Streets for People / D.C. Baseball, Key West, Tattoos and the World Series

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and published by KONK Life newspaper on October 22, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission. And please don’t forget to follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and check out all our Streets for People stories here. We’re bringing our readers this story in honor of the World Series that starts on Tuesday, October 26. It was first published as a Facebook post on October 21, 2019 and chronicles one Key West fan’s journey from Senators to O’s to Washington Nationals as the first World Series game was about to be played in the District of Columbia since 1933. Key West has had a well known love affair with baseball, and you’ll note one of its favorite sons and his MLB team plays a part in this story. Enjoy.

“Oh, you’re from Baltimore?” is the usual reaction I’ll receive when a stranger notices the 1954 Orioles Bird logo tattooed on my right arm. “No, actually I’m from Washington, D.C.” I’ll say and usually get a quizzical look and continue, “When you’re of a certain age and grew up as a little kid with the Senators who left in 1971, and we didn’t have team for 33 years, it was fairly easy to follow the Birds who were just a few miles up the road.” Ohhhh they’ll nod. To confuse them further, I’ll go on, “But I’m a Nat’s fan now – because I’m a Washingtonian.”

Just last week Mikey turns to me and says, “Are we having fun yet, because it doesn’t look like it.” I reply, “Yes, this is fun Mikey!” He questions this supposed fun because we sit there, contorting our bodies as if trying to sink into the couch and agonize out loud with the bases loaded, our hopes fading, as Daniel Hudson desperately tries to hold a lead. “Yes, playoff baseball is fun! This is what we wait all year for… Really.”

Over the last couple of weeks as our Nats have surmounted seemingly intractable obstacles and banished old demons by winning their first playoff series – the Wild Card (bye Brewers), then winning the NLDS (see ya Dodgers) – after being jilted four times in the last seven years (3 times in the final game at home), and then sweeping the NLCS (that’s for 2012 Cardinals) – I’ve begun to breathe easier. The week off, because of the unexpected sweep of St. Louis, has given me some time to think. To ask, why does this matter so much to me? Why does this seem at once so personal and yet so communal – shared with my fellow Washingtonians? Perhaps for me, like for so many of us, it’s because baseball has a way of working its way into your system. 162 times a year – more if you’re lucky. Year after year. Decade after decade. That’s a lot of games! Even as there is communal anguish or joy, we all experience it differently. Baseball has a way of becoming part of our life.

Nascent Baseball Memories Begin in the District

I have hazy memories of going to a couple games with my Dad, Granddad and Uncle Jimmy before the Senators left RFK Stadium for Texas. From those experiences I somehow recall the sense of awe at seeing the huge field of green upon entering RFK’s seating bowl. How is it that I know the names “Hondo” Frank Howard, Del Unser, Mike Epstein, Ed Brinkman, and more? While I was never good at the intramural version I played as a kid in suburban Crofton, I learned to love the game. I followed it in the Washington Post and Star newspapers and at night on the radio.

I was a new or young enough fan that when the Senators left, it was easy enough to pick up with the O’s. After all, my mother’s extended family were all from Baltimore. We had ties there and visited relatives on occasion. It was my granddad Lou Cicero, one of six kids who grew up on Hanover Street just blocks from where Orioles Park at Camden Yards would eventually be, who moved to the District with my Grandma Lucille during the 1930’s to find work. And so, our family were Washingtonians. My Mom grew up in D.C. and Adelphi. I was born in Georgetown Hospital. The family mostly worked for the government and/or worked downtown. The District was in our blood, even though with the arrival of kids, my parents decamped for the then exurbs of Levittown Bowie and Crofton as my Dad’s Navy job took him from Washington to Annapolis.

We still had the Washington Football Team, who’s Over the Hill Gang captured the hearts of people across the D.C. area as they started fielding good teams under Coach George Allen. Sundays were family days and fall Sundays were spent together, often including watching football. The 1971/72 Redskins and their trip to the Super Bowl cemented us as a Washington Football Team family for decades. In fact I had season tickets to the Team for over 30 years. But I only mention them to reinforce the family’s D.C. bona fides, this is about baseball.

How Bout Dem O’s Hon!

What solidified my true love of baseball was the 1970’s/early 80’s Orioles led by wascally Earl Weaver. The team was a who’s who of characters and Hall of Famers. Boog Powel (who went to Key West High School), Frank Robinson, Don Baylor, Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson. By then I was in high school at Martin (now Bishop) Spalding, just south of Baltimore. Our gang liked drive up to Memorial Stadium, clap and hoot as we drove by the “Welcome to Baltimore” sign (oftentimes lovingly inscribed by some scofflaw with “Hon” at the end), grab a bunch of to-go subs at Tugboat Annies on 33rd Street (or if we had time, at Attman’s Delicatessen downtown) – yes we were allowed to bring food into the ballpark – and then head as close as possible to the famed Section 34 overseen by cab-driver and ultimate O’s fan Wild Bill Hagey. It was Wild Bill who taught us how to spell – O R I O L E S Orioles! We loved shouting “Eddie, Eddie” for our favorite player Eddie Murray and singing John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy at the 7th inning stretch. 

Back then tickets were so easy to come by that for the 1979 playoffs we snagged a group of eight seats to see all the home games vs. the Angles in the LCS. I vividly recall the upper decks serenading the Angles with a full-arm jiggly whammy. We got another 8 seats for each of the home World Series games – the first of which was postponed due to snow – and we proudly perched in the outfield’s first row behind our homemade sign that read, “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now,” which had become the O’s and thus our anthem over the summer. The excitement of the series took on a cruel tone as our beloved O’s lost 3 of 4 home games, including game 7 to the Pittsburgh “We Are Family” Pirates. We despised the Pirates wives who had whistles and cow bells in OUR park. We were heartbroken that our bats went silent in the final two games despite our shouts. Even with the crushing loss, baseball was now more soundly embedded in my soul than ever. You never forget your first LCS and World Series.

As I began my twenties, my best friend Kenny Akers and I started a tradition to get together for the O’s Opening Day. We determined Opening Day is a holiday after all. By then I lived downtown in the District and he lived in Pennsylvania and then Delaware. But we always made it a point to meet up in Baltimore and go to Opening Day. We even made it a point to meet in Baltimore when the Queen came to Memorial Stadium. How could we not see the Queen? We didn’t miss an Orioles Opener – some twenty something years – until I broke the streak and attended the first Nats Opening Day instead. See…

Washington’s Arm’s Length Embrace of the Orioles

…while it was fun and easy to follow, even love the O’s, as a Washingtonian, I always knew they were somehow being borrowed. Hope never died for baseball in our hometown. Throughout the 80’s there seemed to be rumors the O’s might move to D.C. or Howard County (you know – somewhere in the middle), or we might even get an expansion team, or someone else’s team might move to the District. I remember in the early 80’s opening up a ‘Washington Baseball Riggs National Bank Savings Account’ that was supposed to show prospective owners we had people waiting with money to buy season tickets. But nothing ever came to fruition. Our hopes were always dashed and in the meantime the O’s were just up the street, so at least we had baseball. In the end, then Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams did the right thing and laid the foundation for the team to stay in Baltimore. The city, with the now storied and prophetic prodding by O’s management, then built the beautiful Camden Yards and that changed everything.

The last Opening Day at Memorial Stadium was a gorgeous, hot and sunny day, but I recall being sad that an era was ending (I’ve still got the t-shirt). That gave way to jubilation upon entering Camden Yards for the first time on Opening Day in 1992. The ballpark changed baseball nationally and for us local fans too. Most Washingtonians seemed to embrace the more easily accessible throwback style ballpark. The Washington Post, including my faves Thomas Boswell and Tony Kornheiser, wrote about them affectionately as if they were our home team. Cal Ripken’s run at breaking Lou Gehrig’s record and then the ’96 and ’97 playoff runs (when I got that tattoo) seemed to cement the O’s as our team too. Estimates ranged from 1 out of 4 to 1 out of 3 fans being from the DMV (the affectionate term for our District, Maryland and Virginia region). Washingtonians helped fill the ballpark and the owner’s coffers – even as many Baltimoreans seemed to resent the more cerebral interlopers from the south. Attendance was so good that I needed to resort to buying mini plans so as to provide access to Opening Day and potential playoff tickets.

What seemed an easy drive to get to the Yard from D.C. in 1992 seemed like a nightmarish crawl along the BW Parkway just 10 years later. Going to the games could be a chore. Hey, we needed our own team. Somehow, despite all the disappointments and near misses, that hope never died.

After 33 Years of Waiting, Washington is Rewarded with Baseball

So, when MLB decided to move the poor Expos (I’d been to Montreal a few times and was lucky enough to go to a couple games – nothing like poutine and sliced meat sandwiches in the cozy confines of the indoor Stade Olympique) to the District after 33 years – a lifetime for most of us, it didn’t feel quite real till that first pitch at RFK. I got season tickets, shared them with co-workers and was in heaven. Especially as the team got out to a surprisingly good start during its first year. What a joy it was to be able to go see our own team, in our own ballpark. To take the subway to the game. To go after work – not having to leave 2 hours early to get there. To get home at a decent time after the game and not have it disrupt the next day.

It was awkward but fun to learn about the National League. I’d have to redirect my hate of the Yankees to who exactly? The Braves? Phillies? Mets? All of em! My real test would come a year later as the Orioles played their first interleague game with the Nats. I wondered if I could love two teams. I wondered if I could even root for two teams. The day came and there were plenty of orange clad O’s fans in the ballpark. Would I shout “Oh” along with them during the National Anthem? Hell no. Washington fans didn’t do that. Would I root for both teams? Hell no! That was it. With no hesitation, I was a Nats fans. Period. There was no going back. There were no loving two teams. In the new ballpark I was lucky enough to get seats in the Nats, Nats, Nats Woo! Section – 312. What a wonderful bunch of people. Wonky, smart and so many scorecards. I was living and breathing baseball. I loved the ballpark. I loved the teams.

Since they arrived in 2005, I’ve been to 20+ games per year, often riding my bike or Capital Bikeshare to Nats Park, plus all the playoff games through 2015 when I moved to Key West after the season to begin a simpler, sunnier and warmer life. I was fortunate enough to be there for the first pitch at RFK and at Nats Park where Ryan Zimmerman walked off the win with a homer. I remember Steven Strasburg’s first mesmerizing game when we didn’t seem to sit or go to the bathroom till, he left the game. I remember the agony of the 9th and 10th innings against the Cardinals in 2012 – as just an hour earlier we were plotting our NLCS activity. The anguish of an 18-inning loss to the Giants in 2014 as the evening got dark and cold – we started the day in the sun and in shorts – still gnaws at me. I liked Bryce – till I didn’t. Loved Ryann Zimmerman from the start and am so happy to see him in a World Series all these years later. I was lucky to be there for Jordan Zimmerman’s no-hitter. I worshiped Dusty Baker and those teams that couldn’t get past the first round. I hated that they let him go.

World Series View from the Conch Republic is Glorious

Now that’ I’m living in the Conch Republic (boyhood home of O’s great Boog Powel) we get the MLB package on TV and listen to F.P. Santangelo and Bob Carpenter on a daily basis, even if most of the time it’s just on in the background – sort of like the radio in days of yore. With a digital subscription to the Post, I’m able to keep up with the day-to-day minutia and the perspective still provided by awesome writers Thomas Boswell, Chelsea Janes and Barry Svrluga.

The well documented playoff agony of the Nats has somehow made the 2019 team’s run to the World Series all the sweeter. Yes, I kept waiting for something bad to happen in the Wild Card game, the Division Series and even the Championship Series. The fact that this team seems to have more grit, more fight and more fun – who doesn’t love the Baby Shark phenomena and home run dugout dancing? – makes these Nats, all the more lovable.

The Senators gave me a start. The Orioles taught me baseball tradition and love of the game. But the District is my hometown, and the Washington Nationals are MY team. I couldn’t be happier to see them in the World Series. My first World Series in 40 years and D.C.’s first World Series since 1933. I guess it’s time I finally get that Nats tattoo on my other arm, eh?

Epilogue. The Nationals beat the favored and hated Houston Astros in seven games to win the 2019 World Series. We even missed much of Fantasy Fest because of the night games. It was glorious. Featured picture at top from left to right Kenny Akers, Steven Parrish, Michael Legg and Chris Hamilton.

