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Mark Simpson

Mark Simpson appears in the following:

Florida’s Flirtation with High-Speed Rail Recounted in New Book

Monday, October 01, 2012

HSR in Florida No More

Not coming to Florida anytime soon

It seems like Florida and high-speed rail were a couple that always flirted across a crowded room -- but neither had the nerve to ask for a date.

Finally in 2010 and 2011 it seemed like progress was being made. But then the pair's matchmaker -- governor Charlie Crist -- left office, and new governor Rick Scott started sending mixed signals. What could have been a storybook romance for President Obama, Florida, and fast trains evaporated faster than a Shinkansen speeding between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Time Magazine journalist Mike Grunwald recounts some of that story in his new bookThe New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era”.

Speaking with Mark Simpson on WMFE’s Intersection program this week, Grunwald recalled Orlando and Tampa’s hope’s creating a blazing fast network of trains between the two anchors of the I-4 corridor: “Florida had the shovel-readiest bullet train," he says. "You had the land, you had the route right down I-4, it was pretty much good to go. You had all these private companies that were willing to pick up the slack and say we’ll cover the cost of any overruns and make sure this isn’t going to cost Florida a dime.”

Grunwald says Rick Scott’s cancellation of high speed rail reflected the action of other Republican governors around the country, including Wisconsin and Ohio, and political ideology played into the stripping away of Obama’s grand plans for high speed rail. “There was a kind of tea party element to this; we don’t like trains, that’s the sort of liberal way to travel and we don’t like government projects.”

The high-speed rail network is now much smaller than the nationwide map originally envisioned in the stimulus package. Rather, routes in the Midwest and Northeast are beefing up to bring “higher speed rail,” which don't approach the bullet train speeds of Europe and Asia but instead are shaving off some commuting time between major cities.  (Watch videos of recent Acela tests on TN.)

So now, President Obama can't point to a gleaming set of new trains and say "I built that." According to Grunwald, that has ramifications. I talked to a guy in the administration who told me he thought this was going to be a great issue for Obama in 2012," he says, "because they would just show pictures of those guys in Florida building this new fancy high-speed network that was going to whip bullet trains past traffic on I-4 and create tens of thousands of jobs, and they’d be able to run those ads in Wisconsin and say hey thanks for your money Wisconsin -- but of  course it turned out Florida went [in that same] direction.”

You can listen to the complete conversation on WMFE’s web page.

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HUD Secretary Highlights Central Florida Commuter Line as Sprawl Fighter -- and Economic Driver

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

Planners designing around Central Florida’s SunRail future commuter line are working to bring walkable communities around rail stops, said Shaun Donovan, secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

They are making sure zoning changes around the stations will be able to increase nearby construction, which creates jobs, but also brings housing and jobs within a walkable distance, he said in an interview with WMFE just before the Florida Housing Coalition’s annual conference.

“Frankly, families are getting more and more fed up,” Donovan said. “I don’t want to spent two hours commuting...the average family now spends fifty cents of every dollar they earn just on housing and transportation...this can lower the cost of jobs.”

SunRail is expected to cost $1.2 billion to construct. It will begin operations in 2014.

 

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SpaceX Successfully Launches Historic Flight in Florida

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Image Courtesy of Space X

(Orlando, FL-  WMFE) The supply ship built by Space Exploration Technologies is now in orbit and on its way to rendezvous with the International Space Station. With the successful launch of the test capsule loaded with supplies, NASA is a step closer to developing a commercial crew program to eventually ferry astronauts into orbit.

The Falcon 9 rocket, with a new valve in one of its engines, soared into the night sky over Florida after lifting off as planned from Cape Canaveral at 3.44 am Tuesday -- marking the first time a private company has launched a vessel to the ISS.

Space X president Gwynne Shotwell said the rocket could have flown even with the faulty valve that had delayed the launch on Saturday morning.

Ten minutes after the launch, the spacecraft was in orbit and had deployed its solar panels, beginning a sequence of rocket firings to maneuver close to the space station.

