Tag Archives: sunrail

Top Five SunRail Tips!

Happy birthday, SunRail!  May 1 marks one year since SunRail began operation.  I was there on opening day, and I’m so glad to see that traveling by SunRail is only becoming more and more popular.  As someone who regularly commuted to work via SunRail from May through December in 2014, I thought this would be a good time to offer my Top Five tips for successful SunRail commuting.

SunRail 1yr

1.  Do the Math.  It may seem at first glance that SunRail isn’t a good choice for you, but with the I-4 Ultimate construction project looming, it’s definitely worth a closer look.  Living in Mount Dora, I was 20 miles from the Sanford station, but compared to the almost 40 miles I drove into Orlando daily on toll roads, it ended up being worth it, for both my wallet and my sanity.  But also remember that a 30-day ticket means 30 calendar days, so do the math there too – I ended up saving money by just loading cash onto a prepaid SunRail card instead of buying the monthly pass.

2.  Plan Ahead.  During my commuting days, I carried a tote bag with the essentials: my dress shoes that I could put on once I got to work, an umbrella (during Florida summer? A must!), and a wrap (those trains could be COLD, so it was nice to have something to snuggle into).  Bring a book, some games on your phone, or your headphones to listen to some music.  SunRail offers free wi-fi, so bring a laptop and catch up on email or see what your friends are doing on Facebook.  One of the best things about SunRail is not having to drive.  Enjoy it.

3. Get on Social Media. Honestly, the best way to find out what’s going on with SunRail, to learn about outages, delays, or any other odd things going on, is to have a Twitter account. Follow the #SunRail hashtag; fellow passengers are very vocal if something is going on, because we all want to get the word out. And DEFINITELY follow @sunrailriders, he does a great job of keeping people informed. You’ll find out more information more quickly via Twitter than on the news, trust me – I scooped the local news and the Orlando Sentinel more than once!

4. Weekend Crowds Are Not Normal. I suffered through those first two weeks of SunRail commuting: late trains that were overstuffed with people when they finally arrived. It was pretty miserable, to be honest, but when the free weeks were over and it was just paying passengers, the congestion thinned out considerably. From what I understand, the crowds recently for the free rides to and from the Orlando City Soccer match or the Winter Park Arts Festival were about the same, so I don’t expect free days to be any different. So take this time to see if the stations are convenient for you, and enjoy your first taste of SunRail.  But be prepared to be patient.

5.  Don’t be a Jerk.  This should be a no-brainer, right?  Follow the rules, and be considerate.  Don’t eat on the SunRail – no one wants to smell your Publix cheesesteak at the end of the day.  (I remember sharing a table one night with Dorito-Fingers Guy.  Yay.)  Don’t put your bag in the seat next to you and your feet up on the seat in front of you.    We’re all in this ride together.  So unless you’re planning to split that cheesesteak with me, wait to eat until after you get off the train.

Happy birthday, SunRail!  I’m looking forward to seeing it expand and serve more and more central Floridians as the years go by.  Happy commuting!

SunRail Celebrates One Year, You Get Free Coffee

If you can believe it, it’s already been a year since Central Florida’s passenger rail started running. So if you haven’t taken a ride yet, this seems like a good time to give SunRail a try. In its first year, SunRail has gained a solid group of commuters and “just for fun” riders, as well as passionate group that wants more night and weekend trains. On Friday, May 1, to celebrate SunRail’s birthday, Clayton Alexander, a great businessman and coffee mug maker, will be offering free coffee, coffee cups and donuts at select stations. In case you missed that… Free coffee! 
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer will join with Florida Department of Transportation District Secretary Noranne Downs to ride SunRail at 10 a.m. from DeBary to Downtown Orlando Friday morning. The City of Orlando encourages Central Florida residents to ride tomorrow and to use the hashtag #RideSunRailMay1.
“Keeping Orlando moving continues to be a priority for the City of Orlando with SunRail as the backbone of our growing transit system,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer who also is chairman of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission.  “With just a year of operation under its belt, SunRail has connected more of our residents with access to jobs and opportunity, spurred development and investment and laid the foundation for enhancing and growing our transportation options throughout our entire region.”

