Streets for People / Key West Mayoral and District IV Candidates in Their Own Words on Bike, Walk and Transit Issues

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 5, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

How do we make it safer and easier for more of us to ride bikes? What can we do to fix our public transit system and make it more useful to our beleaguered workforce? Are there transportation solutions for all the new housing coming to Stock Island? Can we have a more fair and equitable allocation of the City’s right-of-way and replace some on-street parking spaces downtown to get some bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, and pedestrian zones? Can we invest in some new (Smathers Beach and Salt Ponds) and existing (Crosstown Greenway/Wickers Field) bike trails to get people from New Town to downtown more quickly? What of e-scooters, Duval Street revitalization, and phasing out gas-powered rental scooters? If our City Hall leaders craft solutions to these questions it will help make our little island more healthy, green, sustainable, equitable, prosperous for local Mom and Pop shops, affordable, and happy. With this in mind, we put these questions to the Mayoral and District IV candidates running in the August 23 primary.

We want to thank all six candidates for City Office, Mayor Teri Johnston and former Commissioner Margaret Romero and District 4 Candidates Ryan Barwick, Lissette Cuervo Carey, Kim Highsmith, and Steven Nekhaila for generously taking the time to thoughtfully respond to our questions. 

Regular readers of our Streets for People column and followers on our Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown Facebook page know where we stand on these issues. Analysis of the answers shown here as “Column Notes” and recommendations for each office are made in the service of ensuring we have the votes on the City Hall dais in favor of bike, walk, transit and streets for people. We provide the candidate’s answers in full so you can decide for yourself. We’ll note early voting starts on Monday, August 8 at 530 Whitehead Street, #101 and runs through August 20.

The Questions:

  1. Describe how you have and will demonstrate leadership in making it safer and easier for more people to bike more often? Why is this important?
  2. According to the U.S. Census less than one percent of City residents use Key West Transit to get to work. What solutions do you have to improve public transit to make it useful to residents and workers? Any additional thoughts regarding serving residents of the new workforce housing complexes on Stock Island? Why is better transit important?
  3. How would you align parking policy downtown with making the island a better place to walk, bike, take the bus and use some of our streets for people? For example, on-street parking spaces are often cited as a reason for not putting in bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, or pedestrian zones. Are you willing to trade some on-street parking for these?
  4. The City and County are discussing swapping ownership of Higgs Beach for a portion of the Hawks Missile site to assist the Airport Authority. One of two potential bicycle trails identified in the Bike/Ped Plan would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with a time-saving and safe bike trail behind the airport out to Government Road. Will you fight to ensure the building of these trails are part of any land swap?
  5. Anything you’d like to add regarding transportation in Key West?

Lightening Round – Simply answer YES, NO, or DON’T KNOW. If you really need to expand upon any of these, please use question 5. 

  • 6. Crosstown Greenway. Fan?  
  • 7. Lama Electric Scooter Pilot. Fan? 
  • 8. Duval Street Revitalization Plan. Fan?
  • 9. Higher wages for Key West Transit drivers? 
  • 10. Phase out gas-powered scooter and golf cart rentals in 5 years?
  • 11. Wickers Bike Trail. City fund now or wait for FDOT funds in 2028?
  • 12. Ask County to follow Bike Plan and put bike lanes on First/Bertha Streets?

Mayoral Race: Incumbent Mayor Teri Johnston and Former Commissioner Margaret Romero

1 – Describe how you have and will demonstrate leadership in making it safer and easier for more people to bike more often? Why is this important?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
“As Mayor, I will continue to prioritize dedicated bicycle lanes and complete streets on all new road construction in Key West. As we evaluate raising roads to mitigate sea level rise, every one of those streets provides us an opportunity to incorporate a complete street upgrade. As we provide safe 5’ wide community connected bicycle lanes, more locals and guests can traverse our entire island using an economically beneficial and healthy mode of transportation. This reduces parking demand, congestion, noise, and pollution levels and improves our quality of life. By providing city wide bicycle lanes, we also have an opportunity to move e-vehicles off of our narrow sidewalks improving pedestrian safety and enjoyment. “

Margaret Romero:
“a. I perceive three types of “bikers”: a) those getting to / from work b) recreational – local c) recreational – tourists. I think more education of self-bicycle safety is very important: things like no wearing of ear buds / headphones, stopping at stop signs and red lights, following the “rules of the roads & sidewalks”, not darting in front of vehicles that clearly are attempting to enter into traffic or back out of spaces. Those who bike have rights, also have the accompanying responsibilities.”
Why is this important?
“b. To prevent injuries and all of the ramifications that surround them.”

Column Note: Mayor Teri Johnston, like most national bicycling and street safety organizations, emphasizes engineering and design and a safe connected network of 5 feet wide bike lanes and adds this help get e-vehicles off our sidewalks. Ms. Romero puts the onus on educating people riding bikes to be visible and follow the rules of the road to keep themselves safe. She doesn’t mention educating drivers about slowing down and watching for bikes and pedestrians though. Nor does she mention any infrastructure fixes.

2 – According to the U.S. Census less than one percent of City residents use Key West Transit to get to work. What solutions do you have to improve public transit to make it useful to residents and workers? Any additional thoughts regarding serving residents of the new workforce housing complexes on Stock Island? Why is better transit important?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
”The solution is to provide a free, frequent and reliable public transportation system. We attempted to get this approved during our last budget cycle but due to conflicting priorities like bringing our city staff to an equitable pay level for our community we could not make it work without placing a financial strain on our taxpayers. We are combating the shortage of qualified CDL drivers by piloting an “on-demand“ public transportation system. We are working collaboratively with the County to provide public transportation for the 280 units opening at Wreckers Cay and the 103 units coming on line on College Road in 2023.”

Margaret Romero:
“a. Our transportation department is constantly collecting data and opinions to enhance their routes and times of availability. I will rely on their expertise and advice. Unfortunately, many people do not like waiting a short time for anything – and that includes public transit. Public transit is not free uber.
Any additional thoughts regarding serving residents of the new workforce housing complexes on Stock Island? Why is better transit important?
“b. Our transportation department is already looking ahead to the opening of that facility. As people take residence, I expect that their needs and requests will be taken into consideration. However, some folks just want to come and go as they please.”

Column Note: Mayor Teri Johnston rightly cites a solution as free, frequent, and reliable public transit, acknowledges the shortage of CDL drivers and provides a solution in trying on-demand transit. She also says they are working with the County to provide solutions on Stock Island. Ms. Romero seems to be saying people aren’t patient enough in waiting for the bus (and at 80-95 minutes between buses that’s a lot of patience) and that people “just want to come and go as they please.” Hmmm… we think that’s the whole point of public transit – the ability to get to work and play as needed. The kicker is scolding the public that “transit is not free Uber.”

3 – How would you align parking policy downtown with making the island a better place to walk, bike, take the bus and use some of our streets for people? For example, on-street parking spaces are often cited as a reason for not putting in bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, or pedestrian zones. Are you willing to trade some on-street parking for these?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
“Yes, it is important to keep moving forward towards a pedestrian/bike focused downtown. Noise, congestion, and pollution would all decrease increasing our enjoyment of our downtown area. Our Duval Street revitalization is not only going to prioritize a number of mitigation projects to keep our streets dry and our storefronts from flooding, but also on creating a flexible street that can accommodate vehicular traffic and emergency vehicles when desired and the flexibility to convert to a pedestrian only corridor with wide, walkable sidewalks, seating areas, shade, underground electric and landscaping. The cafe program could certainly be enhanced for our downtown if we could utilize some evening “on street” parking spots for outdoor dining. Dedicated bicycle lanes are a must and need to be connected throughout Key West. Our visitors have been incredible opting for a bicycle, scooter, golf cart or walking over their car.”

Margaret Romero:
“a. I will make decisions based on the good of the entire community. We have to remember that streets are already for people, people who live there, do business there, as well as people who bike and walk there. I am not in favor of closing streets – whether downtown or in single family neighborhoods. Closing streets usually just results in diverting the traffic other streets not always able to handle it.”
For example, on-street parking spaces are often cited…?
“b. I am always willing to evaluate things. Both the positive and negative impacts have to be considered and what is best for the overall community.”

Column Note: The responses to this question are as stark as night and day. Mayor Teri Johnston provides a concise vision for a better downtown and Duval Street that is revitalized, resilient, flexible, and people oriented. Ms. Romero reminds us that our shared community asset, our streets, should be for cars and not equitably shared with other uses like wider sidewalks, café’s, shade and seating as Mayor Johnston mentions.