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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 downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Meet Local Ryan Stachurski – The City’s New “Bike Guy”

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and published by KONK Life newspaper on October 8, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission. And please don’t forget to follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

The smoke emanating from City Hall is white, indicating the island has a new Multimodal Transportation Coordinator. And to everyone’s delight, it is Key West local and beloved bicycle advocate Ryan Stachurski. Yay!

While the formal name of the position is Multimodal Transportation Coordinator, Bike Guy is the shorthand or affectionate term many of us use as the position used to be called the “Bicycle Coordinator.” That and let’s face it, with public transit use for commuting at less than 1% and a recent survey of 3,700 residents saying not enough people used public transit to rate the system, the only real alternative to driving around the island is biking – so Bike Guy it is. 

Engineering Director Applauded for Pick

Tim Staub, the wonky, hard-working, and much appreciated previous Multimodal Transportation Coordinator had his last day before heading to graduate school, on July 30, so Engineering Department Director Steve McAlearney did quick work in boldly choosing an unconventional candidate. Everyone we talked to was bowled over with appreciation that Mr. McAlearney went with this pick. We say unconventional because Mr. Stachurski, 46, and who starts his new position in a week or so, has a Computer Science degree and not the more typical Planning or Engineering background traditionally hired for this kind of position. And his most recent job is part of the management team at our local Home Depot on N. Roosevelt. 

What Ryan lacked in conventional instruction, he more than made up for in practical life experience, self-training, and general bicycle enthusiasm. You’ll hear that in a minute from some of the people we interviewed about Ryan.

I think I’ve known of Ryan since shortly after I moved to the island in 2015 as we followed the same transportation issues and attended similar bicycle events. He’s a well-known and well-regarded advocate for safer and easier bicycling throughout the island. He’s always the first to volunteer and enthusiastically participate in any Key West event that has anything to do about bikes, from the Papio Kinetic Parade, the Zombie Ride, the Christmas Bike Ride to monthly bike enthusiast rides.

He regularly turns up for transportation hearings and City Commission meetings about bicycling. He participated as a citizen in developing the Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. He writes to the Mayor and Commissioners about these things. He participates in social media posts about these issues. He regularly provided advice to previous Transportation Coordinators.

My observation is that what sets Ryan apart from others who participate on bicycling and transportation issues in the community is the depth of research he does and the thoughtful way he goes about articulating the matter. In discussions about bike facilities Ryan can quote from FDOT best practices, Florida bicycle laws, FDOT Complete Streets guides and Federal and NACTO rules and recommendations too. He always seems to take the time to put it in language everyone can understand and most importantly he never sounds like an anti-car, left-wing bicycle fanatic (not that there’s anything wrong with that). On an island where most people drive, that’s an important skill. 

Funny, in public meetings I’ve always noticed Ryan has an easy rapport with City and County Engineering and Planning staff and FDOT staff too – because he knows this stuff and they appreciate that. And now he’ll get to work with them instead of just providing input as a citizen. How cool is that?

Marley Claridge and Ryan at the annual Christmas Bike Ride.

A Little More About Ryan

He rides his bike every day for transportation. He tells us his bike is a “fixed gear track bike – for efficiency and reliability (it was kinda standard equipment when I was a legal courier).” So, he was a bike courier. That’s brave. He even has been offered a job as a local bike mechanic, so he definitely knows his way around a bike.

He helps run the Key West Bicycle Association that is “committed to promoting safe cycling by educating cyclists and drivers, while encouraging the city to improve its cycling infrastructure.” 

He’s a founding and enthusiastic regular member of the Southernmost Slow Ride bicycle group, that hosts monthly fun rides around the island for people of all ages and abilities. They are well known for “Full Moon” themed nighttime bike rides where everyone decorates and lights up their bikes and regularly make stops for food and drink.  

He and his friends have built some of the coolest entries and even won awards for the Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade. Ryan is a master technician and builder who helps create these amazing moving floats and is often the one driving the vehicle, while he lets his pals take the more glamorous and public facing spots, except it seems for the picture below.

Ryan atop his team’s creation for the Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade in 2019. Marley Claridge at bottom left. Photo by Larry Blackburn Photography.

About his journey to Key West Ryan tells us:

“Marley (Claridge) and I moved to Key West in 2015. We didn’t really know anyone who lived here, but both of our parents relocated to South Florida. We liked the quirkiness; how easy it was to get around by bicycle and we’d be somewhat close to family. I was born in St. Petersburg, Florida and receive my computer science degree from the University of Central Florida (UCF). Having grown up in “isolated” suburbs, I always sought to live in the town center – where the action was, where people interacted, and where everything was close by.”

About his hopes he says:

“Drawn-in by the joy of cycling, equitable and efficient transportation became more important to me as I learned about climate change, and the public health and safety impacts of the automobile status quo. I think that sometimes the best way to get around Key West is by taking a walk or a ride. It’s how I’ve been getting around for years. I think we can do more to facilitate alternative transportation in our city and the steps we take can help improve the quality of life for us all.”

Nuts and Bolts of the Job

Here’s what the application for the Multimodal Transportation Coordinator says:

“This job’s mission is to reduce single-occupant motorized vehicle use and enhance alternative transportation options. The position will work strategically from the Planning and Engineering Departments while collaborating with Planning, Parking, Transit, Building, Code, Community Services, Legal, and Police Departments to:

  • Reduce vehicle miles travelled and single occupancy vehicles through best management practices in bicycle and pedestrian planning/implementation. 
  • Act as a team leader with the City staff to collaborate on the design and implementation of mobility strategies for all modes of transportation: transit, shuttle, tour bus, pedicabs, automobile, bike, pedestrians, and others. 
  • Provide support in implementation of the City of Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. 
  • Maintain the city’s Bicycle Friendly Community designation. 
  • Serve as the initial point of contact for citizens and staff regarding bicycle / pedestrian issues.”

In other words, be the Bike Guy. Our opinion is this kind of important work should have more staff and its own work group at a higher level, perhaps even a small department and a big budget, to facilitate coordination among all the agencies that have a hand in transportation. But Ryan has the chops to transcend formal hierarchies and get people together to get stuff done. He also has the support of the Mayor, Commission and most importantly the City Manager, who realizes that something this important isn’t siloed in one person, but that multi-modal transportation transcends the organization.

Monthly Southernmost Slow Ride. Dee Dee Green left and Ryan Stachurski right.

What People Are Saying About Ryan Stachurski 

“We are thrilled to have Ryan join our team. His years in the community and familiarity with local biking and transit networks make him a great asset right out of the gate. We are excited by his energy and to see what ideas he will bring to the position.”

His Boss. Steven McAlearney, Director, Department Engineering

“What an excellent choice! Someone that rides a bike to and from work, understands the complexity of improving bicycle infrastructure while appeasing drivers and has the quiet patience needed to deal with our local politicians. I look forward to monitoring his every move and demanding from him instant improvements at every opportunity.” 

Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen, Owner, BikeMan Bike Rentals Key West

“I look forward to Ryan advancing our strategic goal #6 Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness.  Ryan comes to the City of Key West with an incredible track record of bicycle safety initiatives, so I am looking forward to his leadership in completing our Wicker Bike Trail and Crosstown Greenway Phase ll strategic objectives along with his team in Engineering. Welcome aboard Ryan!”

Teri Johnston, Mayor, City of Key West

“This is unbelievable. I can think of no better person to calmly educate the car centric people in city hall. And, with Patti at the helm, he should have support from the top. Wow. Wow. Wow.”  

Evan Haskell, Owner, WeCycle Key West Bike Shops

“Although disappointed in the departure of Tim Staub as Multimodal Transportation Coordinator just as he had started to make progress on many fronts in improving the safety of our roads for pedestrians, bicycles, and other users, I was thrilled to recently learn of the hiring of Ryan as his replacement. Working with Ryan for several years as a fellow bicycle advocate, I have always found Ryan to be diligent, prepared, and thoughtful in his approach to encouraging positive change in Key West for users of alternative transportation. Ryan’s local knowledge and relationships and experience in advocating for pedestrians and bicycles for many years should provide a solid foundation for Key West to become the safest city in the United States for bicycles and pedestrians.”

Roger McVeigh, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board

“I look forward to working with Ryan Stachurski as the City’s new Multimodal Transportation Coordinator. It is very helpful to have someone like Ryan in this position who has first-hand knowledge and experience of the many transportation issues needing improvement in the City. I have appreciated Ryan’s advice and recommendations as a private citizen, and I know that City transportation will improve with Ryan now as a city employee. “

Sam Kaufman, City Commissioner, District 3

“Ryan is going to bring some great skills to the table: team leadership, creativity and on the ground experience.”

Alison Higgins, City of Key West Sustainability Coordinator

“I know we just hired him, and he comes with some glowing references and praise, but I haven’t met him yet. But you can bet I will get to know him!”

Mary Lou Hoover, City Commissioner, District 5
Ryan Stachurski left and Tim Staub

“I believe Ryan is a good choice for the role. Like Jim Malcolm before us all, Ryan is someone going into the role as a person who has ridden every street on the Island and up the Keys for good measure. He knows the people who experience the roads and paths every day and he helped form the Bike-Ped Master Plan as a citizen, so I fully expect him to hit the ground running.

There are a lot of good projects coming up with the Wickers Field path and there are materials in place to expand wayfinding sharrows and Engineering wants to do more temporary traffic calming to see how we can improve our sightlines and make our neighborhood streets safer.

I fully expect Steve, Kelly, Ian, Daniel, Katie, and Alison, and everyone on City Staff to work with Ryan to get the ball rolling and make sure we make our streets safer for all ages and all abilities.”

Timothy Staub, Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator April 2019 – July 2021

Here’s Wishing Ryan the Best!

Ryan tells us that one of the first things they’d like him to focus on is bike parking. We like that and have some ideas. He continued: “One of my goals is to help meet the needs of users of all ages and abilities. I’ll strive to make it easier for people to “leave the car at home,” expand communication and encourage steps that can improve safety.” We like that too.

If you see Ryan on the street, congratulate him and wish him well in his new position as the Bike Guy, we mean, Multimodal Transportation Coordinator with the City. Ryan’s success means our island’s success. Congrats Ryan!

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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 downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Duval Street Revitalization Back on Track

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and published by KONK Life newspaper on October 1, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission. And please don’t forget to follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

It’s like déjà vu all over again. Nearly two years after the release of a Duval Street Revitalization Plan Request for Qualifications (RFQ), comes word from the City’s Planning Director Katie Halloran, that a Duval Street Economic Corridor Resiliency and Revitalization Plan RFQ release is imminent. With some luck and a compact selection process we’re told a vendor could be on board for a project start this winter. This is great news for our beloved downtown’s future. The icing on the cake is that this iteration comes fully paid for with a $500,000 State grant. Here’s how we got here…

Mayor Johnston’s Push to Help Duval Street

Mayor Johnston ran on a platform of revitalizing Duval Street in 2018. She came through by initiating the Mall on Duval pilot project in 2019 and the discussions about that begat the release of a Duval Street Revitalization Plan RFQ on November 21, 2019 (RFQ). Of the RFQ she said at the time:

“We all love our main street and want to see it prosper and bring our community together. Mall on Duval brought locals downtown who haven’t been there in years, prompting a conversation about what improvements need to be made, including widening sidewalks – they range from 8 to 18 feet – and adding planters and benches. There are street designs that have the sidewalk on the same level, and you divide it off by concrete planters. The street can be cobblestone and the sidewalks can be different materials. We also need shade, benches and water fountains.”

Mayor Teri Johnston, November 2019
Mayor Teri Johnston at the opening of the Mall on Duval

In reaction to the forthcoming release of the new RFQ, the Mayor, this week, said:

“Although this process has taken longer than we had originally expected, the additional scrutiny by our Planning Department will assure us the very best responses and ultimately improve our final community product. This is a large project requested by the majority of our Key West residents, so we need to get it right!”

Mary Teri Johnston, September 2021

We applaud the Mayor for her tenacity in keeping the project moving forward.

