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The Infuriating Train Robbery
Streetcar Video
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Using the headline word "train" loosely, of course.

Anyone know if they caught this guy yet? I was perusing streetcar videos to catch up on things and was shocked and infuriated to find this video of what may well have been a friend of mine being held up at gun point on the Teco Line.

I don’t know that I recognize the victime in the video but in my time covering the streetcar for this blog I came into casual acquaintance with many conductors and motormen. This motorman wasn’t hurt, and he seemed to deal with the situation calmly and rationally, although I bet he was in complete shock after.

I can’t find any online information about the perpetrator being found and arrested but perhaps it happened low-profile like.  If the guy was desperate enough to rob for a random payout (in this case he apparently made off with just $20), it must have been something impulsive or drug-fueled.  He needed any amount of money quick, but, any susbequent robbery to increase the payout would have escalated the whole thing into to a real-time crime spree, which would have increased the risk due to the overwhelming police response something like that would cause (not that a single gunpoint robbery doesn't cause a big enough one, but 2 or 3 holdups in a short period of time escalates to an even bigger one).  If he hasn't been arrested yet, he was either extremely transient or was visiting from out of town, and possibly leaving that day if not hour.  With the hyper-locality of the crime and of course the widely distributed video, local police would have known who he is pretty quickly otherwise, I imagine.  

Anyway if anyone can comment in with an update, feel free.

Polk Folk Feel Railroaded by TBARTA
TBARTA Politics Setback
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Every now and again TBARTA and Polk officials get together to discuss Polk joining TBARTA to more evenly round-out TBARTA's regional mission.  They were close this time, it seems, but word crawled up the ladder that certain legislators were too far outside the loop and to them that was enough to tank further talks.  The current bill's evangelist, Senator Bill Gavano, pulled his effective sponsorship when fellow legislators Kelli Stargel and Denise Grimsley, both senators (all mentioned names are republican), balked. Gavano has suggested that Stargel misunderstood his intentions, but I fail to understand how wanting to make sure Polk County is included in mass transit progress on a regional scale, could be "misconstrued" as a negative.

At issue root is the feeling that TBARTA was being jimmied too quickly on the last day of the legislative calendar.  However, that may or may not be the real reason.

Commission Chairman Todd Dantzler said there may be some other issue in the background that’s influencing the debate.

I'm not really sure who an organization is "supposed" to talk to, but the slighted lot in this case seem really miffed about it.  At the county political level Polk has already come out in various ways as wanting to be part of the agency's planning and event horizon, so the sudden halt by quibblers was probably regarded as something of a depressing surprise.  

Polk buy-in to TBARTA is important long-term when talking about rail.  Its county borders are the farthest north touching the Orlando metropoliton area and, even that aside, is certainly a crucial component to long-range intercity or commuter rail.  At the very least it is a commuter rail connection between Lakeland and downtown Tampa, perhaps.  

Let's hope whatever is driving this opposition comes around sooner than later. 

Is This the Next Streetcar Extension?
Streetcar HART Funding Construction
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HART is seeking funds to re-vamp the Marion Street transit corridor in order to bring it up to date following ADA requirements that, today, restrict the corridor from operating at full capacity.  The ADA stipulations came to be after the transit corridor was built, leading to the current issues which HART has more or less been coping with, but would now rather fix.  

Capture rendition of the next Teco Line route exfension.

The Teco Line could turn a corner, literally, to continue its drive to loop.

Whether that can be done or not is up in the air - but let's say that it can't be.  Jeff Seward, HART's chief financial officer, and Karen Kress, the transportation director for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, are quoted in an article I'm reading in this Mass Transit article that one option, then, will be move the buses out of Marion Center and extend the Teco Line streetcar right through the right-of-way.  It could be done (relatively) cheap Jeff points out, and Karen alludes to much key support.

Marion Street is one block over from the streetcar's current downtown terminus and wouldn't require HART to buy any right of way, Seward said.

'There's a whole camp that would like it to become a streetcar extension,' Kress said.

It reads like there may be a lot more water cooler talk about this going on at HART and the city.  If so, everyone is being coy because the expressed first preference with any new money is to bring the corridor in line with ADA mechanics, not to mention fix traffic timing issues and other perhaps less sexy stuff.

