Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories of 2020 – #1: Cruise Ship Referenda Passing Makes Duval Street & Downtown’s Future Better

By Chris Hamilton, December 4, 2021

The passing of the three Cruise Ship Referenda by Key West citizens gives us an opportunity to remake Duval Street and the historic district into a real downtown, where mom and pop shops thrive and serve the needs of locals, snowbirds and long-stay visitors. It sets the stage for an upcoming Strategic Plan and Duval Street Revitalization Plan processes where the citizens and local business can set the course of downtown’s future instead of catering to the agenda of the corporate mass tourism industry. The referenda’s passage was so bold, it was a shot for locals heard round the world to take back their city and reimagine a better future. THAT’S why this is our #1 story in this year’s Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories of 2020.

Our Island’s Health and Water is Better Without Big Cruise Ships

It didn’t take very long into the shutdown this spring for people that work the water to report seeing cleaner water and nature coming back with more fish and animals. As the good folks at Safer, Cleaner, Ships put it, Big Ships, Big Problems. The large cruise ships are a public health hazard. All around the world cruise ships fostered Covid outbreaks. They foul our environment and kill marine life. Large cruise ships in Key West’s shallow channel stir up silt plumes that drift onto coral and seagrass beds. Excessive silt kills juvenile conch, lobster, stone crab, fish, and coral. They routinely dump pollutants into the ocean, including bilge water containing oil and grease, raw sewage, food waste, and household garbage. Public health is essential to our economy. Our economy, especially our fishing and maritime sports relies on a healthy marine ecosystem. The referenda’s passage will mean our waters, land and air will all be the better for it.

After six plus months without ships in port, any local will tell you — with certainty — that the water quality and clarity both inshore and off is markedly better. Fishermen are enjoying a more diverse and sizable catch, dive boats have witnessed increased visibility and more abundant marine life, and even marinas have noticed vastly clearer water and the return of species not seen in years so close to the docks.

Billy Kearins, Owner, Coast, 803 Whitehead Street

Our Overall Economy Will Be Better Off Too

Doug Lansky, ReThinking Tourism https://youtu.be/v4HPjRgQURo

With 50 percent of our visitors coming from cruise ships, our downtown economy catered to this group, often led by large corporate interests. Higher rents near the port leading to either chains or trinket shops with inexpensive items made elsewhere, crowded out opportunities for venues that cater to locals and long-stay visitors. Cruise ship kick-back schemes drive profits down for local business owners. When cruise ship visitors spend an average of $32 per person and other travelers spend an average of $550, having the day visitors crowd out others doesn’t make good economic sense.

The economy again goes back to the environment though. People come hear for the crystal clear waters, good fishing, and clean air. If we allow that to be ruined, no one is coming here period.

Only time will tell whether Key West’s bold new tourism move pays off…But for many travelers, the news alone already makes the idyllic southernmost point of the United States all the more worth visiting.

Gilbert Ott, November 10, 2020; Key West Shuns Cruise Ships in Bold New Tourism Move

Duval Street & Historic Downtown Suffer from Mass Tourism

Yogi Berra

Travel research around the globe points to mass tourism or day travelers scaring away higher value overnight tourists and locals too. The old Yogi Berra truism of “Nobody goes there anymore. Its too crowded.” is apt here. Anecdotally we’ve all heard locals and snowbirds say they avoid Duval Street and parts of downtown because of the crowds. People in lodging have heard the same from their guests. So the T-shirt, trinket and quick alcoholic-slushy places have crowded out other businesses and exacerbated the cycle because then the local people say there’s no place worth going to on main street. It’s a viscous downward cycle to the bottom.

“The home-grown economy & culture are why we moved to Key West from the mainland. The stronger they are, the more appealing Key West itself is—and the more interesting it is to the world. Mass tourism only drags us down in the eyes of the very visitors we want to attract.”

Local business owner Louis Raymond
This quick story says that Mass Tourism causes overcrowding, pollution, ricing prices and bad behavior.

People Fondly Recall an Earlier, Simpler Time on Duval

Biking in Key West in the 1970’s. https://youtu.be/pDBUjo4n2t0?t=1866

As the pandemic unfolded in the spring and the wonderfully thoughtful Reimagining Key West Facebook group sprang to life and help spur on Safer, Cleaner Ships, we heard countless stories about a bygone Key West that was simpler, less crowded and more about our residents. And how that attracted amazing long-term visitors who appreciated being among the locals. Here’s how longtime local artist John Martini describes a time many recall fondly:

Towards the middle and later part of the 70’s local entrepreneurs started to open small boutiques, book stores, theaters, guest houses, galleries, restaurants, café and bars. There was a wide selection of stores, many offering a personal and unique approach to marketing. Alongside the already existing business’s things began to brighten for Duval Street.

We moved Lucky Street Gallery from Margaret St. to the 900 block of Duval around 1983. On one side of the gallery there was a swimming suit designer/retailer and on the other a fine Italian restaurant. Next to that was Savannah, an iconic Key West restaurant. Down the block one way was Fast Buck Freddie’s and Environmental Circus and up the street Lawrence Formica’s La Te Da.. and lot’s in between. The visitors, often long stay, were generally engaged and taken with the bohemian atmosphere, the clear air and ocean, the ability to access a wide variety of outdoor activities and often ended the day in one of the many restaurants, bars or clubs. Locals and visitors were comfortable roaming Duval Street day and evening. Local merchants profited and the changes extended further up Duval.

In the late 80’s things began to change. The powers to be decided that mass tourism, with numerous short time tourists over the long stay tourism that existed at the time, would suit their business interests better than the laissez fare nature of what was then a lively Duval Street. Along come the cruise ships around the same period. My Lucky Street Gallery was forced off Duval around 1993 and the street went through a radical change as mass tourism and cruise ship aligned stores and chains replaced the established local merchants. It did not have to be that way.”

Longtime local Artist John Martini

I tried to sum up the thread of what we were hearing at the time with this post: Reimagining Key West – 10 Things We Should Strive For and 10 Ways To Get There, April 22, 2020. The crux of the story was: a simpler, less crowded, locals-centric Key West, a place where Mom n Pop shops rule; a community that respects, protects and celebrates our natural environment; a culture where creativity and the arts flourish; a veneration for our historic district; stewardship of our history, storied characters and One Human Family spirit; a Main Street that brings back locals; and an island that is easy to get around by biking and a downtown less congested with cars. We went on to importantly add:

“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.”

An Authentic, Real and Local Focussed Duval & Downtown

Most visitors, to any place, not just Key West, crave an authentic, real place that the locals love. So by catering to those of us who live and work here, and that includes people who live here part-time, you get that real, authentic experience that visitors appreciate. They don’t want stuff they can get at home and they really don’t want tourist trap places either. We need to help local, authentic places thrive. 

Mall on Duval brought locals downtown.

That means art spaces, galleries, theaters, whimsical shops, bars, restaurants, dance halls, cabarets, food trucks, clothing, shoes, bakeries, butchers, grocery stores and little bodegas and everything anyone can imagine.

