By Chris Hamilton. Story is cross posted at KONK Life on November 23, 2023. Support ($) our local journalism here. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and Twitter.
December 1 marks Mikey and my 9th anniversary of arriving to live in Key West. And for that decision we are very thankful this holiday. We left a good life in the District. Jobs we loved, family and friends developed over decades, season tickets to the Nationals and Redskins, a cute condo in a hip and thriving neighborhood near the trendy U Street Corridor, favorite café’s, an unparalleled ethnic food scene that we readily took advantage of, and a cool bikeshare and pervasive transit system that made it easy and inexpensive to hop about town without a car. Life was good. But here we are getting ready to celebrate our 9th holiday season on the island. Key West has that kind of effect on people. It draws visitors in and makes them dream of, well, as the book says quitting your job and moving to Key West.
Which we did. And never for a moment have we regretted making the decision to uproot all we had going in D.C. and take a chance on life where we didn’t know a soul and had no work. Boy, do we love it here and consider ourselves fortunate to be residents and workers on this island.
Everyone who calls Key West home, and I’m including snowbirds, part-timers, and regular visitors because we love and need them all, have their own reasons to be thankful, but for us it starts with the fact that we’re urban rats and prefer a city-life where you can bike and walk to all of life’s needs. (Walkscore 94 and Bike Score 100) And living in Key West makes that easy. Being able to live car-free keeps life simple and more connected to our glorious surroundings. Oh, and it certainly helps us better afford the high cost of living in a sought after vacation destination.
We are grateful to live smack dab in the middle of North America’s largest historic district of wooden structures. Old Town is simply beautiful and reminds us of our old neighborhoods in D.C. and Old Town Alexandria – although those were brick. And our balcony overlooking Fleming Street provides us with ideal 12-months-a-year outdoor living while allowing us “front porch” viewing of a vibrant city life below.
Wearing shorts and t-shirts and being able to swim 12 months a year is an amazing plus. And saves money on wardrobe. It keeps us healthy too as we’re more apt to get out and about for exercise. And for my friends and family up north, yes, we have changing seasons, they’re just a lot more subtle.
It’s an easy, breezy, simple, and relaxed life because well, we’re all on Key West time. And everywhere we turn there’s the ocean, the gulf, or the seaport. Oh, and unlike in D.C., where we were often the oldest people wherever we went, now we seem to be the median age. It’s nice to live in a place that accepts us as we are. Which leads me to the main reason we are so gratified to live here. THE PEOPLE!
Maybe it’s because we’re such a small town so you get to know everyone. Wherever you go there’s a hello or a hug. Or maybe it’s because Key West attracts the best of humanity. We’re an island of misfits, and people on their second and third lives. We’re known to attract artists and creative types. And dreamers. And dropouts. And people who love to party and cut loose. And people who like to quietly paint, write or curl up with a good book. There’s always something to do and there’s always the option just to waste away. Everyone’s free to be you and me.
We live and let live and are willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. We’re generous to a fault – witness there’s a fundraiser every single week of the year, and resilient in the face of obstacles. We’re just too small a town not to include everyone and that spirit is embodied in our One Human Family slogan. It’s uplifting and hopeful and fun to live in a place with this kind of spirit and love. As a result, we’re blessed with amazing co-workers and lovely friends. I’ve never witnessed and felt this kind of close-knit and connected community.
So, you can have your mainland and your mainland ways of life. As Mikey said to me a few years ago, “Key West ruins everything!” And it does. Because living anywhere else just pales in comparison and so ruins anyplace else for us. I’m just so very thankful and grateful to live here.
# # #
A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.
By Chris Hamilton. Story is cross posted at KONK Life on August 4, 2023. Support ($) our local journalism here. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and Twitter.
Since FDOT first held public hearings in 2016 on rebuilding S. Roosevelt Boulevard between Bertha Street and the end of Smathers Beach to address sea level rise, locals, the City and FDOT have been going back and forth on what the road should look like when finished. The $24 million dollar 800-day project finally began at the height of season on January 30 this year. Like magic, overnight, with some paint and barriers, FDOT converted the 4-lane road to 2-lanes and construction commenced within days. Ever since the conversion, the 2-lane road has functioned smoothly. Traffic is flowing. No delays. No backups. No issues.
So, if the road is functioning well and we’ve got another almost two years to get use to the two-lane configuration, why in the world are we going back to four and three lanes like it was before, when the project is completed in the spring of 2025? It makes no sense. Especially in light of the fact that with much public support and local and State traffic experts agreeing, in May of 2021 City Commissioners voted 6-1 to reduce the four lanes to two, add protected bike lanes to provide separation from pedestrians accessing the beach along the promenade and to put in a middle turn lane for the condos. Well, because soon after the vote, the City’s Engineering Department told elected officials it would cost the City some money and was too risky because FDOT had deadlines that couldn’t not be met by more planning. So, no changes for you. That was that. Four lanes it is!
But that was 18 months ago. Since then, we’ve witnessed the 2-lane road functions just fine; we have a new bike-friendly Engineering Department; and the proliferation of fast moving e-bikes has prompted growing calls for separate facilities for bikes to protect pedestrians on the promenades. We’ve got almost two years until final striping on a newly completed roadbed will start. The City Manager should task his Engineering Department to spend a little money in designing some simple, low-cost, mostly paint potential alternatives to give the citizens and Commissioners what they asked for. I mean if FDOT could transform the road from four to two lanes in a day or so, how hard can this be? Let’s take another look at the history of this project, make the case for a bike facilities option, and discuss why it really might not be too late to make South Roosevelt safer for bikes, pedestrians, and vehicles.
The Project Will Make S. Roosevelt More Resilient
This is a much needed resiliency project. We’ve all seen how the road retains water after a hard rain. And with sea levels rising the road is getting more and more vulnerable every year. The road is being raised up to 17.5 inches in some places. FDOT is repairing and closing retaining wall gaps, installing a water pump station system, and upgrading drainage for mitigation of tidal flooding. The existing promenade is being completely rebuilt as are the curbs and ramps. Three Pedestrian Beacons (like the HAWKS on N. Roosevelt) are being installed in front the Key West By the Sea, Margaritaville Beach House, and La Brisa. They’ll be repaving and then restriping the roadway (this is where the opportunity for change comes in) and installing new signage and markings.
From 2 Lanes Today to Four and Three Lanes When Done
Here’s the plans FDOT shared in January. Prior to construction S. Roosevelt Boulevard was mostly four lanes for its entire length. Going southbound as you approached the La Brisa condos the two southbound lanes merged into one for the eventual merge onto the two-lane Bertha. Going north from Bertha the road opened up almost immediately into two travel lanes plus parking. Plans call for the northbound lanes to be almost the exact same. But southbound the two travel lanes will turn into one lane before you get to Key West By the Sea. In the new four lane configuration the lanes will be 11 ft wide. When there are 3 lanes (about half the project) the northbound lanes will be 11 feetwide, and the one southbound lane will vary between 12-14 feet. When there are four lanes all lanes will be 11 feet wide.
History of the Project Pits Car-Speed Vs. Safety
In 2016 FDOT held public workshops on their “Lane Repurposing Corridor Study” where they proposed options that included no change (4 travel lanes) and various alternatives for wide bike lanes and a middle turning lane. From the beginning FDOT and then City Engineer Jim Bouquet all recommended picking an alternative to the 4 travel lanes. FDOT studies showed the capacity wasn’t needed, speed wouldn’t be affected and that it would be safer for vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians. Most of the workshop participants agreed (see this story for details).
But there was a very vocal contingent of people that didn’t want any change. Just leave it alone they said. These people also cited not wanting to get stuck behind slow moving rubber necking tourists and beach goers and wanting extra capacity for fire trucks as reasons too. Alas the then City Commission in 2017 voted against their City Engineer, FDOT and the workshop participants and told FDOT to keep the road the same. Only Commissioners Weekley and Kaufman voted for the safer alternatives. Mayor Cates and Commissioners Romero, Payne, Wardlow and Lopez voted for the status quo.
Fast forward to May of 2021 and a new Mayor and City Commission voted 6-1 on a resolution rescinding the previous decision and asking for two travel lanes, a turn lane and protected bike lanes. Only Commissioner Wardlow dissented. Safety seemed to win. But the resolution had a poison pill embedded in it. The Commissioners said that they wanted this as long as the change in plans wouldn’t cost the City more money nor interfere with FDOT’s timeline for the project. Not surprisingly when then City Engineering Department Director Steven McAlearney and City Engineer Kelly Crowe got back to them a few months later, they lamented that yes, it would cost more money and it might jeopardize FDOT’s timeline and funding. So, they recommended no changes and that’s where we stand.