The 'manifest destiny' of the streetcar system is to eventually loop the entire downtown core.   By this frame, the streetcar system as we all know it now, is far from complete and is in fact under Tampa's version of perpetual construction (just like the New York City subway, which technically hasn't stopped being built since - it was built).  A headway into the Marion corridor could take the streetcar for another quarter mile or so toward closing that loop and meeting its destiny.

Keeping Transit Under Wraps
Picture Subway
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It stings to this day not to be there in person, keeping on top of Tampa’s evolution toward urban rail. I keep a close eye on the news, though, and I know that things are heating up.  For example, Buckie is calling for a new rail referendum and Orlando has kicked off SunRail, adding to the drum beat for a dense regional commuter rail network that sooner or later encompasses Tampa.  

If there's one decent thing we can say about Florida Governor Rick Scott's time in office, in the last hour he managed to bitch-slap his own conservative base with a capricous decision to build SunRail over their objections.  It was every bit as capricious as the ghastly decision to kill high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando.  But when a drunk bastard is staggering around the room, he's bound to knock over a bag of sugar eventually.  Hence SunRail.  So basically, rail wins enough and all the anti-rail folks can bite it.  SunRail is the genie, a good one, that affirms that one day rail will become a part of Tampa.  Scott is also butressing up plans at TIA, so there's that, too.  

As I've always said anti-railer nuts, you can take this drum of flaming charcoal and gas fluid and throw your anti-rail dollars into it as you always have, or, you can cede to the inevitable and hop on board with Tampa's future.  Your choice, but that future as it looks now seems to include more rail than less.

Anyway, keeping up the spirit at TR, here’s something I thought the loyalist of TR hanger-ons after all this time, might find engaging out of New York. Hey if nothing else it’s something new on the blog, right?

Yes, it’s a freshly delivered subway train. I was doing a late night transfer when this baby rolled up on the tracks behind me. My guess is they were doing a test or break-in run, but whatever the case it’s startling to see something as massive as an 11-car subway train in its birthday suit. In this case cellophane wrapping the seats!

The Pictures

 

One Bus Away is a Way HART Gets Supercharged
HART Transit Tech
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Screenshot from Google Maps showing off component of One Bus Away.HART recently announced its participation in the One Bus Away project which in turn provides the first user-side GPS tool the riding public has actual access to.  In a nutshell this implemention of the project in Tampa allows riders to, from their home or from on the curb, check the real-time arrival information for the next bus.  A previous system by HART allowed riders to better look up fixed schedule information from their smartphones, but this data differs in that it is real-time.  

I believe that GPS-assisted transit services are especially potent in a medium-sized city like Tampa for two reasons:  One, Tampa operates an excellent, but from a budgetary viewpoint, skeleton system.  It's all about buses, streetcar line aside, with 15+ minute head-ways on most routes, which is just adequate to supplement core living needs and some choice rides across the class spectrum.  

As I see it, if buses averaged faster head-ways GPS-assisted transit wouldn't represent as valuable a gain because users would already understand that to merely show up at a bus stop would be to board a bus almost instantly.  If buses ran too sparsely, however, there wouldn't be a rider base in the first place.  So I believe the current situation is optimal for filling in the gap between a bus that is in fact on its  way in the next 15 minutes or so.  And since that timetable can be a little wobbly where punctuality is concerned (not for lack of effort by HART, but due to accidents and traffic conditions inherent to a bus system in general), such a system is ideal to tip you off that a bus is running a little late or that you have already missed it.  You can use this information to precisely decide when to leave a house or business, or, whether to spend a few minutes more browsing for clothes, sipping coffee, or, yes, even consider making other transportation choices for that particular trip if need be.  I've poked around with this and it seems you can even set a reminder for a particular bus so that you get dinged when it gets feasibly close enough for you to go meet it.  It's just awesome.

The other reason is that summer weather in Tampa is volatile with its deadly lighting storms.  Everything I wrote above is even more crucial when gambling how long you're going to risk standing out on the side of a road next to a bus-stop-sign-turned-into-a-lightning-rod, or taking the chance to reach it.  That is if you calculate that risk at all...I never would (meaning, I never go outside during a lightning storm period) but I know that many people do.

Most of us who hear the words "GPS" and  "transit" immediately conjure thoughts of a map with buses or trains that blip on and off as little icons visually detailing their exact location much like the USF Bull Tracker system does.  However the new system by HART does not yet go this far, although does not need to in order to present quality real-time arrival information.  The current system is most likely a precursor to a deluxe one but you won't have to wait for it to enjoy the benefits of tightning up your transit, and therefore your personal schedule, today.