Local focussed should also mean bringing more people to downtown to live because more people downtown lets our local businesses thrive all the more. Perhaps with less cruise ship visitors some downtown buildings can be repurposed for living. A good example is that awful parking lot on Duval at United.

And more people living downtown creates the ability to get around by bike, walk and transit. So local focussed means ‘streets for people’ focussed, which makes for a more interesting place, because nobody thinks car-parking is interesting.

On the God Save the Points Travel Blog they write of Key West passing the referenda: “Sustainable tourism is a key new focus in the modern world, but so is the “quality” of the tourism. How much better would a destination be if it could reduce overcrowding by losing 50% of the visitors, while finding another way to bring back 8% of lost money with a fraction of the people? Much travel research done in Santorini, Venice and other popular cruise ports, all signs point to a new era of sustainable travel, with more focus on creating the best travel experience for the guests which make the most positive impact on local communities.”

The local experience trend means many tourists now want to travel like locals, and to immerse themselves in the culture, traditions, and language of a place. As more and more people grow tired of resorts and standard vacations, there has been a shift towards wanting to see the “real” side of the destinations they visit. And this is a trend that is only going to continue growing. 

Tourism Tiger
Local Color.

The outpouring of good ideas for our future on the Reimagining Key West Facebook page is heartening. In thinking about what to do next, all one need do is peruse the page and pluck some of the best ideas and discussions. We are indeed lucky to have so many thoughtful, creative and passionate people living in Key West, who care about our One Human Family. While we can’t go back to the 1970’s and 80’s, we can plan for a better future. It just so happens that we have two upcoming opportunities to do just that.

City’s Strategic and Duval Revitalization Plans Offer Opportunity to Reimagine Tourism and Our Downtown

Mayor Johnston has touted the need for a City strategic plan and Duval Street revitalization since she first ran for Mayor two years ago. Thanks to her tenacity, this winter the community will get both projects going. Elisa Levy Consulting will be doing the the City’s Strategic Plan following on the heals of the her firm doing a bang up job on the City’s Covid Recovery Plan. If the Covid Plan’s focus on filling empty storefronts; events, fairs and festivals; outdoor business; direct business consulting and assistance; and communication/marketing/branding is any indication of what’s to come in the Strategic Plan, the ability for locals to reimagine tourism downtown will get a big jump start.

With the hiring of best-in-the-industry consulting team of KCI Technologies and Dover Kohl & Partners, likewise the Duval Street Revitalization Plan offers a similar opportunity for local residents and businesses to reimagine Duval Street as more of a Main Street catering to locals, snowbirds and longer-stay visitors instead of needing to accommodate the crush of cruise ship visitors. What would the physical needs of our streets be with a slightly different focus on sustainable, long-term, more authentic tourism?

What these two processes offer is a mechanism with which we as citizens can began to address a different future without so many cruise ship visitors. So the timing is fortuitous.

The loss of the mass tourism, day trippers, cruise ship crowd to our island will be offset in the long run by a better quality of life for our residents and a cleaner environment that will attract travelers that want unspoiled, more real places that aren’t overwhelmed by mass tourism. It offers us a chance to reset Duval Street and downtown to cater to locals and in the end that’s better for everyone. And THAT’S why the Cruise Ship Referenda passing is such a big freaking deal and why it has to be our #1 story of the year.


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#2: Teri Johnston’s Re-Election Moves Our Issues Forward (January 3, 2021)
#3: Crosstown Greenway Shows Path Forward for Bikes (January 2, 2021)
#4: Duval Street Revitalization Project Brings Hope to Downtown (December 29, 2020)
#5: Duval and Whitehead Streets Rebuilt and Repaved, But... (December 28, 2020)
#6: Key West Transit Abandons Old Meandering Routes (December 27, 2020)
#7: Covid Recovery Plan’s Focus on Open Streets and Downtown (December 26, 2020)
#8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance (December 23, 2020)
#9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! (December 22, 2020)
#10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmaggedon That Wasn’t (December 21, 2020)

Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories of 2020 – #2. Teri Johnston’s Re-Election Moves Our Issues Forward

By Chris Hamilton, December 29, 2020

A Covid Recovery Plan, a Strategic Plan, a Duval Street Revitalization Plan and an understanding of and willingness to act bravely on bike, walk, transit and streets for people by our mayor, gives us hope for our little island’s future.

Let’s not sugarcoat this. Electing either of the other candidates in this year’s Mayoral election would have set our City back. Especially for the issues we champion at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. In research we did on the candidates records and answers to various questions, we gave the Mayor a B+ grade while giving Mr. Rossi an F and Mr. Haskins a D- (see “Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: Mayor’s Race;” July 24, 2020). So in our view the Mayor’s re-election is a big freaking deal.

The Mayor’s vision on Duval Street and downtown, public transit, bicycle/pedestrian and parking strategies issues is as progressive, far-reaching and exciting as anything you’d see from better known “bike/walk/transit cities” that get it like Paris, Seattle, Portland, Boulder, Austin and other places we regular showcase on our Facebook page. Her breadth of understanding and depth of knowledge are not often seen by a public official who has so many other issues pressing on her at the moment.

Mayor Johnston Champions Revitalizing Duval Street

The Mayor at the grand opening of the Mall on Duval.

The Mayor ran on a platform of revitalizing Duval Street in 2018 and came through by initiating the Mall on Duval pilot project and getting a Duval Street Revitalization Study RFQ through the process. An amazing consultant team has been selected and they are expected to begin work shortly. This is huge! Says the Mayor: “The future of Duval is one that features more convenient, safe modality options for pedestrians, bicycles and similar eco- friendly transportation types. This has been a community request for 20 years that needs to be realized.” We agree.

Mayor Johnston Envisions a Future With Free Transit

In answer to our question about free fares on the Duval Loop and other City routes Mayor Johnston said: ” Yes, the $1 fee for the Loop is a temporary emergency measure in response to a very uncertain budgetary year. I think that the majority of the Commission, including me, would like to offer free public transportation opportunities as we did with our Senior Citizens (60 or older) earlier last year.” She goes on to say: “Free transportation options help make Key West more livable for our work force and reduce congestion on our narrow streets.” We like that the Mayor makes the connection between increased transit use and reducing congestion on our streets.

The Mayor Had Us On Bikes When She Mentioned “The 5 E’s”

Mayor Johnston is a champion of the Crosstown Greenway Pilot Project as it is part of the Phase 1 implementation of the Bike/Ped Plan.

Unless you are a bicycle advocate or planner you may not know of The 5 E’s, but Mayor Johnston certainly does. Color us impressed. In answer to our question (#9) about safety on our streets she says: “Yes. We should follow other successful communities by focusing on the 5 e’s: education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering and evaluation. That successful model, coupled with dedicated bicycle lanes and an enforcement component to keep vehicles/ scooters out of these lanes, will encourage safe bicycling. And yes, speed needs to be enforced. “Slow down, this ain’t the mainland” is more than a bumper sticker.“ We are happy to see she mentions the Crosstown Greenway pilot project moving forward in October and agreeing to implement Phase 1 of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. 

