started in the 1970s, when federal matching funds were still available. Tampa will face an uphill battle to get anything resembling MARTA going in the same amount of time.

Tony said...

MARTA is a true subway, a.k.a. heavy rail, so the comparison is not valid. This is not the type of system the Mayor has in mind. It is likely that she is thinking light rail, which is what they have in places like Denver, Charlotte, and Dallas. These are usually surface trains that run off overhead wires. This would be a good option for Tampa, but it is still very expensive. Tampa should consider a return to the classic street cars like you see on the Tampa Rail site because as we all know even the Ybor City system is incredibly expensive. Tampa is an ideal place for open-air streetcars of old. It would be a unique system and people would ride, especially if it did serve a direct route from USF > Downtown > SOHO > WestShore. My only fear...a great, big that they will continue to pursue the idea of using existing tracks. Yes, much of the existing alignment is fine, but to push the system all the way east is a grave mistake. People in East Tampa are already using transit. The idea of a light rail/street car system is to serve the central city corridors and prompt non-transit riders to start riding. If they continue with the mis-guided effort to use exiting track, all that will happen is people now riding the bus will just switch to the train and the net gain will be zero. Tampa light rail's first route should be down the centers of Fowler, Florida, and and Kennedy Aves/Blvd. Then they can make spurs down Busch/Gunn, Henderson, Armenia, etc. Such a system would instantly make Tampa a world class City, and OSH would be at the heart of the system. Sadly, I have very little faith that such a bold move will ever be undertaken by the flaccid politicians in this area.