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5 Steps for Enhancing Downtown Orlando's Northern Gateway

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5 Steps for Enhancing Downtown Orlando's Northern Gateway

Cities are places to enjoy being in the presence of other people, creating with others, sharing ideas and transacting business. Those all depend on easy access and connectivity, comfortable and attractive public space and inviting gateways, which are key elements of Project DTO, Orlando's downtown vision and new redevelopment plan. A key part of the emerging Project DTO vision is of an "awesome outdoor city with highly connected neighborhoods and districts; a city with an iconic visual identity, built for the future so that open space supports recreation, air quality, tree canopy cover and water quality needs." Downtown Orlando's relationship with its lakes, a signature feature of the City Beautiful, is a centerpiece of that vision.

Downtown Orlando's northern boundary offers a wonderful opportunity to support the vision. It lies along a series of small to mid-size man-made lakes, known collectively as Lake Ivanhoe, created for fill as part of the 1960 construction of I-4 from Lakeland through Orlando, and used for stormwater retention for most of the downtown basin. Interstate 4 bisects Lake Ivanhoe, bringing commuters and freight to and through Downtown Orlando. Across its tranquil shores lie the tidy neighborhoods of College Park, Orlando's 1920s and 30s first ring suburb, and Ivanhoe Village, a dynamic mixed use district of bungalow homes, industrial uses, warehouses, specialty retail, bars and restaurants along North Orange Avenue. Gaston Edwards Park, on the lake's eastern shore at the intersection of Virginia Drive and N. Orange Avenue, offers a boat launch, an Italian restaurant with outdoor dining, exercise trails, volleyball courts and a fishing pier.

The boat launch at Gaston Edwards Park serves many types of users.
The boat launch at Gaston Edwards Park serves many types of users.

The lake is in the Lake Jesup drainage basin, a part of the Middle St. Johns River Basin, drawing from some 16,000 acres in central Florida, from Lake Dot in Downtown Orlando to Lake Jesup in Seminole County. The basin, principally Lake Jesup itself, is trying to recover from decades of growth. Each rainfall flushes lawn fertilizers, motor oil and other contaminants into the streams and lakes, fostering undesirable, mucky sediments that degrade habitat quality and reduce sport fish populations. Efforts to restore Lake Jesup occur through the Lake Jesup Interagency Restoration Strategy, of which the City of Orlando is a participant to improve water quality through its Greenworks Orlando sustainability initiative.

The turn on I-4 at Lake Ivanhoe is the first opportunity for southbound travelers to take in the full grandeur of Orlando's lakeshore skyline. Lake Ivanhoe also offers a scenic vista for those able to take the slower surface street routes, such as along North Orange Avenue linking Florida Hospital Orlando's Health Village and the Ivanhoe Village Main Street District with Downtown, or Edgewater Drive and Lakeview Avenue, connecting Orlando's venerable College Park neighborhood to downtown. Their confluence is at the mini Statue of Liberty, amid a sea of flowers. Gaston Edwards Park shimmers under a canopy of Live Oaks and other trees, a winding path offering convenience and comfort through the park to connect offices, hotels, antiques and restaurants.

The historic Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center building - a former OUC plant - is in dire need of a rehab.
The historic Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center building - a former OUC plant - is in dire need of a rehab.

But Downtown Orlando's northern gateway could be so much more. The I-4 Ultimate makeover will offer some opportunity to brighten up the dark and dreary overpass above Lakeview Street, but it really feels like Downtown Orlando has turned its back on its front door. Letting a disjointed convergence of interstate highway ramps, one-way surface streets, discontinuous off-road paths, disconnected commercial buildings and impenetrable flora dominate the landscape hinders the creation of publicly accessible and visible space that could serve as an iconic gateway for Downtown Orlando. Stemming from mostly unintentional actions, there is a significant barrier to access and connectivity of adjacent northern neighborhoods to Downtown Orlando.

The Ivanhoe off-ramp creates a visual and physical barrier to Downtown Orlando.
The Ivanhoe off-ramp creates a visual and physical barrier to Downtown Orlando.

The enjoyment of Downtown Orlando's iconic Lake Ivanhoe should not be limited to those who live along the lake or who can launch a boat to fish, paddle around or ski across its surface.  It should also welcome those who want to experience the lake habitat from the shore. There are more than 30 acres of publicly owned land, including right-of-way, on Lake Ivanhoe's shoreline. It may be time to open up access to Lake Ivanhoe as part of an overall strategy to better connect Orlando's neighborhoods with Downtown, create an awesome outdoor city, celebrate Orlando's iconic visual identity, and sustain the city and its natural resources for future generations. With the idea that more visibility and access goes hand in hand with better understanding and sustainability, here are five ideas that could help further that vision:

Lilly pad flowers blooming adjacent to I-4.
Lilly pad flowers blooming adjacent to I-4.
  1. Expand Gaston Edwards Park to include a lakeshore beach and public swimming area.Bring back a prime public spot for beach blankets, wading, kayak launching and swimming, drawing people from surrounding neighborhoods. Perhaps Winter Park's Dinky Dock shoreline provides an example. Access from nearby hotels, residences and businesses would make this a popular draw.