The Case – Is All That Capacity In Travel Lanes Necessary? No! And Separate Is Safer
Here’s what City Engineering Director Jim Bouquet said in 2017:
“Choosing a two-lane option for South Roosevelt will better support a transportation system which is aesthetically attractive, functional, efficient, safe and environmentally sensitive.”
That hasn’t changed. Nor has the fact that FDOT’s analysis shows there isn’t a need for three or four lanes and that capacity and speed would not be affected. And the reality on the ground after six months of just one lane in each direction bears this out.
Here’s something else to consider. In response to the increasing number of complaints of fast moving e-bikes wreaking havoc on pedestrians, the City held an e-bike public workshop on March 2. Lots of people attended. Over and over, citizens recommended creating separate facilities on the N. and S. Roosevelt Boulevard Promenades for these vehicles. Here’s how Commissioner Sam Kaufman put it at the meeting:
“Why don’t we have dedicated bike lanes all over the city, so pedestrians and bicycles don’t have to mix. I recently visited Boston and NYC and they do this. Why isn’t there a lane next to the multi-use paths (promenades) because it doesn’t make sense to put them (bikes and e-bikes) in the highway either. In addition to car lanes there should be a dedicated lane for pedestrians and a dedicated lane for other vehicles – bikes and e-bikes. It’s a pretty wide space so why not separate?”
At the January 18 City Commission meeting when FDOT presented their construction plans Mayor Teri Johnston questioned this picture…
…depicting a bicyclist in the travel lane. She said the presentation showed sharrows and asked if anyone ever uses the sharrows on North Roosevelt and then lamented there weren’t five foot bike lanes here, saying it was a major mistake to do this project without bicycle lanes. The Mayor said because vehicles are going 35 miles per hour no one on bikes or e-bikes are going to use the road as depicted in the picture because it isn’t safe and so they are going to ride on the sidewalk instead.
Commissioner Kaufman jumped in and said he agreed 100% but that it wasn’t FDOT’s fault because of the history we discussed above. The Mayor and Commissioner Kaufman are both right. And S. Roosevelt Boulevard’s rebuilding is golden opportunity to do just that.
What Some Alternatives Might Look Like
Here are some alternatives that FDOT presented in 2016. I’ll admit that my favorite version is one with a two-way bike facility next to the beach promenade (sidewalk). I think something like this is more likely to be used than expecting bikes going southbound to cross traffic to get into a bike lane. It would also more easily connect up with the two-way multi-use path on Bertha Street.
Given almost seven years have passed and that there are likely some additional constraints, alternatives drawn up today might be a little different. For example, in order to accommodate both a bike facility and a turn lane for the condos and hotel, maybe some beach parking needs to be moved from next to the sidewalk to the bridle path. But we won’t know until we sketch out some new ideas.
Tangent – The Mysterious Missing Sidewalk
Plans call for FDOT to build a sidewalk in front of the La Brisa condos and the Margaritaville Beach House hotel. When this is done, the City plans to construct a sidewalk on the La Brisa side of Bertha Street so that the South Roosevelt sidewalk connects up with the sidewalk that currently ends near the intersection of Atlantic Boulevard. But the Key West By the Sea residents objected to a sidewalk on their side of S. Roosevelt. Come on man, what gives? If Key West By the Sea wants a turn lane, they should allow FDOT to build a sidewalk in front of their building. That way, one could walk all the way from La Brisa or the hotel to the Airport or Benihana and La Trattoria Oceanside restaurants without crossing the highway.
Why It Isn’t Really Too Late
This is a quote from the February, 24 Key West Citizen Voice:
“Peak season and traffic on the South Roosevelt Boulevard section that is now only two lanes because of construction is moving along nicely! Our former city manager (Greg Veliz) and a few long term commissioners recommended against FDOT beautifying and redoing (at no cost) this area to make it pedestrian and cyclist friendly because it would impede automobiles. They voted for automobiles, traffic, speed, no changes, and they were wrong. We are stuck with the current plan; remember who voted against these improvements.”
But are we really stuck? The question is, if two lanes work, why do we need extra travel lanes? And if we don’t, can we, using mostly paint, fashion a two-lane road that can then also accommodate a bike facility – you’d need at least 8-10 feet, maybe more, out of those reduced lanes? And then is there also enough room for a turn lane for the condo’s? If you walk or ride your bike out there today, there sure seems like plenty of space where you could have separate facilities for vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians. And that would be safer for everyone.
We’d ask the City Manager to task his bicycle friendly, current Engineering Department staff to meet the spirit of the Commission’s May 2021 resolution and to give us some low-cost options for using paint to make the road safer by reducing it to two travel lanes instead of the planned four/three, add in a two-way bicycle facility on the beachside and to see if those turn lanes for the condos and hotel can be accommodated too. We have faith in the new Engineering Department team that includes Director Gary Volenec and Multi-Modal Coordinator Ryan Stachurski to come up with some ideas as they’ve demonstrated progress on bicycle issues here, here, here, here and here.
A Safer S. Roosevelt and Smathers Beach Is Better for Everyone
The City needs to give this one last try before it really is too late. And this time, everyone involved should concede that it is okay if it costs us some money. Being penny wise and pound foolish on a project that will last a generation is nuts. Building a safer S. Roosevelt for vehicles, bicycles, e-bikes, pedestrians, and beach goers along Smathers Beach, one of our prime tourist attractions, will be good for everyone. Hey, maybe the City can get the TDC to kick in some money for the changes.
# # #
By Chris Hamilton. Story is cross posted at KONK Life on July 21, 2023. Support ($) our local journalism here. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and Twitter.
Shhh. Be vewy vewy quiet. I’m hunting for a parking space. But for the first time in a few years, lo and behold there seem to be a lot of these wascawwy spots available downtown. So, maybe our seasons are indeed back. Enjoy the abundance while you can, because once the fall comes, so do the complaints by historic district residents of not being able to find parking in front of their home or by locals not being able to shop, dine or play downtown. I was reminded that hunting for parking isn’t a uniquely Key West problem, but plagues popular downtowns the world over, when reading a recent article by business and economics columnist Peter Coy.
With extensive research Mr. Coy makes The Case for Ending Free Parking ($) saying the origin of the “parking problem is that on-street parking is free or underpriced and the solution therefore is to charge or charge more.” Sounds simple enough. How does this apply to Key West? In the heart of downtown there are about 3,000 on-street parking spaces. 1/3 of these are metered. 1/3 are marked for use by Resident Permit only. They aren’t the problem. But the final third are unmarked and FREE. Open to anyone, including visitors, for up to 72 hours or 3 days. And like a moth to a flame, everyone is attracted to these precious few free spaces. Why feed a meter or pay to park in a lot or garage if you can find a free one. The lure of these free spaces are causing the problems.
When visitors in an effort to save a few bucks on an already expensive trip, grab one of these for a few days instead of parking in a long-term lot, it means less available space for nearby residents and Key West locals to park and enjoy downtown. The solution as Peter Coy and parking experts point out is simple. Eliminate free on-street parking. Or in our case, free on-street parking for visitors. Let’s look at how this can be done and how it helps create a more locals-friendly and Shop Mom and Pop downtown.
The Allure of Free Parking Undercuts Efforts to Have Visitors Park In Long-Term Lots
We’ve all been there. Peter Coy writes, that his wife insists on cruising for a free spot on the street while he prefers to give up and park in a garage. In one of the most popular Seinfeld episodes of all time, The Parking Space, Elaine tells George to just put the car in a garage because he’s never going to find a free on-street parking space. But George, like most Americans, is loath to pay for parking and keeps hunting saying, “Why should I pay, when if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?”
Visitors to Key West are like George. If they think there’s a possibility of a free space, even if it is difficult to find at certain times of the year, they are going to resist efforts to park the car in a paid lot and they’ll hunt for that elusive free spot.
Small Inns and AirBnB’s Contribute to the Problem
The TDC says that 77% of our million plus visitors arrive by car. While many downtown hotels have parking lots, most smaller inns and B&Bs do not. You know who else doesn’t provide parking? All those historic district homes converted to daily, weekly, and monthly rentals. Guess where most of these people park? You got it, those free unmarked spaces.
