CUTR is known for being objective

Published Thursday, December 3, 2009

Think tank rejects rail | Nov. 28, story

CUTR is known for being objective

Our state has a remarkable resource in the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research, which boasts 45 researchers from a wide variety of disciplines. Many have been honored by their national peers with just about every award imaginable. We are routinely invited to participate in selective national advisory groups. Many of these incredible men and women have dedicated 30 to 40 years of their work lives to finding transportation solutions for both public agencies and the private sector.

As you can imagine, our CUTR team was dismayed to read the Nov. 28 Times article. Perhaps we could have done a better job communicating with your reporter.

CUTR researchers hardly walk in lockstep. They are likely to have nuanced positions on many transportation policy issues, including rail. While the article indicated that we have consistently championed highway expansion in preference to public transportation, this just isn't so. Well over half of our research is specifically oriented to public transportation and we are extremely active in both the Florida Public Transportation Association and the American Public Transportation Association.

Our greatest concern, however, is that the article seemed to question CUTR's objectivity. CUTR is well known for being objective. We do not and will not accept assignments that do not allow our objectivity. We have no intention of ever doing otherwise.

I am honored to serve as CUTR's director and regret that the rich variety of transportation challenges routinely tackled by our dedicated faculty and staff did not come across in the article.

Edward A. Mierzejewski, Ph.D., P.E., director, USF Center for Urban Transportation Research, Tampa

They are problem solvers

I must admit that I am perplexed at the recent article that took jabs at USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research and questioned their objectivity. One of CUTR's trademarks has been their total objectivity.

Moreover, they have provided creative solutions to many important transportation problems. Examples include cell phone software that assists people with cognitive disabilities to ride public transportation, planning for safe routes to schools, support to transit agencies implementing alternative fuels, design elements of effective transit information materials, and a statewide transit training program. This is but the tip of the iceberg.

I am confident that if you took a look at the wide range of CUTR's activities you would be impressed. The people of Florida can and should be proud of this nationally respected resource that calls the Tampa Bay region "home."

For more than 20 years I have been fortunate to have the benefit of sharing ideas with the professional staff at CUTR.

Donald R. Crane Jr., St. Petersburg

A misleading picture

I am a supporter of rail in the Tampa Bay area, but Michael van Sickler's Nov. 28 article, and its follow-up on Dec. 1, reporting Sen. Mike Fasano's comments, paint a misleading picture of USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research. These articles suggest that CUTR's leadership has opposed regional rail proposals because they are mere mouthpieces for highway and bus interests, but nothing reported in the article bears this out.

Sen. Fasano's attack on CUTR contracts with the Department of Transportation is especially concerning. It would be very expensive for government agencies to maintain sufficient staff to carry out detailed research projects, so they contract with centers such as CUTR to carry out this work. There's no indication at all that CUTR has not fulfilled its contractual duties satisfactorily, so Sen. Fasano's pronouncement that CUTR should no longer receive government contracts would seem to be entirely politically motivated. Surely this is not the way our government agencies should choose contractors.

I hope we can make the case for rail in Hillsborough County without resorting to silencing its skeptics.

Elizabeth Strom, Tampa

Unanswered questions

You have listed in great detail the Center for Urban Transportation Research's funding. CUTR has recently provided several anti-commuter rail reports.

In the interest of complete disclosure, how about detailing the funding sources of the people and organizations you used to challenge CUTR's reports — specifically, the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Center for Transportation Excellence, the American Public Transportation Association and Vukan Vuchic, a planning professor at the University of Pennsylvania? And who, tell us, financed the publication of professor Vuchic's pro-commuter rail book?

You mention commuter rail systems in Charlotte, Phoenix, Atlanta, Boston and Seattle. Exactly how much taxpayer money (listed by local, state and federal support) is required annually to keep each of these systems running? And how much, each year, are the taxpayers of these cities paying in principal and interest on the loans and bonds used to build these rail systems?

Patrick Seery, Ruskin

Florida can't afford to ignore mass transit needs

Traffic delays, poor air quality, high unemployment, sprawling growth, a struggling housing market and record high gas prices. These are the costs to Tampa Bay and the state of Florida from a history of doing nothing but talking about infrastructure investment in transit. These are costs we cannot afford.

Now we have an opportunity. This week, state leaders in Tallahassee have come together to debate a major shift in transportation policy that will allow current and future transit proposals to move ahead while also strengthening Florida's application for a $2.5 billion federal investment into high-speed rail. Also this week, Hillsborough County commissioners passed a resolution of intent to allow the voters of Hillsborough County to make a choice about the future of the county's transportation system.

It is no coincidence these two actions are occurring at the same time, but rather simple economics. The expense of doing nothing is outweighing the costs of making these investments. Florida has stood by and refused proposals for bullet trains, light-rail systems and commuter systems for years, while our competitors such as Charlotte, Dallas and Phoenix have made these investments. These cities have all asked their voters to support transit, gained their support and drawn down federal dollars (partly funded with Florida tax dollars) to build systems that continue to succeed in not only ridership numbers but also in combating sprawl and boosting economic development.

The strong leadership and courage exhibited by our elected leaders this week is on the right track and finally moving our state one step closer to creating the world-class regional and statewide transportation system that will support the sustainable, inclusive and productive economy that our citizens demand.