With Dragon now in orbit, the mission still has some way to go: after the spacecraft completes a complex series of tests to see if it can safely approach the ISS, NASA has the final say on whether to allow it to dock with the orbiting outpost.

Unlike Russia’s Soyuz, Space X’s Dragon will not mate directly with the orbiting observatory. Instead, astronauts will use the station’s robot arm to grab Dragon and slowly dock it with the station.

Astronauts plan to use a robotic arm to grab the Dragon and bring it into the station on Friday. If everything unfolds as mission managers hope, the Dragon will spend two weeks at the Space Station before detaching and heading home for a splashdown in the Pacific.

 

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Mica Set to Unveil New Tolling Plan for Interstates Tuesday

Saturday, January 28, 2012

U.S. Representatives Corrine Brown and John Mica

(Orlando, Fla.) Congressman John Mica says he will unveil next Tuesday a major five-year transportation bill to allow more public private partnerships to expand the capacity of Interstate Highways.

Locally Mica, who Chairs the U.S. House Transportation Committee, says that means creating new tolled lanes on Interstate 4. "What I’d like to do is double the  amount of lanes we will have, express lanes that we will have in the center of I 4 going not just up in the Seminole county but into Volusia county. We’re working on that now," he said.

Mica made the announcement at Friday’s Sunrail Groundbreaking Ceremony in Altamonte Springs.

Expanding lane and toll capacity is also a major goal for the Florida Department of Transportation.

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Central Florida SunRail Commuter Train Breaks Ground

Friday, January 27, 2012

State and Local Sunrail Supporters Bang in Ceremonial Rail Ties

(Orlando, Florida) State and local officials joined supporters of Central Florida’s commuter train SunRail to break ground on the project in Altamonte Springs Friday.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer Buddy reflected the positive mood surrounding the $1.2 billion project. "It’s a historic day for all of Central Florida, it ushers in a new era of transportation options for our residents, it ushers in jobs, smarter growth, so a very important day," he said.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

But there are concerns that the SunRail line, which is slated to start service in the spring of 2014, will be relying on the regional bus service LYNX too heavily to bring passengers closer to major destinations.

Seminole County Commissioner Carlton Henley Chairs the LYNX Board of Directors.

He says LYNX is already struggling to provide services to its existing routes and that additional SunRail capacity highlights the need for a dedicated funding source for transportation programs." I would like to see, quite frankly, a sales tax approach," he said. "I don’t want to put any burden on property, but I think a regional sales tax would produce the revenue that’s need for both roads, rail, and bus."

Lynx Board Chair Carlton Henley

The SunRail line will come in two phases and eventually connect along 61 miles of track between Deland and Poinciana.

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Proposed $1.6 Billion Dollar Wekiva Parkway in Central Florida Jumps Forward

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Standing Room Only As MetroPlan Orlando Approves Wekiva Parkway Deal

(Orlando, WMFE) The controversial $1.6 billion dollar Wekiva Parkway project moved ahead Tuesday in Orlando as the regional planning body Metro-Plan Orlando approved a funding proposal for the 25-mile long roadway.  Only two commissioners voted against the funding plan.  Osceola County Commissioner and Metro-plan board member John Quinones cited concerns about costs as his reason for voting no, "You’re talking about 1.6 billion dollars.  That is too much of a price tag.  I think the toll roads are going to pay the consequences.  I just don’t think the cost benefit analysis warrants the building of this road right now."

Currently the Florida Turnpike Authority will pay for 28% percent of the project costing about $459 million dollars, state DOT funds will cover another 28% at $460 million, and the Orlando/ Orange County Expressway Authority will pickup the remaining 44% or 745 million dollars.

The roadway project which has been discussed for more than 50 years, raised controversy on the latest round of discussions because some studies by the Orlando /Orange County Expressway Authority show the Wekiva Parkway won't be able to pay for itself for years, despite being partially tolled.

