Pinellas county officials plan to hold a summit on transportation Monday, March 22, 2010. The Pinellas County Transit Summit will begin at 7:30am in St. Petersburg, Florida. Location and registration details can be found at the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce website.
The event is specifically geared toward local business owners with the hopes of encouraging involvement and support from the private sector in Pinellas’ upcoming decisions about its incorporation of light rail into its mass transit system, but is also meant to inform and excite interest in the public about the new plans for rail systems in Florida and of course the specifically theTampa Bay area.
There is an important distinction that is not always apparent in the public discourse and can be possibly confusing. There are two separate rail systems, light rail and high speed rail. President Obama and Joe Biden announced in Tampa funding for high speed rail, which can be seen here from TampaBay.com.
This sort of rail, as the name implies, is high speed, in excess of 110MPH. It links large metro areas like Tampa and Orlando. This is one proposal, or rather plan, which involves both local governments and state and the federal government.
The other system is light rail. This is the local rail system which has significantly lower speeds than the high speed rail. It functions to connect more localized areas and would serve to lighten the load on local infrastructure. Think of USF students walking to the campus station on Friday nights to go down to Ybor or Channelside or Westshore and then safely riding back later that night. Think of moving between Clearwater and Brandon without having to worry about those intersection cameras that tattle on you when you’re sure that you “clearly made that light!”
Now much of the current discussion focuses on doing smart things and integrating the mass transit light rail and high speed rail while the opportunity is here. So think of Tourists using the high speed rail in Orlando and coming down Tampa, then using light rail to get over to the Don CeSar in St. Pete and then back on the light rail to the Tampa International Airport. Think of easily commuting from Sarasota to Orlando via two or three light rail transitions and then a 110 MPH trip up the I-4 corridor in the express lane. That makes for a shorter commute yet a lot more newspaper reading time, a win-win situation.
This past Thursday, 88.5 WMNF interviewed Karen Williams Seel, chair of Pinellas County Commission and Tim Garling, Executive Director of the Pinellas Transit Authority. That interview can be heard on WMNF’s website here, just click on “listen to this entire show.” The interview begins at minute 20 of the show.
Back on March 2 the Tampa Bay Business journal hosted a forum on transit and the economy, largely discussing the impacts of rail and community development in the greater Tampa Bay area. They were nice enough to publish an edited transcript of the discussion in full. That transcript can be found here.
Taken from that transcript are some of the opening remarks of Tim Garling the executive director of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, featured in the above WMNF interview:
Because of the advantages to business and the business community, we really need a partnership between government, between public transit agencies and business to get involved and help reshape the community. I think transit can be the engine of that development, that focus of what our efforts can come to. I think probably in all our counties, you’ll see various funding and planning efforts, and now is the time to step up and start to get informed. The more you learn about public transit, the easier it is going to be to get behind it and support it because you’ll see the value of it. So I’d like to again reiterate the pitch we’ll make for Pinellas County: There is an immediate hard target way to get involved, and that’s March 22nd with our transit summit. That is a good place for those businesses that do business in Pinellas County and work in Pinellas County to come and hear those plans and begin to get involved and continue this momentum.
And for more information on Rail in the Tampa Bay area, a wonderful source of information is TampaRail.org, with frequently updated articles and developments.