I worked at a small inn (less than 30 rooms) by the Seaport a few years ago. It doesn’t have a parking lot. And while it was only a couple blocks away from a bunch of public and private lots and garages, most of the guests who arrived by car chose to hunt for a free parking spot on the street for 72 hours rather than pay for the garage. In fact, we had a little chart at the front desk showing them this unmarked spot is what you want to look for and to avoid the Resident Permit spaces. If we eliminated the free spaces, these visitors would have no choice but to park their car in a long-term lot.
The Allure of Free Parking Causes Cruising that Congests Downtown
Research indicates in some congested downtowns up to 1/3 of vehicles are cruising for underpriced curb parking. This cruising or hunting causes congestion and pollution. “A surprising amount of traffic isn’t caused by people who are on their way somewhere. Rather it is caused by people who have already arrived but are cruising around looking for a place to park.” Says Parking Guru and UCLA Professor Donald Shoup in this article: Cruising for Parking.
Free Parking Discourages Turnover for Retail
If close-in unmarked free spaces are taken by visitors to store their vehicles for up to 72 hours, this discourages their use by short-term users for frequenting local Mom and Pop shops, restaurants, and attractions. Yes, these out-of-town visitors may also be shopping, eating, and playing, but by storing their vehicle on the street, instead of a long-term lot, they are potentially preventing a local from using a close-in space. And we’ve all heard long-time locals complain they don’t go downtown. Congestion and lack of parking being one of the reasons. If the chances of finding parking were increased that would attract more locals downtown.
Free Parking Competes With Residents Ability to Park in Front of Their Homes
Over 10,000 Resident Permits are issued annually. There’s about 1,000 Resident Permit parking spaces downtown. So historic district residents often lament they can’t find parking in front of their home or even on their own block. So, the backup is to park in one of those unmarked spaces. However, if those spaces are filled with out-of-towners storing their vehicle…
Three Simple Things We Can Do to Fix This
1 – Convert Some Free Spaces to Meters and Resident Permit Spaces
Take a portion of the 1,000 unmarked free spaces downtown and simply make them into either metered parking or Resident Permit parking spaces.
2 – Put Hourly Limits on the Remaining Unmarked Free Spaces and Exempt Resident Permit Holders
The case can be made that some amount of limited and short-term “free” parking is needed. Most cities provide this kind of parking by putting hourly limits, maybe four to six hours between the hours of 8 am and midnight for example on these spaces and then exempting Resident Permit holders. The hourly limits allows downtown residents to have guests or allows locals to attend functions and such. What it really does is discourage visitors from storing their vehicles for up to 3 days on the street and instead encourages them to park in a long-term lot – otherwise they’ll get a ticket. And locals, whether they live downtown or in New Town who have Resident Permits now have twice as many places to park!
3 – Direct Overnight and Day Visitors to Long-Term Lots, Park It and Forget It
Marketing by the TDC and the lodging industry needs to make visitors aware there is no free parking in Key West well before they get here and to share with them where there is available long-term parking. Set the expectation before they arrive so as to reduce complaints.
As people reach Stock Island, go through the Triangle and scatter along the few routes into the City, wayfinding should direct people to available garages. Better yet this should be real-time information that’s also available online and by your phone. Messaging should educate people to Park It and Forget It – and once their car is in a long-term lot to walk, bike and use the Duval Loop and other transit to get around.
Everybody Wins When We End the Hunt for Free Parking
We need to end the incentive to hunt for free parking in downtown Key West by doing what the experts and common sense tell us to do. Simply eliminate free on-street parking for visitors. If we do these three simple things:
- convert some of the 1,000 unmarked free spaces to meters and Resident Permits
- put hourly limits on the remaining spaces and exempt Resident Permit holders, and
- direct visitors to long-term lots
we’ll get more meter and parking lot revenue. We’ll have more spaces for historic district residents to park near their home. And we’ll provide more spaces for all local residents to park downtown and enjoy the wonderful Mom and Pop shops, restaurants, and attractions – thus making our commercial districts more Locals’ Friendly. And we’ll have less congestion as visitors aren’t hunting for parking. Win, Win, Win, Win!
# # #
Streets for People / PeopleforBikes Says Key West Is a “Great” Bicycling City and Ranks It #17 in U.S.A.
By Chris Hamilton. Story is cross posted at KONK Life on June 29, 2023. Support ($) our local journalism here. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and Twitter.
For the seventh year in a row, on June 27 PeopleForBikes, the U.S. bicycling industry’s trade association and a national advocacy nonprofit, released its 2023 City Ratings, a comprehensive ranking of cities based on the quality of their bike networks. 1,484 U.S. cities and 249 international places in Canada, Europe, and the U.K were rated. This is the sixth year Key West has been scored and the fourth year we’ve done stories analyzing the Key West data (2022, 2021, 2020).
Key West scored 66 on a 100-point scale earning it 68th place overall and #20 among 946 Small Cities (less than 50,000 population). In 2022 Key West scored 61 and in 2020 scored 58. Of Small Cities, Provincetown, Massachusetts with a score of 88 ranked #1 again for the second year in a row. In 2019, only 35 U.S. cities scored above a 50. In 2022, that number grew to 78 cities. This year, 97 U.S. cities, including Key West were rated as Great Places to Bike with a score above 50. Only 16 U.S. cities, regardless of size, ranked higher than Key West and only 12 U.S. cities made it into the ratings’ Top Fifty overall.
This is good news for our little island paradise. Especially as our score has gone up over each of the last few years. That shows progress. Analysis of the data and discussions with Key West leaders and bicycle advocates reveals that much of our score and excellent ranking has a lot to do with natural factors. We’re compact, flat, and have good weather, so lots of people bike year-round, despite a lack of safe bike facilities in some places – N. Roosevelt Boulevard and Flagler Avenue we’re looking at you. We’ve documented recent progress here, here, here, and here, but in the grand scheme of things these are mostly small investments. We have to ask the question, given our natural advantages, what would Key West’s score and ranking be if we really tried.
If the City can spend $5M annually on public transit operations, what if we spent a similar amount on bicycling every year for a decade? Key West becoming a recognized top bicycle city in North America would enhance our residents’ quality of life, reduce our beleaguered work force’s transportation costs, and could serve as a visitor calling card for an ecotourist demographic that values such things. Let’s dive into the data, hear what some leaders are saying and discuss what this means for bicycling’s future in Key West.
The PeopleForBikes Annual City Ratings = Tough Standards
Each year PeopleForBikes has rated more and more cities, so there’s more competition between places in the rankings. Each city receives a City Ratings score on a scale of 0-100. A low score (0-20) indicates a weak bike network, meaning the city lacks safe bikeways or there are gaps in the network. A high score (80-100) indicates that most common destinations are accessible by safe, comfortable bike routes that serve people of all ages and abilities. Only 18 cities overall scored better than 80. The average score for all cities was 27. Tough standards!
PeopleForBikes says a score of 50 is the tipping point to becoming a great place to bike. But the vast majority of U.S. cities haven’t scored more than 50 points.
“While cities may differ in their paths to becoming great places to bike, the foundation is to build safe, connected, and comfortable bike networks.” said Rebecca Davies, PeopleForBikes’ City Ratings program director. “Every city needs more protected bike lanes, safer intersection crossings, and a modernized approach to street design that works better for everyone, no matter how they choose to travel.”
Bicycle Network Analysis Score
City ratings are based on the Bicycle Network Analysis (BNA) Score, which measures the quality of a city’s bicycle network. A bike network is defined as the system of paths, trails, and streets that someone riding a bike can use to get to everyday destinations. High-scoring cities often perform well across six factors captured in the acronym SPRINT: safe speeds, protected bike lanes, reallocated space for biking and walking, intersection treatments, network connections, and trusted data.
You can read more about SPRINT at How to Improve Your City’s Score. For more granular detail on how the BNA works, read the full methodology. For historical data and details on the software, visit their BNA Mechanics website.
Key West’s BNA Scorecard – Slower Speeds Downtown Fuel Rise In Score
Key West has a BNA Network Score of 66. The essence of the score uses mapping data software to figure out if people can get to places from where they live or “neighborhoods” to jobs, schools, core services, recreation, retail, and transit safely by bike. The safely part is measured by street speeds. If 20 mph or lower that’s good. If the street has higher speeds, does it have protected bike lanes and intersection treatments to get people around to counteract the higher speeds? Are these facilities connected?
