Talk of light rail

Not that anyone's worried just yet, and not that the streetcar is operating below its established ridership quota, but a recent fare increase is being cited for an apparent decline in ridership. This is one of the few points that came up during yesterday's Hartline Board meeting.

The board packet for this meeting confuses local BBS buzz that the Metropoliton Planning Commission was to hear a sub-committee group recommendation that light rail be re-tooled for and re-installed in Hillsborough County's long-range transportation planning last January 17. The MPO Policy Committee did in fact hear from its subcommittee group, but contrary to the message dropped in the local message forum by an anonymous advocate (which is not really anonymous per se as the poster identifies himself as chair of the group), Hartline's board packet indicates that the MPO group did not walk away believing LRT to be the primary focus of conclusion. Instead, the chief recommendation was apparently for Bus Rapid Transit development. Rather anti-climatic.

It doesn't mean that the subcommittee group didn't recommend light rail in some capacity as prophesied by Mr. X, only that Hartline received a report that BRT was the dominant suggestion for whatever reason. Any talk of light rail got lost in this communication between the MPO subcommittee and Hartline. It's a shame because the details of whatever LRT plan the subcommittee group ultimately proposed would be a fascinating read. If the blogosphere is doing its job properly around here, maybe one of us will dig up those minutes (hint hint). I've already put myself in line to obtain them but maybe there's a squeakier wheel out there who can get'em faster.

There isn't much floating around about the MPO Citizen's Advisory Committee itself. Its members are given in this detail from the MPO website.

Sticks of Fire playfully hinted that the anonymous (or not so anonymous) poster might be Ed Austin. The detail above indicates he joined last September. If so, more power to him, but remember folks, it's just a message posting by someone able to reach a keyboard and so we should be careful not to settle on an idea of the actual author.

Whatever it is, TR will monitor this thread of advancement toward rail as surely as any other. You'll note that the subcommittee expects to hear back from the MPO eventually.

Elebow rubbing with the players

Last Thursday evening I took advantage of an invitation to rub elbows with Tampa's elite transportation folks and even a city commissioner or two. The event took place 38 floors above the ground, which from a free-wheeling web publisher's standpoint can be pretty risky. As a web publisher (and you might call me a blogger nowadays), totally ignoring all the traditional boundaries of polite journalism (even if more out of ignorance than veracity), you never know who you pissed off enough to want to push you out one of those windows. That's a pretty long drop.

Well, the trick to mentally coping with that is to pretend everyone is your friend and go along with the lie that no-one really reads what you write anyway. It's a worthwhile risk because by getting out from behind the narrow mental tunnel I channel between my brain and this keyboard, I really get to connect personally to the folks I write about and their issues. And, as luck would have it, most really are friends.

I won't go into the play by play since it went on for 2 hours, but some of the highlights involved talking with Marty - member of the Historic Streetcar Society, and a very kind soul which you can pick up just standing in front of him. He and I overlooked the city and pointed out this and that should happen, has happened, and will happen. For instance, from my vantage point I was able to see the groundbreaking for the Towers at Channelside, not to mention the complete path of the former Tampa people-mover system which predated my website by a year or so. I never got pictures of that sucker before it was torn down.

I also met Sharon Dent for the second time in my life. The first time I met her, during a taping of the mayor's hours two years ago, she threw a ball at me, confusing me for another local webmaster who has not-so-nice things to say about Hartline (or simply confusing my content's intent). On this meet-up she confused me with Hartline's own webmaster, whoever that is, and proceeded to connect me with a community transportation activist wondering about when her pictures would be posted. My mouth was stuffed with crackers as she kindly explained to this frail senior citizen that I was most definetely on top of it. When I finally got my word in edge-wise I spit out that I was not an employee of Hartline. Ms. Dent and the woman went wide with laughter! It was a good misunderstanding. It was just the 'in' I needed to explain that I wasn't whoever she thought I was the last time we met, in fact, and with a little more description, she finally clicked that I was the Tampa Rail guy. It was important to me to clarify this since she's moving on and I just had to make sure she knew which side of the ol' rail fence I was sitting on the whole time.

I briefly met the new Hartline director who nodded politely and patiently as I introduced myself, but there wasn't much talk beyone that. My conversation with Ed Turanchik, who's early efforts to bring rail to Hillsborough County in the mid-90s was actually the inspiration for Tampa Rail, was no more profound but just as gentlemanly. Ultimately, on the way out, I bumped into Ed Crawford whom I had never met before outside his printed name. To be honest, he struck me as the odd man out in terms of transit personalities. The directors, the supporters, and the community activists such as myself are all what I would have to call softies. Right, good, but almost too polite for the fight we face in bringing mass transit to Hillsborough County, and in particular against the hard-nosed extremist conservatives determined to stop that at any cost. If there's a commanding disposition in the lot of us, one that you sort of feel you don't want to mess with if you're against the objectives of transportation choice here, it would have to be Ed. This was a big surprise since, well, I always figured a PR dude would be kind of supplicating and overly compromising. Not so in this case. Not so much idealism as a get-down-to-war force here which, given the pattern of personality I so observe, is a little startling when you first shake his hand. I wound up thinking thank god this guy is on our side. We talked at much greater length and indeed he was my last insider contact before packing it up that night.

So, there you have it. As I wrote months earlier, Sharon Dent won the salvo to break ground in Tampa with new urban rail and should, in the context of this website, be remembered as the victorious leader of Tampa's progressive rail army. From what she navigated to fruition shall come Tampa's future. Watch.