Mayor Johnston Understands Progressive Parking Policies Will Help Alleviate Our Downtown Neighborhoods’ Parking Problems

Parking issues are a prime example of the Mayor being unafraid to lead. Too many times in this City our elected leaders act as if we can have our cake and eat it it too. They think everyone can drive everywhere and park for free or nearly free and the city’s policies reflect this. Mayor Johnston understands how we vastly under price our on-street parking downtown and how this leads to the problems we have, including safety issues for people on bikes. Her willingness to raise the price on parking permits annually, put in zoned parking and enforce the rules shows she wants to make the place better and has the toughness not just to spout happy talk.

The Mayor’s Covid Recovery and Strategic Plans are Groundbreaking

As we’ve agreed City Hall has lacked some focus over years past, the Mayor had us when she started talking about a Strategic Plan. We thought it appropriate that she decided first doing a Covid Recovery Plan and that she got that done in a couple months time. We thought so highly of the Covid Recovery Plan, it comes in at #7 on our Top 10 (Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 – #7 Covid Recovery Plan Focuses on Downtown and Business December 25, 2020). Now the same wonderful team that put together the excellent Covid Recovery Plan is embarking on a building a strategic plan for the first time in more than a decade. The goal of the 3 year plan is to engage the community in a collaborative process to identify priorities on a range of things that are critical to the future of the island including, major capital projects, housing, sea level rising, traffic, tourism and the environment. 

The Plan’s consultant Alisa Levy tells us, the plan itself will have an annual operational component with tasks and timelines to ensure that the actions are implemented. While the plans are malleable, they follow a general “blue print” for change and growth. 

The process of creating the Strategic Plan involves four major steps:

  1. A Community survey to gather input and priorities;
  2. The development of the 3 year goals for the plan with a Community Advisory Committee, City Employees and the City Commission;
  3. The development of an Annual Operational Plan (per year) with timelines and action items, and
  4. Regular monitoring and evaluation at quarterly workshops with the City Leadership and the Commission.

There will be a communication component to provide the community with regular updates on the plan. The process itself will be participatory, engaging, and will hopefully bring government and the community closer together to meet shared goals.

The collaborative process has the potential to bring our community together and set us on the right path. We understand that the Strategic Plan should have gone through the process and be ready to implemented in time for the next budget cycle. That’s a good thing!

Mayor Johnston Will Continue to Make Our Island a Better Place

We like that the Mayor is a planner, but more importantly she’s a proven doer who’s willing to adjust and iterate as projects meet the reality of hitting the ground. In each of our subject areas, Duval Street, public transit, bicycle/pedestrian and parking issues, Mayor Johnston is leading. The Mayor’s toughness on making hard decisions is an asset. She’s shown in her votes and actions that she’s willing to do the right thing. The re-election of Teri Johnston as our Mayor gives us the best chance to make our little island paradise more bike, walk, transit and streets for people friendly. We need more of the Commissioners to follow her lead. And THAT’s why it is our #2 story of the year.

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#3: Crosstown Greenway Shows Path Forward for Bikes (January 2, 2021)
#4: Duval Street Revitalization Project Brings Hope to Downtown (December 29, 2020)
#5: Duval and Whitehead Streets Rebuilt and Repaved, But... (December 28, 2020)
#6: Key West Transit Abandons Old Meandering Routes (December 27, 2020)
#7: Covid Recovery Plan’s Focus on Open Streets and Downtown (December 26, 2020)
#8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance (December 23, 2020)
#9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! (December 22, 2020)
#10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmaggedon That Wasn’t (December 21, 2020)

Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories of 2020 – #3: Crosstown Greenway Shows Path Forward for Bikes

By Roger McVeigh and Chris Hamilton, January 2, 2021

Last year this item made our list at #7 (2019 Top 10 – #7: Starting the Crosstown Greenway Project, December 23, 2019) because a series of public meetings had been held, grants and partners had been secured and a plan of action put into place. And this year, despite COVID pushing back the timeline by about six months, the project actually got done. Seeing all that green and yellow paint, well it’s beautiful. And it’s a big freaking deal when we get something done and THAT’S why this is our #3 story for the year. That and because it shows a path forward for doing similar work all across the City to make biking easier and safer for all.

What’s the Crosstown Greenway?

The Crosstown Greenway is a safe East/West corridor for bicycles and other transportation modes that spans the island from South Roosevelt Boulevard to Reynolds Street along Duck, Staples and Von Phister Avenues, right through the middle of the City.  The Crosstown Greenway has been identified in the City of Key West’s bicycle and pedestrian planning processes since 1996 and was formerly identified as the Crosstown Connector in the City’s Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan, a 22 month intense planning process that began in May 2017, and was adopted and approved unanimously by the City Commission on March 5, 2019. (See 2019 Top 10 – #1: Adopting a Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, December 31, 2019.)

What is the Crosstown Greenway?  Commonly known as a neighborhood greenway or a bike boulevard, this marked bicycle and pedestrian path is a collection of interventions intended to: slow motorist travel speeds; keep car volumes to local traffic only; make crossings safer; add greenery and art; and create a more comfortable route for bicyclists and pedestrians. Interventions that may be considered in neighborhood greenways include new crosswalks and crossbikes, mini traffic circles with planters, signage and branding, asphalt art, curb extensions and chicanes, speed humps, and planters and trees.

The Public Decides What Ideas to Try and Where

The project team has hosted a kickoff public workshop on October 19, 2019, disseminated an online survey to help understand the context of the corridor, visited with neighbors along the corridor to hear their thoughts, and hosted two evenings of public “open houses” to update the public on the feedback and project ideas received. These public engagements have been to identify where along the corridor there are challenges that could benefit from Neighborhood Greenway interventions. 

Volunteers Bring Project to Life

On November 20, 2020 through November 22, 2020, over thirty dedicated volunteers and City staff, led by the City’s Multimodal Coordinator, Tim Staub, and the nationally known firm Street Plans, successfully completed Phase I of the Crosstown Greenway Pilot Project.  Volunteer activities included things like prepping materials, and measuring, marking, painting, and striping the street.  

Phase 1 of the Project is Built

Phase I of the Crosstown Greenway Project included the successful implementation of the following improvements:

Click to enlarge.

Von Phister, George, Staples                             
A chicane, multiple curb extensions, and bike markings that will help slow cars approach to this intersection and help residents and visitors follow the Greenway onto Staples Avenue

Click to enlarge.

Staples and 3rd                                                                      
Extra bike parking and shared lane bike markings will support students commuting to school by bike and guide bicyclists’ positioning along the Greenway

Click to enlarge.

Staples and 5th
Curb extensions will help the slow the turns of cars, and shared lane bike markings will help guide bicyclists’ positioning along the Greenway 

Click to enlarge.

Staples and 7Th                                                                        
Shared lane bike markings and “crossbike” markings will help alert cars of crossing bicyclists at this four-way stop

Click to enlarge.

Seidenberg and 12th                                                              
An advisory bike lane in the shoulder along 12th St approaching Seidenberg Ave to help bikes safely access the entrance to the path to Kennedy Dr

Click to enlarge.