4 – The City and County are discussing swapping ownership of Higgs Beach for a portion of the Hawks Missile site to assist the Airport Authority. One of two potential bicycle trails identified in the Bike/Ped Plan would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with a time-saving and safe bike trail behind the airport out to Government Road. Will you fight to ensure the building of these trails are part of any land swap?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
“Yes, in fact that has been part of my discussions with our City Manager. We need to work closely with our County Commissioners to build the bicycle trail as proposed and utilize the land at Hawk Missile site for passive recreational uses.”

Margaret Romero:
“There are many things that need to be discussed regarding the potential swap – including what neighborhoods are affected and how, as well as the costs associated with taking over any responsibilities inherent in the swap. Bike paths will be a part of the discussion.”

Column Note: Mayor Teri Johnston says she wants to build the trail. Ms. Romero says the bike paths should be part of the discussion. That’s good.

5 – Anything you’d like to add regarding transportation in Key West?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
“Short term critical needs: 

  1. Build the Key West Intermodal center on College Road to park vehicles of weekly visitors. We met with FDOT several years ago and they were very supportive and excited to move this project forward. 
  2. Free and frequent (every 15 minutes) public transportation system to support our labor force in and out of Key West without a car. The current 80–95-minute routes are not effective for those trying to get to work on time. 
  3. A complete network of dedicated bicycle lanes with our goal that every street in Key West should be a “complete” street to meet our multimodal needs.”

Margaret Romero:
“Yes – comments related to the YES / NO questions:
6. Crosstown Greenway – the City has already removed the “structures and features” placed as part of the pilot. So that says a lot. I don’t support planting trees on that path because it takes away parking spots in family neighborhoods that are already parking sparse,,, and it is more things for our overworked community services teams to have to maintain.
7. Appearances seem like special consideration was given to one company. Did not seem fair to others who came before them with similar ideas or a chance for a fair lottery of who might be given the opportunity of hosting the pilot.
8. Revitalization should come from the stakeholders – not the City who hires a consulting firm to change it to something the consulting firm thinks it should be. Clean up and spruce up – yes.  Duval St has its own unique character and characters. That’s why people go there.  We need to think long-term.
9. YES. as to be competitive in the marketplace and in fairness to other City employees.
10. NO what are you going to replace them with? What is the impact to all concerned?
11. DON’T KNOW – Let’s see what stays in this year’s budget planning process for capital projects, and in parks and recreation department. Then let’s evaluate based on community priorities.
12. I said DON’T KNOW because those projects appear to be relatively close to completion. Could be a case of being too late.”

Column Note: Mayor Teri Johnston nicely circles back to emphasize the need for more frequent and free transit to help our workforce and to completing a network of dedicated bicycle facilities. She also brings up moving forward on an often-discussed parking garage on Stock Island. Win. Win. Win. Ms. Romero disparages two projects we’re fond of – the Crosstown Greenway and the Lama Mobility (e-scooter) pilot project. Ms. Romero’s laissez faire approach on Duval Street Revitalization couldn’t be more out of touch with the need to invest in one of our city’s most important assets.

Lightening Round – Simply answer YES, NO, or DON’T KNOW. If you really need to expand upon any of these, please use question 5. 

 JohnstonRomero
6. Fan of Crosstown Greenway?YesNo*
7. Fan of Lama E-Scooter Pilot?YesNo*
8. Fan of Duval St. Revitalization Plan?YesNo*
9. Higher wages for KWT drivers?YesYes*
10. Phase out gas scooter/golf cart rentals in 5 yrs.?YesNo*
11. Fund Wickers Bike Trail now or wait to 2028 for FDOT $?YesDon’t know*
12. Put bike lanes on First and Bertha Streets? Don’t Know*
*Note: Ms. Romero expands upon each of these in question 5.
Mayor Johnston opens the Mall on Duval pilot program which begat the Duval Street Revitalization project which should get under contract later this year.

Who I’m Voting for Mayor – Teri Johnston

Based simply on the answers to these questions, in my estimation it must be to re-elect Mayor Teri Johnston. Add in a four-year record of steady, reliable, and visionary service and the choice is a slam dunk. Two years ago, we strongly endorsed Mayor Johnston saying: 

“The Mayor’s record and vision stands head and shoulders above her competitors… 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 the Friends of Car-Free Key West Facebook page. We hope you’ll take the time to read her responses in full because they show a breadth of understanding and a depth of knowledge not often seen by a public official who has so many other issues pressing on her at the moment.”

This is just as true today as it was two years ago. We give Mayor Johnston credit for saying the lack of bicycle facilities on S. Roosevelt and First and Bertha Streets were missed opportunities and vows not to let them happen again. And we remember that it was Ms. Romero who voted for no bicycle facilities and four through car lanes on S. Roosevelt in 2017. Ms. Johnston wasn’t even on the dais yet, so it isn’t on her. We also give Mayor Johnston credit for saying that one of the disappointments of 2021 was not being able to put more money into the transit system to get more frequency. The money went instead to $2.8M in additional salary for City workers. Towards that end she’s making sure that Key West Transit has the resources in the coming year to commence with on-demand transit and work with the County on transit innovations on Stock Island

It takes time to change our car-centric culture, especially as State and local engineering practice for decades has favored cars. But there are signs that things are turning around. Last November we discussed how people are thankful for a bike-friendly City. In December we made the case that 2021 was a good one for our issues, citing progress on the Crosstown Greenway, initial work on the Smathers Beach and Salt Ponds Trails, the Lama e-Scooter pilot, new City legislation on e-bikes restricting their use on sidewalks, Wickers Trail, a new and fantastic Transportation Coordinator, and developing a strategic plan that codifies a path forward on bike, walk, transit and streets for people. 

To top it off Mayor Johnston believes that Key West can be the #1 bicycling small city in the U.S.A. Here’s how she said it just last month:

“We are moving in the right direction but frustratingly slowly. As gas prices increase, this is a perfect time to offer our locals a cost-effective way to get to and from work and our guests a healthy alternative to driving which can reduce noise and congestion on our streets. I continue to be concerned about the number of our streets that are ranked “high stress” by the people who actually ride on them even after we have lowered our speed limits. Our guests are getting on bikes sometimes for the first time since they were teenagers, so it is important that we continue to improve bicycle safety throughout our island.

Having said that, we are awaiting the results from engineering on the feasibility of a one-way street grid that would accommodate a dedicated bicycle lane on each street to improve bicycle safety and reduce congestion. Unfortunately, we squandered an opportunity to incorporate “complete streets” to the long-awaited South Roosevelt Boulevard road construction project which could have taken bicycles off of the sidewalk and given them a safe, dedicated bicycle lane. Once again, we missed an opportunity to add bicycle lanes on First and Bertha. We cannot improve our bicycle safety unless bicycle lanes are prioritized at the beginning of every city infrastructure project.

The Commission voted unanimously to focus on advancing our Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan (circa 1996, 2010, 2019) via our Strategic operational plan by adding bike rack space for 128 bikes at bus stops via the Final Mile program by August and another 250 bikes by the end of this month, enhancing 10 intersections for bicycle safety starting in September and initiate a shared street pilot program by December of this year.

We have a perfect island to bike around. We have limited space to accommodate a great number of competing interests. We must use our space more efficiently and thoughtfully in the future.  I maintain high hopes that we are the #1 bicycling small community in the near future.”

Please join us in voting to re-elect Teri Johnston as Mayor!

Additional Information About the Candidates:

Mayor Teri Johnston:
https://www.teriformayor.com
https://www.facebook.com/TeriJohnstonKeyWestMayor

Former Commissioner Margaret Romero:
https://www.romeroformayor.com
https://www.facebook.com/romerokeywest

District IV Race: Ryan Barwick, Lissette Cuervo Carey, Kim Highsmith, and Steven Nekhaila

1 – Describe how you have and will demonstrate leadership in making it safer and easier for more people to bike more often? Why is this important?

Ryan Barwick: 
“The bicycle community is a big one in Key West. My wife and I love biking downtown and exploring the island. I believe in making it safer for more bicycles not only through infrastructure like the Wicker Trail in District 4, but through education as well. This is important to continue promoting pushing safe travel on bicycles and bringing the community together no matter what side of the isle you’re on.”

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“In the cooler months, I walk and ride my bike to work. I also live on the bike path, so I have a real understanding of the daily challenges and use of the bike path. I have demonstrated leadership because I am leading by example and showing others it is a safe and convenient way of getting around the island, while also helping to preserve our environment. It is economical, which is most significant during a time where we are seeing extremely high costs for gas and energy. 

I would like to champion efforts to improve specific areas in my district like the parking lot and streets behind the former Kmart, improving pedestrian cross over paths for our seniors and other residents to have a safer transit to and from our shopping centers. I’d also like to consider the areas on Kennedy drive where the traffic patterns of parents dropping off their children, the workforce crossing Kennedy via the greenway as well as drivers getting to high density office buildings cause congestion and confusion at peak morning and afternoon hours. These areas can be improved and made safer. 

