Wednesday, May 08, 2013
"It has the feel of an action movie to it and one you’re definitely not starring in." That's how WLRN's Nathaniel Sandler describes crossing the street in South Florida in a report on why state roads there are so unfriendly to pedestrians.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Last week, while working on a story about your typical American community, New York Times writer Annie Lowrey asked via twitter, “What is the most perfectly average place in America?” Almost immediately, the internet lit up with nominations: Knoxville, Albany, and Jacksonville, to name just a few. But not everyone likes being average.
Friday, May 03, 2013
Florida's Space Coast boomed when NASA was launching shuttles. Now the region is struggling and pinning hopes of a space renaissance on private companies like SpaceX moving into old NASA facilities. But the government space agency isn't so quick to hand over the keys.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Earlier this month, Florida celebrated the 500th anniversary of explorer Ponce de León’s discovery of the state. In new book, "Finding Florida," T. D. Allman takes a critical look at the forces that shaped that state — starting with Ponce de Leon.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Orlando's transportation planning agency says the city could see a bike sharing system up and running by next spring, in time for Central Florida's SunRail commuter train, a program we reported on last fall. On Wednesday Metroplan Orlando's bike share working group got a look at bikes produced by one of the companies angling for a toe hold in Central Florida.
Monday, March 18, 2013
(Ariana Prothero, WLRN -- Miami, Fla.) Florida is one of just six states without any ban on texting and driving, even though experts say it makes you 23 times more likely to get into a crash. One Florida dad has made it his mission to get a texting ban passed.
Steve Augello lives in Spring Hill, Florida, just outside of Tampa. Like a lot of parents, he always made his 17-year-old daughter, Alessandra, check-in with him when she was out. Augello also had a rule.
“You weren’t allowed to have that cell phone out while you’re driving,” Augello remembers telling Alessandra. “I even tested her a few times I called her when she was driving and it always went right through to the recorder.”
On November 10th, 2008, Alessandra called her dad around 7 p.m. telling him she was about to head home from rehearsal for a school play. That was the last time they would speak. As Alessandra was driving home, 19-year-old Alyssa Dyer suddenly veered across the center line hitting Alessandra head-on and killing them both. Florida Highway Patrol records show a text message went through to Dyer’s boyfriend shortly after the accident.
When Augello got Alessandra’s belongings back later that night, he found her cell phone zipped up in her purse, just like he always told her to do.
Augello has been telling this story a lot lately because he’s trying to persuade lawmakers in Tallahassee to pass a ban on texting while driving.
That is exactly what Republican Senator Nancy Detert fromVenice is trying to do. This is the fourth year in a row Detert has filed a bill that would make texting and driving a secondary offense. In the past, the legislation had trouble gaining traction but this year both the Senate and House versions are snowballing through their respective committees.
“We don't even need a study,” said Detert. “Everybody who drives the highway on a daily basis sees this everyday of their life and it's outrageously dangerous and needs to be stopped.”
More than a third of drivers reported reading a text or email while driving in a 2012 survey by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
In Florida, over 4,500 accidents last year were attributed to drivers being distracted by their cell phones or other electronic communication devices. Of those crashes, 255 were directly linked to texting. But, those numbers don’t paint a full picture. State law enforcement officials say the issue is under reported and there’s no way to count near misses.
As part of a recent pilot study, researchers at a driving simulation lab at Florida International University asked people to compose text messages while in the driving simulators. Denis McCarthy, who helps run the lab, says participants often weren’t even aware that they were making mistakes.
“It’s the way we’re hardwired,” explained McCarthy. “Humans can do one task really well, but studies have shown when we divide our attention between two tasks, we don’t do either well.”
McCarthy says the research clearly shows that texting and driving causes accidents.
But, where the research is less clear is whether bans on texting and taking on cell phones actually work. Studies investigating that link in other states have turned up mixed results. Some found an increase in overall crash claims after laws were passed. Other studies reported a drop in crashes specifically linked to texting or a decrease in the number of people using their phones while driving where the laws were strictly enforced.
However, people who want a texting ban say that the point is to change the driving culture. Democratic State Senator Maria Sachs supports Senator Detert’s bill. Sachs says when her kids text and drive, she threatens to take off her seat belt.