Reynolds and South
A bike box on Reynolds St at South St will allow bicyclists to queue in front of cars at the signalized intersection, increasing their visibility and giving them priority

City Staff Trained in Doing Bike/Ped Safety Projects

A recognized and important benefit of this Phase I pilot project was the knowledge transfer to volunteer bike advocates and City staff who may now plan to undertake many more similar safety improving bike and pedestrian projects throughout the City at minimal cost.  Street Plans is most widely known for its approach called “Tactical Urbanism,” an approach that emphasizes projects that are temporary and removeable, are built with low cost materials, include public input and involvement in installation, and are evaluated for their function and scalability throughout the City.

Bike Box on Reynolds at South Street.

One of the things we particularly like about this project is the bike box on Reynolds at South Street. A bike box is a designated area at the head of a traffic lane at a signalized intersection that provides bicyclists with a safe and visible way to get ahead of queuing traffic during the red signal phase. Now that we know how to do a bike box we should be installing these at all the signalized intersections downtown where we have bike lanes, including on Southard, Fleming.

Getting This Project Done Give Us Hope

Now that we’ve gotten something done, have staff and volunteers trained, and the public has seen that this is a good way to make our streets safer for all users, we expect more good things to happen. Presumably Phase 2 of the Crosstown Greenway project will be to make some of these interventions more permanent and to move north and make the area where the path crosses Kennedy, the ballfields, Duck Avenue and S. Roosevelt safer. It should also show the path forward on safety improvements, identified in the Bike/Ped Master Plan, to get the green light sooner than later. And THAT’s why this item is so important to bicycling on the island and comes in at #3 on our Top 10 List. We’re hopeful for the future!

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#4: Duval Street Revitalization Project Brings Hope to Downtown (December 29, 2020)
#5: Duval and Simonton Rebuilt and Repaved, But… (December 28, 2020)
#6: Key West Transit Abandons Old Meandering Routes (December 27, 2020)
#7: Covid Recovery Plan’s Focus on Open Streets and Downtown (December 26, 2020)
#8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance (December 23, 2020)
#9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! (December 22, 2020)
#10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmaggedon That Wasn’t (December 21, 2020)

KW Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan 2019 (1)
Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan Appendix
Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan Master Plan Phases
Key West #115 in Best Cities for Bikes List, June 10, 2020
Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan, May 20, 2020

About Roger McVeigh

A 15-year resident of Key West, Roger has been dedicated to public service since retiring in 2006 from a career in public accounting as a Partner with KPMG LLP in Atlanta, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. He’s a graduate of the City of Key West Ambassador Academy (2007) and the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys Leadership Success Academy (2009). Roger is active in local government and has served as a Board Member and often Treasurer of a diverse group of nonprofit and civic organizations covering education, social services, recreation and the arts, among others. He’s currently serving on the Advisory Committee for the City of Key West Crosstown Greenway Project, the City of Key West Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Lower Keys Medical Center Board of Trustees. 

Roger hails from Knoxville, Tennessee, attended both Emory University and Georgia State University and received his BBA in Accounting from Georgia State in 1983.Roger lives with his beautiful wife Cindy, and their two chihuahuas, Oreo and Cocoa in Old Town. He loves his adopted home of Key West, enjoys travel, hiking, supporting University of Tennessee Volunteer sports teams, and endurance sports including swim/bike/run events.

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.

Key West, Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories of 2020 – #4: Duval Street Revitalization Project Brings Hope to Downtown

By Chris Hamilton, December 29, 2020

From a Promise by Mayor Johnston to a Full Blow Project

The Mayor ran on a platform of revitalizing Duval Street in 2018 and came through by initiating the Mall on Duval pilot project in 2019 and getting a Duval Street Revitalization Study RFQ through the process in 2020. In last year’s 2019 Top 10 countdown we celebrated #8: Duval Street Revitalization Help Sought Via RFQ as the Request For Qualification was released in November of 2019. That was a start. Since then an amazing consultant team, KCI Technologies Inc.; Dover Kohl & Partners; BusinessFlare, was selected at the August 19, 2020 City Commission meeting and City staff has been negotiating a final contract and scope of work since. With any luck, early this winter the project will officially begin. And that’s a big freaking deal for our little island paradise. Especially as this consultant team is full of rock stars from the industry. Their work in other places has been transformative.

From Dover Kohl’s website

According to the City’s Request for Qualifications the goal of the project is to “renovate and revitalize Duval Street to increase opportunities for public use as an iconic civic space for leisure, commerce and tourism; address the infrastructure which will allow for reasonable maintenance frequency and reduce costs to businesses and taxpayers; improve safety for pedestrians and vehicles; and maintain mobility for desired transit operations for all users.” 

“We all love our main street and want to see it prosper and bring our community together” said Mayor Johnston in championing the RFQ:

“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 in 2019

A Rare Opportunity

The Duval Street Revitalization effort is one of those rare occasions; I predict it will be a historic moment in the life of the City. Done well, it will have a positive impact on every person on the island. This is a chance to address the local economy, the street design, safety, development regulation and historic preservation, all in the same room.”

Victor Brandon Dover of Dover Kohl & Partners, part of the consultant team.

This video, recommended by Victor Brandon Dover of Dover Kohl & Partners, part of the consultant team, lays out how we’ll tackle the project:

This “Walkable Street Design” video is part of Dover Kohl and Partner’s video series “Town Planning Stuff Everyone Needs to Know.”

Street design doesn’t need to stop with the transportation features in the public rights-of-way. It should be a holistic way of thinking about the City, involving and uniting the whole ensemble: buildings, public space, landscape, the community’s brand image and mobility at the same time.”

Victor Brandon Dover of Dover Koh, part of the consultant team.

A Comprehensive Project

Here’s what the project will look like:

A Vision for Duval Street

The vision for Duval Street will ultimately come from we the people who live here and the businesses along the street. In the consultant’s qualifications they teased out a few things for us to consider. We like the notion of Duval is three streets with one name. Lower, Middle and Upper Duval each have their own vibe. Ideas such as innovative tree planting systems, pavers with curbless sidewalks, retractable bollards, innovative tree grates and trench drains present opportunities for doing things differently. The possibility of one-way blocks to narrow the vehicular path to expand the pedestrian zone and tree cover and additional benches, cafe’ seating and art are the essence of “streets for people.”

Our Consultant’s Have Done Amazing Work in Other Places

KCI/Dover Kohl cited a number of similar projects that should make us feel good about this project. To name a few there’s Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, Music Row in Nashville, Las Olas Boulevard and Breakers Row, in Fort Lauderdale, and Lake Worth Beach Design Guidelines to name just a few. Their list of clients is a who’s who of placemaking. We at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown have been following the planning Facebook page of Dover Kohl for a long time and love their point of view. KCI Technologies is the kind of engineering and construction firm that will help make our project real and environmentally and sustainably sound.

Hope for Downtown

If you’ve been following our Facebook page and blog you know we are passionate about this project and have lot of expectations for doing better by our main street and historic downtown. At this point everything is conjecture until the people that live here and the businesses that front Duval and the surrounding streets get to chime in. But the bonafides of the consulting team and their approach give us hope for a better future. The fact that the Mayor and City Hall are behind this and willing to invest in our downtown is grounds for optimism. THAT’s why this story is #4 on our Top 10 list. It’s that important. Had the process been further along it would have been higher on our list. But that leaves room for perhaps making it #1 next year – if we can get to a plan. We can only hope!

