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Transforming the Trail - A Corridor Revitalization Story (Part 2)

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Transforming the Trail - A Corridor Revitalization Story (Part 2)

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Corridor revitalization takes visionary leadership and many partners. The story of the Tamiami Trail corridor in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, Florida, is one of inspired leadership at the regional level by the Metropolitan Planning Organization as the convener of public, private and non-profit partners with a stake in the corridor's fortunes. Transportation is the unifying element, but it must be paired with local innovations to support connecting people, places and opportunity. As revitalization of the Tamiami Trail comes more clearly into focus, it's important to look back on the plans and events that served as catalysts for this transformation. Sarasota/Manatee (FL) MPO Public Transportation System Analysis

My first opportunity to work in the region, undertaken by the Sarasota/Manatee MPO in late 2000. The PTSA ("pizza study") envisioned a new regional transit network designed to meet the changing needs of the rapidly growing two-county urbanized area of 500,000 residents, which is projected to grow to more than 1 million. Until this study, transit had not been examined at the regional level or with much long-term perspective. With two separate county-run transit systems having starkly different missions, operations, capacity for growth and funding levels, there was a near total disconnect between routes and transfer points despite heavy inter-county commuting patterns.

Sarasota County Route 99  buses in downtown Bradenton.

Outcome: While the plan was regional in scope, it focused on the US 41/Tamiami Trail corridor for improved service and connectivity. With four elected officials serving on a steering committee under the sage leadership of local transit elder statesman Ernie Gerlach, the MPO and both counties bought in to the PTSA's recommendations. Within two years of the plan's adoption and monthly attention from a newly created Public Transportation Task Force comprised of elected officials from both counties, Manatee and Sarasota County began jointly operating a new interlined Route 99 in 2004, linking Palmetto, Bradenton and Sarasota across the county line. The route was an instant success as the most productive in both systems, and set the stage for continued inter-county transit service improvements on the islands and east of I-75, renewed focus on redevelopment along the Trail, and better pedestrian accommodations for safety. The Public Transportation Task Force continues to foster a more focused dialogue about transit in the region, with one of the PTSA's stalled recommendations to merge the two systems receiving renewed attention through joint county meetings.

Manatee County Carrying Capacity Study/Thoroughfare Plan

Rapid suburban growth and development pressure on rural lands in the early 2000s forced Manatee County to examine its long term roadway plan for right-of-way needs. The County hired Renaissance to conduct a build-out study based on approved and allowable development as a basis for updating its Thoroughfare Plan. The Carrying Capacity Study demonstrated the dramatic extent of road-building and widening Manatee County would need to undertake to accommodate projected growth.

Outcome: The study showed the one area in Manatee County that could accommodate a large amount of future growth without widening or building a lot of roads was along the US 41 corridor between Bradenton and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport because of South Central Manatee County's well-connected road network and its proximity to employment, services and retail. The study became something of a referendum on the County's adopted growth management plan, with Commissioners and citizens alike calling for more compact, mixed use and inter-connected development instead of the status quo. Now in post-recession recovery, Manatee County is working on changing its growth plans through its "How Will We Grow" initiative, with the South County Community Redevelopment Area along the Tamiami Trail corridor a critical target area for redevelopment and revitalization.

US 41 Corridor Group (FL) Innovation 41 - Transforming Path into Place

Innovation 41 map showing corridor segments and nodes of targeted redevelopment.

A cross-jurisdictional partnership of government, airport, education and cultural institutions combined efforts in 2005-06 to develop the US 41 Education and Cultural Corridor Master Plan. The plan's mission was to create a public process and conceptual plan via an open community discussion on the branding, shape, form and substance of a designated area of higher education, history and culture along the North Trail on US 41 between Bowlees Creek in southern Manatee County to just north of downtown Sarasota. Jointly funded by Manatee County, Sarasota County, the City of Sarasota, Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority, Ringling School of Art and Design, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, New College of Florida and the Florida State University Ringling Center for the Cultural Arts, the Innovation 41 Master Plan created a vision for improved access, a greater user experience for cultural tourism and higher education, market-based redevelopment strategies to support the needs of residents, students, visitors and employees in the corridor.

Corridor redevelopment plan for the Innovation 41 airport/Ringling Museum segment.