Lack of shade along the greenway/bike-path also needs addressing, perhaps by working with city staff to identify areas along the way that we can plant more shade trees.”

Kim Highsmith:
“My husband and I are bikers. We bike wherever we can whenever we can, despite the heat! It is rare that you will see my car downtown. District 4 is a mostly residential district. We have to make sure people can safely get from where they live to where they work downtown. I think it was a tragedy what happened to the South Roosevelt improvement plan. We could have easily added bike lanes, and green space, and yet all we did was accommodate more cars. Just sit out there during rush hour and you will notice that there aren’t that many cars that would necessitate a 2-lane road in both directions. We really missed an opportunity there and as a commissioner I won’t let that happen again.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“Currently Key West is a highly biked and walked pedestrian city by American standards, however, we also rank among the highest in pedestrian fatalities and accidents. There are several issues at hand, one is the lack of knowledge of road rules by pedestrians, the other is narrow and congested roadways shared with motor vehicles. As a motorcyclist myself, I understand just how little “cagers”, cars and trucks, see us smaller vehicles, it’s even worse on a self-propelled, quiet, and slow vehicle like a bicycle. I would be willing to work with City Management to find solutions to these safety issues including educational campaigns and infrastructure which make it safer to be a pedestrian.”

Column Note: All four candidates say things that sound friendly for better bicycle infrastructure. But Mr. Nekhaila puts the onus on pedestrians “lack of knowledge of road rules.” Mr. Barwick mentions Wickers Trail, infrastructure, and education. Ms. Highsmith bicycles herself, talks about making it safe for people in District IV to get to downtown safely and laments about the lack of bike lanes being added to South Roosevelt vowing to not let opportunities like this be missed again. Ms. Carey hits all the right notes, saying she often bikes to work, lives along the Crosstown Greenway, champions efforts to improve the pedestrian and bicycle access to the big shopping centers on N. Roosevelt and Kennedy drive – both very much needed and advocates for needed shade trees all while tying up the reasoning with economics, the environment and high gas prices.

2 – According to the U.S. Census less than one percent of City residents use Key West Transit to get to work. What solutions do you have to improve public transit to make it useful to residents and workers? Any additional thoughts regarding serving residents of the new workforce housing complexes on Stock Island? Why is better transit important?

Ryan Barwick:
“Improving public transit to ensure there are enough opportunities and stops to supply the residents and workers with a clean ride to work without the parking hassle, should encourage is use.”

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“To improve public transit, I would like to explore ideas on decreasing the time public transit takes to get from one location to the next. The closer we can get public transit time to private vehicle drive time the more likely residents are to use public transit options. Also, more pick-ups, more often. Of course, the very first step to this is to ask the Transportation Director what ideas they have, discuss the funding needed to execute those ideas and look for as much grant funding as possible to support them. Then of course seek public feedback and opinion on the actual needs of our residents and workers for consideration. 

As to ideas on serving the residents of the workforce housing complexes on Stock island, I would like to explore programs that would allow and encourage multilevel parking garages for vehicles and bicycles featuring, electric scooter and bike rentals and a workforce specific, express bus route and even ferry services to our hotels, restaurants both in New Town and the downtown area. This could also potentially serve our tourism industry and take a lot of visitor’s vehicles out of the congestion on our island. 

Better transit is important because it ultimately improves the quality of life for residents and visitors.”

Kim Highsmith:
“People aren’t going to use transit that they don’t know about. They’re not going to use transit that is sporadic, and they’re not going to use transit if they have a car, and it is easier to drive than to take transit. We have an availability problem and a perception problem. When the additional workforce housing comes online on Stock Island, we absolutely must make it easy for those residents to get to and from their homes and to work.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“I would need to investigate the most highly traffic areas, traffic flows, peak times of transportation needs, and other data to make decisions on how to better help. We need a more data driven analysis of traffic flow to see who needs rides, where to, and at what hours.”

Column Note: It seems as if Mr. Barwick and Mr. Nekhaila haven’t given much thought to public transit. Not a good sign. Ms. Highsmith understands frequency and marketing are needed. Ms. Carey provides a thorough response and understands the need for frequency. Her ideas for a parking garage on Stock Island and electric scooters, an express service for workers and even ferries show some promise.

3 – How would you align parking policy downtown with making the island a better place to walk, bike, take the bus and use some of our streets for people? For example, on-street parking spaces are often cited as a reason for not putting in bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, or pedestrian zones. Are you willing to trade some on-street parking for these?

Ryan Barwick:
“I believe there is a need for more bike racks downtown to promote more use of bicycles while providing a safe place to lock up bikes. As far as parking spaces go, I believe we do need the delivery zones for businesses on Duval. I would have to do more research into what spaces that aren’t delivery zone would be up for discussion.”

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“Over the last five years we have sacrificed on street parking for better sidewalks, safer streets, etc. I don’t think we have much more available to sacrifice. Local families and groups of friends still enjoy going downtown together, however with less parking, it’s harder for an entire family who may not have the capability of all members able to bike or walk due to age (small children or elderly), those with mobility issues, special needs etc., to get from parking areas to commerce areas or through the streets of oldtown. They should have the ability to park and enjoy all areas of the island.  We need to consider the diversity of our island’s residents and try to serve them all.”

Kim Highsmith:
“There really is no reason to have any on-street parking on Duval Street. We should encourage Duval Street to be walkable, safe, and attractive. If people are on foot or on bike, they are more likely to visit stores and spend money in our local businesses.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“We need off street parking specifically for residents. Unfortunately, due to Key Wests design as a horse and buggy town, the streets are narrow, and parking has become a hot commodity for residents. HOWEVER, dedicated biking areas such as the Key West Greenway are great ideas that can be more accommodating to residents. Making them much more usable.”

Column Note: This question is revealing as the only candidate who seems to say they’d treat our streets more equitably and trade some downtown street parking for bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks or pedestrian zones is Ms. Highsmith who says she’d do it on Duval Street. Ms. Carey, who said many good things about bicycles makes the case for abundant parking on our community’s streets at the expense of wider sidewalks, bike lanes and people saying we don’t have available parking to “sacrifice” for these things. It seems Ms. Carey is trying to have her cake and eat it too in saying bike friendly things but not wanting to give up any parking in return. It isn’t surprising that uptown candidates would advocate for more parking downtown. Ms. Highsmith’s answer stands out for being brave in that respect and that’s why we asked the question. Now we know who’d make the tough decisions and who wouldn’t in favor of street amenities instead of cars.

 4 – The City and County are discussing swapping ownership of Higgs Beach for a portion of the Hawks Missile site to assist the Airport Authority. One of two potential bicycle trails identified in the Bike/Ped Plan would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with a time-saving and safe bike trail behind the airport out to Government Road. Will you fight to ensure the building of these trails are part of any land swap?

Ryan Barwick:
“I would need to do more research on this plan as it is the first time, I’ve heard of it.”

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“I need to research the bike trail proposal more in depth and hear from the residents that this would affect most. Those at the Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside Communities as well as those in the Airport Blvd. Riviera Canal resident input, and Linda Avenue or any close or surrounding resident areas.”

Kim Highsmith
“I will absolutely fight to ensure the building of these trails is part of any land swap. The trails need to be environmentally friendly and not disturb the fragile ecosystem.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“Absolutely, government road is currently underutilized as a park and making it into a greenway for bikes and pedestrian traffic is a great way to utilize the space. Many residents live in Seaside and constructing a bikeway can help connect to the Greenway and encourage more bikes, and less vehicles on the road. This could also further development in the government road park area for recreational use for Seaside residents who make up a sizeable population.”

Column Note: Ms. Highsmith and Mr. Nekhaila both say they’d fight for the Salt Ponds Trail from Ocean Walk, Las Salinas sand Seaside behind the airport to Government Road and on to the Greenway. Ms. Carey said she needs to do more research and talk to residents and Mr. Barwick has never heard of it. 

5 – Anything you’d like to add regarding transportation in Key West?

Ryan Barwick:
“While we continue to navigate the transportation in Key West, which is ever changing. It’s on the people themselves to be responsible and respectful to each other no matter if you’re on a bicycle or in a car. We need to share the road and be mindful both ways to make the island a safer place.

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“There are some needs that need attention and addressing, but there are a myriad of solutions, and our city employs an amazing and talented staff that have the ability to implement those solutions.”

Kim Highsmith:
“I’d like to expand on the Duval Loop, to include a Midtown Loop and a New Town Loop, and even a Stock Island Loop, making it convenient for all residents to get across the island and support our local businesses, and like the Duval Loop, this should be free. Perhaps the City could partner with HTA, which pays drivers $20/hour plus gratuities, so that we would have the drivers and vehicles to get this off the ground sooner rather than later. I also will fight to improve marketing for transit, because as I said people will not take transit if they do not know about it. 