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#5: Duval and Simonton Rebuilt and Repaved, But… (December 28, 2020)
#6: Key West Transit Abandons Old Meandering Routes (December 27, 2020)
#7: Covid Recovery Plan’s Focus on Open Streets and Downtown (December 26, 2020)
#8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance (December 23, 2020)
#9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! (December 22, 2020)
#10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmaggedon That Wasn’t (December 21, 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.

Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 – #5: Duval and Simonton Rebuilt and Repaved. But…

By Chris HamiltonDecember 28, 2020

Whether you drive, ride a bike, or or get around on a scooter, there’s just something so very nice about new, smooth, clean pavement. Right? So it shouldn’t be a surprise that when our City rebuilds two major arteries, Duval Street and Simonton Street, as well as some adjacent blocks, in the heart of downtown, all in one year, that it is a big freakin deal. Especially in a city that isn’t known for good pavement.

So when the City shutdown in late March, the Mayor swung into action and moved up the Duval Street repaving project, that wasn’t supposed to happen until late summer. This was no ordinary repaving project as it included literally tearing up and rebuilding much of the street and sidewalk intersections before it could be scrapped, paved and repainted.

“The project includes upgrading curb ramps and driveway cuts to ADA standards, milling, paving, repairing trench failures and redoing pavement markings.” 

City spokeswoman Alyson Crean in a City press release at the end of March

The Feel Good Story of the Year

Wall Street, Greene Street, and Front Street were included in the project. Simonton Street was already slated to start at the same time. Since the Duval project was being done between Wall and Truman Streets, the Mayor asked Public Works to paint the curbs, re-stripe the streets, paint the streetlights and clean the sidewalks between the new Duval Pocket Park and Truman on the upper end where rebuilding had been done previously. That way the entire main street, from the Gulf to the Atlantic would look brand spanking new.

Every few days from the end of March through July we walked the length of Duval and documented the project in pictures. Each time we posted progress pictures on Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval/Historic Downtown Facebook page we’d get more and more positive reactions from citizens and Key West fans around the world. These posts remain our most popular ever. Seeing dozens of workers out there when everything else was shut down, remaking our main street, was a shot of positive news everyone needed and applauded. Yes, it was a big freaking deal that this project and Simonton Street got done. Got done quickly. And on budget and on time. Yay Key West.

But What About Streets for People?

So as much as we applaud the City for getting something done, that needed to be done so badly, we have to admit that we’re a little disappointed in the final outcome. Why? Because the City repainted the streets EXACTLY AS THEY WERE BEFORE. No new bicycle lanes or bike boxes at the intersections. No new pedestrian refuge. No traffic calming. No switching out some private car storage (parking) to put in more room for parklets or cafes or trees or art or space for benches, to say nothing of simply installing wider sidewalks in some places to cope with the crowds. The opportunity to try something bold was completely missed by everyone in City Hall. We’ve rebuilt a car-centric main street and Simonton Street in the heart of our little walkable, historic downtown. That’s just sad. Had ANYTHING different been done this would have been higher up on our list. As it is we’re happy for the smooth pavement. And THAT’s why it is our #5 story of the year.

We think this story in particular lends itself to pictures, especially as we took hundreds of them during the construction. So follow along below as we share a few of our Facebook posts and pictures to tell the story. In most cases you can click on pictures to enlarge them or link back to the original Facebook posts to find even more pictures. It was indeed an amazing project to witness.

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#6: Key West Transit Abandons Old Meandering Routes (December 27, 2020)
#7: Covid Recovery Plan’s Focus on Open Streets and Downtown (December 26, 2020)
#8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance (December 23, 2020)
#9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! (December 22, 2020)
#10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmaggedon That Wasn’t (December 21, 2020)

Some ways to make those streets more bike, walk, transit and streets for people friendly:
Key West #115 in Best Cities for Bikes List, June 10, 2020
Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan, May 20, 2020
Can We Pedestrianize Duval and Still Allow Vehicles?, May 28, 2020
20 Parklets on Duval in 2020, April 28, 2020
Reimagining Key West – 3 Quick Wins for Revitalizing Duval Street, April 24, 2020

#5: Duval and Simonton Rebuilt and Repaved In Pictures

Project Gets Underway With Rebuilding at the End of March

Still Rebuilding at the end of April

Rebuilding is Followed By Scraping and Patching

Is Followed by Repaving/Laying New Asphalt

And Then Some Paint

Our World Famous Rainbow Crosswalks Are Redone

And Then the Cars Return

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.

Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories of 2020 – #6: Key West Transit Abandons Old Meandering Routes. But…

By Chris Hamilton, December 27, 2020

Orange, Red, Blue or Green? Inbound or outbound? Is it Sunday? Is this clockwise or counterclockwise? Whichever route you chose, it was not easy to figure out where you would end up. Meandering. Circuitous. Serpentine. Snaking. Winding. Twisty. No tortuous, that’s it. That’s how one would describe Key West Transit’s old bus routes. Take a look for yourself:

The Old “City” Routes

Could YOU figure out how to use the system if you needed to go somewhere? Unless your life depends on it you likely just gave up and didn’t take the bus. We’ve long advocated for an end to these rambling, confusing, seemingly aimless routes with their terrible frequency to be replaced by a simplified, more direct and more frequent transit system.

First a Look Back With the Promise of a Better Future

The City’s 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP), adopted in late 2019, is an ambitious, progressive plan in that direction. The TDP promises a system of “Loops” (Duval, Old Town, Midtown, New Town, Stock Island) to be connected by a few simple “Connector” routes; Airport (along S. Roosevelt), North (along N. Roosevelt), KWIC (Key West Intermodal Connector on Stock Island), and the Lower Keys Shuttle). All routes, Loops and Connectors are to run on 15-20 minute frequencies and look like this:

What We’re Getting Today

When Key West Transit began operations again on May 16, after having been out of service since the beginning of the shutdown in late March, they quietly reemerged with just two City routes, North and South Lines, instead of the four Red, Orange, Blue and Green. Here they are below. Note these lines were slightly tinkered with to go into Bahama Village on October 12.

To their credit, the Lines do look more straightforward than the previous Red, Orange, Blue and Green routes. They seem to simply and directly get passengers from many points north on Stock Island and in New Town to downtown where they can connect to the Duval Loop if they need to go elsewhere. So yes, this is progress!

This graphic from Key West Transit depicts the new North and South Lines overplayed with the Duval Loop and the Lower Keys Shuttle.

But the Glass is Half Full

While we applaud the fact that Key West Transit ripped the bandage off quickly and just abandoned the old routes, we are disappointed in the frequency of service and the lack of any transparency and communications regarding when things will change.

Each line only has 10 trips in per day and 10 trips out. That’s 80 to 90 minutes between each bus at any given point. To top it off, the last trips out from downtown leave at 7:20 pm. And service is even less on the weekend. THIS isn’t going to attract people out of their cars. The level of service is simply not adequate for anyone contemplating this for work or school or any kind of reliable transportation. Trips need to be at least every 15-20 minutes, like on the Duval Loop.