The Wekiva Parkway Hearing in Orlando Brought Out Opponents and Supporters

Also, about 150 residents of the 12 Oaks RV Resort in Sanford, Florida will have to be relocated if the roadway isn't moved.  Manager Sid Bennett says he's planing a lawsuit under the Older Americans Act which was signed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson.  Bennett  said he felt many emotion after the approval of the parkway, "Desperation, despair, because this is just another step in the taking and the forcing of something that's going to have be very tragic for a lot of people on SR 46."

Environmental groups in Central Florida including Audubon of Florida are supporting the Wekiva Parkway because it will be partially elevated allowing migrating black bears and other species to pass under without crossing traffic.

Some of the Proposed Wekiva Parway's Route

Initially the highway will be composed of four lanes with slip roads on the side.  Eventually it could be expanded to six lanes.

Next the plan goes before the Lake-Sumter Regional Planning Organization and the Orlando/Orange County Expressway Authority.

Groundbreaking could start as early as this fall.

You can listen to economist Dr. Hank Fishkind's analysis of the Wekiva Parkway project here.

 

 

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Mica Praises Romney, Stops Short of Endorsement

Thursday, January 12, 2012


UPDATED WITH COMMENT, AUDIO FROM REP. MICA

(WMFE-Orlando)  Congressman John Mica, who chairs the U.S. House Transportation Committee praised former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's strong finish in the New Hampshire primary Wednesday.  Mica did not however come out officially endorsing anyone in the GOP contest. That, he said would come later.

Though the candidates are focused right now on South Carolina's January 21 primary, Florida's is next -- and could be crucial.  After the 2008 Florida primary, Mitt Romney ended his candidacy.

Speaking in Orlando, Winter Park Republican Mica said he's looking for a Republican candidate who considers transportation and infrastructure priorities, "a wise public investment."  He explained further, "You've got to be frugal with people's money.  You've got to build systems that work and serve people, not spend money with slow trains to nowhere and that don't make sense.  Whether it's a road, whether it's a port, whether it's a commuter rail system, they have got to make sense, and be successes and people will support us."

Mica was part of a bi-partisan group that tried to save Florida's High Speed rail last year after Governor Rick Scott said he'd kill it. But he later said he didn't think fast train proposals in several states including Florida made sense.

Speaking to WMFE, he called Florida's rail plan, "bait and switch:"

Listen:

 "Obama's administration tried to sell what they termed a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, when in actuality it only traveled about 80 m.p.h. It 80 miles in one hour, which is not high speed rail, at huge cost, $2.7 billion. People don't know it but you can take a train right now from Kissimmee to Tampa for about $10 and the difference in time was about 10 or 15 minutes for $2.7 billion, so Governor Scott was wise in shooting down a bait and switch proposal."

He did however praise efforts locally around Orlando which is planning to break ground on its Sunrail commuter train in two weeks.

 

 

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New South Florida Rail Connection to Miami International Airport Almost Done

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Artist's rendering of the completed AirportLink Metrorail extension

For close to three years, Miami-Dade Transit workers have been banging out 2.4 miles of track. And now AirportLink Metrorail -- a rail connection to Miami International Airport -- is slated to be finished this spring.

The new elevated rail line will connect Miami’s Metrorail system to a major new transit hub adjacent to Miami International Airport called the MIC, or Miami Intermodal Center. The MIC will be fully operational by 2013, connecting passengers and other transit riders to bus lines, Amtrak, and south Florida’s Tri-Rail commuter service.  An automated people mover that goes between MIC and the MIA is already in service.

AirportLink will connect to a new transportation hub called the MIC

The AirportLink, which is the largest expansion of Metrorail since it was launched in 1984, is an elevated train -- and one the most complicated transportation projects happening in the Miami area.  Paying for the project has come largely through a half-penny sales tax approved for the project by voters in 2002.  The sales tax has raised about $404 million dollars; another $100 million has come from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Transportation alternatives including buses, Amtrak, and commuter rail are available in Miami

The Miami area hosts Florida's largest collection of rail systems.  Orlando is building a commuter train called "SunRail", which is slated to open in two years.

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YEAR IN REVIEW FLORIDA: 2011 Rides Rails Out of the Sunshine State

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

SunRail survived 2011; high-speed rail in Florida wasn't so lucky.