Additionally, I’d like to see convex traffic mirrors installed at intersections where visibility is frequently blocked by parked cars, within neighborhoods and especially along Fifth Street, First Street, White Street, and Flagler Avenue.  

Regarding phasing out gas-powered scooter and golf cart rentals in five years, I am 100% in support of this! The technology and costs will be much better and lower in five years to actually make that happen. Imagine how quiet some of our streets would be if we didn’t have gas scooter and golf cart rentals wheezing down our residential streets.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“Key West is a challenging City to retrofit for bicycle and pedestrian use, while it also a great candidate for smart urban planning. Many European cities are primarily pedestrian cities; however, Key West has evolved over the past century as a primarily vehicle dominated town. We need to ensure that safety is a priority as we are also the capitol of bicycle and scooter accidents, typically these are tourists. For residents, it’s a matter of getting to work and around town in an economically feasible way, while also enjoying the recreation of biking or walking. Another part of my plan to is to encourage mixed use recreational/commercial zoning for business areas such as the Sears town Plaza and K Mart Plaza where residents living above the area can simply walk to work and shop instead of driving across town. This will expand capacity while lowering traffic.”

Column Note: Ms. Highsmith and Mr. Nekhaila used the free question to provide more good ideas. Ms. Highsmith wants to expand on the Duval Loop with additional Loops in Midtown, New Town and Stock Island, wants to make transit free and to do better marketing. All great points. Convex traffic mirrors at problem intersections are a good idea. She also expands on why phasing out gas-powered rental vehicles is a good idea. Mr. Nekhaila’s idea for redeveloping Searstown and Kmart Plaza with residential so that more people can walk is a winner.

Lightening Round – Simply answer YES, NO, or DON’T KNOW. If you really need to expand upon any of these, please use question 5. 

Answers to Lightening Round Questions
 BarwickCareyHighsmithNekhaila
6. Fan of Greenway?YesYes, mostlyYesYes
7. Fan of Lama e-scooters?NoDon’t knowYesNot Sure
8. Fan of Duval Revitalization?NoNeeds workYesNot Sure
9. Higher wages for KWT driversYesYes, or incentivesYesNot Sure
10. Phase out gas scooter rentals in 5 years?NoNoYesNo
11. Fund Wicker Bike Trail now?YesDon’t knowYesNot Sure
12. Put Bike Lanes on First/BerthaYesDon’t knowYesNot Sure

Who I’d Vote for If I Lived in District IV – Kim Highsmith

I live downtown in Commissioner Weekley’s District. I consider myself lucky to have Mr. Weekely ably representing us. When we did an analysis of Commissioner’s in 2020, Mr. Weekley rated very highly on bike, walk, transit and streets for people issues. As did Mr. Kaufman. And Ms. Hoover has shown real leadership on these issues of late. The hope is that someone joins them on the dais that can support Mayor Johnston’s excellent vision for a bike, walk, transit and streets for people friendly city. Based upon the answers here I think that person is Kim Highsmith narrowly over Lissette Cuervo Carey. And we do like Mr. Nekhaila’s stance on adding more housing density. 

Ms. Highsmith’s campaign literature advocated for more sidewalks, bike paths and green spaces before we’d asked any of these questions. She favors all our lightening round projects across the board too. While Ms. Carey had some thoughtful stands on biking and transit, in the end not being able to say she’d treat our community’s streets more equitably and trade some parking spaces for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and street amenities is a non-starter because so many of the failures in the past on getting better people-friendly infrastructure are because commissioners wouldn’t sacrifice a few parking spaces. 

So please vote for Kim Highsmith.

A Concurring Opinion

Bike advocates Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen and Roger McVeigh helped me with the questions. Tom provided an additional concurring opinion that he said I could share:

“I don’t know any of the commissioner candidates personally and it’s great to have a choice! I concur with your selections. Highsmith seems to be the most active and aware commission candidate of the bunch. The comment about not worrying about biking in the heat and leaving the car at home cinched it for me. A commissioner that actually bikes to work would be fantastic. Hopefully the winner will jump on fixing Jr. College road. At some 1.5 miles long with a college, elementary school, hospital, retirement community, SPCA, golf course community, botanical gardens, jail, marina, marina development, KW D.O.T., homeless shelter, new affordable housing project, Florida Keys aqueduct facility and no place to safely bike, infuriating.”

Additional Information About the Candidates:

Ryan Barwick:
Ryan said he had no campaign website or Facebook page but said we could share his phone number and email: 352-870-2939; barwick.ryan@gmai.com

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100082416438955 

Kim Highsmith:
https://www.kimhighsmith.com
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100082316841583

Steven Nekhaila:
http://stevenforkeywest.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/snkwccd4 

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You can find a year’s plus 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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Freebee On-Demand Ride-Hailing-to-Transit Might Provide Stock Island Residents With Reason to Leave Their Cars at Home 

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on July 22, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

With the additional traffic that 667 new housing units on Stock Island are expected to bring over the coming few years, the County is exploring a partnership with the South Florida based private company called Freebee to provide its on-demand ride hailing service to residents to help mitigate congestion on U.S. 1. On May 18 they approved budgeting up to $425,000 towards a 50/50 match of a FDOT grant to fund a potential $850,000 project. They’ve also started discussions with City of Key West officials on collaborating in the endeavor. 

We’ve made the argument that the City and County need to invest in improving the awful transit options that currently exist between the two islands to alleviate some of the resulting traffic from these new housing developments. The general idea proposed by the County to date is to utilize on-demand (think Uber) micro-transit (small electric cars or golf cart-like vehicles) to get people from their home to one central transit hub on Stock Island, where a Key West Transit shuttle would then whisk them directly downtown. The one central stop would make it easier for the transit agency because the buses wouldn’t have to circulate all over the island but rather to just to one point. This might be the kind of service that could help some Stock Island residents leave their cars at home. Let’s explore why something like this should be tried and how it could work.

New Housing Coming to Stock Island Means More Traffic

Construction has been moving along briskly at the 280-Unit Wreckers Cay at 6155 2nd Street – adjacent to Boyd’s Campground. Tenants are expected to start moving in this September 2022, and officials say they’ll bring the eight new buildings online at about one a month or so with the project being fully occupied by this time next year. The Key West Housing Authority’s 104-unit Garden View Apartments on College Road is under construction and should come online in late 2023. 

A couple months ago we learned that Roy’s Trailer Park at 6500 Maloney Avenue gave their 108 owners notice they have six months to relocate because the property will be redeveloped from 108 trailers to 240 workforce apartments. That’s a net of 132 additional housing units at Roy’s bringing the total of new workforce housing units on the island to 516.  Add in the 148-transient condos and 3 workforce condos – total 151 – recently approved at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club, also on Maloney Avenue, and that’s 667 new units and a lot of potential new cars crossing Cow Key Bridge. There’s a lot of concern about traffic, especially along U.S. 1, because visitor traffic is increasing too. 

Wreckers Cay in-between Boyd’s Campground and CVS on Stock Island.

Transit Between the Islands is Currently Awful

The likelihood that all these new residents will use transit instead of driving is almost nil. At least with today’s transit system. Census data shows less than 1% of current residents use the bus to get to work. Buses come along every 95 – 120 minutes on the Lower Keys Shuttle and every 80 – 95 minutes on the North and South Line routes that serve Stock Island. Current statistics prove that kind of infrequent service isn’t going to entice many people out of their cars. 

What’s Freebee? Business Development? First/Last Mile Solution?

The Freebee on-demand micro-transit company operates in about 24 South Florida municipalities. Usually at the request of a local government or a local business improvement district (BID). The service is free and subsidized by the local government, business community and advertising on the vehicles and app. It works like Uber and Lyft using an app and takes people door-to-door, usually within a confined business area. In some cities they can also be hailed like a taxi. 

They use small electric cars, vans and golf-cart like vehicles called GEMs (global electric motorcars). Advertising predominates on the outside of the vehicles, they are referred to as “moving billboards,” and they are co-branded between Freebee and the local community/business district. In nearly all cases the idea for setting up the services is to help support local businesses. Drivers act as tour guides and promote local establishments that contribute. Advertising on the inside and outside of the vehicle and the app do the same. 

Think of it sort of like our Duval Loop, but on-demand and more direct. Perhaps its niche is between traditional transit and Uber. The Miami Beaches Freebee page describes it this way:

“As a transportation service, we are changing the way that people move around Miami. No longer is there a need to worry about the stress of driving and parking. With our new smart mobile app, Miamians can hail a Freebee right from their phones. Our drivers will play their choice of music, engage in friendly conversation, and get them safely to their destination. We know that people have the option of taking a taxi, Uber, Lyft, limo, bus, trolley, etc. We strive to transform transportation into an experience.”