If the City is serious about battling climate change and helping our environment, about affordable living (housing + transportation costs), equity for all its citizens, not just those with the ability to afford to drive cars, and with helping our economy prosper, we need a public transit system that people would want to ride.

We have a model in the Duval Loop. It is Simple, Frequent and FREE and people love and use it. 410,000 trips were taken on the Duval Loop in 2019, more than the Red, Orange, Blue, Green Routes and Lower Keys Shuttle combined. The formula needs to be replicated on the new City North and South lines. Or get moving more quickly on implementing the Loops and Connectors model in the TDP Plan. We also would implore Key West transit to provide map and schedule information at every bus stop on the New North and South Lines, upgrade their outdated website, institute a real marketing program and be more transparent and communicate when all these things are going to happen.

We applaud Key West Transit for making some progress and hope for more. And THAT’S why this story comes in at #6 on our Top 10 List.

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#7: Covid Recovery Plan’s Focus on Open Streets and Downtown (December 26, 2020)
#8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance (December 23, 2020)
#9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! (December 22, 2020)
#10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmaggedon That Wasn’t (December 21, 2020)

Key West TDP Draft Report (Large File)

Here’s a Handy Web Page to Bookmark Bus Routes in Key West

Friends of Car-Free Key West Getting Around Key West Guide – Bus

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.

Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 – #7 Covid Recovery Plan Focuses on Downtown and Business

By Chris Hamilton, December 26, 2020

Covid Plan In Sync with Our Issues

You may have noticed that six months ago Friends of Car-Free Key West became Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. We changed the name out of a recognition that the way we use our streets, especially our main street and the commercial streets in our historic downtown, is a focus of our work. When more people bike, walk and use transit it enables us to repurpose more of our shared asset – streets – from private automobile storage to community and shared uses. It is the “Streets for People” in our slogan “Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People.” Thus we were very impressed that the City’s “Key West Recovers! A 17-Point Business and Humanitarian Covid Recovery Plan for 2020-2021” focussed so heavily on many of the items we champion here at Friends. THAT’s why this make our list at #7.

In fact, over the course of the pandemic we’ve written about most of the items included included in the business section of the Covid Recovery Plan. Such as Duval Loop, parklets, moving business outdoors, and creating help for local businesses and marketing.

What Is The Covid Recovery Plan?

It is worth everyone’s time to review the easy-to-read and succinct 8-page plan and the accompanying Key West Recovers PowerPoint presentation that the Mayor and Commissioner’s received from the consultant, Elisa Levy at their October Commission meeting. If you have 30 minutes, it is well worth it to watch Elisa’s passionate presentation in this video (click on item 4).

Elisa Levy presenting to the City Commission.

Ms. Levy had recently been hired to do a long-term strategic plan for the City going out 3-5 years. But the Mayor thought we needed something more immediate to deal with the current crisis. Elisa described it as the strategic plan is building the house, and the Covid Recovery Plan is like the house is on fire. We don’t have the luxury of time and we need to move the needle forward now to help the community cope. This plan covers the most important items as ascertained by a broad group of the community.

The report states that “Key West Recovers has been built from the ground up in a matter of six weeks. It comes from community members, and is an excellent example of government/civil society participation. In total, the process involved more than 300 people, who volunteered approximately more than 200 hours of time.” The process took place in four major steps: 20 Zoom roundtables with 250 people from various community groups; 2. Surveys; 3. an 11-member blue ribbon task force; and 4. back to the community for feedback.

The Plan has 17 specific points, 10 aimed at business and 7 at humanitarian. Many of the points are already being addressed and many completed. In fact on the night they received the Plan the Commission voted on one of the 17 points and re-instituted the FREE fares for visitors on the Duval Loop. (See #9: “FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back!, December 22, 2020)

The Focus on Downtown and Business Recovery

These are a few of the points we thought worthy of mentioning from the Business section of the Recovery Plan:

“Plan Point #3. – Operation Storefront – An initiative supported by the Florida Keys Council of the Arts to fill empty storefronts on Duval St. The Arts Council will move their annual membership show into shops to entice locals to visit Old Town, and to make the street look beautiful.”

“Plan Point #4. Safe Events, Fairs and Festivals – Promote outdoor events, fairs and festivals by making it easy for businesses to submit applications. The City will assist as much as possible, and help with planning.”

“Plan Point #5. Promoting Outdoor Business – Assist restaurants and cafes with efforts to move outside by creating a Safety Protocol and application and by assisting them upon request.”

If you are going to waive outdoor cafe permit fees to encourage outdoor business, why aren’t we closing any blocks to cars?

In recent articles we talked about about this a lot so we were happy to see the City take action to support this. In the City’s Key West Recovers website, the Information for Business section discusses waiving all permit fees for Sidewalk Cafe Permits. THIS is a good thing. However, we aren’t sure if anyone has taken the City up on this offer and perhaps that’s because the City really hasn’t closed down any blocks of Duval or downtown to cars yet. It simply may be to uncomfortable to put tables and chairs outdoors next to parked cars and car traffic. If we want this to be successful we’ll need to close down some sections to car traffic.

We’ve outlined a few ways to do that over the last six months in these articles:

“Plan Point #7. Duval Loop – Cut the fees to encourage visitors to get around town to our businesses for free.”

Based upon the Item #7 recommendation from the report, on October 20, the City rescinded the $1 fare for visitors using the Duval Loop that was imposed on May 5 (see “Commission: No More Free Ride for You” article for details). So the report immediately did something positive. As you may recall we were vociferous proponents of a FREE fare on the Duval Loop (see “Keep Duval Loop FREE for Visitors” April 30, 2020.)

“Plan Point #9. Free Business Assistance – one-on-one consulting to business owners in KW.”

The City has made it possible for businesses to receive personalized consulting at no-charge from the Florida Small Business Development Center. This is another win.

“Plan Point #10. Communications Coordinator – This is the lynchpin of the Plan. There are currently many resources available for Covid, but no mechanism for sharing them with the community. The City will hire a Communications Coordinator to share resources, services and tools with the Community.”

We think hiring Nadene Grossman Orr of We’ve Got the Keys, who does such an amazing job with Fantasy Fest, to be the liaison with the business community to help with implementation, is a stroke of genius. She is already proving invaluable helping local businesses navigate the do’s and don’ts of Covid Recovery and the City Hall bureaucracy.

These Short-Term Fixes Point to a Need to Look at a Business Improvement District in the Long-Term

We applaud the way this plan identifies these issues and tackles them. But all of the issues covered by these points could be addressed by a downtown business improvement district or BID. If we are going to make this a sustained effort over the long haul, we are going to need to do more than these temporary and ad hoc measures. Instituting a BID would cement these as permanent solutions. Please read this in-depth article, “Does Duval Street/Downtown Need a Business Improvement District?“, June 4, 2020 for more.