Outcome: The Great Recession did the corridor and implementation of this plan no favors, but the Innovation 41 master plan reinforced the Tamiami Trail as the primary gateway to region's cultural and educational treasures, downtown Sarasota and the beaches. The plan identified nodes and key access points for focused redevelopment that respects the culture and character of the area, its adjacent neighborhoods and destinations. It has also served as a rallying point for the higher educational institutions, businesses, cultural destinations, the airport authority, neighborhoods, advocacy groups and local governments for appropriate redevelopment and transportation modifications on the corridor. The plan identified nodes and key access points for focused redevelopment that respects the culture and character of the area, its adjacent neighborhoods and destinations. Importantly, it's also served as a rallying point for the higher educational institutions, businesses, cultural destinations, the airport authority, neighborhoods, advocacy groups and local governments to advance appropriate redevelopment and transportation modifications.

Bradenton/Palmetto (FL) Downtown Mobility Study

The cities of Bradenton and Palmetto, located across from each other on the shores of the Manatee River along the Tamiami Trail corridor, petitioned the Sarasota/Manatee MPO for funding of a study through the MPO's Congestion Management Process in 2008 to address downtown mobility issues. The MPO granted $300,000 for a study to address strategic, near term remedies to transportation challenges that threatened to undermine the cities' redevelopment efforts to draw more housing, employment and visitors to their downtowns. The two bridges crossing the Manatee River - US 41 (DeSoto Bridge) and US 41 Business (Green Bridge) between the cities experience severe congestion in peak hours, and SR 64 - a one-way pair of three lanes in each direction that splits downtown Bradenton, are among the challenging transportation issues hampering downtown redevelopment, access and livability envisioned by Bradenton's Downtown by Design plan. Renaissance prepared a multimodal plan designed to support the cities' redevelopment objectives while maintaining and enhancing regional mobility.

Manatee Transit's new downtown Bradenton bus transfer center on W 13th Street enhances access and mobility.

Outcome: After years of delay over issues related to site acquisition, the plan sited Manatee County Area Transit's new downtown Bradenton transit facility on West 13th Street that opened in 2012 consistent with conceptual design depicted in the plan that enhances pedestrian access from the Village of the Arts to historic Main Street. The FDOT approved a lane reduction strategy on SR 64 through downtown Bradenton, enabling wider sidewalks on on-street parking. The MPO and FDOT have advanced funding for a conversion of the Green Bridge (Business 41) to turn a 4' sidewalk and break down lane into a separated 10' shared use path linking the two cities' Riverwalk projects. Finally, FDOT District 1 has initiated the Central Manatee Network Alternatives Analysis to resolve long-term issues related to the two bridges, including whether to build a new bridge, and enhancing mobility and access for all users along the Trail.

Sarasota (FL) Connecting Downtown Sarasota to the Bayfront

In 1960, the state realigned and widened US 41 to skirt around downtown Sarasota, effectively cutting it off from the bayfront and its array of civic and cultural destinations, residences, hotels, marinas, parks overlooking the natural beauty of Sarasota Bay, and the internationally renowned destinations along the corridor and on Lido Key and Longboat Key. The result created a high-speed regional roadway barrier that hinders pedestrian access, lacks safe operating conditions for bicyclists, marginalizes transit, and undermines the economic value of a highly accessible and vibrant downtown going through extensive redevelopment stemming from the City of Sarasota's Downtown Master Plan. Through an intensive week-long charrette involving hundreds of participants and in-depth analysis, the 2010 study developed an extensive array of recommendations to balance mobility and access along the Tamiami Trail corridor, creating new design concepts to slow down traffic and enable safe non-motorized accommodations.

Outcome: The MPO and FDOT have programmed funds for the design and construction of two roundabouts on US 41 and the intersections of 14th Street and 10th Street just north of downtown Sarasota. The horizontal deflection will slow down traffic and enhance access for all users to destinations on both sides of the roadway. A subsequent Citywide Mobility Plan has further codified and advanced transportation projects and policies to create a multimodal, safe and accessible downtown.