Residents Say They Want the Project and City Codifies Effort in Strategic Plan

Mayor Johnston’s been elected by overwhelming margins twice, while promoting Duval Street revitalization and residents say they want something to happen too. The January Key West Community Survey of 3,700 residents showed “Two thirds  of us are in favor of closing Duval Street for pedestrian traffic on evenings and/or weekends” and the data clearly show that “revitalization of Duval Street” is our #1 top rated capital project. 

The newly adopted Key West Forward Strategic Plan codifies this as the #1 major project and recommends setting aside $1.5 million in FY 21/22 and $1.8 million in FY 22/23 for engineering and construction. The #2 priority area, after Affordable Housing in the Key West Strategic Plan is Adaption/Sea Level Rise. Duval Street Revitalization will be done with this in mind. The Planning Director saying:

“One major goal of the plan is to revitalize the corridor in a way that promises additional resilience to climate related risks, particularly sea level rise.”

The third priority in the Strategic Plan is Roads and Sidewalks. The fourth is Environmental Projection. The fifth is Cleanliness and the sixth is Traffic & Pedestrian Friendliness. No doubt that the Duval Street Economic Corridor Resiliency and Revitalization Plan plays a major role in five of the six priorities the City will be addressing via the Strategic Plan over the next few years. As it should because the corridor’s success is our island’s success.

So, About That Two-Year Gap in RFQ Releases

The original Duval Street Revitalization Plan RFQ  was released on November 21, 2019 (RFQ). After a long process, a consultant team comprised of two well regarded firms was selected at the August 19, 2020, City Commission meeting with the top two competing vendors appearing on Zoom to make presentations. A contract was signed in November 2020 and a phase one budget and scope was in the works last winter. All was set for public meetings and a project start this past spring. And then the wheels came off.

One of project leads had quit the main firm. At the same time in February, Keys Weekly printed an “artist’s rendering” included in the consultant’s original submission depicting Duval Street as well, not very Duval Street like. There was such a hue and cry over the rendering, as discussed here in The Wee Donkey, Whataboutism, Bathwater and Duval Street’s Future; February 19, 2020, that a month later we surmised the combination of the two events led to the cancelation of the contract and an announcement of a new RFQ process. However, we now know that isn’t exactly so. Ms. Halloran told us:

“KCI’s contract was terminated because without notice they removed their planning staff, and then their lead project manager/planner who had strong historic preservation and public outreach credentials resigned.

Secondary vendors were not simply chosen because we wanted to make sure we adhered to procurement procedures and in particular, wanted to make sure our procurement was acceptable to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) because they are funding the lion’s share of the planning portion of the project.”

Here’s the crucial part. When the original RFQ went out, the City was likely going to end up funding the planning effort itself. KCI’s personnel problems may have been a blessing in disguise because the additional time allowed the Planning Department to secure a $500,000 planning grant from the State DEO to pay for the effort. But that meant they were now obligated to rewrite the RFQ to State standards. And get the rewritten RFQ approved by the Office of Economic Opportunity. That’s why, nearly 9 months after the old contract fell apart, there’s still no RFQ for a new vendor on the street. The City is awaiting DEO’s blessing.

The New Scope of Work and Timeline

When we asked the Planning Director to explain what was happening, she very generously took the time to share the following with us:

“The State Department of Economic Opportunity is currently reviewing the second round of the Duval RFQ. We have been awarded a $500,000 planning grant from the DEO (CDBG MIT funds) so we must vet the RFQ through them to ensure the City is reimbursed for this project. I think we can release within two weeks. If we give the RFQ eight weeks on the street (the timeline has not yet been finalized, it may be shorter), our Ranking Committee (not yet selected, but would include staff and community members) would have their rankings completed by December. We may get through City Commission and have our selected partner approved by January 2022.

The planning process for the corridor is our focus now. I don’t think the planning process itself should take longer than 12-18 months once a consultant team is on board, otherwise we risk public participation/meeting fatigue. We know this project must be guided by community input and preference. Identifying the funding to actually construct the full length could take years and the construction process will definitely take years. This is not a short-term project.

The scope of work for the Duval RFQ includes mobility planning, civil engineering, historic preservation, landscape architecture, and public facilitation. One major goal of the plan is to revitalize the corridor in a way that promises additional resilience to climate related risks, particularly sea level rise. This may also include working with local businesses to assist with economic resilience. This revised RFQ ensures we are meeting our DEO grant requirements, and is more directly tied to resilience, in addition to revitalization (making the street even nicer to look at and more comfortable for pedestrians).”

Here’s Hoping This Important Project is Back on Track

Given the length in time it took to conduct the last RFQ and considering how much time complicated procurements take to get through the City’s bureaucracy, we think the Planning Director’s timeline is a bit optimistic. But we’re rooting for her to meet this schedule and get something started this winter.

We know Katie Halloran and her small team have a lot of issues on their plate now. With the hot Bahama Village 3.2 Acre Development and the new Strategic Plan topping the list. But we feel like this signature project of Mayor Johnston’s is in really good hands. The delay has allowed for funding to come in for the effort. Certainly, more than was budgeted for the original, so we can expect a robust process. We can’t help but feel this effort will be for the better with a solid Key West Forward Strategic Plan at its back and because the community outreach won’t have to be conducted during the height of last year’s shutdown and subsequent recovery effort. And the project’s new emphasis on resilience, given our attention to sea level rise, also seems more appropriate.

All in all, perhaps the two additional years it took us to get here, will be worth it. We’re rooting for the Mayor, the Planning Director, and our community to make it so.

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Featured picture is taken from page 43 of the Key West Forward Strategic Plan. You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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 downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Airport Expansion Means Fewer Cars on Our Island 

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and published by KONK Life newspaper on September 24, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission. And please don’t forget to follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

Recent stories by two of the island’s favorite news sources Gwen Filosa and Nancy Klingener, brought us news (here and here) that the Key West International Airport has already set a record for annual passengers, surpassing 1 million for the first time ever and the year isn’t even over. They also shared that the County has started an $80 million expansion to build a new concourse to handle the overcrowding of the departure and arrival areas. 

The stories, widely shared and commented on via social media, were met with the usual weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Some decried the lost innocence of the quaint architecture and cozy confines of the existing structure to be replaced with a modern, spacious glass box. Others complained that more airplanes mean more noise. Most seemed to bemoan a paradise lost to ever more visitors.

Okay, we get that it’s kind of cool to walk off your plane onto the tarmac because it adds to the “remote island” feel of Key West (HT: Jamie Mattingly). I like it. But the airport expansion is a good thing because it means travelers aren’t coming by car. Fewer cars mean less traffic congestion and parking problems downtown which enhance the experience for visitors AND residents. It is also better for business. Win. Win. Win. Let’s dive into some numbers on why this is so…

Airport Expands to Accommodate More Passengers

Richard Stickland, Monroe County Director of Airports recently outlined an $80 million new concourse that will open in 2024. It will include a new security checkpoint, new gates, a new “hold room” for departing passengers, new concessions, a new baggage claim area and glass-enclosed jet bridges, or jetways, to connect the planes with the building. He told Keys Weekly in May:

“There will be much more space to spread out and the new design overall will enhance the customer experience and the services we can provide. People won’t all be crunched together and on top of each other while waiting to depart or while waiting for their baggage. It’s the right amount of facility for the projected numbers of passengers we’re dealing with.”

We’ve seen many social media posts of people complaining about overcrowding at the airport. The recently announced passenger numbers setting a record of 1 million passengers with three and a half months to go in the year and a possible 1.5 million by years end undergirds the County’s decision to expand the airport facilities to accommodate the crush. 

Traffic Congestion a Top Concern for Decades

As we’ve noted in many of our Streets for People stories, one of our favorite things to complain about on the island is traffic and parking. It seems to have been a major concern for a couple decades now. In her 2019 “Toward Car-Free Key West”; Journal of Transportation Demand Management, University of South Florida study, researcher Mary Bishop cited traffic congestion concerns as “well documented” in a 2004 citizen survey where 58% of residents ranked it number one among quality-of-life concerns. She also noted a 2015 City-sponsored survey ranked it number three behind affordable housing and the cost of living. More recently in a January 2021 Key West Community Survey of residents conducted as part of the Key West Forward Strategic Plan, only affordable housing ranked lower than traffic and parking on a list of 18 rates issues.

So having visitors arrive by means other than a car is a good thing.

Tens of Thousands of Cars Arrive on Our Little Island

According to the County’s latest 2020 TDC Visitor Profile Survey, 77 percent of visitors to the Keys arrived by car. 42 percent arrived in a personal car, 28% in a rental car and 7% flew into Miami and then rented a car. 20% flew into Key West and 2% flew into Marathon. Less than 1% come in by ferry and bus. Mary Bishop citied an 82% arrive by car number in 2013 in her research.

On a base of 2.5 million stays to the Keys (2019 Monroe County Visitor Volume and Spending; DKS Shifflet) that’s a lot of cars. We regret that we can’t be more precise about the driving numbers to the island of Key West, as the Visitor Profile Survey and Visitor Volume and Spending reports don’t break out travel by destination, even though they do break out other things like length of stay. We also regret that the TDC only shows the latest report of each kind, so we can’t line up the years or explore past data. However, the Key West International Airport (EYA) Visitor Analysis, March 2021 says that of those that drive, 52% make it all the way down to the Key West. The report also gives us Average Annual Daily Traffic Volumes of 84,000 Keys-wide with what looks like about 20,000 daily in the Lower Keys (see chart). This gives us a better idea of volume as it is less than the 77% number, but that’s still not enough information to adequately extrapolate the numbers of cars arriving here as we don’t know how many people are in each car.

One could say 2.5 million visitors x 0.52 arriving in Key West by car = 1,300,000 visitors arriving by car. If we average 2 persons per car that’s 650,000 cars or 12,500 a week. If the average is 3 that’s still 433,000 cars or 8,399 cars a week. We only have 3,000 metered, free, and Resident on street spaces downtown. That’s a crunch. We need better stats. We’d welcome some help.

So, while it is safe to say that for visitors who stay overnight in Key West, that there is less travel by car than the Keys overall because the airport and ferry are located here, we just can’t be more precise with the actual volume of cars crossing the Cow Key Bridge onto our island. We hope in the future, the TDC would consider more breakouts of the numbers in their reports so we can be more accurate in our reporting.

Regardless, the point is that it is still a huge volume of cars and that’s why for the past couple of decades traffic and parking problems continue to top the list of local’s complaints. 

Airport Visitors Stay Put in Key West, Stay Longer, Spend More and Don’t Drive

Here’s the key takeaways as reported in the excellently presented and easy-to-read Airport Visitor Analysis:

  • From a tourism development standpoint, EYW airport visitors are attractive because they are spending more per day in the Keys and place less demand on the road and bridge infrastructure of the region. 
  • Almost 90% of airport visitors stayed in Key West vs 52% of visitors using other forms of transportation. 
  • While the increased service to EYW should help relieve pressure on the road and bridge infrastructure, the biennial traffic assessment study from Monroe County and the Florida Department of Transportation shows that passenger volumes rose, and travel delays increased between 2017 and 2019. Further expansion of EYW service in 2021 could offer some additional relief. 
  • Almost nine in ten visitors who travel through EYW airport stay in Key West. Those that fly into the Key West International Airport are significantly less likely to travel up the island chain and put additional stress on infrastructure. Of those flying into EYW, 2% took accommodation in the Lower Keys, 5% stayed in lodging in Marathon, 2% stayed in a property in Islamorada and 2% stayed in a property in Key Largo. Those who traveled to the Keys through other means (e.g., rental car, personal vehicle), on the other hand, are more likely to travel down the island chain with 16% taking accommodation in Key Largo, 13% in Islamorada, 17% in Marathon, 2% in the lower Keys and 52% in Key West. 
  • Visitors who fly through EYW airport spend an average of $99.45 per day, this is about $30 (44%) more than visitors who arrive using other forms of transportation.

In the Toward Car Free Key West study, we learn that: “Of those arriving to the Key West Airport, 67% answered that they did not use a car at all during their visit. For the Key West Express ferry terminal arrivals, 78% answered that they did not use a car at all during their visit.”

Much has been made of the lack of spending by cruise ship passengers. What the data shows is that people who travel by air spend more money than people who drive, take the ferry, or come by cruise ship. They also stay longer and stay here in Key West, so aren’t spending money up the Keys. And most don’t get a car rental. This is all good news for our island.

