Walk Bike Tampa Mayoral Debate 2018 Recap

Walk Bike Tampa hosted a debate on Tuesday, December 11, for the mayoral candidates to discuss their vision for the city’s transportation infrastructure; with particular focus on pedestrian and biker safety. Walk Bike Tampa reached out into the community to gather areas of concern, and chose 16 questions to pose to the candidates. Only 8 questions were actually used that night, and each candidate was only able to address 4 of them, in interest of time. I feel strongly that each question should be addressed, since residents took the time to submit them. I would like to respect the concern of my neighbors and the advocacy groups who cared enough to ask. Here are my answers to each question that was submitted for this event.

1. What does Vision Zero mean to you, and what actions will your administration take to uphold and implement it?

Question developed by Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization

The Vision Zero policy is much more than just reaching zero traffic-related deaths. It’s a plan to shift the way people think, and ultimately shift the way people move throughout their city.

Vision Zero succeeds when we as a city realize that just because someone doesn’t ride transit doesn’t mean they don’t use it. We all use transit. From enjoying a dinner served by a waiter who took a bike share to work that day. We use it when our grandmother can ride the bus to pick up her prescription so she doesn’t have to burden her family. Drivers use it when they drive their cars and enjoy wide-open roads because other people choose to get off the freeway and take alternative transit measures. If we can get people to realize that we all use it, we will all start to support it.

Vision Zero is about designing our spaces where walking is a preferred mode of transit. A well-designed street can make a 20-minute walk feel like a 5-minute walk. A poorly-designed street makes a 5-minute walk feel like a 20-minute walk. Let’s design our streets better.

We need to revise our outdated codes which is car-friendly/pedestrian-dangerous, and evolve into new millennium thinking. Here’s a perfect example. Our codes within the city are designed to give drivers wide open views of approaching intersections so the driver can see if anyone is approaching. On the surface, this feels right, but the data shows that when a driver feels safe, they drive faster increasing the opportunity for a crash. When drivers feel unsafe on a road, they slow down increasing the chance of safe passageways. Let’s redesign the codes so when we design streets in the future it creates a healthy level of caution in the drivers so they slow down.

2. Will you explore the expanded use of streets on weekends for pedestrians and bicycle use?

Question was crowd-sourced

Not only am I in favor of it, I’ve publicly stated, many times, that we need to explore new ways to use our old roads. One pet project of mine will be to shut down Franklin Street downtown, adding pop-up shops along the unwalkable areas to connect the southern part of downtown all they way up to The Heights. I’m also in favor of exploring the idea of shutting down the two lanes closest to the water on Bayshore Boulevard Freeway and making it a residential 3-lane, with left-turn options for people heading into downtown. This would encourage people wanting to travel faster to move over to the Selmon Expressway and increase the safety for those on Bayshore Boulevard; not to mention, increase the property values of the homes along the roadway. All of these things, by the way, can be done very inexpensively as test projects with materials as simple as cones and paint.

3. Would you support adopting a Complete Streets policy in Tampa?

Question developed in partnership with the American Planning Association, Sun Coast Chapter

As of next month (January 2019) it will have been 9 years since I’ve owned a car. This is a choice, not a necessity. Because my main transportation vehicle is a bicycle doesn’t speak to my experience as a leader, it definitely speaks to my level of motivation to make sure we have a walkable, bikeable city.

I’ve read the Minneapolis bicycle and pedestrian masterplans at the advice of Keven Thurman some time ago. I’m a huge fan.

But even before reading those, I’ve always maintained a simple protocol with regard to urban design, probably inspired by books like “The Walkable City” by Jeff Speck and “Street Smarts” by Sam Schwartz.

Feet before bikes, bikes before transit, transit before cars. If we start out with this in mind, our design won’t alienate cars; they will still have a place. It’s just that we will make sure the other forms of transportation get the love and attention they deserve, as well.