As Key West is so compact, it isn’t surprising that people can find a way to get to most places in a safe manner. Here’s this year’s detailed score compared to 2022 and 2021. Access from neighborhoods to jobs, recreation and most things seems good. The only category that isn’t is “Core Services” or places like hospitals and grocery stores. When you realize that both Publix’ and Winn Dixie are on N. Roosevelt and the hospital is on College Road where there are no bike lanes, you understand the low score of 49.
Overall access is visually apparent looking at the BNA Score Stress Map. And it confirms what everyone who lives here already knows. The dangerous streets, those PeopleForBikes depicts in red, are N. Roosevelt Boulevard, Truman Avenue, Flagler Avenue, Palm Avenue, Eaton Street, Kennedy Avenue and College Avenue. Mostly places where the speeds are above 20 mph. Most don’t have bike lanes either.
If we compare the previous year’s Stress Map with this year’s, one can’t help but notice the number of high stress (red) streets downtown has gone down versus last year. As the City hasn’t done a lot of new bike infrastructure in Old Town, we think it might have something to do with the mapping data acknowledging the City’s lowering the speed limit city-wide to 20 mph on most streets. When we talked with the City’s Multi-Modal Coordinator Ryan Stachurski, he verified that yes, he and his team of interns “corrected the speed limits available to the algorithm at OpenStreetMaps” which is the street mapping data that PeopleForBikes uses in the BNA. Ryan added that the City Commission lowered the city-wide speed limits in 2020 on the recommendation of the Parking and Alternative Transportation Group.
So, the improved score, going from 61 to 66, now accurately reflects the slower speeds on the ground downtown and that’s a good thing. It also reflects better, more accurate data, one of the six principles of SPRINT. So good on Ryan and and his team for correcting the data.
What People Are Saying About Key West’s City Ratings
We asked our Mayor and some bicycle advocates what they thought of Key West’s score and ranking. Opinions were mixed. Here are some of their thoughts:
Key West Mayor Teri Johnston:
“To reduce our congestion, noise, and pollution, we asked our residents and guests to consider an alternate mode of transportation in Key West. They have overwhelmingly supported this “ask” by walking and biking around our incredible island. Now it is our responsibility to provide safe paths for pedestrians and bicyclists by keeping our sidewalks for walkers/joggers and a dedicated bicycle lane for cyclists whether motorized or human powered.”
Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen, Owner, Bike Man Bike Rental Key West:
“I’ve lived here for almost 40 years, bike 10 to 20 miles daily around town and have a bicycle business. I’ve watched the degradation of the Key West cycling experience over the past few years, mostly caused by reckless electric vehicle drivers on our bike paths and additional traffic caused by workers relocating out of Key West.
The city continues to add bike racks and paint lines on the streets to give the appearance of doing something but overall, there have been no significant changes and continued lost opportunities. (Jr. College Rd., First Street and South Roosevelt). The Staples bike bridge is being replaced but I see that as more of a maintenance project rather than an improvement. There is a bike plan, I don’t see any of it being implemented.
There are possibilities to improve biking infrastructure, a path from Salt Ponds to the Government Road, opening additional routes through the cemetery etc. but in most instances removing parking spaces is the only option if Key West wants to improve its bike infrastructure.
The current city commissioners seem to have no interest in improving cycling infrastructure probably because none of them cycle. They represent mostly people who don’t cycle and are more concerned about having cheap, easily accessible parking rather than bike infrastructure. There are a few voting cyclists but generally they don’t vote in Key West because they live on Stock Island, don’t speak English, aren’t citizens, are too young to vote or are here on vacation.
When I hear how well we are doing I shake my head because you could pick any town in the whole, snowy, province of Quebec and they would be kilometers ahead of us as are most U.S. cities when it comes to actually making it safer to bike.”
Roger McVeigh, City of Key West Parks and Recreation Advisory Board:
“The score and rating are very encouraging! This reflects highly on the Mayor, City Commissioners and City Staff, particularly Multimodal Coordinator Ryan Stachurski and Director of Engineering Gary Volenec, for their recent efforts and willingness to move more aggressively forward with change to facilitate safer streets.
That being said, there is so much more that can be done without significant dollars if our leaders are willing to truly invest in public safety and changes in the best interest of all residents and safety, in spite of the predictable outcry of the NIMBYS and the anti-change folks.”
What Do We Need to Do to Improve Key West’s Score and Ranking?
We’ve gotten the low hanging fruit or points out of our natural advantages of being small, flat, great weather and good bones (compact street grid). To significantly improve our score, Key West needs to look to the data, as visualized in the Stress Map, which makes it clear what facilities need to be made safer. Just follow the red streets. One can also look to the recommendations in this article here: Two Bike Crashes This Week Are Two Too Many. Here’s 10 Things to Make Bicycling Safer, November 12, 2022, or look at this quick list:
- Bike lanes on College Road
- Separated paths for bikes on N. Roosevelt and S. Roosevelt
- Building the Wickers Trail segment of the Crosstown Greenway
- Fixing the intersections and driveways on N. Roosevelt
- Making Kennedy Street 2 lanes with a middle turn and protected bike lanes
- Protected bike lanes on the First and Bertha Street Corridor
- Continuing the bike lanes, the length of White Street
- Finishing the Southard Street bike lane into the 300 block
- Installing bike corrals throughout the downtown in the street
- Continuing bike lanes through intersections and installing bike boxes
- Putting a light at Duck Avenue and S. Roosevelt
- Widening the sidewalk on the outbound side of the Triangle
- Educate visitors to slow down and watch out for bikes
- Upgrade the Crosstown Greenway with signage and paint
- Giving bike and e-scooter share a fair shot instead of making it hard to start
- Asking developers to put in less car parking and more bike parking
- Widening sidewalks with parklets
- Build the Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach Bike Trails
- Finish the United and South Street bike lanes
- Connect up all the bike lane and path segments around town
- Reconsider removing parking and installing protected bike lanes throughout downtown including on Whitehead and Simonton
- Make Duval Street more pedestrian and bike friendly
There’s obviously lots of ideas on how to make biking safer and easier. What are we forgetting in this list and article above? As Tom Theisen points out, in order to go beyond simply replacing the facilities we have now and put in new/additional infrastructure like protected bike lanes, separated paths or even just to connect up all the disjointed regular bike lanes, we are going to need to take some car parking out and that’s going to take some political will and spending dollars that we have heretofore not witnessed.
Key West’s Bicycling Future
Key West’s score and ranking in the PeopleForBikes City Ratings are great. But rather than pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, especially when much of that score is because of our natural advantages, we should use this news as a catalyst to spur us on to even higher heights. Imagine Key West being mentioned as one of the greatest bike cities, not just on the continent, but the world. With a little bit of elbow grease and money, it is indeed possible.
Doing this will make life better for our own citizens as we lessen our traffic and downtown parking congestion, clean our air, make ourselves happier and make our Mom-and-Pop shops more prosperous. We can also bring down the cost of living for our beleaguered workforce by allowing more of them to go car-free. When we make it safer and easier to bike we all win!
# # #
By Chris Hamilton. Story is cross posted at KONK Life on June 23, 2023. Support ($) our local journalism here. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and Twitter.
As the Salt Run Channel and extension of the Riviera canal crosses the middle of the island in New Town, it leaves only three places cars can get across or up and down the island. N. Roosevelt Boulevard, Flagler Avenue and South Roosevelt Boulevard. But bicycles and pedestrians have a fourth and safer option to cut across the City. The Staples Avenue Bike and Pedestrian Bridge. It’s a key segment in the Crosstown Greenway bike trail, with over 7,000 people crossing it each week.
Three years ago, alerted by Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen who had been canoeing under it and took a bunch of pictures of rotting metal, we did a story asking the question, “Is The Staples Avenue Bike Bridge Safe?” The City’s Engineering Department said the bridge was structurally sound for non-motorized traffic but was nearing the end of its useful life. So, with planning and engineering now complete, the City expects construction bids to come in during the first week of July. Once a contract is in place at the end of the summer, a grand re-opening should take place before Christmas.
Best of all the new bridge will be wider. At 15 feet the replacement structure will accommodate two-way bicycle traffic and a separated pedestrian walkway. No more pesky bollards in the middle to crash into. No more bikes vs. pedestrian incidents. Easier to cross. Safer for everyone. Kudos to the City. When we make it safer and easier for more people to bicycle, we all win. Let’s look at the history of the bridge and some other projects of the time, check out the details of the new and improved span and look at what’s happening today along the Crosstown Greenway.