If you do get out and take the birthday ride, you can enjoy FREE donuts and coffee to start the morning off right, courtesy of Dunkin’ Donuts. The Dunkin’ Donuts sampling team will be at three SunRail stops on Friday, May 1 from 6-9 a.m. to treat commuters. Guests can enjoy Dunkin’ Donuts croissant donuts and the new One World hot coffee.

While the coffee and donuts are free, Note that regular SunRail fares still apply on May 1. 

Happy birthday, SunRail!! 


Orlando City: Match Day Experience

Orlando City Soccer Club opened their inaugural Major League Soccer campaign yesterday in epic fashion. I was there with 62,510 of my closest friends to witness this historic event!

A photo posted by Top5 (@CentralFLTop5) on

As I am sure most of you know by now, our boys played to a 1-1 draw with the Manchester City B (New York City Football Club) side. The entire day was filled with many first for not only myself, but many of the SC (Seminole County) Ruckus supporters.

Orlando City SunRail

Photo Credit: Max Levine

  The Sunrail Experience

We started arriving at the Lake Mary SunRail station around noon. One of our fellow supporters, Dan was the first one to get on the train in DeBary. He sent us a text letting us know the train was pretty full. By the time it got to Lake Mary, it was busy but we all managed to get on. The same could not be said for the folks waiting at the Longwood station, many of them were turned away. People were also told not to board at the Altamonte Springs and Maitland stations. At each of these stations, there was easily 50-60 people left behind. The demand for SunRail service was there, unfortunately the supply did not meet the demand.  

The Tailgate & March In Experience

We arrived at Orlando Citrus Bowl just before 2 pm. The place was already a buzz with excitement. Shortly after arriving, I ran into the one and only Jen Vargas! We talked for a bit as I took her around the supporter’s tailgate in Lot 11. Let’s just say her and Bun could hardly contain themselves in this sea of purple bliss.

The overall tailgate experience was amazing. The Wall came through with food, drinks, and a very welcoming experience for all. I even saw a NYCFC supporter getting a hotdog at the Ruckus food tent. If that doesn’t say friendly, I don’t know what does!

After a couple of hours of drinking, eating and mingling about with everyone, we started our march into the stadium. The drums and chants started as the purple smoke bombs were being handed out to anyone with a free hand. This was it, we had arrived in the top flight of US Soccer and this march was one for the history books.

Not to sound cheesy, but this is the type of day you tell your kids about. The type of day that no supporter would have missed for anything in the world. This was the day the world took notice of Orlando City Soccer Club and The Wall. We have officially arrived!

Orlando City Supporters

Photo Credit: Max Levine

  The Match Experience

The atmosphere inside the Orlando Citrus Bowl was ELECTRIC! There was not an empty seat in the house (except for ours but only because we refuse to sit). Immediately after the National Anthem, our Tifo was unveiled to the world. Now since I was underneath this beautiful piece of art (designed by Earl Funk), I was not able to see how amazing it was until I got home and watched the replay. Once the match kicked off, it gave us everything we had hoped for. Plenty of opportunities on goal for our boys, horrible officials for us to yell at, and a 0-0 score line going into halftime.

The second half kicked off and NYCFC was more active on the ball than in the previous half. Then in the 76th minute, Mix Diskerud (NYCFC) opened up his account with a (it pains me to say this) beautiful strike just out of the reach of Donovan Ricketts. Orlando City was down 0-1 with just under a quarter of an hour to go. There was an empty feeling in all of our stomachs. A groan of nervousness rolled it’s way around the stadium, but we had to go on.

The drums pounded harder and our chants got louder. We needed to let our boys know that we were behind them no matter what. The clock ticked closer to full-time, and a sense of anxiety started to set in. Was it really possible for us to lose our inaugural MLS match? Were we really going to lose to this inferior club from New York by way of Manchester? We needed something, and we needed it fast!