I think if you are an advocate of pedestrian and bicycle safety you would want to ask yourself: “What it would be like knowing you have a mayor that walks and bikes to work every day?”

4. How often do you run errands by walking or biking?

Nine years ago, I sold my gas-guzzling SUV and committed to walk everywhere for one month, so I would help offset my carbon footprint. It was an experiment that had many unanticipated benefits: my stress levels dropped, my creativity increased, my calves got bigger, and, according to the CDC, I also reduced my chances of Diabetes by 50%, which happens to anyone who walks more than 1/5 mile per day.

One month became two, two became three, and before I knew it, I was half-way through the year wondering if I could make it one full year…and then I’d reward myself by buying a nice car. That one year went faster than expected, and I wondered if I could make it for two years. The game hasn’t got old, and I’m still enjoying my life more without a car than I did with one. It’s wasn’t hard, but it’s not for everyone. That said, it’s definitely more doable than a person might expect.

For me, running errands by bicycle or on foot is just second-nature, at this point. I’ve learned to buy only enough groceries to fit in my backpack, usually 2 or 3 days worth, and I love it because it helps curb any frivolous spending on foods that I don’t really need.

Now, I’m blessed that ride share is an option for me. But for many people in Tampa, it’s a necessity…and when push comes to shove, ride share is an easy option for me, but may not be for others. And this is why we absolutely must make our transit options more frequent, flexible, and affordable.

5. What city should Tampa closely model in terms of walk/bike/transit facilities?

Portland, OR has the most transportation-diverse intersection in the world, and it’s always buzzing with activity. I think we could learn a lot from their rail systems and bike-friendly culture.

La Paz, Bolivia and Medellin, Colombia use high-speed urban aerial gondolas to transport hundreds of thousands of people every day to and from work. I realize it seems unusual, but when you discover that an aerial gondola’s transport capacity is 50 times greater than BRT, costs between $3 – 12 million per mile to produce compared to between $20 – 400 million per mile for traditional transit, it takes less than one year to build the entire path, average wait times of around one-minute, at the most about 7-minutes, and best of all, it has the worlds highest safety rating in mortality rates with an average of 1 death for every 900 million passengers, all of a sudden you might think it’s at least worth having a conversation about it. By the way, Portland, OR also has an urban gondola.

I think we could learn a lot from Barcelona, Spain; it is walkable, transit-friendly, and they have redesigned their urban core with these things called Superblocks which are only 9 square blocks, 3 x 3, and they still allow cars…but at significantly reduced speed, (about 6 mph.) The effect of these Superblocks is noise pollution is reduced, air pollution goes down, walkability and biking go up, and the economy of those blocks improve.

6. Benefits of walkable open spaces and Well Certified neighborhoods like Water Street are cool. How would you support more of these?

The Water Street Tampa project has invested substantial capital to make the area Well Certified. I support that. Investing a bit more upfront, to make things healthier in the long run, is cost effective. The people who live work and play in the Water Street area will experience less sick days, they will have greater levels of energy, and they will have less chance of diabetes and heart disease because the area will encourage healthier options like walking, and provide healthier spaces to increase the overall level of health and happiness. If you want a better city, create better code enforcement. The idea of updating our building codes shouldn’t be controversial. The controversy should be in maintaining the status quo. By enforcing new codes, like requiring expansive awnings to create to shade for passers-by on buildings, requiring commercial buildings to include retail spaces on the ground floor so it’s walkable, and eliminating outdated minimum parking standards to maximum parking standards will allow retail shops to be developed closer together, encouraging more walkability. These are just a few things that can be done easily with some political courage. Here’s another example: when the City of St. Pete created new codes that retail shops had to provide umbrella seating outside their establishment on certain roads, the businesses threw a fit. The city stayed strong. The changes were implemented; and all of a sudden, the businesses saw walk-by traffic increase exponentially and their revenue increased. By the time it was all done, the retail establishments loved it! But the city leaders had to be willing to take some heat until the theory proved itself to be true. When a politician is more concerned about their next elected seat, they only do what’s popular…and sometimes doing what’s right isn’t all that popular. Remember, I’m not in this race for my next political appointment. I’m in this for the people of Tampa.

