“Tampa is at a tipping point to embrace its multimodal future and think about transportation in a different way.”
The final knowledge exchange of the InVision Tampa effort was about the number one issue brought up to the planners sketching out Tampa’s future: transportation. Over 100 attendees were challenged to think differently about transportation in Tampa and Hillsborough County.
One of the ideas discussed was how we view our roads. There was a noticeable gasp when people realized that streets in the North Blvd. Homes were as well designed as Hyde Park. But the sidewalks and trees of those areas are not everywhere in Tampa. Interstate 275 and the Selmon Expressway may actually have a detrimental impact on downtown Tampa by making Ashley Drive, Tampa Street and Florida Avenue into one-way speedways that are glorified on-ramps.
We’re measuring street capacity in cars, when it should be measured in activities. Ashley Drive, as Tampa’s designated arts district, should be for sidewalk cafes and galleries. Instead, we have parking garages, surface lots, and people sprinting across the road with lawn chairs to get to Curtis Hixon Park. Tampa has been more worried with getting cars through downtown as quickly as possible, rather than getting people to work, shopping and homes.
One of the messages of the meeting was that we must evolve the public realm to be more inclusive to people. West Palm Beach was held up as an example of taking a mostly abandoned downtown and building it for people. Three-laned, one-way streets became two-ways, with two lanes and landscaped sidewalks. Unused ground floor space at the bottom of office buildings were converted to sidewalk shops, luring people downtown. Abandoned buildings were renovated and mixed use development replaced surface parking lots. We can look to downtown St. Petersburg for an example of these efforts, as well.
When it came to rail, we were challenged to think about who would ride rail and who goes where? Some of us would ride it every day, if possible. But does it make sense to put some locomotives on freight rail, just to say we have a train? Or does it make sense to plan it out and build a system that serves the population that needs it, but spend more money and take longer to build?
The $1.86 billion in investment around the south corridor of Charlotte’s light rail between 2005-10 was a good reason why rail is important for economic development. But, we are a different region from Charlotte, with bodies of water and decades-old rivalries between cities and neighborhoods. So how do we do it? How do we link Tampa International Airport to USF? Or to the beaches? How do we get people in Northdale to Lightning games? That isn’t a job for the streetcar or HART, so what do we do?
InVision Tampa won’t be considered a success unless the suggestions delivered by planners are converted into projects. That may take a decade. Our job is to embrace these suggestions and start moving Tampa past the tipping point and forward into the future. If we don’t have a sense of urgency to act now, not only will Tampa suffer, but the entire region will miss an opportunity to evolve and grow.
Previous InVision Tampa articles: Part 1, Part 2