The Tampa Bay Partnership supports these efforts and understands that the courageous actions our elected leaders have taken this week are not the end of this effort but the beginning. The costs of doing nothing are too high!

Gary Sasso, chair; John Schueler, vice chair; and Chuck Sykes, secretary/treasurer, Tampa Bay Partnership Executive Committee, Tampa

Better a penny now than big bucks later Dec. 2, Sue Carlton column

We can't stand more taxes

Please do us all a favor and stop promoting higher sales taxes when other state taxes are rising at breakneck speed — taxes that we don't have any say about like the car tags, surcharges on insurance, driver license fees, and much more. These are all "taxes" that we are forced to pay. How much more of a ride can the public be taken for? Nada, nothing, no more, zero.

Why are we not using all the taxpayer dollars that were given to Florida by our free-spending Congress (out of our own pockets again).

Who in their right mind would vote for or want to pay more now for something for the future when we, the taxpaying citizens, are fighting for the survival of our own families today?

Lawmakers should rethink their projects and priorities for the future. We are in a recession — have you heard? Just stop taking money out of the pockets of the citizens and do it now. Remove the insatiable need for money to feed more government. Just do it, please.

Wendy Smiekel, Tampa

End of the road: Driving in old age Nov. 22 to 24

Keeping seniors mobile

I read with interest Leonora LaPeter Anton's three-part series regarding driving in old age. Thank you for bringing attention to an issue that is becoming more urgent as the aging population in Florida becomes an increasingly larger proportion of the total population in the state.

I want to call your attention to various initiatives that are addressing this issue of senior mobility. The Florida Department of Elder Affairs sponsors a "Communities for a Lifetime" program that encourages municipalities to develop communities for all ages in which one can live without needing a car.

Even though public transportation has been chronically underfunded and underdeveloped in this state for years, public transit agencies in Florida are working to encourage more older adults to become familiar with using public transit, and even get into the habit of using public transit, before they give up their car keys.

Throughout Florida, there is also an initiative known as "Multi-Modal Transportation Districts," a designation granted to local governments by the Florida Department of Community Affairs, in which a local government designates a specific geographic area that emphasizes better sidewalks, bicycle facilities, and public transit as priority modes of transportation.

How do we help senior citizens right now? There are many volunteer driving programs organizing throughout Florida and the United States, in response to the needs of elderly people who can no longer drive.

Sara Hendricks, AICP, senior research associate, Center for Urban Transportation Research, College of Engineering, University of South Florida, Tampa

Right turn on red

Full stop is required

Please note that Section 4.1 "Traffic Signals" of the 2009 Florida Driver's Handbook states in part that at most intersections, "after stopping, you may turn right on red if the way is clear." The key words are after stopping. The same holds true for that large, octagonal red sign that does not say yield.

Ultimately, the decision to issue a citation lies with law enforcement. So, my friends, if you are being pulled over, be sure to put down the cell phone, signal that you are pulling over, buckle up and tell the deputy, officer or trooper that you were just trying to be green and save a little gasoline. Happy motoring.

J. Scott, Brandon

Economic considerations | Dec. 2, letter

Read the rule book

The letters writer suggests that government place a sign that reads "Stop on Red before Turning" at intersections. How did this writer acquire a driver's license? Such information is clearly stated in Florida statute and in the Florida Driver's Handbook, which is required reading before taking the written test, which frequently asks just such a question.

With such ignorance of the "rules of the road" is it any wonder that we are killing each other at a record pace?

Jack Wilhite, Clearwater

Going to extremes | Dec. 2, letter

Making sure

This letter writer reports that hospitals and doctors are abusing the use of CT scans to make a profit and that they are ordered needlessly.

Yes, a simple X-ray would have shown that he had a kidney stone. But when a patient comes into the ER with abdominal/flank pain medical professionals have to rule out other causes of his pain. Symptoms of a kidney stone are very similar to other diseases of the abdomen: appendicitis, pancreatitis, intestinal blockage, just to name a few.

If the medical professionals had only ordered an abdominal X-ray and sent the letter writer home with pain meds, the outcome might have looked a little different if there were a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm and a CT had not been ordered.

There would then be charges of medical malpractice for not ordering a CT of his abdomen.

Denise Holloway, ARNP-BC, Brandon

Going to extremes | Dec. 2, letter

Try tort reform

I can't argue with the letter writer's point about abuse of the CT scan in emergency rooms or their use in general. The problem is that we've elevated the "standard" of medical care with the advanced technology of CT, MRI and PET scans.

Although he could have had plain X-rays, odds are they would have been nearly useless in diagnosing kidney stones. The CT scan is a much better test. Go to the ER with a headache and odds are you leave having had an MRI of the brain. The reason? Lawsuits. No hospital or ER physician wants to miss a potentially life-threatening illness for fear of a time-consuming, expense-laden lawsuit, even if they have followed standard medical care, and the malady could be diagnosed days later as an outpatient.

Yet most headaches are not serious medical problems, but it only takes missing one to make physicians practice defensive medicine. To bring down the cost of health care, there must be meaningful tort reform.

David Lubin, M.D., Tampa

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