Sarasota/Manatee (FL) MPO 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan

Federal law requires an MPO to adopt a Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) that provides a financially feasible strategy for meeting the urbanized area's transportation needs over the next 20-25 years. To advance with state or federal funding, projects must be identified in the LRTP. Adopted in 2010, the MPO's 2035 LRTP focused on breaking the log-jam of big ticket roadway capacity projects at the top of the cost feasible priority list, committing the majority of funds to a few projects that will take many years to fully fund and complete. Regional in scope, the 2035 LRTP generally targeted smaller multimodal transportation projects designed to support economic vitality and redevelopment, reflecting numerous local and regional initiatives, particularly those in the US 41/Tamiami Trail corridor.

Outcome: The 2035 Plan formally designated the US 41 Multimodal Emphasis Corridor, creating a policy and funding program to raise the visibility and importance of the Tamiami Trail revitalization activities. The plan divided the nearly 60-mile corridor into distinct segments and created a boxed funding allocation of some $200 million over 25 years as a competitive grant program for multimodal access and mobility projects defined by local governments to support redevelopment of the Tamiami Trail corridor. The subsequent funding program approved in 2012 established criteria and reporting requirements. This elevation of the Trail projects from piecemeal local government strategies into a regionally significant strategy is helping to leverage partnerships that will spur continued public and private sector investments in this vital corridor to enhance the well-being and quality of life for the region and its local governments, institutions and neighborhoods.

Conclusions

Charlotte County and the cities of Venice and North Port in southern Sarasota County are undertaking similar initiatives for the Tamiami Trail as those described above. The MPO is also leading efforts on brownfields clean-up in the corridor from leaking underground storage tanks, a major impediment to redevelopment. Though not an exhaustive summary of all the local government endeavors, this recounting highlights the need to undertake corridor revitalization efforts on multiple fronts, including both regional and smaller scale initiatives designed to reinforce integrated land use and transportation strategies to connect people, places and opportunities. Renaissance has enjoyed a nearly 14 year period of working with the MPO and its partners to improve how transportation supports livable communities with economic opportunity for all. While much work remains to be accomplished, this type of sustained focus on building consensus and fostering collaborative partnerships to bring vision and plans to reality is the essence of why do what we do.

–Whit Blanton, FAICP, Cities That Work Blog

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Transforming the Trail - A Corridor Revitalization Story (Pt. 1 of 2)

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Transforming the Trail - A Corridor Revitalization Story (Pt. 1 of 2)

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Since its construction in 1928 linking Tampa and Miami along Florida's southwest coast and across the Everglades, the Tamiami Trail (officially US 41) has created a rich and unique history by connecting people, places and economic opportunities. The road links port cities with markets, provides access to some of America's most beautiful beaches, homes and resort destinations, and has enabled commerce to thrive in cities like Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice and Fort Myers along Florida's Gulf Coast. However, that success waned in recent decades with widening and re-alignment to move traffic. Even more significantly, the construction of I-75 in the mid-1980s some 10 miles to the east redirected economic growth from the traditional downtowns and historic Tamiami Trail corridor to the interchanges and developments lining the interstate. picture of pedestrian crossing busy US 41

In Manatee and Sarasota Counties south of Tampa Bay, a nearly 60-mile stretch of Tamiami Trail/US 41 is now undergoing a thoughtful transformation seeking to restore the corridor to prominence as an economic, cultural and community focal point. Through joint efforts led by the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), local governments, the airport authority, partnerships with higher education institutions, non-profit and advocacy groups, progress is occurring in substantive and measurable ways to remake the Tamiami Trail as a multimodal corridor and catalyst for economic opportunity.

While well-planned, market-based redevelopment initiatives and good urban design are important, transportation is the central unifying element in corridor revitalization. Responding to economic, social and demographic changes to keep cities vital requires changing the mindset for how transportation functions and serves the region and community.

Creating the framework for that transformation has taken time. But over the last 10 years, key actions and agreements have set the stage for market forces and local initiatives to take the Tamiami Trail to its new status as the region's signature boulevard. A foundation was laid with the Trail's designation as a scenic highway, which through the MPO's leadership, raised the visibility of corridor revitalization efforts.  It has culminated to date with the MPO's formal designation of the Tamiami Trail as a Multimodal Emphasis Corridor in 2010 and a subsequent program to fund projects supporting that designation, including a series of modern roundabouts just north of downtown Sarasota. As consultant to the MPO, Manatee County, New College of Florida, and the cities of Bradenton, Palmetto, Sarasota and North Port, Renaissance Planning Group helped to advance those efforts on multiple fronts over the last 13 years by defining catalyst actions and supporting the strategic decision-making of corridor partners through various short- and long-range plans.