Repeat Visitors Use Cars Less with Each Visit

One of the Key takeaways from Mary Bishop’s research is something many of us may have come to known anecdotally, but she gathered the numbers to back it up. The takeaway is that once you are here on the island of Key West you don’t really need a car to get around. AND that once visitors experience Key West, the lightbulb goes off, and they understand this too. This is borne out in the fact that they tend to rent cars less and use the airport more on subsequent visits. Here’s how Ms. Bishop explains it:

“There is substantial evidence from this survey data to indicate that a vehicle is not needed once visitors arrive on the island. In total, 49% of visitors reported walking as their primary form of transportation while visiting and 32% reported not using a vehicle at all during their stay. The lack of need for a vehicle can also be indicated by the changing trends with repeated visits. While 42% of first-time visitors rented a vehicle for their stay, the percentage dropped to 20% by only the second visit. Meanwhile, arriving via the Key West Airport (67% of airport arrivals did not use a car at all during their stay) became more popular over the number of visits, rising from only 6% for first-time visitors to 34% for visitors who had visited more than five times. These findings suggest the importance of determining what is needed to convey the knowledge of repeat visitors to first-time visitors.”

Market to First-Time Visitors: You Don’t Need a Car While You’re Here, So You May as Well Fly or Ferry

The first of Ms. Bishop’s four recommendations to conclude her report is to convey this knowledge that cars aren’t necessary on the island to first time visitors as they are making their trip planning decisions via marketing. Certainly, the TDC’s marketing could do more of this. But the TDC markets the entire Keys and the only way to see the entire Keys is by car. So mostly we get marketing from the TDC that touts driving the Overseas Highway. Once people bring a car into Key West, they tend to use it. So perhaps the Chamber, the Business Guild and the local Key West lodging and attractions community can do a better job of pushing a car-free experience, so people don’t rent cars. 

And for people who drive personal vehicles, perhaps we can do more to promote airplane and ferry travel, which are recommendations two and three of the study.

If More People Are Visiting, It’s Better They Don’t Drive Here 

More people are coming to Key West, and if they arrive by airplane, it is good for our economy because they stay longer and spend more per day. It helps reduce horrendous congestion on U.S. Route 1 throughout the Keys. And it helps alleviate traffic and parking problems on our island. Just imagine if the additional 500,000 visitors arriving at the airport this year vs 2019, were to get here by driving instead? We’d have to pave over paradise to accommodate them. So, let’s embrace the airport expansion as a good thing. 

In a follow-up article we intend to explore more deeply the numbers in all these reports and how we can accomplish the recommendations in the Toward Car-Free Key West study. Stay tuned…

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Research Reports:

You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here and recent stories below:

Chris Hamilton is founder of the local advocacy group Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. He’s a native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led nationally renowned efforts promoting transit, bike, walk and smart growth for Arlington County, VA’s DOT. Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Reimagining Key West – 10 Goals for a Better Future and 10 Actions to Get There

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and published for KONK Life newspaper on September 17, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

We brought this story to our readers about 18 months ago in a different venue and are bringing it back to share with a new audience. While certainly much has changed since the time this was first published in April 2020, it seems that the 10 goals to strive for making Key West a better place and 10 actions or ways to achieve those goals are all still valid. We hope these spark thoughtful discussion.

Reimagining Key West – 10 Things We Should Strive For and 10 Ways to Get There

By Chris Hamilton, April 22, 2020; Main Photo Credit Rob O’Neil, March 29, 2020

The Great Pause foisted upon us by the Coronavirus Pandemic gives us an opportunity to reset. As individuals and as communities. It gives us time to reimagine how things can be different in the future. People are waking up to cleaner air, crystal clear water teeming with fish, nature coming back, un-congested streets and a new appreciation for simpler ways. We should realize we have the power to not just rush back to a world that looks exactly the way it was before. Even if politicians and companies turn things back on, are people really going to feel comfortable going back to a go-go, mass consumption, crowded and crazy race to keep up with the Joneses? Are things ever going to be the same? With this new awakening what are the good things we want more of? What are the bad things we just shouldn’t bring back? And how do we make that future happen?

Here in Key West many thoughtful people have been putting together ideas for Reimagining Key West’s future.

10 Things We Should Strive For

I basically hear people yearning for a Key West that is simpler, less crowded and more about our residents. In reimagining Key West, here’s 10 things we should strive for.

  1. A less expensive place to live. Where there is enough affordable housing for people who want to live here full-time. Where people can afford to live and work in the City rather than having to drive miles and miles to afford a home.
  2. Jobs that pay a living wage or that are good enough so that one job can cover the rent or mortgage.
  3. A place where local Mom and Pop shops rule. Where one can afford to start a business and not have to compete with national chains for space.
  4. A community where everyone respects, protects, and celebrates our natural environment. Our air, waters, coral reef and all the living creatures in them. Where sustainable fishing and boating are done in an eco-friendly way.
  5. A culture where creativity flourishes in the arts – visual, literary, musical, theatrical, film and other – for locals and people from around the world. A culture where these creative people give us events, festivals, parties and more art – however you define it – than any town in the world of similar size.
  6. Stewardship of our history, storied characters, and unique One Human Family story and that preserves and shares this heritage with the world.
  7. Veneration of our historic district – the U.S.A’s largest of wood frame buildings, and educating people about our architectural legacy.
  8. Revitalization of our Main Street, Duval Street, and make it welcoming to residents as well as tourists. Make it more pedestrian oriented, with wider sidewalks, benches, cafe seating and more trees and shade.
  9. Making it easy and safe for more of us to get around more often by walking, biking and the bus.
  10. Embodying our One Human Family motto in everything we do. We should continue to attract people who move to the beat of a different drummer, from bohemians, hippies, dreamers, the LGBTQ community, anyone who’s starting over or reinventing themselves or whatever you want to call different.

We DO want to share all this with visitors. But we want visitors that can appreciate what our island has to offer on its own terms and merits without the expectation of mass culture or consumption that degrades all we’re trying to preserve, protect and enhance. If visitors can’t respect these terms, we should ask them to go elsewhere.

10 Ways to Get There

Here’s some things we can do to get more of the Key West we want:

  1. Limit the cruise ships. Enough has already been written on this topic so as not to warrant further elaboration. Suffice it to say research shows that the environmental degradation these behemoths bring to our small island outweighs their benefits.
  2. Incentivize and build more workforce and affordable housing. Build it downtown where people can be close to most of the jobs and not be forced to drive. More than half the people who work in the City live in the County. That means too many people are driving. This wasn’t the case in the 1970’s and 80’s – a time lots of people feel nostalgic for. Back then, most people who worked in the City, lived here too. That made it less congested and friendlier. Some ideas: Start with approving the Porches project. That’s 480 units and 750 people downtown. Approve a similar project, with retail on the bottom on the property for sale at Duval at United Street. Perhaps another 200 units and 300 people. Build something similar on the huge parking lot of the La Concha. Put these units on top of the parking. Another 200 units and 300 people. Do the same on the City’s Caroline Street surface lot and you get another 100 units and 150 people. Double up on incentives for family-size units. That’s almost 1,000 units and about 1,500 living downtown year-round. More people living downtown will help local business too.
  3. Pass a Living Wage bill in Key West.
  4. Don’t allow any more transient rental licenses. Period.
  5. When the Truman Annex Transient Rental Licenses expire in 2025, LET THEM EXPIRE. No exceptions. Period.
  6. Find a way to sunset as many existing transient rental licenses as possible. Don’t let them transfer with a property sale. Buy them out. Or sunset them far into the future. That or jack up their annual fees or taxes.
  7. Re-allocate a majority of the TDC’s (Monroe County Tourist Development Council) marketing funds back to the City, County and non-profits for infrastructure and operating projects (See #8 and #9).
  8. Invest in infrastructure. With interest rates at record lows, we’d be silly not to take money that is practically free. Rebuild Duval Street with wider sidewalks, benches, and trees. Start to elevate our streets. Refresh our beaches. Invest more in coral reef restoration. Pump money into Key West Art and Historical Society and its museums, into our historic district, into all of the non-profit art associations. Build a Rainbow Museum about our LGBTQ history. Demarcate the historic district. Invest in electric buses for Key West Transit and the Duval Loop. Provide better wayfinding signage. Build protected bikeways and bike trails. Put in more bike parking.
  9. Invest in our people and the things that make this island unique. Move the College of the Florida Keys downtown so its more part of the community. Make it free. Instead of the TDC spending money on marketing, it should spend money on providing operating support for Key West non-profit history, art and eco museums and cultural offerings (the State Department of Cultural Affairs has a similar General Program Support grant but it is always underfunded. The TDC could just supplement what the State gives without having to invent a whole new process).
  10. Work to make Key West a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is Nance Frank’s idea and I love it.

Thanks to the founders of Reimagining Key West for the opportunity to share my thoughts.
– Chris Hamilton, Key West resident
For similar thoughts Follow us over at Friends of Car-Free Key West.
Here’s a shorter version of the article published in the Citizen as a Letter to the Editor on April 30, 2020.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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 downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Serious Bikeshare in the U.S.A. is 11 Years Old. Its Success Shows Cities Can Do Innovative Work

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on September 10, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Today we’re reprising an article we brought our readers in a different venue a year ago. The story has relevance to us here in my hometown of Key West and other cities for several reasons:

  1. Bikeshare and now e-scooters or micromobility, as they are commonly called together, are changing the way we move about our cities for the better. They are efficient, clean-powered and healthy. They help us reclaim space from cars and repurpose it for people.
  2. The back story of the country’s first major bikeshare program shows that local governments, working cooperatively with each other and the private sector, can make our cities better places.
  3. The success and replication of this program, Capital Bikeshare, shows that local governments with the guts and leadership to try new things win the future.

My hometown of Key West, maybe like your hometown too, is full of wonderful people and good ideas that would make our community’s future better. We have ideas for pedestrianizing more of our downtown streets, revamping our public transit system, and making it safer and easier to bike and walk. Yet time after time, ideas are quashed by naysayers, NIMBYS, whataboutism and moneyed special interests. Projects that do get going wither on the vine from inattention, turnover, budget constraints and incompetence. It is a wonder we get anything new done. And yet…

And yet, we have the example of Capital Bikeshare. A program pushed forward by multiple local governments that included funding from private sources, local, State and Federal funds. A program that showed, YES, government can still do good things. I ask you to read this story with that in mind. Then apply the lessons learned here and in my good friend Gabe Klein‘s awesome book Start-Up City and go out and do good things. Enjoy…

Capital Bikeshare is 10 Years Old. Its Success Hinged on Pioneers Working Together.

By Chris Hamilton, September 13, 2020

In just 10 short years bikeshare has changed the way we move about our cities. Here’s a little more back story on the pioneers who worked together to transform transportation in North America.

September 20, 2020, marks the 10th Anniversary of Capital Bikeshare, the first successful, large-scale bikeshare program in the U.S.A. After a decade of growth, a system that began with 400 bicycles at 49 stations now has nearly 5,000 bikes at almost 600 stations in 3 states. More impressive is that the massive success of CaBi, as it is affectionately known, sparked a movement that now sees similar bikeshare operations in 120+ cities across North America. 10 years later Capital Bikeshare is still one of the top systems having been named North America’s best just a few months ago (Six Best Bikeshare Systems in the U.S. and Canada, Money Crashers, June 20, 2020).

Bikeshare, along with the micro-mobility devices that followed it, have in a very short time, revolutionized the way we get around our cities. If not for the daring and teamwork of some pioneers in the D.C. region, who knows how long it may have taken to prove the feasibility of this idea and catch on the way it did. The best systems have become such a staple of everyday living that one can’t even imagine the Washington, D.C. region or the cities of New York or Chicago today without their respective bikeshare.

Two innovative DOTs took a leap of faith on the concept.

Gabe Klein DDOT Director and Chris Hamilton Commuter Services Chief

What’s remarkable is that a couple of local government entities, the District of Columbia and Arlington County, Virginia Departments of Transportation, jointly took a leap of faith, launched and then quickly expanded a unified system without the usual and laborious bureaucracy and proof of concept planning that precedes most government projects. As a result, the agencies hit the ground running, met immediate acclaim, and that success fueled further growth. It was only once Capital Bikeshare was firmly established as an ongoing concern, a couple years into the project, that the DOTs took a breath and generated “transit development plans” or TDPs that covered long-term planning, expansion and financing that cements the system as a permanent part of the region’s transportation infrastructure.