(Orlando-WMFE) The start of 2011 held a fair amount of transportation-related optimism for Florida--and with good reason. The state looked on track to be one of the first in the nation to begin a high-speed rail line, Central Florida was eying commuter rail, and Florida's brand new governor, Rick Scott, was promising fresh thinking in Tallahassee.

But then Scott took office. And one of his first decisions was to freeze major state actions until after he reviewed them. His review of high-speed rail wasn't favorable, and in February, Scott joined Republican governors from Ohio and Wisconsin in rejecting federal funds for bullet trains. The move set off a flurry of activity to stop the Sunshine State from losing the more than $2 billion slated for the project. It also raised the blood pressure of rail supporters, who were now left wondering what Scott would do to central Florida’s promised SunRail commuter line.

The governor spent months reviewing SunRail and he approved it in July.  Behind the scenes, though, powerful Republican Congressman John Mica, who chairs the U.S. House Transportation Committee, had been watching Governor Scott’s moves.  The governor was counting on Mica to approve $77 million dollars in federal funds to start deepening the port of Miami to accommodate Panamax ships.   Mica made a connection between the Governor’s approving of SunRail and his approval of the $77 million.

Florida also rolled out a major roads program in August.  It spells out proposals for creating new tolled lanes on Interstate 4 and completing a ring road around Orlando known as the Wekiva Parkway. But both programs could be susceptible to budget machinations which are set to start in next month in Tallahassee.  Last year state lawmakers raided the transportation trust fund to the tune of more than $100 million dollars to fill a budget gap.  Governor Scott says he’s loathe to pull that money out again, but he knows it's an option.

So all in all, Florida lost some high speed rail, gained SunRail, might get a major parkway around Orlando, will likely get deeper ports, and more toll roads.  Money holds the key to all of it, and legislative session starts next month.

Read our other year in review posts here.

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Where Astronauts Do Their Christmas Shopping

Monday, December 19, 2011

Festive Space Shuttle with Holiday Wreath

This holiday season if you’re looking for something that is unique to Central Florida you might want go where astronauts stop off to do their shopping.  Yep, after a hard day of clocking in with the U.S. Space program astronauts head out State Road Three and stop at the aptly named “Space Shirts”.

It’s been a must stop destination for engineers, managers, tourists, and astronauts all looking for a bit of holiday space swag.  Co-owner Brenda Mulberry says more than six months after the final shuttle mission people are stilling coming in for the special bit of shuttle memorabilia, “This is going to last for the next couple of years.  It’s not like the frenzy right after the final mission.  But we still get people coming in who say the Space Center is sold out.”

She says community support is strong for the “Space Shirts” business which sells everything from embroidered shirts (done onsite) to coffee mugs, mission pins, and yes holiday items.

Nebula Tree, Orbiting Ornamenets, and ISS with Holiday Lights

Mulberry says top holiday items include holiday cards with the International Space Station decked out in Christmas lights, and tree ornaments of a shuttle and an astronaut framed by a wreath.

 

Space Shirts is easy to find. It’s located right next to the aptly named “Shuttles Dugout Bar and Grill.” So you don't have to orbit far to grab a bite after spending your shekels on shuttle swag!

There's Lots of Little Shuttles and Astronauts to Choose From

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Florida House Redistricting Proposals Signal Trouble for Mica's District

Thursday, December 08, 2011

WMFERedistricting is Underway in Fla.- Orlando- John Mica's seat may not be safe under the  Florida House’s plans either.

A Florida State Senate plan released last week would severely redraw the Congressional district for the chair of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, John Mica.

Now four of a seven Florida House proposals for Congressional districts don't look better for Mica(Available for review here.), according to political analyst Steven Schale.

He says  four maps out of the seven proposals released by the House would put Mica in districts that "voted right around fifty percent or above for (President) Obama.  Under any measure, that is far more competitive than (where) Mica is in today."

Both houses of Florida's legislature are Republican-controlled.