The Freebee service in Islamorada has expanded to included trips for medical services outside of Islamorada to three specific locations if the trip begins in the municipality. So, it seems like Islamorada is also using the service as a substitute for traditional transit. 

The other way Freebee is used, is as a first/last-mile solution. The Tri-Rail Cypress Creek Station in Fort Lauderdale recently partnered with Freebee to provide their customers with a free ride to and from the station within a couple miles. In much of the country, this kind of micro-transit is indeed used as a first/last mile solution connecting people to larger fixed route transit. Remember this example as we discuss Stock Island.

See Freebee in St. Pete Beach, the Miami BeachesAventuraDowntown Fort LauderdaleCypress Creek Tri-RailFIU (Florida International University)Del Ray Beach Business DistrictFlorida CityVirginia Beach and for a complete list go here.

How the County Envisions Freebee to Work on Stock Island

At its May 18th meeting a Freebee executive described how the system works in other cities and said Freebee on Stock Island could take residents directly downtown, seven days a week, for whatever span of hours the County wanted. (Link – Click video: details begin at 2:04 or 11:17 timestamp)  County Mayor David Rice asked if this would take cars off the road were Freebee taking one or two people downtown. Especially when the vehicles would return empty. Good question. This sparked a thoughtful discussion between all the Board members and in the end, they seemed to agree with Commissioner Cates that this only made sense to use on Stock Island. So, the idea would be to use Freebee to get people from the home to a central hub on the island where they would meet a shared vehicle that would take them downtown. When we recently corresponded with Ms. Mathews at the County, she said this was still the direction they were going. 

What the City Is Saying

We asked Key West Transit if they’d had further discussions with the County/Freebee since May 18, what was up with that and how they envisioned Key West Transit’s participation and how their new on-demand service came into play. Transportation Director Rod Delostrinos was kind enough to give us the following answer:

“The City of Key West- Key West Transit is continuously seeking approaches to improve community public transit. Multi-modal transportation is a great way to approach the community’s needs. Making our community more bike friendly and walkable is just the beginning. Introducing other modes contribute to ease of getting folks where they want to go. On-demand transit has the potential to improve the transit service delivery. Micromibility solutions certainly have a place in adding to these travel options. The advantage of everything that is being done to improve mobility is the flexibility it gives the people depending on where they are going, what they are doing, and how they want to get there.” 

We’d surmise by the response, that the City is being tight-lipped, for now, on any specifics about working with the County and Freebee, so let’s continue with hypotheticals…

A Central Transit Hub on Stock Island

The idea of a Central Transit Station or Hub isn’t new. It has been talked about for years in a different context though. People have discussed building a parking garage for visitors to the island and then busing them in, to not have everyone fighting for parking downtown. The City’s 10-Year Transit Development Plan calls this the “Key West Intermodal Center (KWIC) and would place it where the current transit facility is next to Mount Trashmore. 

The Freebee service is primarily for our residents and workers. And most of them and all the new housing are on the other (County) side of the island. So, if one is to establish a hub, it should likely go on the County side. Perhaps the biggest generator of traffic will be the 280-unit Wreckers Cay and it should go there or maybe right next door at the CVS. Another central spot is Bernstein Park. Maybe Dion’s. Where would you put the hub?

Wherever the station goes, it will be much easier for Key West Transit to service one-stop, rather than meandering all over the island. The time saving may allow Key West Transit the ability to serve the hub with much more frequent service than the current 80-95 minutes on the North and South Lines.

A central hub or station on Stock Island could include charging stations for the Freebee vehicles, docks and racks for scooters and bikes and shelters to wait a few minutes for the direct Key West Transit shuttle that would whisk people downtown.

Walk To the Transit Hub

The planning standard for a walk to a transit stop is a couple blocks. And Stock Island is big, so walking to a central hub is likely out of the question for most people unless they happen to be next door. That’s why you’d want to put the transit hub next to the most populous and dense community – Wreckers Cay. But a free ride from one’s home to a central hub, IF the service is frequent and then direct, could work for all those people that are too far to walk.

Bike To the Transit Hub

We’ve discussed the need for the City and County to make it safer and easier to bike from Stock Island to downtown as some people are capable of going the about 25 – 30 minutes or 4.7 to 5.3 miles from Wreckers Cay to the Seaport. But a lot more people could bicycle the short and safer distance it would be from points across the Stock Island to the transit hub. So whatever station is built should include a lot of bicycle parking. And make it covered while you are at it. This would make it a true multi-modal station.

So, people within a couple blocks may walk to the hub. People that can bike, perhaps within a mile, may bike. For all those people who can’t do either, Freebee would be the other option. And these day’s it’s all about providing options.

Does the City’s Own On-Demand Project Negate the Need for Freebee or Work With It?

The City is progressing towards replacing North and South line fixed-routes with their own on-demand transit project, likely beginning this fall. So theoretically, as all the details haven’t yet been announced, the City’s service could cover all of Stock Island with their on-demand, bus stop-to-bus stop service that is also supposed to work like Uber. Perhaps negating the need for the County’s Freebee experiment. If this is the case, perhaps the County can contribute that $425,000 or the entire grant to Key West Transit to help offset costs.

Or does the County’s project with Freebee in getting everyone to a central hub or station relieve some of the burden on Key West Transit and make their job of serving Stock Island that much easier. 

It Seems There Are Three Main Options

While working with Freebee is a County idea and they specifically want to help the workforce on Stock Island, it is likely nothing can happen without the participation of Key West Transit. The three options may be:

  1. Key West Transit can do as they have planned and replace the fixed North and South Line routes with their own on-demand transit coverage on both Key West and Stock Island. Then Freebee can be skipped, and the County could use that money to help pay for their share of coverage.
  2. Key West Transit can provide their own on-demand transit coverage on the Island of Key West and provide a direct shuttle on a fixed, say every 30 minutes, schedule between Stock Island and downtown. Have Freebee get the bulk of people from their homes on Stock island to the hub.
  3. If the Key West Transit on-demand system can talk to the Freebee on-demand system perhaps the Key West Transit shuttles can be timed to meet Freebee within say a 5-10-minute window. This is more in line with the agency’s wish to only put a bus on the street when needed.

If the systems can talk to each other and if people don’t have to wait more than 5-10 minutes for the direct shuttle downtown, then option 3 seems to be the most efficient AND customer friendly. If the systems do talk to each other, it would seem customers would only have to place one trip request for the initial Freebee ride and not also the subsequent shuttle downtown. If they don’t talk, then option 2 is needed. For folks that walk or bike to the hub, would they use the Freebee or Key West Transit app? All things we suppose need to be worked out, but the potential is exciting. 

Another advantage of having Freebee under contract may be that they can help supplement Key West Transit with a new pool of drivers. 

Let’s Encourage the County and City to Get Something Done

The City/Key West Transit and County need to work together to mitigate the negative traffic and parking impacts of all the new housing on Stock Island. A free and easy to use transit option would go a long way towards helping our beleaguered workforce deal with high gas prices. That and if people can depend on this service maybe some households can get rid of a car and that will really be some money savings. A well-executed project could: ease the burden on our Keys workforce; make our environment greener; take cars off our congested main road and reduce parking conflicts downtown; and assist our local Mom and Pop Shops. All of these would help make our little island paradise healthier and happier. 

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You can find a year’s plus 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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Construction on First and Bertha Streets Doesn’t Follow the Bike Plan. Is It Too Late?

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on July 8, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

Frustrated drivers know that the construction on the First and Bertha Streets corridor has been ongoing for more than a year and doesn’t seem like it will be completed anytime soon. Imagine if you will, this corridor, conveniently cutting across the island between Palm Avenue and North Roosevelt Boulevard on the Gulf and South Roosevelt Boulevard on the Atlantic, locked in time, in a permanent state of construction, rendering it largely impassable as it is today. Useless as a crosstown throughway. Doesn’t sound fun, does it?

And yet, for people on bicycles who want to cut across the island quickly and safely, this permanent state of impassability is their reality because the busy and fast-moving road (when it isn’t under construction) isn’t at all welcoming to bikes and won’t be when it’s finished. The City’s adopted Bike/Ped Plan indicates this corridor is highly stressful for bikes and as a result calls for protected bike lanes or a trail/multi-use path to be built from Palm Avenue connecting to the recently widened multi-use path on Bertha that’s between Atlantic and S. Roosevelt Boulevards.

Construction on First Street last week.

But the County didn’t follow the Bike/Ped Plan and is putting the corridor back together largely the way it was prior to construction with little if any useful bicycle infrastructure. And City officials agreed with their approach. Why? In a word, parking. City engineers were afraid of losing a few little used private vehicle storage spaces and so, no bike lanes for you. The irony is that the construction has taken out the parking for more than a year and people found alternatives, proving the parking really isn’t needed. So, with the construction taking so long, and the final layer of asphalt and paint being months and months away in the future, we must ask one more time. Is it too late to put in some bike infrastructure or will we get useless sharrows? 