DDOT mirrored its chief, acted like a start-up and pushed the project over the finish line.

Gabe Klein’s book Start-Up City discusses the birth of Capital Bikeshare.

It was a perfect storm of people and opportunities that made it all come together. The District had tried a small 10-station bikeshare project called SmartBikeDC that generated early adopter fans. D.C.’s progressive mayor, Adrian Fenty, hired for his District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Chief an unconventional, entrepreneurial, start-up guy in Zipcar executive Gabe Klein who knew how to get stuff done quickly. Mr. Klein assembled an amazing team of like-minded people who ensured the eventual Capital Bikeshare project felt more like a private start-up than a government run project. Once Gabe decided to abandon SmartBikeDC’s operator Clear Channel Outdoor and join with Arlington’s bikeshare procurement, he and his people made the CaBi project blossom and pushed it over the finish line.

Gabe’s team included true believers like Jim Sebastian and Chris Holben, who did all the planning under the direction of their their boss Karina Ricks. Alice Kelley, Scott Kubly, John Lisle, Karen Le Blanc, and others were part of Gabe’s brain trust. Gabe and a host of others at DDOT ensured success. This story is well chronicled in Gabe’s awesome book, Start-Up City (our review of the book), on Wikipedia and in a number of articles that appeared in the news within a few years of the launch (Many Unsung Heros Made Capital Bikeshare a Reality, by Dave Alpert, Greater Greater Washington, 1/9/13; The Best Bikesharing Program in the United States – How D.C. of all places, made it happen. by Tom Vanderbilt,, 1/7/13.)


But a lesser known subplot of the story had developed concurrent with the District’s efforts on the other side of the Potomac. For Capital Bikeshare’s launch to actually happen on September 20, 2010, this story had to advance over the course of a few years on both sides of the Potomac before coming together. Without this set of circumstances serendipitously happening, just this way, bikeshare as we have come to know it, may not exist.

Arlington Commuter Services entrepreneurial spirit gave life to an idea and wouldn’t give up in the face of bureaucracy.

Chris Hamilton and Paul DeMaio

Across the river in Arlington County, the Arlington DOT had a successful entrepreneurial Bureau (Commuter Services) that for more than a decade had been using top of the industry private contractors to pioneer groundbreaking retail (The Commuter Store), business to business (Arlington Transportation Partners), community outreach (BikeArlington and WalkArlington), internet (, and more), marketing (Arlington’s Car-Free Diet) and research services (Mobility Lab) that relied on an intricate maze of outside grants and self-generated funding. It’s accolades and success (A Dozen Easy Principals for Organizational Success), allowed it to act autonomously enough to bypass some of the usual bureaucracy to bring new projects to market. That included Capital Bikeshare. The management part of that team included: Lois DeMeester, Bobbi Greenberg, Jay Freschi, Chris Eatough, John Durham and Howard Jennings.

The Bike Arlington Team – Chris Eatough, Chris Hamilton, Henry Dunbar, Erin Potter, Dennis Leach, Lois DeMeester and Paul DeMaio in May, 2015 at the National Building Museum Gala Honoring Capital Bikeshare.

It started with this team, whose mission was to “make it easy” to use transit, bike, walk and share the ride, believing in the idea and dream of one of its younger team members, Paul DeMaio. Paul traveled to Europe and brought back stories of nascent bikeshare projects in Germany (Call-a-Bike comes to mind). He painted such a vivid picture of solving first and last mile transportation issues at one of the team’s annual strategic planning meetings, that everyone encouraged Paul to write a proposal for the unit to submit a grant for State “experimental” transportation funding. When it wasn’t funded the first year, it was resubmitted again and got funded a year later. Paul was then tasked to lead the Arlington effort and the entire bureau committed to making the project happen. Something this different would take a multi-disciplinary and entrepreneurial team to bring it to life. Luckily, in Commuter Services, bikeshare found life.

Angie Fox, then Executive Director of the Crystal City BID

Once seed funding was found via the State grant, the Crystal City Business Improvement District’s insightful leaders (Angie Fox and Rob Mandle) volunteered to match the State money if the County would agree to start the project in Crystal City. In fact, concentrating on one specific neighborhood helped the project. Then DOT Director, avid bicyclist and annual European bike trip traveler Dennis Leach, who protected and nurtured Commuter Services’ vision from the rest of the bureaucracy, came up with half of the initial funding by matching the state grant and BID monies.

With money in hand and the realization that the project couldn’t be done with County staff (too many hoops to ramp up), the team turned to look for a contractor to operate the system. The idea was modeled after the County’s ART bus system, where Arlington owned the buses but hired a private company to manage and operate the system. The County was also responsible for all marketing and public relations for ART. Commuter Services just happened to already be the unit that did the ART bus marketing, so this model was envisioned to work similarly for bikeshare. The County would own the equipment, hire an operator and keep the marketing and public/community relations in-house.

The Commuter Services team didn’t think of bikeshare as just biking or a novelty but rather as an extension of the transit system and as a serious addition to the transportation service mix offered by the County. This philosophy undergirded everything and was a large part in how needed people, throughout the government hierarchy who were pre-disposed to not spend money or take on new projects, were brought into the fold. Arlington already had a reputation for “smart growth” and getting people to use transit. If bikeshare was seen as part of that, then it didn’t seem so foreign. This strategy was crucial in gaining acceptance. (Read: Cities Must Understand Bikeshare Is Transit)

Lois DeMeester, Jay Freschi, Chris Hamilton and Bobbi Greenberg

Using the ART bus operation as a framework, County Attorney Bruce Kimble and Purchasing Agent Maryam Zahory likely spent 100 hours (volunteering nights with Commuter Services) to draw up a never-before-been-done Request for Proposals (RFP) and then a contract for the unproven concept. Thousands of municipalities had contracts for bus systems. But THIS kind of bike transit system had never been tried before. Their painstakingly meticulous and pioneering work eventually paved the way for other cities across the U.S.A. (the RFP and contract was widely shared) to put out similar contracts for service, spurring bikeshare across the continent.

Regional cooperation wins out.

A small portion of the bike stations in Arlington, on the left side of the Potomac and the District.

By now our story has taken a couple years just to get to this point. Having heard that the District was having problems with Clear Channel and thus might need a Plan B, the team ensured the RFP and contract allowed for other local jurisdictions in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to “ride” or piggyback Arlington’s contract without having to go through their own entire procurement process to purchase their own set of bikes and stations and thus create a regional system. District of Columbia, City of Alexandria, VA and Montgomery County, MD staff were asked to sit on the RFP selection panel as a result. After months of work, the group selected Alta Bicycle Share, a company that was set up specifically for this project by Alta Planning & Design from Portland, OR. This spin off company was later acquired by Motivate.

Chris Zimmerman, Dennis Leach and Jay Fisette

Even as a vendor was being selected, the District was still holding out hope with their talks to use SmartBikeDC vendor Clear Channel Outdoor. A couple forward thinking, smart-growth champions, County Board Members Chris Zimmerman and Jay Fisette, insisted on a regional approach and didn’t want Commuter Services staff to move forward differently from D.C. They initiated a meeting with DDOT’s Gabe Klein and Arlington staff.

It helped that a number of influential local bloggers at Greater Greater Washington, TheWashCycle and Beyond D.C., among others, cheered for bikeshare in the region and also insisted that different systems on either side of the Potomac made no sense. It aided the cause that the Alta Bicycle Share vendor proposed using the amazing Montreal Bixi system bikes. The solar-powered system didn’t need to be hard-wired like SmartBikeDC and the bikes were much more sturdy. After the meeting, the Clear Channel route was abandoned by the District and Arlington and D.C. staff moved forward together on a unified project.

Two DOT’s working together with a shared belief in an idea and in each other.

Just a few days after Capital Bikeshare launched on September 20, 2010 the District, Arlington and Alta Bicycle Share teams met at Nationals Ballpark to watch the Presidents conduct their 5th inning race using Capital Bikeshare bikes. We knew we’d arrived when the roar of the crowd saw the Presidents on our bikes.

Although both agencies were using the same contract to work with Alta Bicycle Share to create a brand new bikeshare system, there was no formal compact, memorandum of understanding, or agreement between the DOTs on who did what and how they’d manage that system. The District and Arlington owned their own respective equipment (the stations and bikes – although the bikes could cross jurisdictional lines), shared managing the vendor and were responsible for all marketing and PR. The people involved, on both sides of the Potomac had a shared belief in the project.

Everyone respected the respective strengths each brought to the table and trusted each other to have the best interests of the whole at heart. That faith in the idea and each other fueled the project. Another common bond between the District and Arlington teams was respect for the vendor Alta Bicycle Share, who brought an amazingly strong team of their own to the project (Alison Cohen and Charlie Denney among them). Too often government entities treat contractors at arms length or worse, like serfs. But Mr. Klein’s background in the private sector and Commuter Services experience using private contractors elevated the endeavor to a true partnership between all three entities. It clicked. And the results were fun and amazing.

This is how Alison Cohen put it in a 2013 interview:

“From the agency side, the team that I worked with from DDOT and Arlington was so professional and incredible, the real thought that I had was “don’t mess up”. During that first launch, there was a lot of learning between Alta, PBSC and the clients, and we ended up working all together to make sure that everything was covered. We at Alta ended up being in the middle to fill in all the gaps in this first-ever bike share contract. It was a very tiring and very exciting 4 months from when we completed our contract in May 2010 to system launch in September 2010. There was such a wave of dedication from all of the staff of the agencies, all the staff that we hired, and from PBSC to ensure a successful launch.” League of American Bicyclists, June 4, 2013, Women Bike Wednesday: Alison Cohen, Bike Share Pioneer

Yes, the system was almost named George.

The D.C., Arlington and Alta teams worked with Arlington’s marketing firm (Alberto GonzalezPulsar Advertising which included Jim Wright and Katherine Carlson) to come up with a name and branding. Yes, we almost called the system George, after our first president. WeCycle was another popular choice. Capital Bikeshare and CaBi won out for a variety of reasons including trademark issues and testing with the public. Pulsar had also worked with the Downtown DC BID on the branding of the D.C. Circulator bus and this would become visually evident later as Gabe Klein insightfully insisted Capital Bikeshare branding be similar to the Circulator – thus the unified red, black and gold colors.

It further helped that the firm (Destination Sales and Marketing Group, (DS&MG) headed by the amazing entreprenaur Lois DeMeester, the District was using for its TDM marketing program, goDCgo, and would be responsible for much of the marketing and social media rollout, was the same contractor working for Arlington Commuter Services on various projects. In fact goDCgo staff (Katie Sihler headed the effort) sat next to the Bike Arlington (DS&MG) staff (Chris Eatough and Tim Kelley) responsible for Arlington’s portion of the rollout.

“Don’t underestimate how hard it is to work together to make something happen.”

With a contract vendor, branding and marketing teams in place, this is where Gabe’s management and communications’ team took the lead heading into the summer before the launch. It made sense as they were the most heavily invested in terms of stations and bikes after all, and so they pushed the ball over the goal line toward the September 20 launch. The rest is history.

Me waving.

At the grand opening ceremony at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette welcomed everyone “to the most bike friendly region in America!” He added:

“This is regional success. Don’t underestimate how hard it is for one jurisdiction to reach out to another and for two of them to work together to make something happen. And it’s only the beginning because Alexandria, Falls Church and Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties are next.”

He was right, the story of Capital Bikeshare happening may have seemed easy to the public. But the confluence of good people and goodwill and the serendipitous circumstances that had to occur to make this happen is the real untold story of CaBi. Congratulations to everyone involved, on both sides of the Potomac, in changing the region’s transportation system and showing the way towards a better future for the rest of the country. Happy 10th Anniversary!

– By Chris Hamilton, September 13, 2020

Resources about the history of Capital Bikeshare:

Gabe Klein’s book, Start-Up City – Inspiring Public and Private Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done and Having Fun vividly brings to life the go-go atmosphere of the project and time. I highly recommend the book!