Last week, the Florida Senate released its version of proposed district revisions.  Those plans could potentially draw influential congressional members outside of their existing districts.  For example, the residence of powerful U.S. Congressman John Mica, of Winter Park, could be removed from its current location within Mica’s district 7.  Mica chairs the House Transportation Committee.

This week on WMFE’s Intersection program, former Florida GOP Congressman Lou Frey, clarified that it is not necessary for a member of Congress to live in their district, “Mica hasn’t lived in his district on and off. You don’t have to live in the district.  You have to live in the state and you have to be over 25 years of age, but that’s it.  So whether you live in the district or not, it’s a political matter.”

Final outlines for the redistricting maps will not be solidified until January's legislative session.

Mica's office says he'll comment when the final maps are released.

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John Mica could Lose District Under Redistricting Proposal

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Rep. John Mica (Photo: John Mica Facebook Page)

Orlando, WMFE) Under a new Florida Senate redistricting proposal released this week, powerful Republican U.S. Representative John Mica -- the chair of the House Transportation Committee --  could be drawn out of his current 7th District seat, which currently runs from just north of Orlando to just south of Jacksonville.

Mica is based in the small but wealthy city of Winter Park, north of Orlando. The new plan removes Mica’s portion of Winter Park from the 7th District and places the entire city within Florida's 24th Congressional District, which is currently represented by Republican  Congresswoman Sandy Adams.

Mica’s district would still cover large portions of Volusia, Flagler, and St. Johns Counties.  The Florida House is expected to release its version of the new map next week. State lawmakers will finalize the new district maps during January’s legislative session. Both chambers are controlled by the GOP, and both the State Senate President and House Speaker are from central Florida.

Mica's office says he's reserving comment until after the legislature decides on the final maps.

Read more about the Florida Senate proposal here.

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Central Florida Takes in Millions for Rail and Roads Plans

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

East Central Florida Regional Planning Council Getting Ready for Rail

(WMFE, Orlando, Fla.)  This week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a $2.4 million dollar grant to the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council to develop transit options around Central Florida’s planned Sunrail commuter train stations.

The money comes in the form of a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. East Central Florida Regional Planning Council (ECFRPC) Commission Chair Cheryl L. Grieb says “The grant funding will support detailed station area planning for six of the 12 phase I Sunrail Stations, and affordable housing assessments for all 12 station areas.”  Sunrail is slated to start running in 2014.

That wasn't the only transportation financing news for the area recently. Late last week the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority announced a tentative funding deal to build the $1.8 billion dollar Wekiva Parkway near Orlando. The highway would complete a ring-road network around the great metro Orlando region.

Under the proposal, the Expressway Authority would split ownership of the road with the Florida Department of Transportation. Expressway spokeswoman Lindsay Hodges says the arrangement is similar to deals with other major toll roads around Orlando. Details still need to be worked out between Fla. DOT and Metroplan Orlando.

Winter Park Congressman John Mica (R) urged the Expressway Authority to consider a variety of options to help fund the project. In a recent interview with WMFE, Mica, who chairs the U.S. House Transportation Committee, suggested the private section could play a valuable role, "They should consider putting the toll roads up for private tender. I think that they could raise a tremendous amount of capital, finance projects like the Parkway, some expansion on I-4 without coming to the federal government."  Parts of the Wekiva Expressway would be tolled under the current proposal.

Earlier this month, under pressure from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and other political leaders, Expressway Authority chief Mike Syder resigned after questions over his financial management of the roads agency.

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Florida HOT Lane Expansion Gaining Top Level Support

Friday, October 28, 2011

(Image via Florida DOT)

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) A plan to expand managed toll lanes on highways around Florida is gaining support in top offices at the state and national level.  This week Governor Rick Scott, speaking on a Florida radio program, said that he endorses creating more High Occupancy/Toll lanes, where drivers drivers pay a fee to use them, especially during rush hours.