Linkage

Note that the when downloading for your device (i.e., iPhone or Android phone) it is best to do so directly through the device itself.  Visit the app store and search for OneBusAway.

The Construction Picture Explained
Streetcar Construction Channelside
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I didn't realize it until some time after the fact, but the official Tampa Bay Connect Twitter account actually responded to the question I put forth below.  

Ladies and gentelman:  It's the USF Center for Advanced Learning and Medical Simulations.

PIcture of University of South Florida Center for Advanced Learning and Medical Simulations.

What's Being Built Along the Streetcar Line?
Infrastructure
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I was doing a bit of random Google street viewing along the Teco Line Streetcar route (yeah it's the best I can do from up here!) and noticed that there's a construction project underway alongside the tracks on Franklin Street as you approach/depart the southern terminus.  Here's a cap from the view:

Picture of generic construction project along Franklin Street.

Does anyone know what this is going to be?  Any chance it will be a grocery store?

Here a link to the general area I'm talking about directly in Google.

Tampa's First Light Rail Stop is a Bus Stop
MetroRapid Light Rail Tampa
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Congratulations to the people of Tampa, and kudos to the hard working team at HART for launching MetroRapid.  When I was there this service was every bit the dream light rail is today.  I've panned both articles in the major Tampa newspapers and from what I'm gathering it was a tepid warm-up to the service but everyone seemed to able to dig up positive quotes among the early birds.  It seems people, for the moment anyway, woke up to "something is better about the bus system", and may have even spotted one of the new buses as they drove through a Nebraska Avenue intersection.  But they didn't breathlessly hike it out to one of the Park n' Ride stations to take a gander, let alone be one of the first riders.  Dammit people, I'd have.

Two burning questions I kept waiting for the writers to address:  Did that awesome traffic light thing work as expected?  My god, if that doesn't sell a rider nothing will.  Also, how close is the service to supplementing itself with GPS tracking online or at station kiosks so that folks can take the best advantage of the headways?  Bus rapid transit and GPS go together like peanut butter and jelly.  This blog still has a comment section, feel free to use it if you got an inside scoop on either question.

Nothing like this is doled without tying it into the evolution of Tampa light rail.  Not at this blog, and really, not even among the transit pros in Tampa where the system is billed as a way to develop transit demand and bank it all at the fed's doorstep one day in making the case for light rail.  If you want light rail in Tampa, you'll try this thing out and get everyone you know to try it out as if a light rail future depended on it.  It probably does. 

Links

Video

ABC Action News Coverage of the MetroRapid Debut

Signal Prioritization Demonstrated, Courtesy HART You Tube Channel

Video of Similar TIA Elevator Incident Sheds Light
TIA
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I encountered a video this morning of a Korean man who charged an elevator's doors with his scooter and wound up pushing his way straight through them and into its shaft, to his death.  In it the man is seen just as he misses an opportunity to board the elevator with another passenger.  After the door closes he pulls back in his scooter, and mind you this is one of those medical scooters not a recreational one, and "charges" the elevator doors head on.  The first charge clearly breaks the door at the base as the door panels are seen swinging in on impact.  In the second charge the doors give way completely and the man floops to his untimely and most unfortunate doom.  This Mail Online article provides some additional detail.

The video isn't new and has apparently been circulating the Internet since 2010.  However, it all got me thinking of the incident at TIA where Chad Wolfe seemingly died in a similar situation - elevator doors manually broken followed by a fall into the shaft.  The video sheds some light on the fragility of elevator doors and in some way fills a gap of curiosity about this perplexing incident.

Are Punit and Santosh Gonna Turn Things Around?
Channelside Personalities
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A thriving Channelside is crucial to the future of the Teco Streetcar System, it's part and parcel why the line ever came to be.  I haven't been there in a long time but from what I read all the way up here Channelside became a ghost town with a Hooters.  The Tampa Bay Tmes reports that 2 guys, Punit Shah and Santosh Govindaraju, want to buy the existing Channelside Bay Plaza (effectively what we are talking about when we talk about "Channelside"), leading to the quote that buying up distressed properties and turning them into something these guys do.  My question is, is that true?  What sort of track records do these guys actually have with this scenario?   What tank of a property have they turned around specifically in the past?  Not that I'm questioning or opposing anything here, more power to them no matter what the answer to that question is - even if it's just traditional PR optimism; I'm just trying to gauge what the chances are for success under new talent.  

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