Recovery Plan Gives Us Hope for the Future

We are lucky to have so many people who love our island, put their heads together and come up with a plan to help us move forward, together, as One Human Family. Everyone who participated, deserves a lot of thanks and credit. Especially the Mayor and the consultant, who didn’t charge for this phase of her time. I was lucky enough to interact with Elisa on one of the Zoom Round Tables and some private follow-up and she was incredible. If her and the community’s work on this is an example of what we’ll get with the upcoming Strategic Plan, then our little island is in very good hands. And THAT’s why this is in our Top 10 for 2020 coming in at #7.

Everyone should get behind this plan and help the City move it forward.

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#8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance (December 23, 2020)
#9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! (December, 22, 2020)
#10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmageddon That Wasn’t (December, 21, 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.

Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 – #8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance

By Chris Hamilton, December 23, 2020

Fear of Deluge of E-Rentals Nets Moratorium

Back in February the City Commission put a 180-day moratorium on new companies coming in and renting motorized or non-motorized vehicles. The impetus was the fear of rental electric bikes and electric standup scooters overrunning the town, and specifically overrunning our sidewalks and making them unsafe for pedestrians. The time was said to be needed to review data on traffic safety and capacity as leaders figured out what to do first. 

New Florida Law Regulates E-Vehicles

On July 1, a new Florida law provided for three classifications of e-bikes or pedal assist and throttle bikes and gave them all the rights, privileges and duties of human powered bikes, meaning they could operate anywhere a regular bike could operate, including a sidewalk. However, the new law also gives counties and municipalities the ability to regulate their use on sidewalks. It also allows local governments to regulate their use on streets in the same manner as bicycles.

Moratorium Extended and E-Bike Ordinance Drafted

At the Commissioner’s October 6 meeting they extended the moratorium by another 180-days or longer in order to complete the tasks needed to get an ordinance in place, citing the Corona Virus as a reason for the delay. At the City Commission’s final meeting of the year on December 2, City Attorney Shawn Smith let everyone know that since a draft ordinance was part of his annual goals for the year, he had given Mayor Johnston a completed draft to review the previous week. This draft codified the new State rules in the City’s ordinance but did nothing to address safety on the sidewalks or streets, in fact it simply permitted e-bikes and e-scooters on sidewalks. As the Citizen newspaper put it in reporting on the issue of the Mayor’s response:

“That the ordinance essentially says open the city’s streets and sidewalks to e-vehicles and let them come in. I had great concern about that because we have not data on sidewalk safety, on where these vehicles go, how we control them, how we monitor them. Because of our lack of bicycles lanes, we have shoved everything onto our sidewalks which, I think we can all agree that they’ve become very dangerous…. We’ve got small sidewalks. We’ve got busy sidewalks. And we’re trying to put one more form of transportation on them. We need to know how to do that safely.”

Mayor Johnston

The Mayor doesn’t think another traffic study is needed but does want some data on potential conflicts between e-vehicles and pedestrians and wants safety recommendations included as part of a package. She suggested an existing consultant could help. 

We agree with the Mayor. The current draft of the ordinance simply let’s all vehicles use the sidewalks and that’s a recipe for disaster. We think it would be easy enough, as the new State law allows, to simply insert language in the ordinance that ban e-bikes and scooters from most sidewalks that aren’t already part of a multi-use path, like on North and South Roosevelt, Bertha Street and Atlantic Avenue. 

We think it should be noted that Commissioner Kaufman has voiced concern about the length of time this has been taking and wanted to insure that our City’s Multi-Modal Coordinator, Tim Staub, was given more sway in final recommendations. We agree with the Commissioner as well.

More Comprehensive Package Should Be Brought Forward

Perhaps City staff should have provided the Commission with something like this AND the ordinance.

Rather than just handing the City Commission a draft ordinance, City Management was tasked with and should have provided Commissioners with a more well-rounded and thought-out approach. It should have included data and safety recommendations. It should also have included recommendations on making our streets safer for bicycles, e-bikes and scooters to ride on, so riders don’t even feel the need to ride on sidewalks. So good for the Mayor for pushing back and demanding better. We think this is progress THAT’S why it is on our list coming in at number #8. Perhaps next year a completed ordinance with lots of safety recommendations will appear higher on our list. We hope so.

# # # #

#9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! (December, 22, 2020)
#10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmageddon That Wasn’t (December, 21, 2020)

Sidebar
If E-Vehicles Don’t Belong on the Sidewalks, We Have to Make Our Streets Safer

We strongly believe that e-bikes and scooters have an important place in our city’s transportation options mix. They need to be supported. Commissioner Wardlow likes to rail against these crazy, new-fangled vehicles. And while we agree with him that their use on most sidewalks is a problem for pedestrians, we have to point out that he’s not been known as a supporter of safer bicycle infrastructure, like protected bike lanes, when it would inconvenience cars.

If e-bikes and scooters shouldn’t be on sidewalks, FDOT and the citizens agreed on a solution in 2017 for making S. Roosevelt Boulevard safer. The plan was to narrow the four car-traffic lanes down to three, one in each direction with a middle turn lane. This would have allowed for a wide, protected bike lane in each direction – something that e-bikes and scooters could have used and then avoided conflicts with pedestrians when they use the sidewalk or multi-path or promenade as it is alternately called. But Commissioners Billy Wardlow and Clayton Lopez as part of a 5-2 majority of the City Commission voted against FDOT’s solutions and most of people in a focus group and public meetings. Instead they sought to keep four through travel lanes for cars and to keep the bicycles on the sidewalks along with the pedestrians. (The graphics below depict the options presented. The red and green dots on one graphic depict people that say yes or no to each option.) To their credit, Commissioners Jimmy Weekley and Sam Kaufman were the lone dissenting voices for common sense, voting against keeping the status quo of four car-lanes.

Perhaps now that there are more e-vehicles around, we can get Commissioners Wardlow and Lopez to change their tunes. It still isn’t too late as FDOT doesn’t plan the rebuild the road until 2023. And now what about N. Roosevelt Boulevard?…

More info on this issue here:

Key Wes Takes a Look at Rebuilding S. Roosevelt Boulevard Into 2-Lane Road With New Bike Paths; by Gwen Filosa, February 4, 2017; Florida Keys News

FDOT-Lane-Repurposing-Corridor-Study-SR-A1A-South-Roosevelt-Boulevard

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.

Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 – #9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back!

By Chris Hamilton, December 22, 2020

It’s back! The FREE fare for Visitors that is. And that’s a good thing for everyone downtown – visitors, residents and businesses alike. In a little noticed move, the City Commission reinstated the FREE fare by a 7-0 vote at its October 20 meeting. They did this because Item #7 of the 17-Point Covid Recovery Plan, developed between citizens and businesses, recommended returning the Duval Loop to its FREE for everyone status. Why did they even have to do this? Why didn’t the City listen to the residents and businesses the first time around?

No More Free Ride For You!

Well you see, on May 5 during the height of the Pandemic shutdown, the City Manager asked the Commissioners to impose a $1 fare on Visitors to help raise revenue in anticipation of losses to come. (Note, there were no proposals to raise any fees on parking, but that’s a story for another day). He and the Transit Department Director posited they could raise $380,000 annually and he asked for Commission support.