7. E-scooters are controversial. Have you been on one? How would you regulate their use? Would you impose additional fees on service providers or users to support safety and infrastructure development?

Question developed in partnership with Tampa General Hospital

I have ridden an e-scooter and I loved it. They are way more enjoyable on a bike lane than they are a sidewalk. Interestingly, I went much slower on a sidewalk than I did on a bike lane. Probably for the same reason that when you design a road that makes drivers feel more cautious, they slow down and become safer drivers; but when you design a road that makes drivers feel safe, they drive faster become more reckless.

The debate right now is whether e-scooters are an innovative solution to transit or just more tech toys to clutter the streets. Probably a bit of both; I think the jury is still out. But I’ll tell you what I like about them. They increase the conversation about transit, and that’s a good thing. Transit is the modern day chicken and egg scenario. Which should come first? Safe lanes for people to travel on using alternative vehicles? Or having enough people riding alternative vehicles to demand safe lanes? The reality is that if we wait for one to come before the other, we will have neither. More modes of transit moves the transit ball down the field.

If a private company is installing stations on public property, then it stands to reason that they need to be compensating the city in some way. What I don’t want to see is impact fees or special taxes for the riders to go into a general fund that can be used for anything. If the city is generating revenue from a new technology on our roads, then the monies earned from that should go toward making sure the infrastructure we use for the product is updated.

8. What role do you see for automation in traffic control (traffic signals, red light cameras, etc.) in easing commuting congestion and enhancing public safety?

Here’s what most politicians don’t want to tell you because it isn’t popular: getting cars to move fast and efficiently while keeping the people around those cars safe can’t happen at the same time. You have to make one of them a priority, and for me it’s very clear. Keeping people safe is a higher priority than getting people in cars where they want to go quickly. But there’s a bigger conversation here at play:

When you hear people using the word “innovation” but only talking about technology, you know they don’t really understand what innovation is all about. Technology isn’t innovation. My iPhone, as much as I love it, isn’t particularly innovative anymore, and probably hasn’t been since the iPhone 4. It’s just updated technology in a new box. Urban aerial gondolas aren’t very technically exciting, but using them to transport people inside a city IS innovative. Passing a No Right On Red law doesn’t use any technology, but it sure is innovative when trying to save lives. Roundabouts don’t use technology, but they are an innovative way to calm traffic. Protected bike lanes doesn’t use much technology at all, but they are very innovative. Additional freeway lanes for tolls or autonomous vehicles isn’t innovative because it doesn’t solve congestion, it just invites more congestion. Adding additional lanes to a freeway to solve congestion makes as much sense as increasing someone’s credit line to have them curb their spending habits. It’s called “induced demand.” Meaning, adding additional lanes won’t reduce congestion, it just creates more opportunities for more congestion.

9. More than half of Americans say they would like to bike more and, of those, 64% say they would do so if bikes and cars were separated by barriers. (What are your thoughts on bike lanes?)

I’m going to answer that by asking what I think is a pretty obvious, rhetorical question. Which life is more valuable? Which life is more precious? The one driving a car? The one riding a bike? Or the one walking? I think it’s pretty obvious. They are ALL precious. And as your Mayor, I will value all of those lives equally. I realize that nothing can create a more spirited debate at a city council meeting than having a bike lane installed on the road to your place of employment. Bike paths are okay as a start, but bike lanes are much safer and encourage more people to use them. I’m in favor of bike lanes strategically placed on certain roads. They save lives. I realize that it feels like taking a four-lane road down to three lanes and adding a bike lane will create greater congestion and slow drivers down, but the data just doesn’t support that. But even if it did, here’s an interesting perspective I’d like you to consider. Think about someone you love. If I could tell you that you could shave 15 minutes off of your drive to work each day, but your loved one would be gone from your life, would you make that trade? Of course not. But fatalities happen every day due to someone driving too fast, and those lives that are lost were somebody’s loved ones. They were spouses and parents and children…and because one person was driving in an unsafe manner, these lives are gone forever. Think about that the next time you are in your car. As your Mayor, you can bet I will put your loved ones’ lives as a higher priority than anyone’s need to get somewhere quickly.