Many Unsung Heros Made Capital Bikeshare a Reality
By David Alpert (Executive Director) January 9, 2013; article in Greater Greater Washington

The Best Bikesharing Program in the United States – How D.C. of all places, made it happen
By Tom Vanderbilt, January 7, 2013,

Arlington TV Newsmakers video about the launch of Capital Bikeshare

Capital Bikeshare in Wikipedia

Cities Must Understand Bikeshare Is Transit, by Chris Hamilton, April 17, 2015

Women Bike Wednesday, Alison Cohen, Bike Share Pioneer; June 4, 2013; The League of American Bicyclists

Arlington County’s Capital Bikeshare page including reports, stats and more…

DDOT’s Capital Bikeshare page

Capital Bikeshare’s About and History page

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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 downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Can We Save Key West Transit from a Death Spiral?

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on September 3, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Census data shows almost no one takes the bus to commute to work. A recent Strategic Plan survey rating 19 City services said not enough residents used public transit to give it a rating. The new City North and South Line buses ride around empty. Duval Loop ridership is waning. This is a crucial year for our little municipal system for two reasons. One, we’ve got hundreds of units of affordable housing on Stock Island that should be coming online at this time next year and there’s no frequent bus service to get them into town. Two, much of the State funding propping up Key West Transit operations is based on ridership numbers, which are declining.

If the system doesn’t improve, ridership numbers will continue to drop and then next year our State funding will be less. This could force the system to make cuts in service which drives more people away, leading to worse numbers and risking a death spiral of even lower services for public transit here on the island. Recent planning efforts identified providing more frequency between buses as the way to serve riders better and increase the numbers of people riding the bus. But the City’s Finance Department didn’t want to spend more money to do that and so has said that they’ll instead try an untested idea to save money. While we might meet budget in the short-term are we dooming our public transit system? 

This is a copy of Key West Forward Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness element section dealing with improving public transit by adding frequency on the North and South Lines to every 30 minutes from the current 80 – 90 minutes.

Plans to Upgrade Transit Formed Via Multiple Planning Processes 

Key West Transit’s adopted 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP), the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) and the City’s soon to be adopted Key West Forward Strategic Plan* all called for increasing investment in our public transit system to pay bus drivers more, increase the abysmal frequency on all routes and move towards free fares. The Mayor and most Commissioners echoed the call during the budget hearings.

Through many meetings and multiple processes, a consensus was built that improved public transit was vital for our future prosperity and environment and that they way to improve our existing system was to follow the adopted TDP by simplifying the routes, adding frequency, and eventually getting to free transit on the island. The SAB implored the Commission to pay the drivers more, increase frequency and institute free fares in this coming fiscal year and to pay for it with hikes in metered parking. The recent Strategic Plan process came to the same conclusion and the draft of the Traffic and Friendliness element presented to the public and Commission in June stated that North and South Lines should go from the current 80 – 90 minutes to 30 minutes and on the Lower Keys Shuttle from 95 – 120 minutes to every 60 minutes. 

This is a snippet from the Sustainability Advisory Committee’s Priorities for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 that begins October 1, 2021. Their number one priority, as transmitted to the Commission, is fixing Key West Transit with more drivers and frequency.

Finance Department Blocks Consensus Built Plans

The Key West Transit adopted 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP) calls for getting to 15-minute frequency and free fares on all routes within the City.

So, after all this planning and consensus building everyone seemed a little surprised that the Finance Department presented a no-growth Transit budget for the coming year at the July 22nd City Commission Budget Workshop. Oh, that proposal by the Sustainability Advisory Board to increase metered rates was indeed instituted by the Finance Director. But rather than invest the money in transit, as the SAB proposed, it is going towards balancing the General Fund. Experts such as Parking Guru Donald Shoup, have always argued that increases in parking fees should go towards alternative transportation services or directly for infrastructure improvements on the streets they’re taken from, not the general welfare.

Without additional money to add frequency on the routes, the Transit Director had little choice but to throw a Hail Mary pass and propose an On-Demand Transit service (think Uber transit) that he and the Finance Director said wouldn’t need more drivers, wouldn’t need more budget and would be better for everyone. If he didn’t propose this pilot project, we’d simply get the same awful service that is out there today and that would surely start the death spiral. So, while we think the Transit Director should have fought harder for the money to improve the system as planned, we give him credit for coming up with an out of the box idea when told by Finance that the money wasn’t coming.

By the way, shouldn’t Finance help leaders fund priorities by getting creative instead of themselves deeming that since ridership is lacking it isn’t worth putting more money into? It is a classic chicken or egg situation here. We aren’t going to get good ridership numbers until we make the system better. That takes money. At least the Sustainability Advisory Board tried to find a way to pay for improvement. But we digress…

The pilot project idea in short is to eliminate the North and South Lines and evening Duval Loop service and replace it with an On-Demand Service. So instead of buses traveling along a route, one would use a smartphone app to request a trip similar to hailing an Uber. Rather than door to door, the buses would pick up and drop off customers at bus stops. (For details on how it is proposed to work read: Uber-Like Transit Coming to Key West? July 30, 2021). 

Units are rising fast at the 280-unit Wreckers Cay development on Stock Island. Another 140 are slated to get started on College Road. All these new residents could use some high frequency transit so they don’t have to drive into town.

September 13th Budget Hearing 

During the Strategic Planning process Mayor Johnston and others said the goal, as stated in the TDP, should be service every 15 minutes because that’s what’s really needed to attract people out of cars and increase ridership. But they settled on increasing frequency to 30 minutes in the coming fiscal year because it was so much better than the current 80 – 90 minutes and it gave them more time to build towards the ideal. When asked by Commissioner Sam Kaufman during the Strategic Plan presentation “How many years have we been talking about adding bus frequency? Do we even have the capacity to do this?” The Mayor answered:

“The answer is us (referring to herself and the Commissioners on the dais). Are we willing to spend the money that gets us there? The limiting factor is us and what we’re willing to commit to.”

The last chance for Commissioners to ask why they weren’t presented with an opportunity to commit to an investment in public transit with more frequency is the September 13th Budget Hearing. Yes, more drivers and more frequent service are going to cost more money, but isn’t that where we were headed before Finance stepped in? Will anyone speak up or will the Commission, having been provided cover from making any hard choices about spending additional dollars to improve our public transit, keep silent?

For the On-Demand pilot one would use a smartphone app to request a trip similar to hailing an Uber.

Rolling the Dice on Keeping the Death Spiral at Bay

By keeping silent the Commission will be rolling the dice and hoping and praying that this On-Demand pilot, which is untested in urban areas like ours, works. Because if it doesn’t, we’ll have lost a year in which we could have incrementally invested in more frequency and better routes. Which might have led to better ridership numbers and more money from the State. Which could lead to a positive spiral, more funding, and the ability to get frequencies down to 15 minutes.

If the Commission doesn’t commit to an investment in public transit and goes with the budget neutral pilot project, we really have no choice but to root for the Uber-like On-Demand Transit pilot to succeed. Who knows, maybe that Hail Mary pass will be caught and so many people will use it that we’ll need more drivers anyway to keep up with demand. Seems this may be our only hope in avoiding the death spiral. Yes, this is going to be a very important year for our little Key West Transit system. Stay tuned…

# # #

*The original Improve Public Transit section of the Key West Forward Strategic Plan called for increasing frequency on the bus lines when formally presented to the Commission on June 15. The final version of the Strategic Plan that was just released and went to the Commission on September 1 included a switch to On Demand Transit that wouldn’t need more drivers and money.

16 Additional Articles on Key West Transit
  1. City to Make It Easier to Bike to the Lower Keys Shuttle Bus; August 20, 2021
  2. Uber-Like Transit Coming to Key West? July 30, 2021
  3. Mayor Bravely Puts Onus on Commission to Do Heavy Lifting on Bike, Walk and Transit. Will They Come Through? July 2, 2021
  4. How Better Transit and Bicycle Facilities Can Help Address Affordable Housing; May 14, 2021
  5. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – A Dozen Marketing Things KW Transit Can Do to Increase Ridership; April 9, 2021
  6. The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops – We Just Don’t Care; April 2, 2021 
  7. Sustainability Board Wants to Make Free, Frequent and Simple Key West Transit a Reality; February 5, 2021 
  8. Key West Transit Abandons Old Meandering Routes, But… December 26, 2020
  9. FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! December 21, 2020
  10. We Need Key West Transit to Communicate Their Path Forward; August 19, 2020
  11. Key West Transit Takes Step Towards Future with August Public Hearings; July 30, 2020
  12. Shhhhh… Key West Transit Has Quietly Changed Their Routes; May 20, 2020
  13. Reimagining Key West Transit; May 10, 2020
  14. Commission: No More Free Ride For You; May 5, 2020
  15. Keep Duval Loop FREE for Visitors; April 30, 2020
  16. City Adopts Ambitious 10-Year Key West Transit Plan; December 30, 2019

You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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 downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / We Need to Increase the Quantity and Quality of Bicycle Parking Downtown

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 27, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Local bike shop owners tell us bicycle rentals and sales have been way up over the last year. Travel and economic reports indicate Key West has more visitors and business is booming downtown. Anecdotally, we see lots of people on bikes. On Duval and adjacent commercial streets, we’re observing full bike racks. As a result, bikes are parked on trees, streetlights, signposts, and fences – which doesn’t help our already overcrowded sidewalks. It’s time to add way more bicycle parking capacity downtown and go beyond the hodgepodge placement of bicycle racks to a system that places racks in the street (not on our crowded sidewalks) in the same places on every block, so people know what to expect. While we’re at it let’s put the Parking Department in charge of bicycle parking too.

More Visitors. More Business. More People on Bikes.

Everywhere you turn local, Florida and national news outlets have been publishing data that say Key West is experiencing record numbers for hotel occupancy rates and average room rates. Restaurants and bars that usually experience a dip in the summer, report jammed venues and exhausted staff. The Key West International Airport is experiencing the highest monthly totals of visitors ever. The season, it seems, is never ending. The boom means more people downtown especially. 

Says Evan Haskell, owner of We Cycle Bike Shops:

“Not only are there tons of people here and the town is maxed out, COVID-19 had the effect of getting more people active outdoors. Bike rentals are up, with 2021 looking to well exceed 2019 figures. I’d be selling bikes like crazy if I could get them. It’s a global bike boom for demand and that is compounded by the global shipping challenges affecting all imported good.”

Tom “The Bike Man” Thiesen, owner of Bike Man Bike Rentals:

“There are tons of people on the island and that equates to all the bike rental shops being very busy. Also, all the hotels in Key West are maxed out.”

More People on Bikes Puts a Strain on Our Limited Bike Parking and Crowds Our Narrow Sidewalks

We’re happy to see so many people using bicycles and walking to get around. That’s a good thing. But look around as you traverse Duval and adjacent streets. You’ll see the bike racks we do have are full and you’ll see every tree, streetlight, signpost, fence, and awning pole jammed with bicycles too. It makes our already overcrowded, narrow sidewalks harder to navigate and if you aren’t paying attention, you could get hurt. 

We have to go mostly on anecdotal information and observation here because the City just doesn’t track bicycle parking the same way it doggedly manages, maintains, and tracks the City’s downtown 1,800 car parking spaces in lots and garages and 3,000 on-street car spaces. 

The City’s Modest Plans for Bicycle Parking Downtown

In a May 2021 Transportation Report, presented to the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board and City Commission, Tim Staub, the now departed for grad-school Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator, reported that during the last year the City installed “new racks on Caroline Street, the Pocket Park, the Truman Waterfront Park, and Varella and Duval Streets.” The report also says, “More to be installed at: Duval, United, Fleming, Front, Simonton, Grinnell, Frances, Dog Beach, Smathers Beach and the Community Sailing Center.” That’s it. No specific numbers or timetable. That’s the plan.

Follow-up with City staff revealed that: 

  • In Fiscal Year 2018 $30,000 was allocated for bike racks and all the money was spent. 
  • In FY19 no money was allocated to bike racks.
  • In FY20 $45,000 was allocated for bike racks and all the money was spent.
  • In FY21 – the current year – because they still have unplaced bike racks in storage, they moved the allocated $45,000 for new bike racks to FY22 to instead cover the match needed for the Last Mile project placing parking for bikes in racks and lockers at the Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops
  • In FY22 the current version of the budget includes $45,000 for bike racks. The budget has not yet been approved.