“And they’re very concerned about seat belts,” said Sachs. “See, this is interesting. They grew up with having to put on a seat belt on, I didn’t. But they would never get in a car without putting a seat belt on. We need to make the same education with distracted driving.”
A growing number of people do see it as an issue. AAA reports that nearly 90 percent of survey respondents said they believe other drivers using cell phones are a threat to their personal safety.
Last year the The Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 polled 800 registered Florida voters. Of those, 71 percent said they wanted a ban on texting while driving.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Budget cuts brought about by sequestration could force the closure of more than 100 air traffic control facilities -- including control towers at smaller airports across the US.
Kissimmee Gateway Airport, which is just outside of Orlando, is on the list of towers which could be shut down April 7th. City leaders say that would put the brakes on one of the main economic drivers in the area.
“It’s an economic engine, not only necessarily because of what happens on the field, but also what happens adjacent to it," says Mayor Jim Swan. He says the economic impact of the airport is estimated around $100 million a year. Swan says losing the tower will make it tough to market a $3.2 million dollar business airpark which is being built with state and local funds.
A large part of the airport’s traffic includes business jets bringing people to functions at nearby Disney World and conventions on Orlando's International Drive.
Last year the airport saw 129,000 departures and landings from a mix of business jets, and propeller planes. Aviation director Terry Lloyd says losing the control tower- which is operated under a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration- could decrease flights to under 100,000 a year.
"I think it's something that we have a lot of dread [about], and there are a lot of unknowns," he says.
He says having a tower to help manage traffic makes Kissimmee a more attractive destination for business jets.
"The corporate traffic- that's kind of on the top of their checklist, if there's an airport with a tower, that's where they go," he says. "And then if there's not a tower they make a decision- is it important enough for us to go in there, and a lot of it's driven by the aircraft insurance companies."
Aircraft operators also have fuel agreements at airports - like Kissimmee- that guarantee the price of aviation fuel if they land there. Lloyd says those agreements could also be jeopardized by the loss of the tower.
Other airport users say they're concerned about safety. John Calla, vice president of operations for Italico Aviation-- a company that plans to import and assemble light sport aircraft at Kissimmee -- says he's worried about the mix of traffic if there's no tower. "You see the jets that take off here and the speed they operate," says Calla. "You get a smaller aircraft that's used to flying about 60 miles per hour, integrating with something of that size, and you could get some conflicts.
Calla says the tower is important to separate and sequence the arrival and departure of planes. "They know the speed of the aircraft and they know how much to sequence it so traffic flow is not impaired. It also improves the safety as well."
Florida Congressman Alan Grayson has written to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the FAA urging them to consider the impact of closing the tower.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
(Amy Green -- Orlando, WMFE) Drones will be the biggest issue for Florida space industry advocates when they meet this week with state lawmakers in Tallahassee.
The Florida space industry wants the state to be one of six test sites for integrating drones in the national airspace. Since 1990 the Federal Aviation Administration has authorized the limited use of drones in national airspace for missions in the public interest such as disaster relief, law enforcement and military training. Last year Congress directed the FAA to research how to broaden the use of drones in the national airspace.
“We’re really not so much interested in the vehicles as much as the technology. How do universities end up using this? How do farmers end up using this?” says Dale Ketcham, director of spaceport research and technology at the University of Central Florida.
“We don’t know yet how it’s going to manifest itself, but we’re confident it’s going to be a huge economic capability,” he says. “It’s going to be developed somewhere. The Chinese already are doing it, and so we feel it’s important that we be leading that effort.”
Leaders of Florida’s $8 billion space industry will meet with state lawmakers Wednesday as part of their annual Space Day at the Capitol. They’ll talk with lawmakers about strategies for the industry in Florida. Ketcham says they’ll also discuss civil liberties concerns and other policy issues associated with drones.
“I’m not sure the FAA thinks of themselves as the people who ought to be setting policy on privacy and civil liberties,” he says. “FAA is just a regulatory function for safety. But the policy makers in Tallahassee and Congress are the ones who have to address that.”
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
One year ago on the evening of February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, who claims that he acted in self-defense. A judge announced earlier this month that jury selection in Zimmerman's murder trial will begin on June 10, 2013. WLRN reporter Phil Latzman has been following the case from Florida.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Another infusion of federal cash is keeping central Florida's SunRail project on track to open in 2014.
Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, speaking on behalf of transportation secretary Ray LaHood, paid a visit to a Florida Hospital in Orlando, where one of the stops for the 61 mile long SunRail line is being built. Rogoff was joined by local leaders, state department of transportation officials and Florida lawmakers including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown.
Rogoff announced the federal government would make $87.3 million available in funding for SunRail, bringing the FTA's investment to date in the Central Florida commuter rail line to $148 million. The Federal government has agreed to pay $178.6 million overall in New Start funds towards construction of the 32-mile long first phase of the line, about half the capital cost.
"We make incremental payments based on the progress of the project," Rogoff said. "They're making great progress, they're ready to spend that money, they're ready to keep these people on the job."
Rogoff highlighted the rail line as a jobs engine, which has already employed 800 people to work in construction.
"But what we're really excited about is all the additional jobs that are coming in from the economic development along the line," he added.
The Florida hospital station is at the heart of a 176 acre "health village" where the hospital is developing medical research offices, apartments and shops.
SunRail officials say there are more than two dozen retail, office, government and residential development projects associated with stations along the rail line, representing $1.6 billion in investment.
Rogoff also talked about the need for additional spending on roads and other infrastructure in Florida-- particularly to fix up hundreds of bridges, highlighting president Obama's call for a $50 Billion infrastructure plan. "If that $50 billion dollars goes through, you're going to see more investment around here, not just on this type of rail project but on highway and sea port projects that will keep the economy of Florida going."
Asked whether sunshine state might see federal funds in the future for high speed rail, Rogoff said "that is going to depend a lot I believe on the leadership of Florida."
Florida's Governor Rick Scott famously turned down federal money for a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa in 2011.
Meanwhile, SunRail officials say the first phase of the commuter rail line, a 32 mile long stretch from DeBary to Sand Lake Road, will open in 2014.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Jacksonville, Florida, is a lot of things: a military town. A church town. A beach town. And it can be all those things because Jacksonville is the largest city in the whole country: 841 acres of sprawl, highways and strip malls dotted with tiny, unique neighborhoods. How does a place this huge and diverse lurch forward to keep pace with the rest of the country? The quick answer: often, it doesn’t. But once in a while, in small surprising ways, this place can be an incubator for innovation. In host Al Letson’s hometown episode, SOTRU asks: is Jacksonville is moving backward, stuck in neutral, or shifting towards progress?
Thursday, January 17, 2013
We've been following responses across the country to last year's string of mass shootings. Our last stop, Texas, focused on the story and activism of Suzanna Gratia Hupp, who said that a mass shooting she witnessed in Texas would have turned out differently had she been allowed to carry a gun.
Friday, November 16, 2012
It's been a tough week for fans of the Miami Marlins baseball team, thanks to a series of disappointing trades and business decisions. Phil Latzman, reporter for WLRN and The Miami Herald provides an update.
Friday, November 16, 2012
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, food is on most of our minds. But for Adam Gopnik, author and staff writer for The New Yorker, this is nothing out of the ordinary. In his most recent book, The Table Comes First, Gopnik explores the meaning of food — in culture, in family, and in society.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Just a year after receiving an enormous amount of public funding to build a new stadium in Little Cuba, and spending lavishly on MLB free agents such as Jose Reyes, the Marlins completed a trade with the Blue Jays yesterday that sent any remaining members of the team making big salaries away to Toronto, in exchange for mediocre players and cheap deals. Needless to say, their fans aren't so pleased.
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
The only thing sure about Florida politics is that it's rarely a sure thing. By 8 a.m. this morning, Florida was still too close to call. The closeness of the presidential race in Florida is reminiscent of state's gubernatorial election in 2010. In that election, Democrat Alex Sink, the state's former chief financial officer, lost to Republican Rick Scott by just 1 percent.