Days of Yore: 25 Years Ago, Creation of the Locals Secret Bridge Leads to Today’s Crosstown Greenway
The Staples Avenue Bridge dates back to the late 1990’s. Here’s how Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen remembers it:
“I think the bridge was installed about 25 years ago. There was a very contentious community and commission meeting preceding it with many young kids in the audience. (How can you vote against a bunch of young kids?) The residents were worried about scooter traffic, so bike traffic was routed onto the sidewalks instead of being a straight run like the city engineer recommended and bollards were installed on the bridge. The biking community wanted a straight approach but was tired of fighting the neighbors at that point.”
During that same period, Tom and then Bicycle Coordinator Jim Malcom initiated a few projects including the bike/ped only path from 12th Street to Kennedy Street along the edge of the Housing Authority’s property and a path through the parking lots at the Wickers Sports Complex, that along with the Staples Avenue Bridge created a safe “Locals” bikeway through the middle of the island so people didn’t need to use the speedy, unsafe and heavily car-trafficked Flagler Avenue or N. Roosevelt Boulevard. The path is now officially known as the Crosstown Greenway.
With the adoption of a comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan in 2019, the City has embarked on investing in improving the Crosstown Greenway. We’ve done stories on it here and here and here. Those improvements include an upcoming multi-million dollar project to construct a safer and separated path through the Wickers Sports Complex and construction just started on putting in brand new bike lanes on United and South Streets at the downtown end of the Crosstown Greenway. So, the new Staples Avenue Bridge is part of this continuing investment.
Our Mayor, Teri Johnston on the Project
For years Mayor Teri Johnston consistently asks staff to find ways to put in more bike facilities and we’ve documented some of that here, here, here, here, here, and here. She was understandably pleased when we asked her about this project, saying:
“I want to congratulate our Multimodal Coordinator, Ryan Stachurski, and our engineering team for this thoughtful plan to improve safe passage for pedestrians and bicycles across our Staples Avenue Bridge. Over 7,000 bikes and pedestrians depend on this bridge to get to and from Key West each week.”
Wider Is Better
The current bridge is 10’8” wide, with bollards down the middle to prevent larger vehicles from trying to cross it. Those of us who use it regularly can attest that it takes some effort to cross it without falling off of your bike. And if there’s anyone else on the bridge at the same time, well, everyone just takes a deep breath and navigates with extreme caution. It just isn’t safe for multiple users.
The new replacement bridge will be 15-feet wide. Allowing for a 4-feet wide pedestrian crossing and a 9-feet wide, two-way bicycle path with no bollards, just a stripe down the middle. There will be a guardrail separating the bikes and pedestrians. Easy to navigate. Safer for everyone. Wider is indeed better. Here’s what the City’s Multi-Modal Coordinator Ryan Stachurski says of the project:
“Staples Bridge has been around for a couple decades, providing a safe and comfortable route for bicyclists and pedestrians avoiding the noise and exhaust of the auto-centric Flagler Ave or North Roosevelt Blvd. Hundreds of Key West bicyclists likely rely on Staples Bridge for their daily commute. As the existing steel bridge reaches the end of its useful life, we hope to replace it with an aluminum version that includes some safety upgrades for those who may be mobility impaired. Though we look forward to the improvements, the construction will cause some temporary inconveniences. Non-motorized traffic will be temporarily diverted to Flagler Ave during this time.”
While plans are still being finalized by the City’s Urban Forestry Manager, it is anticipated that the trees in the middle of the approach on both sides of the bridge will be relocated to the sides. About $10,000 has been set aside for landscaping.
When We Make It Easier and Safer to Bike, We All Win
The City should be commended for continuing to invest in the Crosstown Greenway and the new and improved Staples Avenue Bike/Ped Bridge will make it easier and safer for more of us to use bicycles to get from one end of town to the other. That’s a good thing because more of us biking helps our little island paradise fight traffic and parking congestion, improves our environment and makes us healthier, more prosperous and happier too.
# # #
By Chris Hamilton. Story is cross posted at KONK Life on June 16, 2023. Support ($) our local journalism here. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and Twitter.
Tenants are just starting to move into the 103 units at the Key West Housing Authority’s new Garden View Apartments at 5220 College Road. That’ great news as it makes a dent in our critical need for affordable workforce housing. New residents are expected to receive some kind of Key West transit pass, providing them with free bus service on the new “Key West Rides” on demand service for Key West and Stock Island. To promote bicycling, the projects’ developers, with the City’s advice, have installed proper bicycle parking throughout the property in weather-protected areas under the buildings and near stairwells.
As the new development is only about 4 miles from the center of Duval Street and our Historic Seaport, it’s possible many residents can ride a bike the twenty-minutes or so to work, shop and play downtown. Treating bicycle parking as a bonafide transportation method signals residents without cars that they are valued too. Providing them with free transit encourages them to take the bus. The transit and bicycle incentives taken together will make it possible that residents can live car-free, saving thousands of dollars a year on the high cost of owning and operating a car. This brings overall livability costs down for our beleaguered work force and helps all of us as it alleviates traffic and parking congestion.
This is in stark contrast to the non-industry standard bike racks installed outside in the weather and the lack of any transit incentives or shuttle bus that the County approved at the recently occupied 240 units at Wreckers Cay on the other side of Stock Island. So, good for the City and the Housing Authority on getting it right. Let’s hope A.H. Monroe and the City do something similarly appropriate at The Lofts workforce housing project.
Research shows that the best time to get someone to change a commute habit is when they move into a new home or change jobs. So, the combination of proper bicycle parking at the home end, a relatively short distance to downtown and the potential for free transit passes help set the stage for more people ditching the car and using bikes and the bus to get from Garden View to downtown. Let’s take a look at the new bicycle parking, what we know about the bus passes and a few things we can do to make it even safer and easier for those wishing to bike between this new development and Old Town.
The details aren’t all fleshed out yet, but in the near future the City’s Sustainability Coordinator Alison Higgins hopes to reveal a special pass provided to new residents that will allow them to ride Key West Transit buses for free. As there is no more fixed-route service, that means residents will be able to use the new “Key West Rides” on-demand service. There are bus stops in each direction directly in front of the new buildings. If the Garden View pass is modeled on the current $25 31-Day Pass, that’s a $300 annual savings to Garden View Apartments residents and quite the incentive to try the new Key West Rides service.
Compare this to the County’s oversight of the new 240-unit Wreckers Cay housing complex. The County required a bus stop but didn’t require the developer to incentivize people to use the bus. No transit passes. No shuttle bus either. And this complex is larger than the Perry Hotel and Oceans Edge Resort, each of which provide free shuttle buses. So good on the City for trying to do something at Garden View.
Proper Bicycle Parking
We were very disappointed in the bicycle parking installed at Wreckers Cay in the fall and wrote about it here (Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Bikes Between Stock island and Key West, September 2, 2022). The developers used non-industry standard wave bike racks that don’t support the frame of a bicycle and they installed them outside and exposed to the weather instead of under the cover of the building so they could get more cars parked there. And the County approved all of this.
In contrast, the City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski worked with the Housing Authority throughout the process to ensure the Garden View Apartments had quality, industry standard racks and that they were put under the cover of the buildings to protect them from weather. Going even further and putting them in prime locations near the stairwells. If we’ add one more thing, it would be electric outlets for e-bikes and e-scooters. As we discussed in the September story, you get the transportation you build for. If you treat bicycles as an afterthought instead of as an essential mode of transportation, you’ll get people driving cars. If you provide suitable bike parking at both ends of the trips and a safe bicycle network, you’ll get more people biking. It’s that simple.
Four Miles or Twenty Minutes By Bike to Downtown
If we had our druthers, all new affordable workforce housing would be built downtown or at least on the Island of Key West in order to make it easy and thus maximize the potential for already cashed strapped workers to go car-free. But the Garden View Apartments is on the very edge of Stock Island and just 4 to 4.5 miles, depending on the route and destination to most of downtown. That’s just 20 to 24 minutes or doable for many able-bodied people. Put these folks on an electric assist bike and it is even quicker. Google Maps says the same drive in a car – without traffic – is 13 to 16 minutes. That doesn’t include time to find parking either. So, people on bicycles are not at much of a disadvantage timewise in comparison.
