From Transition to Transformation

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The Clearwater Memorial Causeway links downtown to Clearwater Beach.

The year 2015 was one of transition for the Pinellas Planning Council and Metropolitan Planning Organization, and for me personally. It began with the newly unified agency in the process of hiring an executive director, and ended with the 2nd of two strategic policy board workshops to set a direction for integrating land use and transportation planning. Halfway through the year, I left a successful consulting practice to become that executive director.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know the community and tackling a new set of challenges to foster collaboration and fulfill our mission of aligning resources to achieve a compelling vision for Pinellas County.

As we embark on our 2016 journey together, it’s worth sharing the activities we’ve accomplished to prepare for a successful year ahead.

Pinellas SPOTlight – We established the Strategic Planning and Operations Topics initiative to focus awareness and advance solutions for key multi-jurisdictional issues, and the Board responded by selecting a Vision for the US 19 Corridor, Enhancing Beach Community Access, and a Master Plan for the Gateway/Mid-County area for the 2016-2018 period. We are now developing work plans in collaboration with our partners, the Board and advisory committees.

A New Countywide Plan – The heavy lifting came long before I arrived, but in August the Countywide Planning Authority (Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners) adopted the one-time repeal and replacement of the countywide land use plan per the Pinellas Planning Council’s Special Act, which created the unified PPC/MPO. This foundational plan enables walkable, mixed-use transit oriented development in suitable areas while streamlining the approval process. We will be working with our Planners Advisory Committee (broadened in 2015 to include FDOT and PSTA staff) in 2016 to make strategic adjustments to the plan, including how we address Target Employment Centers and Transferable Development Rights, among others.

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Michael Crawford, Commissioner Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy and Whit Blanton after a mixed use presentation in Indian Rocks Beach.

Agency Branding – We hired Big Sea Design, a St. Petersburg-based communications firm to help brand the PPC/MPO and develop its new identity around its mission and core messages. Watch for a new agency name, logo and web site in early 2016.

Communications Focus – We began this blog in September as a way to talk about good planning and achieving better outcomes for Pinellas County and the region. We’ve been posting almost every week since then, and along with presentations to various organizations, our Street Profiles feature and various workshops, hope to foster a dialogue about how we tackle the issues and opportunities facing us.

Allocation of Federal Funds – The Pinellas MPO has historically funded roadway capacity projects with its flexible transportation dollars. That has resulted in much better traffic flow on US 19 and projects nearing completion for Gandy Boulevard and Ulmerton Road, and the Gateway Express connecting US 19 to I-275 will begin construction in 2017. However, with our emphasis now on linking land use and transportation around development of a multimodal transportation system, that policy must begin to shift. We have started a conversation for what investments make sense for the MPO to achieve that goal, and will be developing specific funding proposals for the MPO’s consideration.

Complete Streets – What started as a policy to accommodate the different needs of all of our roadway users has evolved into development of a funding program intended to advance at least one roadway transformation each year that supports community redevelopment and multimodal access objectives. We held an educational workshop in October, and began developing the broad outlines of this program with input from our Board and various funding partners. We expect to establish this program in 2016, reflecting the groundbreaking leadership by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Partnership with PSTA – In the wake of 2014’s failed Greenlight Pinellas referendum, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has focused on its Path Forward to improve bus service and address its budget constraints. While PSTA is responsible for its own operations, improved countywide and regional mobility depends on a strong collaborative partnership between the PPC/MPO and PSTA. We have initiated work to make PSTA transfer points more accessible and connected with mixed use development, and improved transit service will feature prominently in our SPOTlight emphasis areas.

The first joint MPO/PSTA Board workshop held in several years is planned for January 22nd to further strengthen our planning, policy and funding partnership.

Regional Coordination – Through the work of the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Management Area (TMA) Leadership Group, the collaboration of the Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas MPOs has never been stronger. In May, the TMA Leadership Group defined a single list of regional transportation priorities, and since September it has focused on an opportunity for the state to acquire two CSX rail lines for passenger rail. The so-called “Bay Rail” initiative has helped to rally regional leadership around a unifying cause, and the group will be engaged in a forthcoming regional premium transit study to be led by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit.

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The Tampa Bay TMA Leadership Group and agency staff.

Pinellas Bikeshare – Following the lead of the City of St. Petersburg to develop its own bikeshare program, a subcommittee of the Pinellas MPO’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee has been working on an approach to a countywide program. We will begin discussions with the PPC/MPO Board in February about how such a program might function.

Staff Alignment – On a less grandiose scale, aligning the operations of the unified PPC/MPO has been an important focus of the last several months. Merging two staff operations, with their distinct culture, procedures and identity takes careful thought and continuing dialogue. We made big strides with the adoption of a uniform Internal Control Procedures Manual and formation of a Communications Team and a Fiscal Accountability Team, and had a successful staff retreat in October at Weedon Island Preserve.

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Sarah Perch, Carolyn Kuntz, Rodney Chatman and Linda Fisher at the PPC/MPO retreat in October.

I continue to be excited about the future of Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay region, and have enjoyed the new challenges and opportunities here to make a difference. We have excellent leadership, quality partners and a great staff to carry us forward. I truly believe 2016 will be a transformative year for Pinellas County and our region. Onward!

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