Saturday, February 26, 2011

Two-Thirds of Floridians Support High Speed Rail Funding

A Harris poll released this week found two-thirds of Floridians supporting federal funding for high speed rail.  Supporters outnumbered opponents by a three to one margin.  Nationwide, only 38% of Republicans oppose federal funding of high speed rail.  Also nationwide, 66% of respondents said they would likely use high speed rail for non-business purposes.  You can look at the poll details by clicking HERE.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Court May Decide Whether Florida Gets High Speed Rail

Rejection of High Speed Rail Undermines
Florida Rail Enterprise Act

The Florida Rail Enterprise Act, as amended by the Florida legislature and signed into law by former Governor Crist, binds Governor Scott.  Section 341.822 leaves no discretion to the Governor by stating, "The enterprise shall locate, plan, design, finance, construct, maintain, own, operate, administer, and manage the high-speed rail system in this state."  Further, section 341.839 states that "none of the powers granted to the enterprise...are subject to the supervision or require the approval or consent of  any...official." 

Article IV, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution states, "The governor shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed...."  A Governor does not have discretion to choose to enforce only those laws he favors.  The Governor cannot, within his constitutional duties, take deliberate steps to deprive the Florida Rail Enterprise of funding or of right-of-way for high speed rail. 

As noted in the update to the post below, the Governor is facing the prospect of a lawsuit by lawmakers for acting beyond his constitutional authority by rejecting the Federal government's high speed rail funding. 

An alternative to the Florida Rail Enterprise is an interlocal agency formed initially by the cities of Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland, and Miami.  (The interlocal agency would require legislative approval pursuant to Florida Statutes § 341.8225(1)). The cities' proposal states in part (my emphasis):

I. A. Neither the State of Florida nor any of its departments, agencies or affiliates shall have any liability whatsoever for the costs, fees, expenses or general liability associated with the design, planning, construction, operation or maintenance of the Project. The State and State entities shall have no liability for: (i) the costs of construction, including any cost overruns (“Cost Overruns”); (ii) operating cost shortfalls for the operation of the system for the first thirty (30) years of its operation (“Operating Shortfalls”); and (iii) any obligation to pay back to the funding source or any other lender, any money provided for the Project, due to the failure of the performance conditions to be met in full (“Refund Payments”).
I. D. The Entity shall be non-recourse as to its members and the State of Florida. No other public agency will be liable for the costs of completing the Project or any Cost Overruns, Operating Shortfalls or Refund Payments.  All such costs, fees and expenses and general liability of Cost Overruns and Operating Shortfalls shall be passed on to and guaranteed by the winning bidder selected from a concourse of bidders from the private sector to complete the Project (hereinafter “Vendor”) pursuant to a Request for Qualification (“RFQ”) process. USDOT shall waive any right to Refund Payments. The Entity will be responsible to disburse the funds provided to it through the grant and subgrant agreements for the purpose of completing the Project, all as provided herein and any documents executed in furtherance hereof (“Project Documents”).

I. F. The Entity shall obtain appropriate assurances from the Vendor of its ability to guarantee complete construction of the Project including a surety bond, letter of credit or other form of reasonably acceptable financial guarantees, or whatever other assurances, pledges and guarantees deemed necessary to the satisfaction of the FDOT and USDOT, as same shall be incorporated into the bid documents (“Bid Documents”), regarding the capacity of the Vendor to complete the Project in a lien free and liability free manner and to guarantee funding of any Operating Shortfalls.

IV. B. The Project Vendor shall also provide a guarantee, indemnification and if necessary, financial assurances to the reasonable satisfaction of FDOT and USDOT that it will be able to cover any such Cost Overruns, Operating Shortfalls or Payment Refunds.
The notion that the language above leaves Florida taxpayers are "on the hook" is nonsense.  Conservatives favor shifting appropriate government responsibilities closer to the people--from the Federal level, to the States, and ultimately to local government.  The proposed interlocal agency would further that aim.   Conservatives do not support one branch of the government usurping the constitutional authority of another. This partially explains public criticism of Governor Scott from within the GOP and the threat he faces of a lawsuit by lawmakers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Profits from Airport to Disney High Speed Rail Line Could Support Future Expansion

Economist Hank Fishkind told WMFE-FM that a shortened Orlando International Airport to Disney World high speed rail line would rely on a common model for funding transportation infrastructure: start with a crowded route that generates a profit to support future expansion.  You can listen to his interview by clicking HERE.  The Reason Foundation, relied on by Governor Scott, suggested this shortened route as an alternative to lessen its cost and ridership concerns.  Rep. John Mica (R-FL) said this route would have some of the best numbers in the world.  In fact, such a line would draw from nearly 50 million tourists annually in the Orlando area--twice the population of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston combined. 

John Mica floated this shortened route idea last Friday, but it reportedly received a chilly reception from the U.S. DOT, according to Senator Nelson, because it does not connect two metropolitan areas. 

UPDATE--Feb. 25--Multiple sources, including the Tampa Tribune, are suggesting legislators will file a lawsuit against Governor Scott for exceeding his constitutional authority by rejecting the high speed rail funds.  Transportation secretary Ray LaHood has given the Governor an additional week to contemplate a proposal presented by the cities of Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland, and Miami to form a new interlocal agency, under which the State of Florida would have no liability, available at THIS LINK

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

U.S. DOT: Florida Leads Nation in Pedestrian Fatality Rate

An "early edition report" issued by the United States Department of Transportation ranks Florida at the top of nation's Pedestrian Fatality Rates, based on 2009 data. 