Despite the Mayor and Commissioner Weekley both noting, there had never been so many people that had used the City’s online e-Comment to voice their opinion on an agenda item before, with 28 against the $1 fare and one neutral, the City Commission voted 5-2 to give the Manager what he wanted, no matter what the residents thought. Both Commissioners Kaufman and Weekley were passionate in their defense of leaving it alone. Mr. Weekley cited the Loop’s success in encouraging visitors to drive less and leave coveted parking spots for locals. Mr. Kaufman also citing the Loop’s amazing success, questioned the timing, asking “What’s the urgency of making this decision now instead of during the budget process. I’d rather talk about the whole transit budget at the same time, why tonight?” Alas the deal was done and the $1 fare was instituted by a 5-2 vote. (For ALL the gory details of that night, including copies of the 28 e-comments view: “City Commission: No More Free Ride for You!; May 5, 20020).

We’ll note that the October 20 report accompanying the recommendation to reinstitute the FREE fare said that the new fare was bringing in $59 a day. Generously annualizing that amount comes to about $20,000 a year. Far short of the lofty $380,000 estimate. Let’s make sure this never happens again.

Why the Duval Loop Should Be FREE for All

Launched in August of 2017, the Duval Loop quickly became a favorite of visitors and all the lodging, attractions, restaurant and retail businesses in our downtown. The service is successful because it is FREE, FREQUENT (buses arrive every 15-20 minutes) and has a SIMPLE route that is easy to understand. In 2019 more than 410,000 trips were taken on the Loop. More people rode the Loop than the other four City bus routes (orange, blue, red and green) and the Lower Keys Shuttle all combined. It is only 3 years old but is universally hailed as something the “City did right!” Why mess with success?

Not surprisingly, many in the local Key West community agree. At the time we noted the overwhelming free fare proponents on Facebook’s Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown and Reimagining Key West sites. Even though the May 5 fare change continued FREE fares for residents with an ID, folks seem to understand that this is about getting visitors and workers easily around downtown and discouraging them from driving cars to do so. It works people say, so why mess with that achievement by fundamentally altering its formula?

Here’s some more reasons why charging visitors to use the Duval Loop is a bad idea:

  • FREE and FREQUENT, painted on the sides of the buses, is easy to market. It mostly sells itself.
  • The service is a an economic development tool.
  • The Hop On Hop Off aspect is ruined if it becomes just another bus route where one needs exact change and has to queue up to pay.
  • We ask people who DO drive to park at one of our facilities like the Grinnell Street Garage and then hop on our free downtown shuttle to get around.
  • It’s just a dollar. But who always has exact change these days? Who even wants to deal with cash and all those germs? What’s a family to do if they have to pay $4 on the first trip and $4 back? Any cost will have an elasticity factor and ridership will suffer.
  • Queueing up to pay slows things down. It causes delays and friction. Delays and friction will cause a drop off in ridership.
  • Counting and securing cash has hard costs and personnel costs.
  • We’ve made a commitment to the lodging, attractions, restaurant and retail businesses and all the visitors who have rated the service so highly (4.5 out of 5 on Trip Advisor) and we should keep that commitment.
  • If we make the service harder to use, some people will choose to drive. That means a more congested streets downtown.
  • If we make the service harder to use, some people will simply choose not to go to another part of downtown, thereby hurting some small businesses.

In the end, if more people walk, bike and take the bus it makes our streets more efficient. It is friendly to our environment and helps combat climate change. It makes us healthier. And happier too. Very importantly it helps our local businesses prosper. Charging a fee for using this amazingly successful bus is the wrong way to go. It is a step backwards. So thank you to the City for seeing the error of their ways and getting this right. Again. And THAT’s why this is our #9 story of the year.

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#10: Cow Key Bridge Carmageddon That Wasn’t (Dec. 21, 2020)

Articles

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.

Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 – #10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmageddon That Wasn’t

By Chris Hamilton, December 21, 2020

Blame It On the Jet Skis

Blame it on the jet skis. FDOT told the City a few years ago that the Cow Key Bridge’s two spans needed full rehabilitation because of saltwater corrosion. It seemed that jet skis spraying the saltwater on the underside of the bridge made both spans structurally unsound. So, giving the City plenty of notice, FDOT said that in 2020 they were going to close one bridge span at a time leaving one lane in each direction for 16-20 months. For the first time in Key West history, EVERYONE spoke with one voice. NO!

Traffic Backups? Clutch the Pearls

The collective clutching at pearls by Key West citizens of all stripes seemed to catch FDOT off guard. The Chamber of Commerce led the charge! Said Executive Director Virginia Panico: “Businesses are barely hanging on after Irma. Time is money and when company workers are spending more than an hour a day in traffic, jobs are not going to get done. Everyone will pay because there will be overtime.” 

“Our absolute number one priority is ambulances and fire trucks; we cannot go forward without a plan for emergency vehicles to cross without obstruction,” said then Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz. He added “The inconvenience will be much larger than the North Roosevelt project. It’s a small bridge but our only bridge that all roads lead to in and out.”

Said then Keys Weekly writer Hays Blinckmann in her opening paragraph in a story about the project on October 2, 2018: “It’s hard to muster enthusiasm for a root canal, but it’s a necessary evil. That’s what residents of Stock Island and Key West will have to accept with the upcoming Cow Key Channel project, due to start in February 2020. Still shaking off the repercussions of the North Roosevelt renovation as well as Hurricane Irma, it’s hard not to be pessimistic. But good news is that FDOT, the city and county are listening and addressing concerns.”

FDOT Accommodates the Pearl Clutchers

Root canal is an apt description of what people expected. To their credit FDOT listened. They added money to the project to shrink the timeline from 16-20 months to less than 9 months, by working around the clock. Instead of only two lanes they figured out how to have 3 open during rush hours and then they came up with more money to offer incentives to the construction contractors to meet their deadlines. Project costs zoomed to make folks happy. In the end the total project cost was $6.2 million plus another $800,000 in incentives. No price was too high to keep traffic flowing. Bus routes were changed, and a new light was installed at the north end of College Road. And yet…

Carmaggeden!

Still, everyone was freaking out as the project approached this February. Newspaper headlines rang out with “Traffic Nightmare,” “Carmeggeden,” “Headaches for Motorists,” and leaders called it a “great disruption” and “huge inconvenience.” Everyone panicked…

Enter COVID

And then the COVID Pandemic happened. And the shutdown between mid-March and June 1. And between travel restrictions, closings in other places, and less travelers overall, the bridge work went on and didn’t seem to adversely affect those using the road. There was little gnashing of teeth or whaling or whining. The project went smoothly. Said the Mayor of the project: “It almost went unnoticed.”

As we write this, FDOT is packing up, having finished paving and marking and the project done early. In fact, all four lanes have been open since late September. Would we have traded the inconvenience for not having to deal with COVID? ABSOLUTELY! But Carmageddon never did come to Key West. We can be thankful for small favors. And THAT’S why this story is #10 in 2020.

All four lanes of Cow Key Channel Bridge, between Key West and Stock Island, reopened on Sept. 25. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly
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.