I’m told that with current prices and when accounting for shipping costs, that $45,000 in the coming year’s budget could net bicycle parking for about 1,000 bikes (2 bikes each per loop or rack) at a mix of 5 U’s, 4 U’s, 2, U’s and bollards. A “U” is simply a bike rack that looks like an upside down or inverted U. They can be strung together to consist of two to five or many more. A bollard usually consists of a single pole that includes a place to loop a lock through and is bolted to the ground.

What we can’t tell our readers is how much public bike parking exists. There isn’t an inventory of racks on the street. Nor can staff tell us the number of racks and exact locations of parking recently installed or in storage awaiting installation. Nor when and where and how many are to be installed other than what is in the above report. To be fair, without someone in Tim’s position, we shouldn’t expect this kind of information anytime soon either. 

But again, unlike our reporting on car parking herehere and here, without being able to put any real numbers to the problem our evidence for lack of capacity only comes from daily observations. 

More Quantity and Quality Bike Parking Needed

Getting people quickly and conveniently to and around downtown by bike is an easy way to help pedestrianize the area. Research shows bike parking is good for local business. Especially for spur of the moment or impulse buying because bikes make that easy. Our current bike parking seems very hodgepodge and not thought out. Some blocks seem to have a bunch of racks and others, nothing. On one block there are a series of bollards, often too close to cars or jamming people to walk single file. On other blocks there are a series of inverted U racks taking up space on the sidewalks or they are in the street. There’s no consistency on each block let alone the entirety of downtown. There seems to be abandoned bikes everywhere too.

The City’s adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan identifies seven “Moving Forward – Transportation Programs and Policies” where the City needs to take “Action.” The fourth of those policies is:

“ACTION: Increase the Quantity and Quality of Bicycle Parking”

That’s where we get the name for our story. The action states “Bicycle parking is an essential element in a bicycle transportation network. People need to know that there will be a safe place to lock their bicycle at the end of their trip.” It goes on to say that “there should be enough bike racks or lockers to satisfy demand so bicycles are not parking where they should not.”

Based on simple observation, there isn’t enough parking. And while there is no detail in the report, the graphic accompanying this action indicates that for short-term parking, in addition to Sidewalk Bicycle Racks,” there should be “On-Street Bicycle Corrals.” 

At least in most places downtown let’s stop erecting the one-off bike racks in the sidewalk that force people to walk single file on some blocks and instead install bicycle corral parking in the street. Corrals are a great solution for places where demand for bicycle parking exceeds the available sidewalk space, like in Old Town.

What’s a Bicycle Corral?

A bike corral is a group racks installed adjacent to the curb in the parking lane of the street. Corrals typically provide parking for 10 to 24 bikes on 5 to 12 inverted U’s. Corrals use paint, small buffers and flexible bollards and a wheel stop or parking block to demarcate and protect their location. The advantages of using corrals include:

  • Corrals provide an inexpensive and efficient means of increasing total parking capacity
  • Corrals provide a 10 to 1 customer to parking space ratio vs car parking
  • Corrals advertise and promote “bike-friendliness”
  • Corrals clear the sidewalks for uses such as walking, window shopping and outdoor seating
  • Corrals improve visibility at intersections by eliminating the opportunity for large vehicles to park near the corner
  • Corrals increase the visibility of businesses from the street vs having a car parked in front

The most famous use of widespread bike corrals is in Portland, Oregon where at last count in 2019 the city had installed 158 of them, mostly at the request of business owners who asked for them to be placed at their building. 

Quality = Predictability: Place Corrals on Every Block Adjacent to Duval Street

I recall, four or so years ago, the affable and long-time Parking Director John Wilkins telling me he thought bicycle parking should be found in large numbers, corral style, in the first car-parking space on the corner of every street that crosses the length of Duval. He said this lends itself to installing scooter parking right next to the bicycles. His idea stuck with me because it’s a good one. 

One could simply replace the first car parking space on most of these crossing blocks where there’s space (Front, Greene, Caroline, Eaton, Applerouth, Fleming, Southard, Angela, Petronia, Olivia, Virginia, Catherine, Louisa, United and South) with a bicycle corral and/or replace the first two car parking spaces with bikes in the first and scooters in the second. Or on the south side of Duval put the scooters in and on the north side put the bicycles. The important thing is to do the same thing on every cross street from the Gulf to the Atlantic. The consistency makes it easy to remember. And as we said above, this provides better sight lines for turning vehicles at these intersections and so minimizes crashes with pedestrians and bicycles. Another advantage is the City doesn’t have to move the existing U racks off Duval Street for Fantasy Fest and special events like they do now – because the racks would already be on the side streets.

You can see a great example of this concept on the 500 block of Petronia at Duval across from the 801 Bar. The first parking space is for bikes. The second is for scooters and the third begins the car parking. That’s the way it should be up and down the corridor. On the 400 block Applerouth Lane near Mary Ellen’s there’s scooter parking and then a little bicycle parking hidden behind that. And on the 400 block of Eaton, in front of St. Paul’s, there’s weirdly a one car parking space, one space for bicycles and then one space for scooters. The parking in front of St. Paul’s vividly demonstrates how about 16 bikes can fit where one car parks. Other blocks like on the 500 block of Southard have scooter parking in the first spot. So, there’s already kind of a start to this concept. Now we just need to add it all along Duval. And while we’re at it lets find places to put corrals on other commercial blocks within the historic area. When the sidewalk is narrow, bike parking belongs in the street.

Quality = Artistic Designs and Longer Term Protected Parking

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that we’ve often heard people in the arts community advocate for some artistic designs for our bicycle parking. The Council of the Arts sponsored a nice design for bicycle racks and a bus stop at the Truman Waterfront Park. Could something be done long-term to upgrade the design quality? Yes. 

The Bike/Ped Plan also suggests the City investigate longer term, protected parking in the form of lockers, cages, and stations in high traffic areas downtown. And to consider event parking. All good ideas.

Abandoned Bikes

In chatting with Tom “The Bike Man” Thiesen about these ideas, he said of this story, it’s a “good plan.” He reminded us of the need for “monitoring bike racks for derelict bikes.” He’s right! A quick read of the various local Facebook groups around town or in the Citizen’s Voice column and you are sure to run into complaints about old, abandoned, or derelict bikes taking up space on our limited supply of racks. If only there was someone that could monitor the situation…

Perhaps Bike Parking Should Be Managed by the Parking Department

The City’s very well-run Parking Department does an excellent job in monitoring meters, loading zones and residential parking spaces, hmm… perhaps they could help. But the Parking Department has nothing to do with “bicycle” parking.

Why is that? 

The City has dozens of corral style bike racks in storage waiting for a home, but installation lags. Despite money in the budget, no one bought any new bike racks this year. Perhaps this is because the responsibility for bicycle paring rests with no one person or department. The Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator position, which oversees new parking, resides in the Planning Department. When that position wants to install parking, it must be run through and approved by the Engineering Department because they control the streets. Then if something is approved it goes to the Community Services Department and waits for their Public Works Division to find the time to install it. We have no idea who monitors derelict bikes. Sounds like a bureaucratic black hole to us. Perhaps since Mr. Staub has recently left the position, it is time to rethink the way the City does bicycle parking.

Mr. Wilkins runs a tight ship in managing the Parking Department. He’s known for solid research and reporting. He’s good with his staff. He’s shown an affinity for multi-modal transportation as he’s part of a small group that launched the successful Duval Loop and he’s thought about bicycle parking as evidenced by his idea for bike corrals and scooters. Could not the people who oversee car parking spaces, loading zones and the like also monitor, and manage bicycle and scooter parking? No one knows the downtown streets better. So perhaps this department should manage all the curb space. We think it is an idea the City should consider.

More and Quality Bicycle Parking = a Better Downtown

Adding more bicycle parking, enhancing the quality of the facilities by using corrals, and making the parking placement more consistent will help our downtown function better. It will free up some needed space on our crowded narrow sidewalks as bikes move from trees, poles, and fences to proper spaces in the street. We may even get more people on bikes by making it easier to park. Our little island paradise always wins when we make it easier to bike. 

# # #

You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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 downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / City to Make It Easier to Bike to the Lower Keys Shuttle Bus

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 20, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

If all goes as planned, by this time next year the City will be in the process of installing bicycle racks and lockers, map and schedule information, hail lights, bicycle fix-it stations and trash and recycle bins at most of the 62 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops between Marathon and Key West as well as 20 of the most frequently used North and South Line and Duval Loop bus stops. The effort is part of a “Final Mile” grant aimed to bridge the gap between people’s homes or destination and the bus stop.

Over the last couple of decades more people that work in Key West, have moved to the County to find cheaper housing. According to 2015 and 2021 surveys, traffic congestion is a top three problem with congestion along U.S. Route 1 and through the Triangle a familiar headache to many. The popular Key West Transit Lower Keys Shuttle (LKS) is one of the only alternatives to driving for people commuting in from the Lower Keys as the bike ride all the way is in just too far for most people. Investing in making the Lower Keys Shuttle easier to access provides an opportunity to get more people off the only road into town and decrease congestion and pollution.

The First and Final/Last Mile Problem

In transportation circles, the Last or Final Mile problem describes the difficulty in getting people from transit hubs, train stations and bus stops to their final destination after they get off the vehicle. The First Mile Problem is about the difficulty of getting people from one’s home to the beginning transit stop. Walking is the primary mode for getting to and from a transit stop. But research shows that most people will only walk a quarter mile or two to three blocks to reach a bus stop. Now think about our islands in the Lower Keys and how far away much of the housing is along U.S. Route 1 where the Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops are located. Extending that quarter mile radius around the bus stop by enabling people to use other modes to get to the stop means more riders. More riders mean less congestion on the Overseas Highway.

In many cities technology has enabled new ways to address first and last mile problems. Bikeshare and scooter share has proven to increase transit ridership on both ends of the trips. Park-n-ride lots allow people to drive to the bus stop and park for free for the day and hop on the bus or train. And many transit systems are experimenting with Uber, Lyft, taxis, and new-fangled micro-transit (van-sharing) to get people to and from transit stops. In formulating their grant, the City considered many of these options. In the end, what they will construct is a pretty good start at making transit, especially along U.S. Route 1 into Key West, an easier and more convenient alternative to driving.

The City’s Transit/Bike Champion Puts Together a Winning Strategy 

It is no surprise that Alison Higgins, the City’s Sustainability Coordinator for more than a decade, wrote the proposed “Final Mile” grant. She obviously works closely with Key West Transit staff. To her credit, Ms. Higgins has a long and storied record of championing transit and bikes as part of her sustainability role with the City. For example, she created and chairs the Transportation Coordination Team (TCT), which is a multi-departmental group that meets regularly to pull together transportation strategies. She was instrumental in helping to build the City’s Transportation Alternative Fund or TAF and the highly successful Duval Loop, which originally relied on TAF funding to get going. That and she championed the creation of the Bicycle Coordinator now Alternative Transportation Coordinator position. Says Alison of the Final Mile grant:

“This was a high priority project for the City’s internal Transportation Coordination Team.  The Final Mile project is a win win for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, reducing vehicle miles travelled on our roads. While we need to make the Lower Keys Shuttle service more frequent, we hope that these amenities will reduce the barriers that are out there for folks who want to take a cheaper and less stressful way to get into town.”

As the project, which is 95% funded by the State, uses Federal dollars, there’s a rigorous planning process that must be adhered to before hardware starts getting installed. Ms. Higgins says that every stop, 80+ altogether, must have a plan including an environmental and cultural review. All the stops are at 60% completion. It is expected the stop designs will reach 90% by spring and that construction or installation bids will then go out for work to start next summer. Here’s what’s coming:

Space for 364 Bicycles in Racks and Lockers

As the Lower Keys Shuttle is popular, the two bicycle racks mounted to the front of the buses are often full early on in the run, leaving people who hop on outside of Marathon with no place to put their bike. Fights have been known to break out for the coveted spots. To address this, the City is installing space for 292 bikes in racks and 72 bikes in lockers at the most popular stops along the route. That’s 364 more riders that can access the bus from their homes by bike.