There are five important lessons from efforts to transform the Tamiami Trail:

  1. Begin and maintain a focused dialogue - A regional planning forum, in this case the MPO, provides an excellent means to convene stakeholders and draw their attention to corridor redevelopment through analysis, formal plans and the continuing planning process that allocates state and federal transportation funds.
  2. Cultivate champions - Put elected officials, institutional and business leaders on steering committees and task forces to give them ownership of process and outcomes, and show early successes to sustain them.
  3. Change the mindset - examine the corridor in broad context of the region and adjacent neighborhoods to understand its unique and distinctive value to economic development, growth and community cohesion as a place rather than pass-through road. This also means redefining the purpose of transportation in the corridor from a focus on mobility to accessibility.
  4. Break the corridor into manageable segments or districts - A long corridor like US 41 can be overwhelmingly daunting. Break it down into focused pieces that relate to strategic objectives and the distinctive character of different places along the corridor.
  5. Leverage partnerships - Use funding and commitment of public agencies at all levels to achieve desired outcomes and engage the state DOT early as a partner in finding solutions. Form coalitions and align policies to match dollars with actions by public and private actors. Ultimately, very little changes in transportation by acting alone.

History and Decline of the Trail

The four- and six-lane arterial road links downtowns and neighborhoods filled with history and classic Florida tourism. The Ringling family built a circus empire with its winter home in Sarasota and Venice, and developed much of the area. John Ringling endowed Sarasota's internationally renowned Ringling Museum of Fine Arts, and his adjacent palatial residence on Sarasota Bay, Ca' d'Zan, is the most famous of numerous other historic homes from the Roaring '20s. The City of Venice, planned by famed architect and planner John Nolen, is one of Florida's most walkable cities and a harbinger of America's increasingly aging population, with its 21,000 residents averaging age 68. Bradenton and Palmetto, long centers of the agricultural and marine industry, continue to thrive as riverfront cities using redevelopment to reinvent themselves.

Once a vibrant corridor lined with destination restaurants, tourist attractions, elegant hotels and new motels for the affluent post-war auto age, the corridor gradually fell into decline with the construction of I-75. The new interstate improved regional access, shifting the focus of the regional economy and enabling growth of residential and commercial developments in the eastern parts of Manatee and Sarasota Counties, and hastening the Trail's decline. Between the energy of I-75 and the continuing draw of the Gulf beaches, the Tamiami Trail became an economic afterthought; pass-through territory with relics of a bygone era between downtowns struggling to find their true identity.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the "North Trail" in the City of Sarasota became notorious for prostitution, drugs and rising violent crime. In Bradenton, West 14th Street (US 41 Business) earned a similar reputation as a rough neighborhood, while the Florida DOT widened the primary US 41 "bypass" to route traffic away from downtown Bradenton, where it became a wasteland of fast food restaurants, car dealerships and payday advance businesses. Each city made some efforts to stem the tide, but the corridor proved resistant to substantive change and the reputation persisted.

bicyclists riding on narrow sidewalk adjacent to US 41

Despite the new interstate, efforts continued to improve traffic speed and reduce delay on US 41. The downtowns continued to experience congestion, and intersection "improvements" made it increasingly hazardous for pedestrians to cross. Bicyclists mostly kept to sidewalks. Dealing with rapid growth in the region, moving traffic remained the primary objective through the 1980s and '90s. A rash of pedestrian crashes and fatalities in the early 2000s prompted FDOT to conduct safety studies that added some protections as accoutrements, but did not fundamentally change the situation.

Refocusing on Connectivity, Safety and Access for All Users

By 2000, it became evident that changes in the corridor would require dramatic intervention. Frustrated by the region's declining "gateway," the area's four colleges and universities, residents, advocacy groups and organizations like the airport authority and others prodded the Florida Department of Transportation and local governments to undertake more concerted efforts to improve the Trail. The path would not be easy. Aligning government, institutions, the private sector and residents would prove formidable. But through the MPO planning process - partnered closely with multiple strategic actions and long-term initiatives of area local governments - the Tamiami Trail corridor transformation has enjoyed steady, measurable success. It is on the path to becoming a corridor that fully connects people, places and opportunity. Our next post will explore the outcomes from several of those catalyst plans and projects that helped guide that evolution.

