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Our Changing State: imagining a future for Florida's transportation needs

Whether it’s the frustrating search for parking or the chaos around road expansions, more people means more cars on the road.

For six weeks, Florida Matters will explore how the state's population boom is affecting important issues in our lives. In "Our Changing State," we’ll share stories from local residents about how change has affected them. We'll then invite experts in to answer questions you and your neighbors submitted through an online survey about each of these issues.

In the third part of our series, we’re talking about transportation.

You can see the signs of our growing population just by taking a drive anywhere in Florida. Whether it’s a commute that takes twice as long as it did a few years ago, the frustrating search for parking, or the chaos around road expansions, the simple fact is more people means more cars on the road.

WUSF’s Matthew Peddie met with Tampa resident Sharon Tagle on one of the many tree-lined streets around Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood.

They talked about how Tagle gets around and how that experience of getting from place to place has changed.

WUSF’s Matthew Peddie talks with Tampa resident Sharon Tagle in Seminole Heights about how Tagle gets around and how that experience of getting from place to place has changed.
Woman on the side of the street looking into the camera

As part of our exploration of what Florida’s growing population and rapid change means for the people who call this state home, we reached out to you — our listeners — to ask what you think. We're putting those comments and questions to our expert guests.

This week, host Matthew Peddie talks with:

  • Carl Mikyaska, staff director of the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization
  • Ruth Steiner, professor of urban and regional planning and director of the Center for Health and the Built Environment at the University of Florida.

Here's a sampling of questions and comments submitted through our online survey (some have been edited for length and clarity):

Traffic is so congested, we do not have good public transit. — Nancy Hapner, Clearwater

Ruth Steiner: The way I think about this is great public transportation ... occurs frequently enough and goes from where people live to where they work or where they're going to go. So the challenge is it's a many-to-one relationship. Historically, it's been many people going from the suburbs to jobs in the city. The dilemma is that, first of all, a part of what means, we can get frequently enough transportation generally speaking ... you want no more than 15 to 20 minutes between buses.

Now, even with technology, you can predict when it's going to occur. But you don't want to have to think about if I randomly go to a bus stop, I only want to wait a few minutes. The dilemma is that, in order to get to that many-to-one relationship, we need higher density than large parts of Florida have, or we need a high penetration of transportation, meaning lots of people in a single neighborhood are going from one place to another. So then the question becomes, how do we get to that critical mass that's necessary to have public transportation that's effective and works well for the community?

Traffic even all the way up/out here is untenable. Too many housing developments approved in Eastern Pasco county with farm town infrastructure/roads. — Connie McMahan, Zephyrhills

Carl Mikyaska: It is absolutely a challenge. When we're doing transportation, we're looking at those new developments. And we're looking at where they're going so that we have that forecast to where we're going to have future traffic demands. Simultaneously on the land use side, and Pasco County is currently working on their comprehensive plan. They're looking at where the transportation improvements are going to be, we're trying to link the two together by having them feed off of each other so that they are responsive to each other. And for the listeners, if they're interested, we're currently doing the Comprehensive Plan looking out to 2050. And that's something that will be implemented between now and 2050.

Traffic is quite chaotic, and that isn't new information. Highways are congested at all hours of the day. The construction/expansion of the highways i.e. 275. may be helping to resolve this issue for the future, but the amount of migration happening in Tampa is profound. I no longer have a car and rely on Lyft/Uber, or the HART system to get around. I do not want to spare no expense to be in Tampa traffic with a car and the cost of insurance. Public transportation needs alternative options such as more bus stops, rail, etc. — Margaret Stahl, Tampa

Carl Mikyaska: So that's built into the overall cost of transportation via automobile. The problem that we have with the insurance is that it's something you pay regardless of how much you drive. And so it's a bit of a sunk cost, much like buying the automobile. Once you've purchased it, now it's available. And so I don't think it really goes into a decision-making process at the individual level for each trip. And that decision making — or look at it is — really only on the gas used and the time that it will take Yeah, the insurance doesn't factor into there.

Matthew Peddie: What about things like Lyft and Uber? Where does that fit into Pasco County's transit plan?

Carl Mikyaska: In terms of transit, one of the things that does work well with Lyft and Uber and even the little scooters is that for that last mile to get between either your home and transit or transit and your destination, you can use these. And particularly with as warm as it gets here, the idea of walking a mile or a mile and a half is not appealing to a traditional transit rider. And that fills a niche and really can help transit.

Ruth Steiner: I would say there's another way that Uber and Lyft could be used. First mile and last mile is very important but I would also say late night service — whether we know there's not enough service to have a large bus and maybe you could serve it with micro transit. But if this volume is small enough, someone knowing that they can get a ride home after eight o'clock at night may be important in getting them to take transit to go wherever they're going in the first place.

Next week: Cultural history

You can listen to the full conversation by clicking on the “Listen” button above. Or you can listen on the WUSF app under “Programs & Podcasts.

I am the host of WUSF’s weekly public affairs show Florida Matters, where I get to indulge my curiosity in people and explore the endlessly fascinating stories that connect this community.
Hi there! I’m Dinorah Prevost and I’m the producer of Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show. That basically means that I plan, record and edit the interviews we feature on the show.