Tiger Bay's third rail? Light rail, obvs.
Suncoast Tiger Bay Club has a reputation of getting a little rowdy from time to time.
It’s one they’ve spent the past year trying to change, Tiger Bay President and Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long said.
But old instincts die hard. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise when Friday’s discussion about transportation, one of the most heated topics in Tampa Bay, turned a little raucous.
Whit Blanton, the executive director of the Pinellas MPO (now combined with the the Pinellas Planning Council under the recently announced title Forward Pinellas), was the speaker, addressing the crowd on development, roads, transit and the future of the county.
After a brief presentation, he fielded questions, most of which were pretty tame. Then St. Petersburg surgeon David McKalip stood up and began reading from a card.
“When will local and regional authorities respect that people have made… an informed choice and decision on not wanting rail in this county,” McKalip asked, “and rather than be pushing that agenda show respect for the citizens rather than show contempt and keep light rail off the agenda?”
Several in the room applauded. One man shouted, “yeah!” And then came a few boos.
Blanton didn’t appear rattled.
“I will never say the words, ‘We need light rail,’” Blanton said. “What I would say, generally, is we need transportation options. And we develop those options in a way that works for our communities.”
He cautioned against pursuing a predetermined set of answers, and instead encouraged having a meaningful, ongoing conversation about what transportation solutions the county and region need.
“It means we think about (these solutions) from a fiscally sound perspective,” Blanton said. “What makes sense and what can voters support and what can constituents support and what can the elected officials support?”
McKalip wasn’t satisfied.
“Can I ask a follow up question?” he asked. “I don’t think he answered my question.”
The room erupted in jeers. There were more boos and more shouting. He was told to sit down at least five times. That’s when Long came back to the microphone.
“At the very beginning of this meeting, I asked for everyone to be respectful and kind and somewhat disciplined,” Long said. “We have worked really hard this year to elevate our conversation, our thinking and the way in which we behave. We do not allow booing, ranting or anything else.”
Blanton, back at the podium, took the next question, this one from Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. It was a hypothetical situation, in which Welch asked Blanton what is the first project he would implement if President Barack Obama and Gov. Rick Scott gave him authority over transportation in Tampa Bay.
Blanton paused for a beat.
“Could I say light rail?”
The room broke out in laughter. Blanton had diffused the tension with a little wit packed into one pithy reply.
His real answer? Better fixed route service that increases bus service to every 30 minutes, or better where appropriate.