4 Things to Make It Safer and Easier to Bike Between the Garden View Apartments on Stock Island and Downtown
1 – We Need Bike Lanes on College Road
The County has done a nice job on their side of Stock Island by putting wide, often green bicycle lanes on the major streets of Maloney Avenue, 5th Street, 5th Avenue and Cross Street. On the City’s side of Stock Island, where the Garden View Apartments are located, College Road lacks any bicycle infrastructure. This is evident in the Stress Map. There seems ample room to rectify this. When I asked Mayor Johnston about this she said:
“Just drove down College road and was amazed that we resurface this road without consideration of a dedicated bicycle lane. This road is a major pedestrian and bicycle route that could have been made so much more efficient with a little more forethought. And yes, you may quote me. I am also grateful for the bicycle parking and convenient bus stop at the Garden View Apartments. And the fact that they are pet friendly.”
2 – We Need to Address N. Roosevelt Boulevard
For residents of the new Garden View Apartments, the shortest distance downtown is via N. Roosevelt Boulevard. While the wide Promenade that makes its way along the water much of the way can be beautiful, the many retail driveways make for a stressful and sometimes dangerous commute (Stress Map again), especially if drivers who aren’t accustomed to bicycle traffic coming from both directions, don’t look both ways, as evidenced by two bicycle deaths last year.
City staff tells us that as part of a plan to repave N. Roosevelt Boulevard in the near future, FDOT officials are doing a “safety audit” to study things they can do to make the highway safer while they are redoing the street. We understand this is in a draft form and will be shared with the public after it has been vetted. Green paint, raised sidewalks and mirrors where there are driveways? Signage? Consolidated driveways? Wider sidewalks in some places? Separation for e-bikes? A 25 or even 20 MPH limit? We don’t know what all the solutions could be, but we do know that FDOT, the City and the property owners need to fix things.
An alternative is to make it easier to cross the highway and get people onto the very safe Crosstown Greenway (Duck, Staples, Von Phister, South). But this adds more than a mile to the commute, the Triangle is a nightmare for bikes and there’s no safe crossing at Duck Avenue so, perhaps making N. Roosevelt Boulevard safer should be the priority. Especially as FDOT has already nixed a light at Duck Avenue.
3 – We Need to Spend Real Money and Educate Visitors to Slow Down and Be Careful Because Key West Is Different Than the Mainland
Educating the over million people who visit Key West each year, 77% of whom arrive by car, to watch out for and cede the way to bikes and pedestrians should be more of a priority. Most of these folks come from car-centric places where they aren’t used to sharing streets with so many bicycles, e-vehicles, and people. Nor are they used to our tiny, crowded streets. If we can spend $350,000 annually on marketing the Historic Seaport using an advertising vendor, by all means, we should hire a marketing firm and market a car-free experience to visitors AND provide a safety campaign aimed at those that drive, educating them that Key West is different, and cars don’t rule. The City spends virtually no money on this. Nor does the TDC. Nor does the County. During this summer’s budget season, we should tell our commissioners at every level to put some money where their mouths are because they all talk about education as a good thing but never put anything behind it. If they spend some real dollars, we’ll all be safer for it.
4 – More Bike Parking at the Work End
Having a safe and reliable place to park your bicycle makes it more likely you’ll use it. So just like having good parking at their new Garden View home is a good thing, so is great parking on the work, shop and play end. On Duval and adjacent streets, we’ve observed full bike racks and bikes parked on trees, streetlights, building and signposts and fences. As we documented two weeks ago the City has started to put in more racks around downtown. But it isn’t enough, it isn’t consistent, it needs to be in the streets – not on the sidewalks and it needs to happen more quickly. Again, the ask to commissioners is to put up more dollars. We only spend $45K a year on bike parking, much of which is replacing worn out racks. Imagine what spending $200K annually for a while could do?
When We Make It Easier to Bike and Take the Bus, We All Win
Having a safe and reliable place to park your bicycle at home, work, shopping, and play and having a safe and connected network of trails that can get people quickly from Stock Island to downtown make it easier and thus more likely more of us will use a bike to get around instead of driving a car. Free and frequent bus service make it easier and more likely people can rely on transit for work, shopping, and play. For our strapped workforce, going car-free can also save lots of money on the high cost of owning a car. More people going car-free helps all of us fight traffic and parking congestion, improves our environment, makes us healthier and happier and it is more prosperous for downtown Mom and Pop Shops too. It makes our little island more like the paradise it should be. We all win when we make it easier and safer to bike and take the bus.
# # #
By Chris Hamilton. Story is cross posted at KONK Life on June 2, 2023. Support ($) our local journalism here. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and Twitter.
If you follow the City’s official government and Car-Free Key West Facebook pages, you may have noticed a pattern over the last few months. Nearly every week they’ve proudly posted one or two pictures of newly installed bicycle parking spaces downtown. 25 percent of the installations are replacing worn out bike racks, but three quarters are additional capacity in new locations. In 2022 they installed 125 parking spaces and this year so far have installed 84, bringing the total number of publicly available bicycle parking spaces to over 3,000. They’re expecting to install perhaps another 84 before the end of this year and hope to have money for maybe another 230 next year. And they’d really like for local businesses and the public to help them locate where these should go.
And while this may seem like a lot of bike parking, there’s still a need for even more. If you’ve been downtown, especially during the season, you know people are parking their bikes to trees, signs, street light poles, fences, and anything that doesn’t move. And our downtown’s narrow sidewalks are crowded with people, tables and chairs and bike racks – so there’s a need to put more of the new bike parking in the streets instead. Let’s look at all of this a bit closer and show how you can help.
Ryan Stachurski, the City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator in the Engineering Department is a data geek. And that’s a good thing. All the bike racks are in a geographic data base by type, number of spaces, public or private, condition and there’s even a picture. Wow! All the new ones will be included so we can track progress. Mr. Stachurski tells us that with the 84 new parking spaces installed this year, there are now 3,038 publicly available bicycle parking spaces. Of these, 2,295 or 76% were installed by the City and 743 or 24% by local businesses on their property accessible for public use.
There are 223 “Post & Loop” style racks that store two bikes per install (pictured at right). These are also called “Post & hitch” and are the kind you’d notice on sidewalks.
There are 261 Other “U’s on Rails” (upside down U) or “Loop” style racks or “Emerson” (patented aluminum style) racks on sidewalks and in the streets. These store anywhere between 2 and 12 bikes per rack. If you have 4 or 5 “U’s” on a rail, that is considered a “bike corral.” A 12-space corral can easily fit in one car parking space. This kind of rack is depicted in the featured picture at the top of the article.
There are 72 racks of other styles. These racks can also accommodate 2 to 12 bikes per install. According to Mr. Stachurski these racks generally don’t meet basic requirements recommended by the Association of Pedestrian & Bicycle Professionals (APBP). They include Wave, Rack, Comb, etc. styles and often don’t support bikes at two points (to prevent tipping), permit securing with a U-lock, or store bikes in a manner that doesn’t damage them. These will be phased out over time, or by request.
We Still Need More Bike Parking
While the City has made strides in the 18 months since Mr. Stachurski has come on board, we’ve documented that for a 3 year period between 2019 and 2021 not a lot of money was spent on bike parking and in 2021 the $45,000 budget allocation was spent to help match a grant to provide bike parking at Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops rather than on replacing or adding new bike parking downtown. So, we’re just now beginning to catch up on a backlog.
With the high rates of commuting by bike (12.4% for Key West residents) and with record numbers of visitors renting bikes to get around, it is common to see overloaded bike racks and bicycles locked to signs, street light poles, trees, and fences along Duval and everywhere in our historic commercial district downtown. Especially during season. We simply need more.
Crowded Downtown Sidewalks Should Be for People
Most of the recent bicycle parking installs, at least if the pictures posted on Facebook are an accurate depiction, have been put on sidewalks. As we’ve documented, our mostly narrow downtown sidewalks are already overcrowded with people. And in some spaces with chairs and tables. Our good friend and chronicler of the Key West condition via Key West Island news Linda Grist Cunningham has made similar observations that sidewalks should be for people.
And why are we putting bike parking and tables and chairs on the sidewalks and making an overcrowded situation worse? Because we seem to value private car storage or parking over people. We should move new bike parking and tables and chairs to the streets in bike corrals and in parklets.