Monday, November 05, 2012
In Florida, there has been some confusion and a little chaos over early voting in Miami-Dade County. Yesterday, voters lined up outside the Miami Dade elections office in Doral. They'd been told earlier in the day by the Elections Department that they would be able to cast absentee ballots in person. Phil Latzman, a senior anchor and host with our affiliate station WLRN, explains.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Since the 2000 election, Florida has been a prime battleground state for presidential candidates, and this year is no exception. Sergio Bustos, political editor at the Miami Herald, joins us to discuss how the candidates are wooing voters in the Sunshine State. We’ll also discuss Senator Bill Nelson’s re-election bid and how one of Florida’s House races has become one of the tightest and most contentious this year.
Monday, October 01, 2012
Electric vehicle charging stations are springing up all over Florida -- and a lot of them are concentrated around Orlando, which has more than 150 stations within a 70-mile radius. But uptake in central Florida has been ... slow.
The Orlando Utilities Commission, which has installed 78 charging stations around the city, estimates there are about 700 electric vehicles currently on the road in Orlando. That's a tiny percentage of the 915,960 cars and pickup trucks registered in Orange County, which encompasses most of the Orlando metropolitan area.
But alternative fuel advocates are hopeful the vehicles will eventually catch on in the Sunshine State. Florida's electric vehicle infrastructure is growing quickly, and the U.S. Department of Energy lists 319 public charging stations across the state, provided with funding from federal stimulus money.
Orlando resident Mark Thomasen has been an advocate for electric vehicles in the city since 2008. He worked for a company that installed many of the charging stations and now writes an EV blog. He says it's been a challenge to build up acceptance of electric vehicles in the area. "There's not as much of a green movement in central Florida, and in Florida versus say Washington, or Oregon or Colorado."
Motorists might also balk at the upfront price. Chevrolet's plug-in electric-gasoline hybrid Volt sedan has a list price of $39,145, while Nissan's all-electric Leaf, has a base price of $35,000. Even with the $7,500 federal tax rebate, the cars are comparatively expensive.
But Thomasen is confident EVs will catch on in Florida. He says they don't face some of the challenges of hydrogen, such as how to generate and store the gas, as well as the need to dvelop a high capacity, durable and inexpensive fuel cell. And he says even if drivers aren't worried about the environmental cost of gasoline, EVs should appeal to people who don't want to rely on foreign oil.
"Over here, what matters to people is energy independence," he says. "People don't realize how much fuel we use and how little we have within our border. So by moving to an electric car and getting off of that, we go to a different fuel source."
And Thomasen says electric vehicles at least have the infrastructure to support them, unlike hydrogen fuel cars.
Seven years ago there was a big push to build a hydrogen fuel infrastructure in California and in Florida. In 2005, Florida Governor Jeb Bush broke ground on the state's first hydrogen fueling station in Orlando. “Florida is spurring investment in the development and use of pollution-free hydrogen technology,” said Gov. Bush. The new station was to be part of a "hydrogen hub" in central Florida, and the first of a series of stations fueling a fleet of clean energy vehicles.
After Jeb Bush left office, Florida's new governor Charlie Crist grabbed the renewable fuel baton. He cut the ribbon on the station in May 2007, and touted it as a way to wean the nation off foreign oil. A fleet of minibuses operated by the Orange County convention center was adapted to run on hydrogen supplied by the station. Progress Energy, one of the partners in the project, opened a second refueling station near Oviedo as part of a nationwide demonstration project on fuel cell vehicles, led by the US Department of Energy. Eventually though, Florida's hydrogen highway evaporated. After two years and 3,200 fill-ups, the two hydrogen refueling stations shut down and the pilot program finished.
James Fenton, who directs the Florida Solar Energy Center, a research facility at the University of Central Florida, says hydrogen still has a place in the future of alternative fuels in Florida. But he says it's more likely to be used in fuel cells in electric vehicles rather than powering internal combustion engines. "Eventually we'll get to the point when all the battery-powered electric cars will have fuel cell range extenders," says Fenton. "You'll have electric cars with batteries for short trips because the electron out of the wall is dirt cheap, then you'll electrolyze water somewhere else, fill your car with hydrogen and extend the range."
And while electric vehicles aren't yet a common sight on central Florida roads, Fenton says he's upbeat about their future because mile for mile, electricity out of the wall is cheaper than gasoline. But he says there are still some obstacles to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
"We don't have a hydrogen infrastructure," says Fenton. "That's the kicker."
Monday, October 01, 2012
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 book “The 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.