2. Re-new efforts to create a shared use path around Lake Ivanhoe. 

This city initiative died about 10 years ago amid vociferous neighborhood opposition, but maybe it's time to try again. The linkage between College Park and Downtown Orlando is difficult at best, and the lack of well-defined and comfortable path around Lake Ivanhoe is a huge missed opportunity. A growing retail, jobs and entertainment destination on the east side of the lake is an increasing draw for residents of all parts of the city and visitors. Creating continuous linkages between neighborhoods, retail and downtown, with Orlando's Urban Trail as the spine, is critical for shared success.

3. Create interpretative wayfinding signage to convey habitat and resource information.

Providing interactive visual and informative clues about natural character, distances to other destinations and a display of  historic and cultural or artistic resources is the connectivity lubricant of a city. This could help create an emerald necklace among all Downtown Orlando parks and natural areas, from Lake Ivanhoe to Lake Eola, Lake Davis and Lake Lucerne.

A Florida Snowy White Egret feeding among the shore grass.
A Florida Snowy White Egret feeding among the shore grass.

4. Establish public access/fishing areas underneath I-4 as part of the Ultimate I-4 makeover.

A fishing pier underneath I-4 linked by a walking path would be amazing.
A fishing pier underneath I-4 linked by a walking path would be amazing.

Lake Ivanhoe is a stocked lake and part of Fish Orlando! intiative of Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Walking/cycling paths to enable people to fish under the I-4 bridge, perhaps with a pier out into the lake, would add destination appeal.

5. Encourage and support events and festivals along the shore.

Opportunities abound for surprise and delight. Acoustic concerts beneath gangly Live Oaks and Cypress trees at the water's edge; rehabbing and repurposing the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts building for performance and recording space; restaurants showcasing their menus with an "A Taste of Ivanhoe Village" event; water craft and ski shows on select days and times, and street parties on N. Orange Avenue between Ivanhoe Row and the lakeshore with the street closed could make this a more visible and attractive downtown destination.

The future is beckoning. Let's make it happen, Orlando!

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Renaissance's Tampa Office Goes Green

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Renaissance's Tampa Office Goes Green

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DSC_0256Earlier this year,  Renaissance's Tampa office completed 12-week long sustainable business certification program. Run by the Sustany Foundation, a local non-profit focused on promoting sustainability, the program is aided with the help of the Tampa Downtown Partnership and given the final seal of approval by the City of Tampa. The program also helps students develop their skills in sustainability by pairing them with organizations to provide research and help develop recommendations. This was the first time the Sustany Sustainable Business Program (SSBP) has focused specifically on downtown businesses. Ten businesses participated in the program, most of them restaurants, two offices, and one bike shop. Because this was the first time it was downtown business-focused, the businesses were guinea pigs in a way. The program included three workshops that covered the topics of energy, transportation and waste, and each business was paired with a student sustainability specialist from the University of Tampa or the University of South Florida who helped guide them through the program and develop the final action plan. The students researched sustainable business practices and identified opportunities for the businesses to implement more green practices. At this point, the focus of the certification process is more about education and awareness than creating a strict certification process.

What We Learned

What we learned is that we are already fairly environmentally-conscious; we recycle the paper that we use, leave lights off and use natural light, and offer a monetary incentive for those not driving to work, to name a few. The areas where we can make the largest improvements are paper usage and plastic cutlery.

Some key highlights from Renaissance’s Sustainability Action Plan include:

  • Consider the sustainable attributes and service of our vendors when making a purchasing decision
  • Select materials with the least amount of packaging or use recycled packaging
  • Track the use of paper to ensure that there is no unnecessary waste
  • Reduce the use of plastic cups and cutlery and offer reusable options

Click here to read the full Sustainability Action Plan.

Because the Tampa office is located in a large multi-story building overseen by a property management company, we are limited in certain areas to make improvements. For example, the office has little control over temperature (even though it might be 90 degrees outside, it is always wise to dress for winter). Hopefully in future rounds of the green business certification, property management companies will get involved and begin addressing the ways in which they can make positive changes at the building level. This will have a much bigger impact on the overall sustainability of downtown Tampa.

The Sustany Foundation will continue to follow-up with businesses that have gone through the program to track their progress and evaluate if they are achieving their goals. If you would like to read more about the program and the other participating businesses, visit the Sustany Green Business website.