Last week in Orlando, Republican Congressman John Mica who chairs the House Transportation Committee said he also wants the program to move forward.  “What we hope to do is free up the inside median and the right of way and allow innovative financing plans.  We have many companies that will come in and partner with the state or local governments and commissions and provide additional laneage based on toll and revenue.” Several years ago, Mica inserted a provision into federal law prohibiting any new tolls on existing interstates in his district. He says, the ban will stay, and that only new lanes will be tolled.

An expansion of Interstate 4 around parts of Orlando using the HOT Lane concept, or as it is informally called, “Lexus lanes” is being considered under a new transportation plan unveiled earlier this year by state Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.

Florida is facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall this year. Expanded tolling is expected to help bridge the budget gap.  Florida already has HOT Lanes under the "Florida Express" program that runs on a 7.3 mile stretch of I-95 in Miami Dade County. Carpools and motorcycles don't have to pay, everyone else pays based on a variable congestion pricing scheme that rises the more crowded a lane is getting at a given time. According to a review of state DOT data by PolitiFact the lanes reduced traffic, "speeds for rush-hour traffic in non-toll lanes had improved from 25 m.p.h. to 45 m.p.h."

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Mica: No More FAA Shutdowns

Monday, October 17, 2011

The 18th Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress Kics off this week in Orlando

(Orlando- WMFE) Central Florida Congressman John Mica wants to pass a four-year aviation re-authorization bill by January.  But to come to an agreement,  he doesn't want another FAA shutdown.

"What's different is we've been there and done it,"  the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told a crowd gathered at the 18th World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems being held in Orlando this week.

"No one liked the partial shutdown, it caused a great disruption but it did get me a solution.  We will have in place long term transportation policy definitely for aviation, and I'm going to do my best for surface and highway transportation."

More Money Please

Mica also said he wants to fund transportation and infrastructure projects beyond their current level but didn't provide specifics, "We've got to find a whole new way for funding transportation."  One idea the Congressman adamantly opposed was any consideration of increasing the Federal gas tax, "completely off the table is any raise in the gas tax.  We are looking at funding possibly, the speaker (John Boehner) has said  some other sources, maybe at the wellhead, maybe where we could get a more reliable and steady transportation funding mechanism. Right now the system is broken.  You drive further and you pay less."

Technology Solutions

Some ideas that could save money for drivers and governments are on display at the 18th ITS World Congress.  One of them is the newly commissioned Central Florida National Test Bed for connected vehicles.  The test bed is composed of a 25 mile loop around part of Interstate 4 loaded with short range radio and GPS transmitters.  Those transponders communicate with so called "connected vehicles" which share safety information in real-time.  The idea is supposed to allow drivers to receive safety warnings if there is road hazard or car crash ahead.  Proponents of the technology, including the US Department of Transportation estimate implementing a "connected vehicle system" could reduce traffic congestion and emissions, and lower driving costs.

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Florida DOT's Hattaway Looks at Non-Car Options for Seniors

Friday, October 14, 2011

Billy Hattaway is taking complete streets to state roadways in Florida

For decades Florida’s impressive residential growth spurts have been accompanied an equally impressive expansion of roadways and highways.  That growth attracted retirees who wanted mild climates and cheap living.  Now 18 percent of Floridians are over age 65, putting the Sunshine State at the top of the list when it comes to state’s with aging populations, according the Florida Department of Transportation.  That number is expected to grow to over 27% by 2030.  With that in mind, the Florida DOT recently completed a  plan started in 2004 to make Florida roads and streets safer, and more accessible to seniors.  Changes include making letters on road signs larger, stronger testing standards for all drivers, and creating a statewide database of free ride options for seniors.  DOT Spokeswoman Gail Holley says “we have to address the mobility issue.  We need to have programs in place so that people when they make the decision not to drive, can continue to get around in their communities”.

Holley says Fla. DOT is working to create more transit options and alternatives to help people, but that might be tough given the nearly $2.5 billion dollar deficit the state is expecting this year.

Even so, the hiring of complete streets and bike/pedestrian expert Billy Hattaway to run southwest Florida’s Transportation District 1 suggests that Fla. DOT may be thinking about alternatives to driving for Florida's aging population.