10. If you could put a protected bike path anywhere in the city where would you put it and what features would it have?

Personally, if I could build a bike lane on any road in Tampa, it would be Kennedy. Because I feel like I’m taking my life into my own hands every time I ride my bike from downtown over to MacDill to go to my gym. However, I’m not running for office to satisfy my own personal needs, I’m running for office to serve the people of Tampa. So if I could put a bike lane anywhere in Tampa, and believe me I will, it will be in the places that the data shows we need to give the most attention and love to. So, if the data shows that by installing a bike lane onto a certain road we can decrease the chances of traffic fatalities in a greater number than putting one on Kennedy (which I’m sure there are) I will be putting a bike lane on those roads. If I had the perfect bike lane, it would be insulated by parallel parking, then green space with a protected barrier, then an elevated bike lane, then more green space, a sidewalk, and retail.

11. Walking to schools benefits our children’s health while connecting them to the community. How would you implement a “safe routes to school” program and would that include police resources at busy intersections?

Question submitted by Sidewalk Stompers

I recently recorded a video of my experience walking from Dale Mabry to Robinson high school on Elrod Ave. There are no sidewalks on the narrow road, and if cars are coming in both directions, the only option a child has to find refuge is to jump in a ditch. In that video, I shared that one of my highest priorities on creating Complete Streets will be to make sure roads that connect schools to major thoroughfares have sidewalks to ensure safety. Where possible, I’d like to create chicanes in the roads to calm the drivers, and if we can’t do that we could create speed ramps. I also think we could create immediate solutions by getting creative and having the schools create road murals. These low cost, but highly effective tactical urban strategies have been shown to slow drivers down. What if we created contests along the busiest roads for various groups inside the student body to compete for best road mural? It engages community activity, raises awareness as to the dangerous intersections, gets the neighbors outside to see what’s happening in their neighborhood and creates a collaborative nature between students and drivers.

As for police resources? I think if you need police officers serving as crossing guards, that’s an indication we need to seriously re-evaluate the design of that road. If you’re talking about police officers doing their jobs and pulling over speeding drivers, I’m all for that.

12. Schools are often located in the heart of a neighborhood. How would you update school area walking infrastructure?

See answer to question number 11.

13. The Tampa Downtown Partnership is wrapping up their parking plan. What policies can you put into place to encourage more travel options?

Question submitted by the Tampa Downtown Partnership

There is a great book called “The High Cost of Free Parking.” It has 800 pages, so you definitely have to be an urban development geek like me to enjoy it, but it reveals some alarming statistics on parking. For those who say “there isn’t enough parking downtown,” what they really mean is “there isn’t enough free parking downtown.” We have plenty of parking spaces. On average, we have about 7 spaces for every car, and that’s because we have outdated development codes that need to be changed ASAP. The most progressive cities in the country are getting rid of minimum parking standards, and changing them to maximum parking standards. The parking space requirement in our current codes are highly specific, but woefully inaccurate in what is really needed.

Our Park Mobile app is out of date and we need to update the system. The most effective parking technologies today have flexible pricing such that parking spaces are priced based on supply and demand. Agile pricing allows you to set the pricing so there is always a 20% vacancy rate. This means no matter where you are downtown, you’re no further than four parking spaces away from an open space…making it much easier to find parking, which greatly reduces congestion.