Just then, that something happened… A free kick was awarded to Orlando City just outside the penalty arch. Kaka and Brek Shea both stood over the ball. The whistle blew and Kaka took a shot that bounced off a NYCFC defender, and into the back of the net!

  A photo posted by Top5 (@CentralFLTop5) on

The place went mental and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. It wasn’t the win we hoped for, but fortunately in soccer, a draw is the next best thing and it is WAY better than a loss. We announced to the world that, Our Reign Begins Now!

 Next up…

The next match is away this Friday, March 13th at 7 pm, against the Houston Dynamo. There will be watch parties at all City Pub locations. I will be at Liam Fitzpatrick’s in Lake Mary along with many of the other Seminole County Ruckus members.

To find your nearest City Pub location, please check out: http://www.orlandocitysc.com/gameday/citypubs

¡Vamos Orlando!

First Florida Train to Trail Tour Ready To Roll

SunRail, built for commuters, is about to flaunt its leisure side.

August 1, four cyclists with their bikes will ride the rails from Orlando area stations to DeBary where, under a commemorative arch, they will launch the First Florida Train to Trail Tour.

For seven days, they’ll cycle Florida’s 260-mile-long St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop before riding SunRail back to Orlando. No car needed.

Their first morning will start on 15 miles of showcase trail on the way to Osteen and continue altogether 55 miles to Titusville. That first section, called the East Central Regional Rail Trail, is also a commuter route to DeBary Station for cyclists from Deltona.

“The tour marks a coming of age for Florida,” says Herb Hiller of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the tour’s organizer. “We have trains and we also have improving ways to get to and from them without cars.”

Yet the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop (SJR2C) remains far from complete as paved off-road trail.FirstFloridaTrain

From DeBary Station, Loop access runs 2,000 feet north up Shell Road to the trail across a signalized intersection at US 17-92. The rest of the way, SJR2C is so far only some 30 percent paved and off-road, though almost all the rest is in construction, funded for construction, or in planning and design.

The August tour will include daily rides of between 20 and 57 miles. After Titusville, the four cyclists will overnight in New Smyrna Beach, Palm Coast, St. Augustine (two nights), Crescent City and DeLand.

Although the tour is meant to highlight the Loop as a week-long getaway, others will choose to spend fewer or more days riding it. That 15-mile paved portion and back or even a part of it can make a good day ride, or coupled with leisurely stops at Green Springs, DeBary Hall and Gemini Springs become a mini vacation with overnights at hotels in Deltona or DeBary.

But altogether, says Hiller, “the ride is a moving course in Florida history, from Spain to Space, steeped in the Civil Rights era, tracking vast ag lands, urban sprawl to new urbanism, from deeply rural to high living. Anyone could include layover days, like the four will along the coast in St. Augustine or as well alongside the St. Johns in Palatka, or close by in Crescent City or DeLand.”

The four will cross Ponce Inlet by water taxi and schedule a breakfast in Armstrong in far southwest St. Johns County. Armstrong with some 300 people sits directly along another part of the Loop called the Palatka to St. Augustine State Trail. Both will be regular options, though the water taxi runs only Friday to Sunday and breakfast in Armstrong will require 24-hour notice (call 904-806-3939).

Armstrong is a long under-served farming community that has focused its economic future in part on income from cyclists who travel the trail. Bike Florida already operates two boutique tours (about 20 riders each) a year through the community, but has also brought as many as 600 at a time. The hamlet also sits along the four-state Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor and has become a model for community growth elsewhere in the corridor’s four-state overlap with the route of the East Coast Greenway between Maine and Florida. SJR2C in its entirety is the Greenway’s longest loop section.

The Greenway connection means that over time, southbound long-distance cyclists will be able to avoid car traffic on their way to Orlando by riding the last leg of their journey on SunRail. Or when the Coast-to-Coast Connector trail gets built out – expected by the turn of the decade – continue with or without SunRail to St. Petersburg.