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–Alana Brasier, Cities That Work Blog

[For regular news and updates, be sure to follow Renaissance on Twitter @CitiesThatWork]

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You're Not From Around Here, Are You? Thoughts on Identity, Place and Public Process

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You're Not From Around Here, Are You? Thoughts on Identity, Place and Public Process

hoosier-car When I read the Sustainable Cities Collective blog post “Urban Development: The Great Gentrification” by Jim Russell, it resonated deeply on many things I have observed and experienced, both in my personal life as well as my professional life as a planner – especially when it comes to interacting with people.  I tucked away the URL and began taking notes, the assembly of which compose this reaction piece.

Where Are You From?

As someone who finds the hometown question not an easy one, I have composed a couple responses.  My short answer is “Bethesda, Maryland.”  A more in-depth response might go like this, “well, my parents worked for the State Department and we moved a lot growing up so I call many places home.”  Or something like that.  If they pry I will say I was born in the Philippines, lived eight years in India and three in Austria before returning to go to college in New York.  Despite an international upbringing, I identify as an American, but pinpointing where exactly in America is a bit harder.

How Long is Legit?

Russell’s article observed, “Hoosier, Okie, and carpetbagger. As much as Americans move, we hate newcomers.”  Americans are a nation of migrants.  Some may settle down for a few generations, but at some point someone or some group has moved from one place to another.  I have yet to work with a community that does not have some underlying dynamic at play between “come heres” and “been heres” tensions that are often revealed when discussing the future.  Consensus can prove elusive when faced with divergent opinions rooted in different perceptions of identity.  More often than not, divergent groups share more values in common than they might realize.  A well-designed public process should nudge the conversation towards positive shared values and goals.

2013-09-12 18.27.26Some Stories

In 2012 and 2013 we conducted a number of small town revitalization workshops. In nearly every town we worked there was an underlying tension between an old guard (the “been heres”) and more recent arrivals, aka “come heres.” The way we worked through this was to get both groups to the table early on and focus on shared values and outcomes that all could agree on. For example, the community workshops were successful because they focused on a number of simple concepts that all groups could agree on – creating great public spaces, building connections between old and new business owners, advertising the community as a great place to live and visit, and fostering a new group of community leaders that included both new and legacy residents.

I recently had the good fortune to assist the historic Town of Front Royal, VA with a visioning process.  In the simplest terms, the town has an industrial past, but has become in recent decades a bedroom community for people travelling to jobs elsewhere.  The industry that used to employ thousands is now gone and has left in its wake some properties that will be a challenge to reuse and repurpose.  The process identified the need to clarify and focus on defining a community identity for the future, recognizing they are transitioning.  Rather than focusing on differences, the process yielded a vision comprised of a number of well supported themes:  a lifelong community for all ages; a town with well-preserved assets; a popular and vibrant destination to live and visit.

Pet Peeves

Okay – I'm going to vent.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard at a public event something along the lines of, “my family has been here five generations and (insert position statement).”  What bothers me about these preambles are that they imply that a longer tenure is more worthy or legitimate.  To give a long-term resident more credence than a more recent arrival is a slippery slope – such statements undermine the spirit of moving forward together.

The inverse of the argument above can be found in people who move to an area and then discount or overlook those that have been there all along.  This NPR story on gentrification and Houston’s Third Ward speaks to this example, most notably in this quote by State Rep. Garnet Coleman: "Don't come into the community, renovate your house and then act like the people that have been living there forever have no standing…If somebody's going to move into the Third Ward — I don't care who you are — just become a part of it."  I like the last 12 words.

FR061413-272-bannerTakeaways

Questions of identity and place get to fundamentals of who are we, what do we want to be, what will be the same, what will be different, and how might it all happen.  Here are some of my own concluding observations or realizations (some are personal while others are more professional):

  •  This summary sentence of Jim Russell pretty much sums up my views: “instead of questioning the intent of people (outsider or resident), the claim to citizenship is the central concern.”
  • How many years you have lived is not as relevant as your intention to be part of something positive and productive going forward.
  • Communities are more likely to succeed when plans are made in a spirit of inclusion and tolerance.
  • Encourage people to practice thinking ‘we’ before ‘me.’
  • Don’t let the words, “we tried that, we did that and it did not work,” disrupt progress.  Conditions and opportunities change.
  • Though we strive for win-win solutions, realities are such that communities may not return to glory days of old, or may involve more austerity than prosperity.  The important question in the win-lose dynamic remains: have we provided equal access to opportunity?   Have we made decisions that benefit most and minimize harm or unintended consequences? Have we maximized the potential of our assets?
  • Finally, self-identity and perception are not permanent. Communities can adopt less than healthy perceptions of themselves and languish in despair, or they can work for change.  I am energized to work with people whose intent and energies are focused on positive change.

–Jason Espie, Cities That Work Blog

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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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