–Whit Blanton, FAICP, Cities That Work Blog

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I am not a sheep

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I am not a sheep

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pedestrian_xwalkThere is a long overdue move afoot in Central Florida to promote walkability and enforce pedestrian safety, particularly at intersections and crosswalks. The goal is to transform the Orlando metro area from a "killing field" for pedestrians, evidenced by successive years at or near the top (along with other Florida metros) of places ranked the worst for pedestrian and bicyclist safety. As trends continue toward creating more walkable places and complete streets for economic development and livability, and people - particularly older and younger folks - are driving less and seeking places to live and work that are more accessible by means other than driving a car - this is an incredibly important initiative. We've long been far too complacent in marginalizing those who walk, bicycle or take transit in favor of speed and convenience for autos and trucks. While community design plays a big role in pedestrian safety, culture can play an even bigger role in whether people comply with laws protecting pedestrians and practice basic courtesy and common sense. Motorists need to look for pedestrians and expect them to be present on any surface street. Elected officials and public agency staff need to make pedestrian accessibility and safety a priority. Law enforcement needs to take violations seriously and take part in both education and enforcing laws. The Florida Department of Transportation is stepping up to do its part.

A Cultural Blind Spot

A dangerous intersection in Winter Park, FL when pedestrians do not use the signal properly.

But it's the culture that is the most pernicious challenge. We're a nation of mostly ignorant pedestrians and aggressive auto drivers, which is a bad combination.

Many walkers cross a street wherever convenient, even if they are mid-block just a few feet from a signal crosswalk. Too busy to wait with the 64 oz soft drink from the Circle K store? Too many of us stare into our phones as we step from the curb. Many motorists, for their part, accelerate through yellow lights, using only the narrowest field of vision centered on the tail-lights of the vehicle in front of them.

It has been said that driving is a fundamentally moral endeavor. People expect others to follow the rules of the road; to yield the right-of-way, move to the right when driving slower, and to signal their intentions. Why should non-motorized traffic be different?  Yet, for whatever reason, I am often castigated by some co-workers and colleagues as being a sheep when I go a few feet out of direction to use crosswalks or wait at the intersection for the pedestrian signal. It's somehow lame to wait at the intersection. The same is also true of many urban cyclists who ignore traffic signals, ride willy-nilly on sidewalks, drive through parking lots to cut the corner, etc. Is it because they are too busy or just too cool for school?

Then we have the timid pedestrians, who are too fearful that cars will not stop to assert their proper right to enter a crosswalk with the signal, even on slow speed, pedestrian-oriented streets, so they wait until the coast is completely clear or a large gap occurs in traffic. This creates confusion and risk, and conditions motorists into believing they do not need to yield to pedestrians.

Your Inalienable Pedestrian Rights

I think the remedy is to re-assert the primacy of pedestrian right-of-way, and to do so in keeping with the laws and moral rules of the road. I take the initiative to be an assertive pedestrian and cyclist who boldly steps into the crosswalk when walking - first making eye contact and using hand signals when necessary to make my intentions clear - and controlling the traffic lane when bicycling to my destination. When walking or bicycling, it's important to model the rules of good behavior because so many people ignore the rules, confuse the situation for everyone, and often put themselves at risk. Yes, I want to do what is legal, but I'm no sheep. Walkers have their rights and their responsibilities.

pedestrian crossing at crosswalk

I'll take the ribbing and roll with it, but it underscores a fundamental issue with our culture and peer pressure that subtly undermines efforts to make our streets safer for all users.

It's good to question authority and, when necessary, flout the rules of authority when you believe the rules are arbitrary, punitive or petty. It's a grand tradition of Americans to challenge the authority of those who would govern our behavior and rights as free citizens. But that doesn't apply to traffic laws and our rights and duties as users of the transportation network. Whether we drive, take tranist, walk or bicycle, thee system functions best when we accept and follow the rules of the road and acknowledge the array of social mores that go along with them.

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