Lastly, we simply need to start pulling together as a society and working in collaboration. Here’s a perfect example. Where I live in downtown, the Element apartments, we have 8 floors of parking. Floors 2-5 are owned by TECO for their employees and floors 6 – 9 are owned by the Element for their residents. Every single day floors 6 – 9 are pretty much wide open because everyone drives their cars to work, and floors 2 – 5 are packed edge-to-edge. But then, when the TECO employees go home at night, floors 2 – 5 are wide open and floors 6 -9 become jam-packed because of residents returning home. So, at any given night there are plenty of wide-open spaces in our building within walking distance of 29 restaurants, but nobody can use them. Why? Because TECO won’t let you park in them even though they aren’t being used. And, during the day, there are plenty of open spaces within walking distance of those same restaurants and office buildings, but nobody can use them because the Element doesn’t want you to use them. This is just a waste of resources! We can do better, and we need leaders who can bring private groups together and have them share their resources. We don’t have a parking problem, we have a collaboration problem.

14. Cities often have bike and pedestrian advisory committees. Do you support them?

Question developed by Walk Bike Tampa

Here’s a fact. The most knowledgeable people in this city about urban development, walk/bike safety, and place-making aren’t the people in charge of zoning and code enforcement. And those people are also some of the most involved citizens I’ve ever known. Many of them were sitting in the audience that night. People like Chris Vela, Kevin Thurman, Jason Ball, Josh Frank, Christine Acosta and Lauren Campbell… these are the people who understand these topics better than our politicians, and if you were to provide them and others a forum to have their voices heard, (I can’t speak for any of them, but…) I’m pretty sure a lot of them would be honored to step up and serve their city. And, personally, I would love to have those named individual and many more keeping me informed about what the best and brightest ideas are for smart city design.

I wouldn’t stop there either; I’d go one step further. I will revamp our current system inside the city. As it stands now, engineers call the shots, and urban planners are the last to have a say. I love engineers, they are necessary. And they are not known for their creative artistry. Designing a walkable city is an urban planner’s job; they should be in charge of the vision, and then we rely on the engineers to develop it in a safe way that works. As your Mayor, I’m going to put the aces in their places and give the people who should be designing our urban areas the creativity and authority to do so.

15. In just a few years, over 25% of Hillsborough residents will be senior citizens. What will you do to keep them safe?

For one, we need to create bulb-outs on as many intersections as we can to minimize the distance between sidewalks. You may not think a 30-foot intersection is any different than a 20-foot intersection, but try using a walker, or a wheelchair and you’ll change your mind. Bulb-outs make it safer for people crossing intersections and slows cars down when they turn the corner. They work, we need them.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about urban aerial gondolas. They are the perfect solution for people who find steps or curbs challenging. Properly designed, every pod is wheelchair accessible and requires no stepping up or stepping down to get on or off.

I’m a fan of expanding the streetcar as well. I think if we could make it a circulator for the downtown area, it would serve the urban core well. Much like the Circulator Mark Sharpe is creating in the IP District.

16. MacDill & Bay to Bay: are you in favor of making this area walkable?

Absolutely, and I’ve already stated this many times. The road is dangerous as it is, and it needs calming. And to be clear, for anyone riding on that road, “calming” doesn’t mean congestion or even making your trip longer. A proper road diet can often increase the efficiency of vehicles, even though the speed may reduce. I know this seems counterintuitive, but in the case of urban design, often the intuitive answer is the least effective answer. If people have two lanes each way, traffic is constantly jockeying for the faster lane, often causing the cars behind them to fast-break. But a single lane in both directions with a turn lane allows the cars moving from point a-to-b to move consistently and fluently with no jockeying and unnecessary breaking, which means the cars may go a bit slower, but do so more consistently; and in turn, end up getting to their destination faster. And, in the process, we create a protected bike lane for the bicycles and the sidewalk for pedestrians is far enough away to avoid impact. This is a good thing, and I know that the impact study showed a slight decrease in vehicle efficiency for this particular road. I’m okay with that. Again, you have to ask yourself: what is more important, your convenience or your neighbors life?