Chief tour sponsors include VISIT FLORIDA, the Florida Hospital system, East Coast Greenway Alliance, DeLand Area Chamber of Commerce, Orange Cycle, Cobb Cole, West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority  and the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council.

The touring cyclists who set off August 1 are Mighk [cq] and Carol Wilson of Orlando, and Laura Hallam and Robert Seidler of Sopchoppy. Carol Wilson and Hallam are former executive directors of the Florida Bicycle Association; Mighk Wilson is smart growth planner for MetroPlan Orlando, and Seidler a filmmaker who has chronicled the rise of bicycling and trails around America.

Mayor Jacobs State of the County This Friday

What is the ‘Year of Transformation‘ all about? How can Orange County residents find out more and get involved?

This is what Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs plans to address in her 2014 State of the County on Friday, June 6, 2014. In this live chat, Mayor Jacobs will focus on the achievements and milestones Orange County has hit thus far, and give a peek of what’s to come.

Even more exciting is, for the first time ever the Mayor is inviting YOU to take part from the comfort of your own computer chair! Do you have any questions about Orange County or for Mayor Jacobs herself? Comment below or tweet us using hashtag #SOC2014 and we will ask her for you!

We hear the Mayor is very excited about this event and is becoming a big fan of social media – and being huge social media nerds ourselves – we couldn’t be happier! A little Twitter birdie may or may not have told us that news of Orlando City Soccer Club, the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, some cool theme park info, SunRail buzz and more might be mentioned during this address on Friday. Hmm… 

Join Mayor Jacobs at the Church St. Ballroom this Friday!

#YearofTransformation | #OCTransformation

State of Orange County Address 

Friday, June 6, 2014, 9 a.m.

The Ballroom at Church Street

225 S Garland Avenue, Orlando

 

The event is complimentary and open to the public. The speech will be televised live on Orange TV which is Bright House Networks channel 199, Comcast channel 9, and AT&T U-Verse channel 99, and will be live-streamed on www.orangetvfl.net.

Top 5 Development Projects of 2014

By Ken Storey

We saw plenty of new additions and developments in Orlando in 2013 but 2014 looks to be an even bigger deal.  With projects downtown like two new mid-rises at the corner of Orange and Colonial, new developments up and down I-Drive, and huge new apartment towers opening near UCF there are plenty of developments opening in 2014.

Here is our list of the Top 5 development projects for 2014.  While not an extensive list or in an particular order this list marks what we think will be the biggest impacts upon the region as a whole.

# 1 I-4 Ultimate Expansion

This project won’t be finished until 2020.  Even though the finished project is still 6 to 8 year away but in 2014 this long awaited project will finally break ground.  That beginning of construction will signal one of the biggest changes in local transportation.

While most of the focus has been on the new congestion based tolling lanes that will be added to the center of the road what may end up being the most prevalent change is the design aspects of the new road.

Orlando is adding an impressive welcoming gateway along the Lake Ivanhoe bridge.  The new gateway will help signal downtown Orlando to passing motorist while also helping emphasize the beautiful lakes that are found on the northern end the downtown urban area.

Other bridges in Orlando will feature images of swans and the Lake Eola fountain stamped in the concrete underpasses.  Pedestrian access under I-4 will also be improved at many of these rebuilt bridges.

In Winter Park the Fairbanks bridge will be upgraded to feature large welcome signs to the city, new lighting, and new exit ramps.

winter park i4 ultimate

Image via City of Winter Park City Commission Agenda Packet 4-08-13

In Maitland a new pedestrian overpass will allow for better access to the west side office district.  Maitland Boulevard will also be dramatically rebuilt as part of the I-4 remodel.  This will ultimately make Maitland Boulevard more of a limited access highway helping traffic flow that’s passing through from I-4 to the newer toll road to the west of the city.

On the southern end of the I-4 construction a new flyover bridge will help connect International Drive to the hotel area just to the east of Universal Studios. This will help alleviate traffic from Kirkman Boulevard and parts of I-Drive.