The area which includes cities like Fort Myers, Naples, and Sarasota, also is a haven for retirees.  Hattaway is actually returning to the DOT after a nine year hiatus.  He’ll end up refreshing 23 years of previous experience with the agency.  Hattaway is known among planning communities for being one of the advocates of progressive ideas to slow traffic down in neighborhood areas and maintain a sense of place.  He currently teaches a class on transportation in Rollins College’s new Masters of Planning and Civic Urbanism program and is emphasizing the need for improving the way transportation engineers and managers view streets.

 

Senior Scenario

Hattaway says his 83 year old mother faces a challenge living in Florida, “ She lives in Tallahassee and most everyone who lives there, because it’s built on suburban sprawl development patterns, where all the residential neighborhoods are in cul-de-sac subdivisions where you have to drive to get out of these neighborhoods to go to the grocery store or do anything like that, and she lives in that kind of neighborhood.”

Hattaway says now his mother is a prime transit mode for her elderly neighbors because they can’t drive any longer, “ We have thousands of people in Florida that are living in Florida where driving is the only option and yet they’re not going to be able to for much longer.”

State Roads, Main Streets, and the Density Crisis

Florida like many other states exploded in population after World War II.  That’s when developers created lots of communities that kept residents separated from commercial and business areas by distances easily navigated by automobiles.  Enter, Florida a state built largely for drivers.  Incoming DOT District 1 director Billy Hattaway says communities like Orlando ended up branching out from a downtown core and filling up empty space along state roads and highways that were never intended to be commercial and residential areas. That means good things and bad things according to Hattaway, Many of these corridors have development that wasn’t meant to last long and I think that means lots of opportunities to develop those corridors over time. That could increase or improve transit along those corridors.  The challenge is that many developments don’t have adequate density to support transit within the development.  So how do you get people out to the corridors where they can then take transit?  Our density is so low, and people are so far out, I’m not sure any agency has adequate resources to solve that problem.”

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Orlando Cyclists Learn to Control Traffic

Friday, September 23, 2011

(Orlando, WMFE)  Orlando does not have a good reputation when it comes to city streets and urban cycling.  The group Transportation for America ranked it the worst city in the nation for pedestrians and other street users earlier this year.  However, a small group of Orlando-based cycling advocates is pushing for bike enthusiasts to learn how to ride safely in traffic and manage interactions with motor vehicles.

Mighk Wilson is a bicycle advocate with Orlando’s Metroplan Agency. For the past two years Wilson ,along with a small group of instructors, is teaching a course called “Cycling Savvy” that is part classroom and text book and real world wheels on the street experience.  Students learn how to avoid getting doored, emergency maneuvers like the "instant turn" and the "quick stop" things like how to make a quick swerve on a bike to avoid a car door opening, or how to sweep like a Tour De France rider around a tight curve if another vehicle forces you to choose between a different direction and wiping out.

Instructor Mighk Wilson says the course is about changing people’s beliefs about cycling,The general belief in the general populous is that cycling in traffic is dangerous or requires superhuman skills, strength, and speed.  It really doesn’t.  It just requires understanding how traffic moves and what your role is in it.”

So far about 150 students have taken the class.  A new fall session is just starting.  Wilson says cooler weather brings out more interest in biking and makes it more bearable.

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Car-Share Increasing College Campus Presence

Friday, September 09, 2011

 

(WMFE, Orlando) The short term motor vehicle rental service Zipcar launched its service on the campus of Orlando’s University of Central Florida this week, bringing its national presence on college campuses to 240.

About forty students signed up to use the four-car fleet of hybrids and compact vehicles.  Zipcars are checked out for periods ranging from an hour to up to four days.

Zipcar spokeman Jeremy Lynch says car sharing gives students a way to get off campus, “ We give students the freedom to go the grocery store, the pharmacy, or even Cocoa Beach," Lynch said.  For students not having to mooch a ride off a friend is also a potential perk of using Zipcar.  The UCF campus is located on the far eastern side of Orlando.  It’s surrounded by busy three lane roads with few pedestrian crossings.  Although some local apartments run shuttles to the campus, virtually everything else around UCF is only easily acessible by car.