Lets Put More Parking In Bike Corrals On the Streets In Predictable Places
A bike corral can accommodate 12 bikes in the space of 1 car. We’ve made the case that not only should bike parking be in the street, but that along the entire length of Duval it should be located in the first car parking space in each cross street. And the next space should be for scooters. The consistency attracts users and it helps intersection sight lines. This isn’t some crazy bike advocates’ idea. This is actually the idea of the City’s Parking Director. Someone at City Hall needs to listen to him.
Every retail shop or group of shops in Old Town should have an in-street bike corral and scooter parking right out front or adjacent to it. We’d fit 12 bikes and 6 scooters in the space of 2 cars. That’s a win for everyone and good for business.
How You Can Help
You can help by letting the Mayor and Commissioners know you want them to spend more money on bicycle parking (that money for 230 bike racks Mr. Stachurski is counting on hasn’t been allocated yet), that we want it faster and that we want it in bike corrals in the streets, not on our crowded sidewalks.
And you can help the City prioritize locations for bicycle parking by telling them where it is needed right now, so Mr. Stachurski can plan to install those 84 spaces the rest of this year and 230 next year where YOU want them most. Here’s what Ryan told us:
“We have hundreds of secure bike parking spaces in Key West and are working to standardize the locations so residents and visitors can expect to find available bike parking wherever they ride. We can prioritize bike parking requests where people tell us there’s a need. The Key West Connect app makes it easy to show us where we need more racks. Just snap a picture, tell us what you think is needed, and then you can track the installation process on your phone.”
Locate Existing Racks – If you’d like to locate existing racks the City has a great Key West Bicycle Racks tool that shows the location of the 3,038 racks. Click on a specific rack and it tells you detailed information about the kind of rack, who installed it and its condition.
Request a New Rack – here’s where you can Request a Bicycle Rack, Report a Damaged Bicycle Rack and Report an Abandoned Bicycle.
All of this and much more can be found on the City’s Car-Free Key West page here.
When We Make It Easier to Bike, We All Win
Having a safe and reliable place to park your bicycle at work, shopping and play makes it easier and thus more likely more of us will use a bike to get around instead of driving a car. That helps fight traffic and parking congestion, improves our environment, makes us healthier, more prosperous for downtown Mom and Pop Shops, and happier too. It makes our little island more like the paradise it should be. We all win when we make it easier to bike!
# # #
Streets for People / Helping Islanders Go Car-Free Or Car-Lite Can Help With Our Affordable Housing Crisis
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life on May 18, 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
A couple weeks ago the Washington Post reported that as of March, higher interest rates and pricier models put the average cost of a new car nationwide at $48,008. Data from Edmunds says the average monthly payment hit $730 in April and TransUnion says $738. Money Under 30 puts the total cost of car ownership at around $940 a month. AAA’s monthly estimate in 2022 was $894 or $10,000 annually. Potato Patato, however you slice owning and operating a car, its expensive. For those of us who live in Key West, where our agreed upon number one issue is affordable housing, the high cost of getting around by car just makes life’s overall affordability all the worse.
What if each adult in a family didn’t need to own a car to get around and could instead rely on a frequent, and easy-to-use transit system or a safe and easy-to-use network of bicycle facilities to get around for some or all trips? Going from two cars to one car (car-lite) or even car-free could save a family thousands of dollars every year. Money that can take the sting out of our ever-increasing mortgages and rents. So, while the City’s approach on affordable housing, as evidenced in its Strategic Plan, is admirable, shouldn’t our approach also address every family’s second highest expense, transportation?
Vanna, I’ll take a “Y” an “E” and an “S” please. Yes. Investing in our struggling transit system and safer streets isn’t just for our visitors and isn’t just some nice amenity that can be relegated to the side and put on the slow burner. Building a robust transit service and safer streets in a big way now, is an investment in our residents and workers and can be part of the solution on affordability that is chasing much of our working and middle class away. Here’s a quick closer look and a few things to do.
Housing + Transportation = A More Complete Measure of Affordability
For most people, after housing, transportation is their second biggest expense. Studies that have looked at housing and transportation costs have found that lower transportation costs in areas with good access and transit help offset higher housing costs across most income groups. Location affordability measures the share of income spent on housing AND transportation. Households in location efficient places spend significantly less on household transportation, often enough to offset the higher housing costs of these choice neighborhoods. Walkable blocks with good transit service and bike facilities especially contribute to these savings. Check out the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing + Transit Index tool for more.
The Case for Better Transit
Nobody takes the bus for work. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census, less than 1 percent of Key West (0.2%) and County (0.35%) residents use transit to get to work. In a strategic plan survey of residents in January of 2020 no one knew enough about the bus lines to answer questions about Key West Transit and the system was the only one of 20 City services left without a rating. We’ve documented that Duval Loop ridership has plummeted, that the City’s bus stops are lacking, and that there’s awful service from Stock Island to Key West (here, here and here).
And we’ve also documented some recent efforts to turn this all around. Staff took an interim step to fix Duval Loop bus stops, has a long-term plan to upgrade nearly all the stops on the Lower Keys Shuttle and began on-demand service on Key West and Stock Island in December and will start a “Workers Express” shuttle on June 5.
The recent efforts, while an admirable start, may only be stopping the hemorrhaging. Last year Key West Transit scrapped its very good and ambitious 10-Year Plan, developed in 2019, as “outmoded fiscally and by workforce availability.” Recent social media reaction to shifting from the North and South line routes to the “Key West Rides” on-demand service, also on June 5, has been mixed. We’re convinced their original 10-Year Plan with 15–20-minute service on shorter circulators and longer-haul connectors was the way to go.
We’re willing to give the agency the benefit of the doubt to try these new concepts. What we really think needs to happen though, regardless of the route structure, or lack of it in the case of on-demand, is a much bigger investment (read money) in people, infrastructure, and marketing to make the system frequent and reliable enough to convince people to ditch their cars.
The Case for Better Bicycle Facilities
According to the U.S. Census, 12.4% of Key West residents get to work by bike. In 2010 it was 16%. Only 1.7% of County residents bike to work. Another 7% and 4% respectively walk. Given our small size, flat terrain, and good weather, it should be more. A lot more.
We’ve talked about the dangers of biking between Stock Island and Key West here and here, about recent crashes that have led to bicycle deaths here and here, about the need for better and more bicycle parking here, and about all the times the City, County or State did a road project, ignored the Bike Plan and didn’t put in bike lanes here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
With the advent of a new Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator there’s been more hope and progress. As a result, recently the City snagged a $400K planning grant that could lead to even more money, has started work on new bike lanes on United and South Streets and is starting to plan for a new bike facility at Wickers field, and maybe a new bike path behind the airport. And we’re aware of more. But just like with transit, there’s a lack of staff, and construction and marketing dollars to make things happen bigger and sooner.
In order to really move the needle and double the number of people biking for transportation, enabling people to save tons of money by ditching their car, we need to create a safe and connected network of bicycle facilities (trails, protected lanes, and lanes) all over Key West and Stock Island. The advent of the e-bike is helping to make it easier. But we have to address making it safer. And that’s where the facilities and marketing come in. Key West has the good bones, compact size, flat surface, and good weather to make it happen. The Mayor says we can be the #1 best small bicycling city in the U.S.A. The City and County just need to double down and spend a lot more money to make it happen sooner.
More Affordable Housing Downtown Please
Everyone agrees we need more affordable housing. But putting it on Stock Island and further up the Keys just makes it more likely people will need a car to get around. Especially beyond Stock Island. The 126 units at The Lofts in Bahama Village is the way to go. All future workforce housing should be put on the island of Key West where people have access to transit or easy biking and walking distances. For example, Searstown and Kmart Plaza can be redeveloped as island-friendly places with housing. And we need to look for large parcels downtown to develop more places like The Lofts.
Getting Around Without a Car Can Lessen the Burden on Working People
Our housing affordability crisis, the lack of workers and our friends moving away because of this is well documented. The City and County need to work their plans and keep at addressing the housing issue. But overall affordability, housing + transportation, is a more holistic way of looking at this issue. Investing in better transit and bike facilities, thus enabling people to go car-free or car-lite brings overall living costs down. That’s good for our residents and workers. When the budget season rolls around this summer, ask your City and County Commissioners what they are doing to radically make our islands easy to get around without the high expense of a car. We’ll all be better off if they do.
# # #
For an in-depth look at this issue please read How Better Transit and Bicycle Facilities Can Help Address Affordable Housing. For more information on bicycling and Transit in Key West visit Getting Around Key West.