In addition, Florida had 107 bicyclist fatalities in 2009--more than any other State.   California had 99 bicyclist fatalities.  The next highest, Texas, had 48.

Here are the Top 10 States on the DOT's Pedestrian Fatality Rate chart:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Finding Authenticity in Seaside

Jim Ward, Orange County's Chief of Urban Design, and I had the privilege of touring the Town of Seaside, in the Florida Panhandle, with town developer, Robert Davis, and planner, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (co-author of the best book describing America at the turn of the 21st Century, Suburban Nation).  Thirty years after Davis sold a beachfront lot to pay for construction of the Town's first two bungalows, Seaside continues to inspire a better way of developing our built environment. 

Town planner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and developer Robert Davis.
Seaside's main commercial area--a semicircle--reminded me of Celebration. However, the two developments are quite different.  While others criticize Celebration's traditional architecture for its aura of "artificial perfection," Seaside's architecture is more eclectic.  The town mixes rustic bungalows, Charleston row homes, modern architecture, condominiums, and stately mansions.   Ruskin Square is a beautiful urban green surrounded by two and three-story condominiums, many over retail.  Dining options range from very fine to food trucks.  After thirty years, Seaside looks and feels authentic.

Ruskin Square.

You won't find homes like these in Celebration.
Those who stereotype New Urban development as "artificial" should watch the Seaside Neighborhood Charter School students play field hockey on the Lyceum, or run and bike freely, like kids should.  Kids here walk to school safely.  Mine can't.  Do yours? 

Seaside's Neighborhood School--Florida's first charter school.
Davis spoke fondly of his childhood--how he had independence to roam freely, without adult supervision, unlike most of today's kids, hemmed into monolithic, boring subdivisions by arterial highways.

I paraphrased Davis's comments when I addressed the Congress for the New Urbanism statewide conference later that afternoon on the topic of Complete Streets--the principle that FDOT design standards should make thoroughfares safe and comfortable for motorists and non-motorists in the appropriate context (such as road segments adjacent to schools, parks, Main Streets, downtowns, and where local governments want to transform sprawl into walkable town centers).  Surprisingly, I made a Top 5 List for memorable quotes tweeted across the internet by several audience members "tweetcasting" the event.  You can view the quotes by clicking HERE and by using the hashtag #SeasideAt30 at  (Before the conference, I had not appreciated fully how Twitter is becoming, in the words of Sarasota planner, Peter Katz, a new generation's "historical archive.")  My favorite quote came from Los Angeles architect Stephan Polyzoides: "Friends are mortal but ideas are eternal." 

Seaside is meant for one to experience personally and is well worth the 6 + hour drive from Orlando.  Photographs do not do the town justice.  Nor do videos, but here's a short promotional clip that may give you a better flavor of the town:

Seaside documentary trailer from Jillian Tucker on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reforming Florida's Growth Management Act

Florida's outdated 1985 Growth Management Act has produced a quarter century of sprawl, economic stagnation on excessively widened roads, an aesthetically deficient public realm, and a pedestrian kill-rate second to none. 

Phil Laurien, drawing from his three decades as a planner, co-authored a White Paper outlining ideas for reforming the Growth Management Act.  (Please note that he released the White Paper in his individual capacity and not as executive director of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council).  His ideas have reached members of the Florida legislature and the Governor's office. 

A former planner who worked in Tallahassee for the Department of Community Affairs ("DCA"), the agency charged under the Act with reviewing Comprehensive Land Use Plans and amendments, told me she would analyze proposed plan amendments without necessarily having visited and knowing the area in question.  Phil's White Paper suggests shifting many of those reviews from Tallahassee to the existing Regional Planning Councils, where at least some board members (and staff) would know the area under consideration. 

Under Phil's proposal, each local government would establish a 20 year growth boundary (if one doesn't already exist), beyond which the State would not commit to providing costly urban services.  Leapfrog, or proposed Plan amendments to develop beyond the boundary would require analysis and approval by DCA in Tallahassee.  However, for proposals to develop within the growth boundary, a developer would need to obtain approvals only from the local Commissioners and the Regional Planning Council.  That would ensure consideration of development impacts at the regional level while streamlining the process. 

Phil criticizes the Growth Management Act's traffic concurrency requirements, which encourage sprawl by rewarding development in exurbia, where traffic capacity still exists. 

Comprehensive Land Use maps assign different colors to different land uses, in Euclidian fashion.  A commercial designation could produce an environment as beautiful as Park Avenue or as awful as S.R. 17-92.  Phil would require placemaking--the essential element blatantly missing from the Growth Management Act. 

Based on public criticism of DCA by Governor Scott and legislative leaders, I doubt the agency will emerge from the 2011 legislative session with its authority intact.  Phil's ideas merit discussion and thought in Tallahassee.

UPDATE 2/7/11--Governor Scott's proposed budget, unveiled today, would cut $668 million from DCA's $779 million budget for 2010, slicing its workforce from 358 employees to 40.