TAMPA — A local architect who has traveled the world and experienced, first hand, some of the globe’s most impressive transportation systems, has joined the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board.
Michael “Mickey” Jacob, 57, joins the HART board at what many consider a challenging time for the county as it embarks on plans to draw more job seekers and employers here. Part of the plan to do that is to devise a transportation plan to unclog crowded roadways and in some instances, make a car optional with a better bus system and the addition of light rail.
In a state known more for its sprawl than smart growth, Jacob, executive vice president of BDG Architects and past president of the American Institute of Architects, said he wants to be part of developing transit-oriented growth that will help lure the best and the brightest to live and work here.
Jacob is a county appointee to the HART board, which is responsible for setting policy and making decisions for the authority on topics ranging from system operations, service planning, fare structure, finance and customer service. HART operates the county’s bus and streetcar systems. The board is made up of nine individuals chosen by the cities of Tampa (three seats), Temple Terrace (one seat) the state (two seats) and the county (seven seats).
Karen Jaroch and Wallace Bowers were both asked by the county commission to remain on the HART board for three more years.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn also plans to name a new member to the board. He is recommending Kathleen Mary Shanahan as his choice to replace retiring board member Fran Davin. Shanahan is the former chief of staff for Gov. Jeb Bush and just a year ago, completed a term on the state Board of Education. The Tampa City Council will consider her for the HART spot at its Nov. 6 meeting.
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After a failed attempt to get light rail funded here with a referendum in 2010, county leaders have regrouped to take another stab at a more robust transit system here. The HART board will be involved in that plan.
The Transportation Policy Leadership Group, made up of all seven Hillsborough County Commissioners and the mayors of Temple Terrace, Plant City and Tampa, is devising a plan to fund transportation for economic development. It is considering placing a referendum on the ballot as soon as 2016 for a 1-cent sales tax that would raise $6 billion over 30 years. The tax would pay for road improvements, light rail and a more vigorous bus system, along with managed bus lanes on the interstates for faster service.
“I want to be part of the development of our community,” Jacob said, in addressing why he pursued appointment to the HART board. “Transportation has to be included in our development strategy.” He was one of 17 to apply for the position left open when Steve Polzin completes his term on Friday.
“Having spent the last three years traveling all over the country and all over the world and experiencing different transit systems, it’s really obvious we need to take a look at how we can improve our system,” Jacob said. “To draw people here, we have to address this issue head on.”
Some of the most impressive transportation systems Jacob said he has experienced, personally, are the ferry system in Sydney, Australia, the subway system in Washington, D.C. and the train system in Tokyo, all of which are able to move people efficiently from outlying areas to bustling downtown areas for employment.
In Tokyo, he said, the train system “is like clockwork and the percentage of people that use the train is just staggering. You don’t even need a car to get to the train station.
“It’s all integrated. That is really the thing that struck me,” Jacob said. “How do we pick out great things from other areas and how can we put that in to our strategy here?”
Toronto is another city with an impressive transit system, Jacob said. “I really admire it for the subway, train and street car, which are completely integrated. It works and you can see how development of that city has grown around it. Transit-oriented development is key to what we can do here. We have a lot of room we can grow and density to support those systems.
“As an architect, I would love to be part of a strategy where people can move here and realize they don’t need a car,” he said. “One of the hardest things is to take that first step. That’s our challenge.”
County Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe said he believes Jacob will be an asset to the HART board. “I’ve had interactions with him over the last five years or so and I find him to be a free thinker who is big on transit and economic development issues. He thinks for himself. I think he’s going to be an excellent partner.”
Like a lot of business people, Jacob is “thoughtful when it comes to the dollar,” Sharpe said. “He thinks about ways to stretch the dollar and will be very prudent when it comes to the tough decisions HART needs to make.”