UPTOWN TAMPA – The area bounded by I-275, I-75, Busch Boulevard, and Bearss Avenue is in the midst of a metamorphosis into what is becoming known as Uptown Tampa – a world-class live, work, study, play, and stay innovation district. The Tampa !p (Innovation Partnership) State of Uptown on March 28th covered a wide range of topics including transportation – from projects directly affecting the area to innovation in autonomous vehicle technology that will have far more wide ranging impacts.

Hillsborough County Commissioner, Pat Kemp, discussing the county’s opportunities for commuter rail

Sam Schwartz discussing vehicle safety and autonomous vehicles

Preeminent transportation expert, Sam I. Schwartz, delivered a keynote presentation focused on autonomous vehicles and scenarios that may result from their implementation. His latest book, No One at the Wheel; Driverless Cars and the Road of the Future, cites many of the mistakes and unintended consequences of our society’s implementation and prioritization of automobiles in the 20th century, including deaths from car crashes, air pollution, and the health impacts of less walking and more sitting.

He then took a deep dive into the truth versus hype surrounding AVs.

“Even if AV’s are 90% safer than human-driven cars, they won’t be as safe as mass transit is now,” he said while pointing out that only 30 people are killed per 100 billion passenger miles using mass transit.

In conclusion, Schwartz stressed that government, society, and industry should focus on selling rides rather than vehicles; integrate AVs with mass transit; get the AV industry and users to contribute to the upkeep of roads and connected infrastructure; and establish a street typology plan.

Schwartz’s presentation was book-ended by comments from Hillsborough County Commissioners, Pat Kemp and Kimberly Overman. District 6 commissioner Kemp, introduced Schwartz by drawing attention to the county’s rail network and potential for commuter rail. District 7 commissioner Overman, who serves on the board of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Metropolitan Planning Organization, reiterated the importance of transit and walkable communities.

A slide from FDOT District 7’s presentation highlights the agency’s commitment to innovation and preparing for new technology in transportation

Ming Gao, Intermodal Systems Development Manager with the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7 explained FDOT’s focus on safety, mobility, and innovation. He then highlighted a number of projects in the Uptown area that are designed to address these concerns. On Fowler Avenue, In-Sync Adaptive Signal Timing for the road between Florida Avenue and I-75 should address pedestrian safety as well as drive times. Meanwhile, Busch Boulevard is getting additional high-intensity crosswalk beacons at 12th Street North, Brooks Street, 20th Street North, Pawnee Avenue, and Overlook Drive.

FDOT is currently engaged in several studies to improve mobility and safety in Uptown Tampa including an area Multimodal Feasibility Study, Arterial Bus Rapid Transit Study, an area Intermodal Center Study, and a Fowler Avenue Safety Study investigating land-use patterns, turn movements, bike/pedestrian counts and crash data. Some short-term potential recommendations may result in improved pedestrian crossings, improved lighting, and reduced turn radii for vehicles. Meanwhile, the agency is working with local law enforcement to provide on-street pedestrian and bicyclist safety education with quizzes and instant feedback while offering helmets, reflective backpacks, and armbands.

Tampa !p executive director, Mark Sharpe, updated the audience on a number of the organization’s efforts, including Uptown circulator service. The service is a public-private partnership with financial support from !p anchor members, HART, FDOT, and Hillsborough County. HART is currently reviewing proposals to select a provider for the circulator with a goal of starting operations early this summer.