Hail Lights Installed at 43 Stops

Stops along the Lower Keys Shuttle that have enough right-of-way have standard bus shelters. Five new ones were installed just this past year. Each of these bus shelters have solar powered lighting so they can be seen at night by the bus driver and customers. On parts of U.S. Route 1 it can be dark. So, with this in mind, 43 stops that are in the darkness are slated to receive bright LED “hail lights.” A customer presses a button on the pole and a solar powered light on tops shines to alert the bus driver that someone is waiting at the stop. 

Information at Every Lower Keys Shuttle and Many Downtown Bus Stops

We knew we loved Alison when she told us the bus stop is an opportunity for passersby or people that live nearby to see map and schedule information at the stop and then they may be more inclined to use the service if they need it. As we’ve railed about the lack of bus stop information in the past (The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops – We Just Don’t Care; April 2, 2021), this action gives us hope. All 62 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops will get map and schedule information installed on the pole or shelter. AND 20 of the highest priority stops on the Duval Loop and North and South Lines (some of which also share poles with LKS) will also get map and schedule information. 

Trash and Recycle Bins at Every Lower Keys Shuttle Stop

Many of the bus stops along the Lower Keys Shuttle route already have trash and recycle bins. Those that don’t will be slated to get them. Not surprising that the Sustainability Coordinator would think to do this too.

16 Public Bicycle Fix-It Stations

Nothing is more frustrating to a bicyclist than a flat tire, loose gears or basket that is falling off. While Key West and Stock Island have lots of wonderful bike shops, that isn’t necessarily so for the entire Lower Keys. So having a convenient place to fix one’s bicycle helps keep people going. A fix-it station includes all the tools necessary to perform basic bike repairs and maintenance, from changing a flat to adjusting brakes, bells, and accessories. The tools are securely attached to the stand with stainless steel cables and tamper-proof fasteners.

Alison explains that Fix-It Stations will go into public areas near bus stops but not directly on U.S. 1 for safety reasons. 16 of them will be installed. The locations include four in Key West at the GATO Building, Kennedy Ball Field and two fire stations, three on Stock Island, one each at the Big Coppitt and Sugarloaf Fire Houses, one at Big Pine Key Park, one at the 7-Mile Bridge parking area and another five in Marathon. 

Regional Park-N-Ride Hubs

Some places in the Lower Keys have nearby commercial parking adjacent to the Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops. These areas can be convenient hubs for people to drive a short distance from their home, park and hop on the bus for the long trip into town. As part of this project Ms. Higgins anticipates providing five Regional Park-N-Ride Hubs at locations such as the Big Pine CVS, the Tiki Bar on Ramrod Key and Baby’s Coffee. They’ll work with the businesses to make this a win win. These bus stops will include the map and schedule information, trash and recycle cans, bike racks and lockers, AND the ability to access the bus stop by car. 

Let’s Double Down on This Excellent Project and Add More Service to the Lower Keys Shuttle Too

With U.S. Route 1 being the only road into and out of the Keys it is in everyone’s interest that this road does not get too clogged up with traffic. For business and logistics reasons, for safety reasons and for our environment. So, investing in moving people more efficiently along the Overseas Highway should be an imperative of both the City and County. This project fits the bill by making it easier and more convenient to get to the bus stop. Kudos to the City’s Sustainability Coordinator and Transit folks for pulling this off. Especially as the state is footing 95% of the cost. But we need to double down on making it easy for people to choose to use the Lower Keys Shuttle by further investing in additional frequency. There are only 10 trips in and 10 trips out a day, or about every two hours. Imagine if that service between Marathon and downtown Key West was every 30 minutes. We might really help some people get out of their cars and make a dent in traffic. 

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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 downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / It’s Time to Put an Hourly Limit on the Free On-Street Parking Spaces and Institute a Zone System for Residential Parking Permits Downtown

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 13, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Everyone complains about downtown parking. Leaders are reluctant to try anything new because someone’s bound to get upset. Nothing gets done. The problem persists. And the cycle repeats year after year. It’s time to interrupt the cycle and do something. By addressing downtown’s abundance of free and nearly free on-street parking we can relieve residents’ frustration with not finding parking in front of their own home, provide opportunities for short-term parking that increases business for our mom-and-pop retail shops and help residents who don’t live downtown to find parking space too. Win. Win. Win.

Residents Say Parking and Traffic Congestion Need to Be Fixed

Out of 18 rated City services traffic flow and parking came in ranked at 16 and 17 respectively according to a January 2021 Key West Community Survey. Said another way, of City Services that need improvement #1 is Affordable Housing, #2 is Parking and #3 is Traffic Flow.

The problem is that people have a hard time coming to a consensus on defining what the parking problem is. One person’s definition of the problem is not nearly the same as another. It depends on where one lives, where one works and how often one frequents downtown venues. And still the “problem” may change from block to block, depending upon who you talk to. 

City’s Strategic Plan is a Half-Hearted Attempt to Address the Issue

The draft Key West Forward Strategic Plan Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness element that’s expected to be adopted in the coming month or so cited the survey results in crafting these goals for the next couple of years:

Goal 1: Ensure safer and more accessible bicycle and pedestrian routes
Goal 2: Improve public transit
Goal 3: Parking improvements
Goal 4: Reduce the island’s carbon footprint

With regards to Goal 3, Parking Improvements, the goal is to “Make parking easier and more accessible for drivers.” The Plan proposes doing so with the following actions:

  1. Explore opportunities for a parking garage on Stock Island, rooftop parking additions to existing City lots and one-waying some streets
  2. Produce and promote an app that shows parking garage availability
  3. Increase the usability of pay by phone for parking
  4. Pilot reverse angle parking on a street as a model for more

All of these are worthy actions and should be pursued. But they seem to have been developed with political palatability in mind. No one will object to anything here. And while numbers two and three may make parking easier, we’re not sure they address the real problem that we badly manage and underprice our limited supply of on-street parking and that contributes to traffic and parking congestion.

Let’s Reset the Problem. There’s Lots of Parking. We Just Underprice It and Manage It Badly.

There might be as many as 10,000 parking spaces downtown. There are a few thousand private parking spaces in driveways, retail, and lodging lots. On top of that there’s another 2,000 to 3,000 publicly available for pay parking spaces in private and public lots and garages across our downtown. There are another 3,000 known on-street parking spaces in the downtown core. About 1/3 of these spaces are metered, 1/3 are marked Residential Permit Only and 1/3 are unmarked. And there may be 1,000+ on-street spaces uncounted because they are on Old Town blocks (mostly South of Truman and around the Casa) that don’t have a curb and so aren’t counted. 

Residential Permits can be had for $20 annually or $0.05 cents per day. They may go up to $35 next year or 9 ½ cents a day. The unmarked spaces are FREE and available for free for up to 72 hours at a time. That means two thirds of known downtown is covered in free or nearly free on-street parking. And THAT’S THE REAL PROBLEM because everyone is fighting over those free and virtually free spaces.

When a city undervalues parking by providing free and nearly free parking, many people think like George Costanza and always believe if they just try hard enough, they’ll find a spot. 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. And that’s the dilemma.

If people, whether they are visiting for a few days, parking for a work shift, or coming downtown for dinner, know there are free or nearly free parking spaces out there, no matter how rare they are during busy season, they are going to circle the block and go round and round till they find one rather than pay to put it in a longer-term lot or garage. THAT’s THE REAL PROBLEM.

Two Good Ideas Already in the Works Via the Budget Process

To its credit, the Parking Department is working on two reforms that will help battle the real problem:

Raise the Price on Metered Parking and Add to the Supply

To encourage turnover for retail at meters we need to encourage people to park in long-term lots and garages. But to do this, metered rates need to be more expensive than surrounding lots and garages. Otherwise, people will use the meters first. City staff has proposed an increase from $4 to $5 and from $5 to $6 an hour at metered spaces. Good start. Even better the Parking Department is proposing to add meters on the 500, 600, 700, 800 and 900 blocks of Whitehead and 200 block of Elisabeth Streets. Let’s make sure this happens.

Raise the Price of Residential Parking Permits

As the number of spaces allocated to this program downtown is scarce (there’s a little more than 1,000 spaces), the price should take this into account. $20 for an annual permit comes to 5 cents a day. The proposed increase to $35 is welcome but at 9 ½ cents a day is still nearly free. Permits for such a scare resource, taxpayer or not, should be well over $100 for the first vehicle and progressively more for subsequent vehicles. The $35 is a good first step. 

Here’s What Else We Need to Do

So, in addition to the items in the Strategic Plan and what this City is already working on above, to make it easier to park, to discourage cruising for free or nearly free on-street parking, to encourage turnover for retail and to encourage visitors and workers to park in long-term lots here’s three things we need to do:

1 – Institute a Zone System for Residential Parking Permits

Residential Permit Parking is intended for residents to be able to park within a few blocks of their home. Zones should be small and only available to people who reside or have a business within that zone. This is common practice throughout North America. Wikipedia says “residential zoned parking is a local government practice of designating certain on-street automobile sparking spaces for the exclusive use of nearby residents. It is a tool for addressing overspill parking from neighboring population centers such as a business or tourist district.” Kinda fits Key West’s historic downtown, eh?

In Key West there’s only one zone. It covers the entire City including Stock Island. Anyone can purchase this pass, allowing folks to drive downtown and use one of those 1,000 on-street Residential Permit Parking spaces for less than 10 cents a day. People living north of White Street don’t purchase passes to park in front of their home. They purchase passes to park downtown for nearly free or at one of the many 4-hour resident free lots or beaches.

The people who live in the core in Bahama Village, the Seaport, around the Cemetery or other places downtown are the ones that need a permit to ensure parking near their home. But with 10,000 to 12,000 annual permits out there and only 1,000 Residential Permit Parking spaces, those spaces are hard to come by, especially in season. With more than 10 permits for every one space no wonder everyone is frustrated.

We often hear the old canard that “I pay city taxes, so I should be able to park for free anywhere in the city I want.” But if these people lived on Elizabeth, Emma or William Streets would they really say the same thing?

How many zones are needed? That’s a good question. We have three Commission Member Districts and six Voting Precincts downtown. Perhaps these boundaries could be used to create three or six zones downtown and one big one for the rest of the city. Maybe we need more zones? Maybe less. However, you slice it, having multiple zones is better than having one.

The Residential Parking Permits would still get you 4-hours free at the beaches and select lots and garages all over downtown, but people who don’t live nearby would no longer compete with people who live on a block. 

2 – Put Hourly Limits on the 1,000 Unmarked Spaces Downtown

There are about 1,000 known unmarked, free spaces downtown. (Remember there’s also an additional 1,000+ unmarked spaces on curbless streets too.) One can park in these spaces for up to 3 days or 72 hours before having to move a vehicle. THESE are the parking spots that the George Costanza’s among us, whether they be overnight or day visitors or uptowners and non-islanders without Residential Permit Parking passes, are look for. Limit the parking in these spaces to a certain number of hours, say 4 to 6 hours between the hours of 8 am and midnight. This encourages people who are visiting to use the long-term lots. We might also consider turning more of these spaces over to Residential Parking Permit and metered parking spaces as needed.

3 – Allow Use of Hourly-Limited Unmarked Spaces for People with Residential Parking Permits

Allow anyone with a Residential Parking Permit for any zone to use the Hourly-Limited Unmarked Spaces for up to 72 hours as use to be the case for anyone. For people that live uptown and could no longer park in a downtown Residential Zone that wasn’t theirs, these spots would now be available. for their use. And more of these spots would be available, because the new 4–6-hour limits would push visitors to the long-terms lots and garages.

All Residents Get Something and Downtown Becomes Less Congested

By doing these three things, downtown residents win by having zoned parking ensuring parking near their home. Uptown residents win by having use of the newly freed up unmarked spaces and still have all the benefits of Residential Parking Permits such as four hours free parking at the beaches and city lots too.

And because visitors don’t have the expectation of free 72-hour parking in the middle of downtown and because we’ve raised the metered parking rates, they now park where they are supposed to – in the long-term lots and garages. This helps with turnover at the meters and thus helps our small mom-and-pop shops and it helps reduce traffic congestion all over downtown. 

Everybody wins.

But for this to occur, we need a City Commission brave, bold and progressive enough to make it happen. Here’s wishing them courage.

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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 downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.