UCF entrepreneurship and international business major Krystal Wilkinson says even though she has a car she would consider using Zipcar’s service because of savings on gas.  When asked if she thought her fellow university students would be responsible enough to return the cars and in usable condition Wilkinson says “ I think the students would actually look into Zipcar are the responsible students who were attempting to save money.  Students who don’t really care what they’re spending or using wouldn’t look into that.”

Students have to pay a $35 dollar annual fee and are then charged for their usage. A fleet of mobile apps are available for smart phones and allow for reservations 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Zipcar is already operating at several campuses around Florida including the University of Miami, University of Florida, and Florida State University.  Zipcar began working with colleges in 2002, at MIT.   One potential appeal of the Zipcar at UCF’s commuter oriented campus; each Zipcar vehicle gets a reserved parking spot.

 

 

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Interview: Congressman Mica Opens Up on FAA Debate

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user Simon_sees)

(WMFE-Orlando) Congressman John Mica, chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, strenuously defended his negotiating stance on funding for the Federal Aviation Administration including the recent political stalemate that left the agency partially shut down for two weeks.  He spoke on WMFE's Intersection program, you can hear the full interview here.

He told WMFE that the democrats are "demagoguing the issue" and that they "bait the media" into making the debate about unions rather than "pork laden subsidies" to a few airports in the Essential Air Service program that Mica wants to reform to save money. "They actually put people out of work for two weeks because of their reluctance to pass even that kind of minor cut."

"The union issue is one of six remaining major issues" in partisan negotiations over long term funding he said. "I've been willing to compromise," he stressed. He said he wants a long term funding agreement for the FAA and the democrats are holding it up. "I will use every means possible to get a long term, four-year  reauthorization after four-and-a-half years of Democrat delay."

Mica criticized Democratic concerns about funding cuts to rural air service, as well as the role the of the Association of Flight Attendants (an airline union) in sparking further debate over proposed GOP changes to union organizing rules.

Of the AFA Mica said “They’re being used as pawns and duped tools in a larger national debate," adding "I feel kind of pity for them by the way they’ve been abused by the leadership in Washington."

The Winter Park, Florida Republican did say he is open to compromise on a variety of issues. "I've been willing to compromise on every issue, including the so-called union issue."

The FAA's current temporary funding measure runs through September 16th.  After that it's up to Congress to take up the funding issue again.

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Mica: Protesting Flight Attendants are "Pawns," "Duped Tools" in FAA Funding Debate

Friday, August 12, 2011

(WMFE-Orlando) U.S. Congressman John Mica dismissed criticism of his  position on FAA funding with harsh words this week, calling protesting flight attendants "pawns" in a greater debate.

The Association of Flight Attendants is the union that represents close to 60,000 flight attendants nationwide. The group staged protests at Mica's offices in Florida Thursday and Friday. They also followed hm to a fundraising event in Texas to deliver concerns over a GOP effort to repeal rules that make it easier for airline and railroad workers to organize. WMFE interviewed Mica about the FAA shutdown, the AFA protests and his positions on funding for aviation.

In an interview with WMFE, which will air Tuesday on WMFE FM's Intersection program, Mica says of the AFA protesters: "They're being used as pawns and duped tools in a laerger national debate. And actually I feel kind of pity for them because of the way they've been abused by some of the leadership in Washington," he said. (Audio here)

However, Mica indicated he's willing to compromise on sticking points in that greater debate over FAA funding including union rules, flights to rural areas, and the number of airline slots at Washington, D.C. airports, all subjects of partisan negotiation holding up a full re-authorization.

Mica blamed previous democratic Congresses for the impasse that shuttered the FAA for weeks starting in late July. A temporary measure restarted work at the FAA last week. It expires on September 16th after which Republicans and Democrats will

You can hear Mica's full comments on funding the FAA in an interview on WMFE's Intersection program, on Tuesday 9:30 am ET.

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