Altogether the I-4 ultimate project will help bring a not only a new welcoming I-4 to the region but also help improve all those other roads and pedestrian thoroughfares that interact with it.  And 2014 will be the beginning of this major transition for the region.

 #2 SunRail Opening

I-4 might end up being one of the biggest transit stories but the one that will bring about the biggest changes, at least in this decade, will be the opening of SunRail.  This new rail commuter system is just the first phase of a larger web of commuter rail lines proposed for the region but don’t mistake this first step for anything small.  This is the first major non-bus transit system that the region has ever seen.

While it isn’t perfect (it has limited hours, only goes north south, doesn’t run on weekends, and many stations are bare of any retail) this new rail system will do more for the mindsets of locals.  Studies show that many people aren’t as open to riding bus systems but the commitment of rail lines seems to change mindsets, encouraging investments in developments nearby and encouraging higher income ridership. With free Wifi, comfortable seating, and nice covered waiting areas those who use SunRail will hopefully tell their friends, who will be sitting in that construction on I-4 by this point.  The idea is SunRail will launch in spring with I-4 construction launching in summer, which will push drivers fed up with the highway construction to the new commuter rail system.  Then by 2020 when I-4 finishes its massive surgery some of those SunRail riders will stay with the easier commuter system.

SunRail also provides a rail alternative for tourists to move around downtown and an airport connector is in talks now.  With a connector to OIA tourists would be able to easily visit downtown Orlando, Winter Park, Maitland, and all the others sights easily accessible from the stations.

While much of the focus will be on the launch of SunRail I’m a bit hesitant to declare it a success until more lines (or at least Phase 2) opens in the coming years.  Until then this system will be not much more than a novelty option for daily commuters.   Let’s hope the ridership numbers open high encouraging the fast tracking of other systems, such as the Orange Blossom Express, that will be key to ultimately making a Central Florida rail system a true success.

#3 Orlando Eye

A new observation wheel might not sound like that big of a deal but when it’s tied (with The Vue at Lake Eola) as the third tallest structure in the entire county it quickly becomes a big deal, only the SunTrust Tower and the Peabody Expansion tower (now Hyatt Regency) are taller.  Topping in at 425 feet tall the new Orlando Eye will forever change the skyline of the tourist district forever.   The wheel, with 30 gondolas itself can hold 450 riders at a time and can withhold winds from Category 3 hurricane.

The new wheel is part a larger entertainment development that will transform a large chunk of I-Drive.  The development, previously known as I-Drive Live but recently changed to reflect the Orlando Eye name, will feature a nearly half a dozen attractions.  Orlando’s first Madame Tussaud’s wax museum and our first SeaLife Aquarium, the first true aquarium attraction outside of a theme park in Orlando.  The ever popular Titanic: The Experience attraction will also be making the half mile move from its current location to the new development.  It will be joined by the Bodies Exhibit (not the same as The Body exhibit on display near the current home of Titanic).

The development “urbanistic,” “metropolitan” attraction, as described by developer Unicorp’s president Chuck Whittall, will also feature a number of new restaurants and retail options.  Some are familiar brands such as; Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Buffalo Wild Wings, Yard House, Ben & Jerry’s, Seafood Republic.  New to Orlando concepts such as; Cowgirls country bar, Dick’s Last Resort (Orlando’s first location just opened on Vineland Ave last month), popular Las Vegas and New York spot Sugar Factory, and Tin Roof.

Next door the I-Shops development, also by Unicorp, will bring in even more new restaurants and shops, including a new Walgreens and I-Drive’s second Wawa.  The developments are both designed to be pedestrian friendly and with plenty of parking.

The Orlando Eye will act as a ‘weenie’ pulling tourist off the interstate and onto I-Drive.  Expect convention goers, tourists, and plenty of local events planned at this massive new development.  Plus all those visits up in the air means all of them seeing the downtown skyline in the distance.  The impact on the tourist corridor skyline along with all the new attractions at the wheels base puts it on this year’s list.