A healthy, green, and prosperous island needs a well-connected bicycle network as an alternative to the congestion and pollution the increasing number of cars brings to our paradise. And our beleaguered workforce needs a decent option to the spiraling costs of commuting by car. Let’s dive into what’s going on and discuss the possibilities of a last-minute reprieve for people on bicycles.

Bike/Ped Plan Calls for Trails and Protected Bike Lanes of First and Bertha

The Network Analysis Map shown here is updated annually using data from OpenStreetMapand was used in forging some of the recommendations in the City’s Bike/Ped Plan. The map clearly shows the First and Bertha Streets corridor as a bright red “High Stress” facility for bicycles. As this is a major crosstown corridor, the Bike/Ped Plan calls for a Bike Trail and/or Separated Bike Lanes to be installed for the entire length of the corridor. 

There has always been a multi-use path on Bertha between the multi-use paths on Atlantic Boulevard and the Promenade on S. Roosevelt Boulevard. As part of the recent construction project, they widened this path from between 8 and 9 feet wide to 10 feet wide and it makes all the difference in the world. It’s great. You may recall that the multi-use path on Atlantic Boulevard was resurfaced and given protections from cars in the fall of 2020. 

The idea should have been that the multi-use path on Bertha, instead of ending at Atlantic Boulevard like it does now, would have continued on, all the way to Flagler. And then should have crossed Flagler and picked up on First Street and continued all the way to N. Roosevelt where it would join with the Promenade or Multi-Use Path. THAT’S what the Bike/Ped Plan said to do. That would have provided a completer and more connected bicycle network. That would have provided bicycles with the same great quick access that cars have across the island.

This is how First and Bertha Streets were SUPPOSED to be. With a little paint, they still can.

The Perfect Time to Add Bike/Ped Facilities is When We Rebuild/Repave Our Streets

According to the Federal Highway Administration “The best time to create bicycle lanes is during regular street reconstruction, street resurfacing or at the time of original construction.” FDOT, County and City engineers will tell you the same thing too. As this is a County corridor, their engineers should have designed the rebuilt streets with this in mind. They didn’t. And when we asked about it, they told us the City engineers told them to keep the parking instead. For the full sad, he-said-she-said story of that decision visit our reporting on that here

This is what our Mayor, Teri Johnston said last week in discussing the City’s PeopleforBikes City Ratings Score:

“Unfortunately, we squandered an opportunity to incorporate “complete streets” to the long-awaited South Roosevelt Boulevard road construction project which could have taken bicycles off of the sidewalk and given them a safe, dedicated bicycle lane. Once again, we missed an opportunity to add bicycle lanes on First and Bertha. We cannot improve our bicycle safety unless bicycle lanes are prioritized at the beginning of every city infrastructure project.”

Amen!

With Reconstruction So Far Along, Perhaps the Only Hope Is to Change the Paint on Top of the Asphalt

The result of both the County and City Engineers failing to follow the Bike/Ped Plan is that a full-blown, grade separated multi-use path, like on Bertha between Atlantic and S. Roosevelt, likely can’t be done at this point because the curbs would need to be constructed further into the road to accommodate a 10-foot-wide or wider multi-use path. And for most of the corridor, it seems this part of the construction – the curb and gutter – is mostly completed.

The sad irony here is that the sidewalk on the westbound side of Bertha between Atlantic and Flagler is 7 feet wide – and 5 feet on the other side. Had they simply added 3 feet to that sidewalk it would have mirrored the Multi-Use Path width shown here. And viola’! But no one was thinking, were they?

Since the First and Bertha are still torn up and the final layer of asphalt doesn’t get laid until the entire corridor’s construction is complete, is it too late to redesign the paint that goes on top of the new asphalt? The painting could be 6 months to a year away. Isn’t that time to change the designs of the paint? That’s the big question. 

Here’s 3 things we can do with paint:

1 – Remove Parking on First and Put in a Two-Way Bike Lane

Parking on either side of First street is supposed to go in for the entire stretch between N. Roosevelt and Flagler. Although a major connector, First Street is largely residential. All the single-family homes have driveways and many of them face the side streets rather than first. The George Allen Apartments have their own huge parking lot. The parking spaces on either side of the street weren’t full to begin with. During the over year’s long construction, there’s been no parking for the entire stretch. So, people have obviously found alternatives. The construction proves the parking isn’t needed. 

When we asked local bicycle advocate and bike rental company owner, Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen about this last year he said: “First Street is a disaster (referring to the project). Why keep those few parking spaces and lose a full-on bike lane and corner visibility? They need to remove all parking on both sides and create safe bike lanes. Their plan does nothing for us.” We agree, so…

If there is room for two lanes of parking, then there is room for a two-way bicycle lane on one side of the road that can connect to the Multi-Use Path on N. Roosevelt instead. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) says the “desirable two-way cycle track width is 12 feet and that it should include a 3 feet buffer. That’s 15 feet total. In constrained conditions NACTO says you can use 8 and 3 feet or 11 feet total. A typical Key West City parking space is about 7 and ½ feet wide. Multiply that by both sides of the street and you have 15 feet to work with. The Multi-Use Path on Bertha between S. Roosevelt and Atlantic is now 10 feet wide and works perfectly well, so if 12 + 3 feet isn’t available, 10 + 3 feet works too. So…

Get rid of the parking and paint in a new two-way bicycle facility.

NOTE: We realize the County has so far installed a couple of bump outs that don’t look like they are going to hold trees. These will need to be removed. 

We’ll need to deconstruct this bump out.

2 – Ditch the Half a Loaf on Bertha Between Atlantic and Flagler

Bertha has a bit more commercial uses closer to Flagler, but these all have parking lots. Like First Street the rest of Bertha is residential single-family with driveways. But plans call to put in parking on one side of the street and bike lane going west-bound – away from the beach. Why half a loaf? As it isn’t much needed, get rid of the parking on the east-bound side and get rid of the one-off disconnected piece of a bike lane going in the west-bound direction. That gives you the room to continue a painted, two-way bicycle path from the Bertha Multi-Use path, where the parking is on the east-bound side. Isn’t it logical that the Bertha path simply continue all the way to Flagler? YES!

Bike lanes through an intersection example. Click to enlarge.

3 – Fix the First/Flagler/Bertha Intersection and NOW You Have a Bike Corridor

The intersection where Bertha Street, Flagler Avenue and First Street all meet is a difficult one because First and Bertha aren’t directly across from each other. Intersections are always where the most crashes occur, especially for bikes. The engineers need to come up with a way to connect the new two-way bike paths on First and Bertha through this intersection. This is likely the most complicated part of the project, but it is crucial because it make it a connected corridor.

A two-way bicycle lane need not be more than some paint and plastic bollards.

If It Costs a Bit More Money to Redesign the Paint, Let’s Do It – County Commissioners Cates and Scholl – We’re Counting on YOU!

The City had a chance to make changes with FDOT on putting in bicycle infrastructure on S. Roosevelt Boulevard last year. But the Commissioners who said they wanted to rectify an awful 2017 decision to leave the road with four through car lanes, hamstrung their decision by saying to only make the change in favor of bicycles if it didn’t cost any more money and didn’t hamper the timeline. Of course, the engineers came back and said it will cost a little more money and may hamper the timeline and so, no nothing will happen. No separated bicycle lanes for anyone. 

This time someone must have the guts to say, hey, if we can add some protected bike lanes with paint and bollards for the length of this corridor, including through the Flagler intersection, let’s do it. Even if it costs some more money and takes a few more months to do. 

Our leaders have lamented the squandered opportunities to incorporate safer “complete streets” into projects and said we have to prioritize bicycle safety at the beginning of road construction and repaving. That’s great! But how about somebody try to fix First and Bertha before it’s too late. County Commissioners Cates and Scholl we’re counting on you to get the ball rolling by asking your staff to work with the City staff to make it so. Everyone in Key West, especially our beleaguered workforce who need better commuting options to having to own a car, will be better for it.

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For more detail and analysis about the First and Bertha Streets Corridor project read: First and Bertha Streets Corridor Road Improvements Are Another Missed Opportunity to Make Bicycling Safer and Easier; June 4, 2021

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You can find a year’s plus 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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / PeopleforBikes’ 2022 City Ratings Ranks Key West 15th in North America. What Can We Achieve If We Really Try? Our Mayor Says: #1

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on July 1, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

For the sixth consecutive year, on June 21 PeopleForBikes released its 2022 City Ratings, a data-driven program to evaluate, identify and compare the best cities for bicycling. For 2022, 1,105 cities were rated in the U.S. and Canada, the largest collection of cities in program history. Key West scored 61 on a 100-point scale earning it 15th place overall and 7th out of 565 small cities. This improved on last year’s score of 58 and 39th place and 10th place rankings respectively. This is great news. However, analysis of the data, corroborated by local leaders,  reveals our relatively decent score, and great ranking has more to do with the fact that our city is compact, flat and we have good weather, so lots of residents and visitors bike year-round, not necessarily because we have amazing bicycle infrastructure.

