PolitiFact rates Greenlight Pinellas ‘existing lanes’ claim Mostly False

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Greenlight Pinellas, the mass transit initiative for Pinellas County, is once again causing a stir with opponents.

An informational email from Friends of Greenlight, the campaign’s pro-transit political action committee, says the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority promises they would implement bus rapid transit countywide without changing current traffic patterns.

“Bus Rapid Transit will help the Pinellas bus system move faster, but it won’t take existing lanes from other vehicles,” according to an email, which came with an artist’s rendering of 4th Street North at the 1100 block in St. Petersburg.

The image shows a bus stop and new bus lane, but what it does not show is what is important, notes PoltiFactFlorida.

The center turn lane on 4th Street N is missing.

It raises one crucial question of Greenlight Pinellas; will it “take existing lanes from other vehicles?”

Bus rapid transit (BRT) is a key concept to predicting if Greenlight Pinellas will alter existing traffic capacity, but the problem is BRT is a broad term that could mean many things.

Institute for Transportation and Development Policy Director Annie Weinstock helped PolitiFact with the answers.

Weinstock says most BRT systems have one of more of the following features:

  • Dedicated bus lanes (preferably in street medians)
  • Intersections preventing turns across bus lanes
  • Transit signal priority that changes lights when buses are detected
  • Off board fare collection, which cut waiting times. Passengers who pay at the fare box are the single biggest holdup in bus service
  • Platform-level boarding to move passengers, particularly the handicapped and elderly onto the bus quickly

A BRT can have a combination of any of these elements, as long as the goal is to move the buses quickly and directly. Greenlight Pinellas says it will implement many of these changes, but it is unclear exactly which ones, or where they will be located.

Greenlight Pinellas calls for a series of improvements to allow faster bus travel to be faster. Some include dedicated bus lanes at intersections; others mean bus stops that allow buses to stay out of traffic. Some routes will just have more frequent service.

If enacted, the plan would build bus lanes from existing medians and shoulders on a majority of Pinellas County roads, except the one-way 1st Avenue N and 1st Avenue S in St. Petersburg. Those streets have light enough traffic to give up one lane each for bus service without any traffic disruptions.

Removing lanes on the two 1st Avenues is enough to question whether Friends of Greenlight can make such claims on the plan.  Too many people in the process could make the answer even more confusing.

For example, the PSTA would be working with the Florida Department of Transportation, the county and local governments to determine if lanes or rights of way could be set aside for buses. Details of any change are not available, because the initiative has not yet been approved.

However, without specifics, Greenlight Pinellas remains open to constant criticism from opponents.

Although the PSYTA insists the image is only a mock-up, and not a hard and fast representation, there is no way to know if significant roadway improvements will (or will not) impact traffic.

Without any assurances and the fact that two major thoroughfares are sure to lose lanes if the one-cent sales tax is approved by voters, PolitiFact rated the Greenlight Pinellas claim “it won’t take existing lanes from other vehicles” as Mostly False.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.