Orlando Eye overview

Image via UnicorpUSA.com

#4  Diagon Alley at USF

Sure a new family friendly mine coaster can be fun but it’s not a game changer like this new expansion at Universal Studios is.  There’s no denying that once Potter arrived the entire tourism industry in Central Florida changed.  This mega-franchise suddenly meant that all those families who were on Disney only vacations suddenly added one or even two days off property at Universal.  That meant they went other places off property as well, including I-Drive.

This single addition, along with the dust finally setting on the chaotic ownership issues that plagued Universal for years, meant that suddenly the parks were experiencing attention like that hadn’t seen in years.  Soon after we saw Universal Studios, which was starting to age some, get plenty of new attention.  Springfield updated one the worst themed parts of the park into one of the best.  Transformers added a major E-Ticket ride to a plot of land that had seen a number of failed (and let’s admit it, boring) shows had been housed.  This, along with the ever popular Despicable Me franchise, meant that this park, as old as Disney’s Hollywood Studios park.  Add a new daytime parade and a new impressive evening firework show and what was an afterthought for many tourist has suddenly become a major player when tourist are planning their vacation.

Jump to June 2014 and the boy wizard who started it all is growing but this time not at Islands of Adventure, next door at Universal Studios.  This is the first growth plan put in place to this top franchise that Universal has been able to do since it first came.  Replacing the Amity Harbor section of the park will be the Diagon Alley section of London from the Potter films.  The shoreline now has the London waterfront.  A massive new roller coaster themed around Gingott’s Bank vault is planned. Plenty of new interactive shops and a Leaky Cauldron restaurant.

The biggest news coming from this new section of Universal Studios is likely the unique Hogwarts Express train ride that will connect to the pre-existing Hogsmeade Village land found in neighboring Islands of Adventure.  Instead of looking outside riders will look out virtual train windows.  This ride will be the first of its kind in the world connecting two theme parks from within the parks themselves.  The ride will essentially connect the backside of Islands of Adventure to the backside of Universal Studios.

The new Diagon Alley addition it expected to bring an influx of guests to Universal Studios, pulling even more people to Orlando.  That means that all those new tourists will be passing the Orlando Eye observation wheel and the rest of I-Drive, at least some of them will get off the interstate to visit I-Drive and possibly even other parts of the city.  That plus plenty of new media attention with the opening of this new section of Universal Studios puts it on this Top 5.

# 5  Florida Hospital Health Village

Topping off our list of Top 5 local projects of 2014 is the Florida Hospital Health Village.  It’s been in the works for years and will surely take more than a year to finish but 2014 will see it come into its own.  The Medical Office Building at the corner of Rollins and Orange Ave saw the first of its bottom floor retail open this past year including the opening of the Panera Bread.  In 2014 we’ll see the Health Village’s SunRail station open.  Directly beside the SunRail station a new tower will open as well.  This new 9-story, 90,000sq ft office building has already had an impact on the local skyline.  In February when it finally opens it will also shift plenty of jobs to the health village.  The tower will be home to some office for Florida Hospital’s parent company, Adventist Health System.

The residential unit of the health village will also see a major improvement in 2014 when The Ivy Residences opens.  This 248-unit, five-story apartment complex has already had an impact on the views from I-4.  The additional residents should also help improve the outlook for retail planned in the health village.  Preleasing has already begun and the first residents will move in starting in March.

The Florida Hospital for Women tower will be rising in 2014.  A crane inspection is already on site for the new tower.  At 12-stories tall, it will be nearly as tall on the 15-story Ginsburg Tower, the iconic tower of the entire village.  The new women’s tower won’t open until next year but we’ll see the majority of the tower built and finished in 2014.  This $240 million will add 332 beds to the health village.  It also adds another tower visible from downtown and I-4, helping create a layering effect in the skyline of Florida Hospital’s Health Village.

In 2014 the health village will being adding new residents, new towers, new retail, and will quickly become a dense, livable northern most district of Orlando.