This begs the question of what score and ranking could be possible if we doubled down on the natural factors already in place (compact, flat, good weather) and invested in efforts to make it safer and easier to bike by building out a stress-free bicycle network as envisioned in our Bike/Ped Plan. Top 5 for all cities in North America? Number 1 for small cities? If we can spend $5M annually on transit, why can’t we spend at least $1M a year on bicycling in furtherance of this goal? Key West becoming a recognized very top bicycling city in North America would not only enhance residents’ quality of life and reduce our beleaguered workforce’s commuting costs but could serve as a visitor calling card for a whole new eco-tourist demographic that values such things. Let’s dive in and analyze the scoring, talk to Mayor Johnston (we think everyone will love what she has to say) and some local leaders about the results and discuss what this could mean for bicycling’s future in Key West.

The PeopleForBikes Annual City Ratings = Tough Standards

The City Ratings evaluate and compare bicycling in cities that can help leaders pinpoint improvements to make biking better for everyone. The ratings draw from two key factors: the quality of the bicycle network in a region (Network Score – 80%) and community perceptions of bicycling (Community Score – 20%). The first is sourced from the PeopleForBikes Bicycle Network Analysis, the second from online surveys submitted by local residents about bicycling in their city. Of the 1,058 American communities included in the survey, 95% garnered fewer than 50 points out of a possible 100 — a sign says PeopleforBikes, that the majority of U.S. cities have ample room for improvement in terms of bicycling infrastructure and safety. PeopleForBikes analyzed 47 cities in Canada, and they are included in the overall 1,105 total. European and Australian results will be released later this year, and this will enable American cities to benchmark against some of the best cities in the world like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Paris.

Key West’s Score – Bicycle Network Analysis

The Bicycle Network Analysis, or BNA, is a data analysis tool that measures the quality and connectivity of a city’s bicycle lanes — in other words, its bike network. A bicycle network is defined as the system of paths, trails and streets that someone riding a bike can use to access everyday destinations, like:

  • Neighborhoods — access to parts of the city where residents live
  • Opportunity — access to jobs and schools
  • Essential Services — access to places that serve basic needs, like hospitals and grocery stores
  • Recreation — access to recreational amenities like parks and trails
  • Retail — access to major shopping centers
  • Transit— access to major transit stations

Key West, at 4 miles long, 1 mile wide and a total of 4.2 squares miles, is small. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that access from where people live to where they work, go to school, shop and play is all relatively close. In most cities, this simply isn’t the case, especially as most towns aren’t surrounded by water but have sprawling suburbs. Think about many mainland suburbs where there’s only one way in and out of a residential development by way of a main road. That’s not going to show up as safe. Our numbers are generally around 60+. Which is great. Five of the six scores are virtually unchanged from a year before, but a huge jump from 37 to 62 in our access to transit score allowed Key West to move from 59 to 63 on the Network Score, and thus our improvement in the main score from 58 to 61 and our climbing in the rankings even as our Community Score dropped just a bit (more on that below). 

We talked to our friends at PeopleforBikes and they explained:

“The Transit score changed because two transit stations were added to the map in high accessibility areas. They are the Key West Bight Ferry Terminal and the Sunset Key Ferry station. Previously, only the bus station was mapped, and it is in a less accessible area.”

While we know the ferry terminals have been around forever, it makes sense the transit score is more in line with the other scores and not the outlier it was last year because if you can get to all those other places by bike, you can certainly get to the main bus stops. 

The Network Analysis Map shown above (methodology explained here) shows high-stress (red) and low-stress (blue) areas for bicycling in Key West. This map looks like there are a lot of high stress areas, especially on some of the major streets. It would seem this is somewhat mitigated by the preponderance of lower speed, low stress streets as an alternative to get around. And most of us who ride bikes for transportation in Key West know this intuitively. We stay off of North Roosevelt, Truman, Palm, First, Bertha, sections of White and Whitehead and Simonton to name a few and stick to the quieter streets. Visitors using mapping aps to get around might not understand this as they try to take the most direct route though. Our own Bike/Ped plan uses this map as a tool to help us figure out where projects need to happen. 

Key West’s Score – Community Score and Survey

Each year, PeopleForBikes conducts an online survey to capture perceptions of biking from people that live, work and play in the cities being rated. We’ve often promoted this survey on our Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown Facebook page. The Community Score is based on a 100-point scale derived from four equally weighted scoring categories: 

  • Ridership – How often people ride in their city for transportation and recreation 
  • Safety – How safe people feel riding in their city
  • Network – How well a city’s bike network connects people to places they want to go
  • Awareness – How familiar people are with local biking resources and their City’s efforts to improve biking

Key West scores in three of the four community score categories went down slightly. As we said at the top of the story, lots of people in Key West ride bikes to get around. They’ve told this to PeopleForBikes in the survey and this is reflected in the score of 70 for ridership. The survey’s also saying, as is reflected in the 59 Network score, that we’re able to get where we need to go on a bicycle. However, Key West’s score of 46 on Safety means people in the survey are telling PeopleForBikes we don’t exactly feel safe getting around. The awful 31 score on “awareness of biking resources and our city’s efforts to improve biking” is the weakest score of all. 

The Awareness and Safety scores corroborates our and other’s analysis that we score well here in Key West because we’re small, flat, and warm. Not particularly because the City, County and FDOT are doing lots of bicycle stuff on the ground.

What Leaders in Key West Are Saying About the City Ratings

We asked some Key West leaders and bicycle advocates what they thought about the Key West’s score and ranking. Here’s what they said last year here and what they had to say this week below:

City of Key West Mayor, Teri Johnston:

“We are moving in the right direction but frustratingly slowly. As gas prices increase, this is a perfect time to offer our locals a cost-effective way to get to and from work and our guests a healthy alternative to driving which can reduce noise and congestion on our streets. I continue to be concerned about the number of our streets that are ranked “high stress” by the people who actually ride on them even after we have lowered our speed limits. Our guests are getting on bikes sometimes for the first time since they were teenagers, so it is important that we continue to improve bicycle safety throughout our island.

Having said that, we are awaiting the results from engineering on the feasibility of a one-way street grid that would accommodate a dedicated bicycle lane on each street to improve bicycle safety and reduce congestion. Unfortunately, we squandered an opportunity to incorporate “complete streets” to the long-awaited South Roosevelt Boulevard road construction project which could have taken bicycles off of the sidewalk and given them a safe, dedicated bicycle lane. Once again, we missed an opportunity to add bicycle lanes on First and Bertha. We cannot improve our bicycle safety unless bicycle lanes are prioritized at the beginning of every city infrastructure project.

The Commission voted unanimously to focus on advancing our Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan (circa 1996, 2010, 2019) via our Strategic operational plan by adding bike rack space for 128 bikes at bus stops via the Final Mile program by August and another 250 bikes by the end of this month, enhancing 10 intersections for bicycle safety starting in September and initiate a shared street pilot program by December of this year.

We have a perfect island to bike around. We have limited space to accommodate a great number of competing interests.We must use our space more efficiently and thoughtfully in the future.  I maintain high hopes that we are the #1 bicycling small community in the near future.”

Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen, bicycle advocate and owner of BikeMan Bike Rentals:

“The city did this year what it does every year for cyclists, add a few bike racks.  Yes, there is a bicycle plan, yes, they count cyclists and once in a while they paint a line somewhere. There are so many easy and affordable ways to improve cycling in Key West but there is no action. 

 The city won’t open an extra cemetery gate to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians much less provide wayfinding signage to direct tourists to safer streets. The Palm Avenue bike path should continue onto Eaton Street but instead its blocked by 11 parking spaces that are rarely used. George Street is still dangerous with no place for cyclists (but plenty of parking), and the Home Depot area is as always, very hazardous. The entrances to Overseas Market are a travesty, front, and rear. 

College Road is actually scary for cyclists after the cities “redo” as is North Roosevelt Boulevard sidewalk because of the proliferation of high-speed E-vehicles, no KWPD presence at all. 

Not very aspirational but I don’t see any reason to pat ourselves on the back. With a little effort and money, we could easily be top ten. Maybe next year.”

Ryan Stachurski, City of Key West Transportation Coordinator:

“I feel that our city continues to be a great place to travel by bicycle, and we will continue to take steps to make improvements.