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on May 5, 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
Now that the utility work is complete, construction starts in the coming weeks on a $4.8 million investment in a new, improved and rebuilt United Street between Whitehead and Grinnell Streets. All new curb and gutter and sidewalks, that includes narrower and safer pedestrian crossings at most intersections, fresh and smooth asphalt, lots of new trees, and best of all a brand spanking new, wider is better, extra-width bike lane – where none had been before – for the entire length of the project heading out of downtown.
The new bike lane will connect up with bike lanes on Reynolds Street, White Street and the Crosstown Greenway cutting across the middle of the City, helping to create a more connected network of facilities. And in a year or two the same thing will be done with the rebuilding of South Street adding a new bike lane in the opposite direction, coming into town. Think of this as similar to the Fleming and Southard pair of bike lanes. Mayor Teri Johnston has been asking for staff to find places for new bicycle facilities and they are delivering! That makes safer streets for cars and bikes and is a win for Key West.
Mayor Johnston On the United Street Project
If you’ve been following our column for the past few years, you know we’ve quoted Mayor Teri Johnston on numerous occasions consistently asking staff to find ways to put in more bike facilities (here, here, here, here, here, here and numerous others, but you get the idea). She was understandably pleased when we asked her about this particular project, saying:
“Dedicated bicycle lanes are essential in Key West. It is the solution for taking bikes and e-bikes off of the sidewalk and into a safe, dedicated lane in the street. With some thoughtful planning we can accommodate the same number of on street parking spots, add a bicycle lane and create a better flow of vehicular traffic.”
What the New United Street Bike Facility Will Look Like
Interim Engineering Director Gary Volenec and Multi-Model Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski of the City’s Engineering Department have been looking for opportunities to provide the Mayor and Commission with safer streets that include bike lanes. They also note this helps fulfill part of the City’s Strategic Plan as the community has asked for safer streets.
With each new construction project comes an opportunity to redesign with complete streets in mind. United Street doesn’t quite have enough room for safe bike lanes on each side of the two-way street. So, the solution, is to have an extra wide bike lane on one side of the street – going out of downtown and a Sharrow or shared lane on the other side. But a block away, with South Street scheduled to be rebuilt next year, the idea is that another wider-is-better bike lane can be built coming into to down. The pair will then act as a safer way to get in and out of downtown, working similarly to the Fleming and Southard Streets pair – but safer because they are wider.
Here’s what Ryan Stachurski has to say about the project:
“The United Street project that’s under construction now includes a number of complete streets elements that have been called for by members of our community, our strategic plan, and our City Commissioners. It will provide dedicated space for Key West’s large number of bicyclists (electric & otherwise) that many should find comfortable to operate in. It includes bicycle wayfinding signs to help keep users on course, and the large number of street trees going in will improve our canopy over time in addition to making it more enjoyable to take a stroll down United Street.”
New Bike Lanes and Signage Enhance the Network Effect
There are many examples in Key West of pieces of bike trails and lanes that just end, leaving riders with no choice but to mix with cars, often on our most crowded and busy streets. In surveys across the land, people say that the lack of a connected network of safe bicycle facilities to get them to work, shop and play, is what inhibits many people from riding a bike for transportation. The new United and South Street bike lanes will help better connect with a growing network on this side of town.
The bike lanes map here shows the new United and South Streets pair connecting to the Reynolds Street bike lanes which take you to Higgs Beach and beyond that on the Atlantic Boulevard Trail to the Bertha Trail and onto the S. Roosevelt Promenade. So, this gets people safely from the beaches into downtown without having to mix with traffic. Similarly, those using the Crosstown Greenway from the top of the island at the Cow Key Channel will now be able to get downtown on a safe bike lane. Mr. Stachurski tells us that new signage (depicted by the red dots in the picture) will help orient people to various points along the safe bike network. They’ll also connect with the bike lanes on White Street.
Better, Safer Bicycling = Better Key West
We applaud Mayor Teri Johnston for her relentlessness in consistently asking staff to consider new bike infrastructure with every street rebuilding and repaving. That along with some new leadership in the Engineering Department and the Mayor’s mantra is finally being heard and acted upon. The start of the United Street project and South Street next year is good news in helping build a connected network of safe bicycle facilities.
Key West is full of cars AND bikes and that’s different than most places. According to the U.S. Census, 12.4% of Key West residents commute to work by bicycle. That’s a lot more than some of the top “bike” cities in the country. Key West bike rental shops continue to do record business. So, there’s a lot of bikes and now e-bikes and e-scooters mixing with golf carts, scooters and cars. As so many of these people on the street are visitors from car-centric mainland places, they aren’t used to this jumble of vehicle types and that’s a dangerous mix. And that is why we need a seamless, connected, and safe network of bike facilities.
The United Street project represents progress toward that end. To make our little island a bicycle paradise that will help us fight traffic and parking congestion, improve our environment, and make us healthier, more prosperous, and happier too. Let’s applaud the Mayor and staff for moving the ball forward.
# # #
Streets for People / New “Workforce Express” Key West Transit Service Begins May 15 Between Stock Island and Bahama Village
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on May 3 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
Note: Since we published this story the City pushed back the debut of these changes to June 5.
Key West Transit begins a brand-new service dubbed the “Workforce Express” on Monday, May 15 between Stock Island and Bahama Village. There are four early morning trips about every hour beginning at 6:05 am in each direction, and then another four trips in the late afternoon beginning at 3:45. Each trip will take about 30 minutes, thus the moniker “Express,” and follow a simple and direct route. As this service begins, Key West Transit will phase out its old, North and South line routes with a full transition to the “Key West Rides” Uber-like on-demand service on Key West and Stock Island. The “Lower Keys Shuttle” and “Duval Loop” remain the same.
The new route is a welcome addition to a transit agency that is trying to help our beleaguered workforce get around without need of a car. As we’ve written in the past about the need for better transit for our workers between Stock Island and Key West (here and here and here) the addition of the Workforce Express bus service is good news and helps with downtown traffic and parking congestion too.
The New Workforce Express Route
The Workforce Express begins at the newly occupied 240-unit Wreckers Cay workforce housing development and then heads downtown via Duck Avenue where it will pass by the Poinciana Plaza Apartments and Arrive (formerly West Isle) Apartments on the one side and Key West Estates better known as “Smurf Village” on the other side. A lot of Key West workers live in these places, so the “Workforce Express” is aptly named. The route then turns onto Kennedy and finds North Roosevelt where it stays on Truman all the way into Bahama Village where people can walk to their job on Duval Street or catch a ride on the Duval Loop over to the Seaport. The route also follows the same path in the opposite direction. Fares are the usual $2 per trip, $8 a week or $25 a month.
Key West Rides Data Begets Workforce Express Route
Back in the fall when we interviewed Key West Transit Director Rod Delostrinos, about the new Key West Rides on-demand service he told us:
“The key to determining better service is to analyze the first few months of on-demand transit service, recognize emerging ridership patterns, and possibly develop additional transit service such as limited express bus.”
And lo and behold after just five months of collecting data from the on-demand service, they’ve come up with a new fixed-route express based on these ridership patterns. Anecdotally, we’ve heard from people on Stock Island and at the apartments along Duck that they’d been using the Key West Rides service to get to their job’s downtown. But one of the complaints was that the on-demand bus was circuitous and thus took a long time. Now those same people can zip into downtown on an express. Rod confirmed all this, telling us this week:
“The route is the product of our analysis of the Key West Rides On-Demand Transit. We were able to see ridership aggregation patterns of pick-up and drop-off locations. Fielding this route will get those recurring riders to their destinations faster and at the same time free up the Key West Rides On-Demand Transit service for other trips on Stock Island and Key West.”
Better Transit = Better Key West
Back in the fall as the Key West Rides service was about to debut, Mayor Teri Johnston told us:
“I’m thrilled to get the on-demand service up and running. As new housing units are added in and around Key West, this service can offer a cost effective and reliable way to get to and from work, save some money, reduce our street congestion, noise levels, parking issues and pollution, all while lowering our stress levels.”
Our Mayor, who has consistently pushed our transit agency for more and better service says it well. Good, reliable, frequent transit helps our workers, residents and visitors get around without need of a car. For our workforce, that means saving money that can be used towards sky high rents. And it means a more people-oriented and friendly downtown. We all win when Key West Transit is successful, so let’s wish this latest iteration of bus service good luck.
# # #