The People For Bikes methodology seeks to rank cities by how easy it is for the average person to cycle to a destination along a low-stress route. As a small and compact city with primarily low-speed roads, we’re well positioned to score high. Low speed streets are less stressful for most cyclists. Our City Commission adopted the recommendations of the Parking And Alternative Transportation Group in 2018 reducing speed limits. Certain types of bicycle facilities are also identified as contributing to a low-stress network. The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail offers miles of scenic off-road cycling, and it contributed to our score.

We hope to update the Open Street Map data that is available for everyone to use — and is also used to calculate our score. Current projects that should help to lower cyclist stress and improve our standing in the future include the First and Bertha, United Street, and Caroline Street projects. These will all include elements to reduce cyclist stress. We expect to improve wayfinding along the Crosstown Greenway and continue to highlight this low stress route through the center of the City. We’re working to improve the crossings at Wickers Park as well as Staples Bridge.

But the network calculation is only 80% of our score. The other 20% comes from the community. We’ll continue to work to improve communication and to listen to feedback from those in the community.”

Video tips from PeopleforBikes (bottom of this page: https://cityratings.peopleforbikes.org/cities/key-west-fl)

What Do We Need to Do to Improve Key West’s Score and Ranking?

Drawing from the data and the conclusions of those we interviewed, we’ve gotten all the low hanging fruit already. Because we’re small, flat, have a compact street grid and have great weather 12 months a year, we don’t have to do much to find lots of people on bikes.

The PeopleForBikes survey AND the people we interviewed, this year and last year, agreed that there’s nothing the City is doing that is enticing people onto bikes, but rather our relatively good score is because of the natural factors already in place. We’ve talked about ways hereherehere, herehereherehereherehere, and here that would help us improve bicycling in Key West. 

We’re going to follow-up this summer and provide a part-two to this article and share what we think could be done to have Key West improve its score and move up in the rankings. Please help by telling us what YOU think should be done. Now is an especially good time to think about this as the City is just now starting budget discussions for the next fiscal year that begins October 1. Please contact us with your ideas. 

What Does All This Mean for Key West’s Bicycling Future?

As our Mayor says, we are moving in the right direction but frustratingly slowly. She agrees, the low safety numbers in the PeopleForBikes survey show many residents don’t exactly think it is safe to bicycle in Key West and all the red “high stress” streets on the Bicycle Network Analysis show where it is unsafe. Research shows that to get the people who aren’t comfortable on the streets to bike, you need to have good bicycle infrastructure. We have a roadmap in the Bicycle Network Analysis that shows us where to target the infrastructure improvements. Mayor Johnston points out; all of this is in our Bike/Ped Plan. We just must implement it and not ignore it as we’ve done on First and Bertha Streets

The good news is that our natural factors (compact, flat, good weather) are the bridge to a better future. We agree with the Mayor that there’s no reason Key West couldn’t be #1, at least in the Small Cities in the U.S. category, if we tried just a little harder. We could become known as the world’s small bicycling paradise. We could become known for the same bicycling culture as rock star cities Copenhagen and Amsterdam. We start with a better natural base than most any city in the world. And we have a Mayor, as does Paris, that believes in bikes. Let’s build on that, make this a better place to live for our residents, give our embattled work force a cost saving and safer option than having to own a car to get around and attract the eco-friendly kind of tourists who appreciate a car-free experience. Key West wins by investing more in bicycling.

# # #

You can find a year’s plus 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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

City’s Uber-Like On-Demand Transit Service is Back On Track

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on June 24, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

At its Tuesday meeting the City Commission approved a $248,880 competitive bid exemption contract with Via Transportation, Inc. to provide Key West Transit with the hardware, software, training, marketing, and support for a one-year On-Demand transit pilot program – set to begin within three months of contract signing. The pilot proposes to eliminate Key West Transit North and South Line routes and evening Duval Loop and replace it with an on-demand, bus stop-to-bus stop service that would work like Uber. Officials say the change will provide better service. This is good news because a healthy, green, and prosperous island needs a well-functioning transit system as an alternative to the congestion and pollution the increasing number of cars brings to our paradise. And our beleaguered workforce needs a decent option to the spiraling costs of commuting by car. Let’s dive into why this is a necessary move, discuss what this might look like in practice and venture how this change may help the diminished Duval Loop and potential future services.

If You Can’t Find Drivers – Try a Different Tactic

The agreement with Via is good news as the program was talked about during last year’s budget process as an alternative to a long planned but more costly program of hiring more drivers to provide more frequent service. As has been widely reported, it’s been nearly impossible to hire drivers at the existing wages with housing costs going sky high in the Keys. So, if you don’t have enough drivers, this is a necessary move, because there’s really nothing more one can do than try something radically different. We give Key West Transit credit for trying something where they say they can provide more service with less drivers. Says Director of Transportation Rod Delostrinos:

“On-Demand Transit allows for the City of Key West to use its transit resources more efficiently. Transit vehicles within the city area will eventually operate only with trip requests thus eliminating empty or near empty vehicles from continuous circling of set routes. Fuel savings, better personnel utilization given a 55% shortage of CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) drivers, and reduction in carbon emissions are a few of the anticipated positive impacts.”

While There’s Been Delays, It May Be Worth the Wait

Originally the City hoped the program would roll out last December and then again at the end of January. It didn’t happen because the project was more complicated and costly than originally thought. More money was needed than the $45,000 initially set aside. Thus, the delay in waiting for an FDOT grant available this summer that will cover $250,000 of a one-year pilot project now costing $312,500. 

One of the complications with the service is its reliance on a smart phone as the optimum way to use the service meeting the reality that some transit customers, especially the existing transit-dependent ones, might not have them. As a public service, Key West Transit is obliged to offer an alternative way to access the bus for people without smart technology. This necessitates a call center to take phone calls for trips and kiosks that can do the same at the most used bus stops. 

Key West Transit is run on a shoestring and just doesn’t have the people for a seven-day-a-week, round the clock call-center. Nor does it have any real marketing staff. The contract with Via provides both a call center and marketing assistance

So, by delaying the project Key West Transit was able to find additional money to cover needed items that will make the project work better. In the end, we’re hopeful that’s a good thing.

How This On-Demand Project May Work

The on-demand transit pilot will eliminate North and South Line fixed routes completely. It will also eliminate evening Duval Loop service. The buses that would normally serve those routes would then be available for on-demand service. 

Customers would download an app on their smartphone. Using the app, just like with Uber, one would select a pick-up point – the nearest bus stop, a drop-off point, again selecting the nearest bus stop, and a time for travel. The software behind the scenes, figures out the best routes and for efficiency combines this with other traveler’s needs, and comes back with an appointed time and route. Usually within a 15-minute window. You then go to the bus stop and get your ride. As with an Uber or Lyft, you’ll be able to track the progress of your ride.

Customers should be able to book in advance and book regularly recurring trips, like ones to and from work, or more intermittently scheduled trips like to the gym or doctors. We understand you may also be able to pay via the app, so you won’t need to carry around the exact $2 fare needed for each trip. 

Customers can also do this by telephoning the call center. Via will operate the call center and has options for going 24-hours a day if needed. The project also has money to set up a few kiosks at the most used bus stops. A kiosk would be placed at the bus stop and a person could follow the prompts to get a pick-up in real-time.

Expansion of Service Hours May Follow

Mr. Delostrinos believes the efficiencies inherent in the system, responding to demand, rather than the need to put a bus out on a schedule, means his team may be able to use less drivers and buses and thus expand the span of service. This could mean we’ll soon see service until 3:00 AM, allowing for late shift workers to rely on the bus. This is a development that should help Key West workers.

How On-Demand Transit May Help the Duval Loop and a Potential Stock Island to Downtown Shuttle

If the transit agency is right and they can provide more service using less drivers that opens possibilities for better service on the Duval Loop and for partnering with the County and a private sector micro-transit vendor to bring frequent service to downtown for new residents on Stock Island.

We’ve documented how the lack of available drivers has degraded the service on the Duval Loop. Ridership is currently 1/5 what it was in 2019. That’s partly because service that used to be every 15 minutes is now between every 30 to 40 minutes. And the lack of CDL drivers has necessitated using smaller non-branded vehicles on the route. If the efficiency in drivers is real, meaning that the agency can meet the demand for service using less drivers, than theoretically that may mean they have enough workers to put two drivers on the Duval Loop route at a time and get back to 15-minute frequency. That could be a huge win for a service that has been hemorrhaging riders as the frequency has decreased.

We’ve discussed the need for more transit and bike options from the 667 new housing units coming to Stock Island over the next couple of years. As a result, the County is exploring a partnership with the South Florida based private company called Freebee to provide its on-demand ride hailing service to residents to help mitigate congestion on U.S.  1. If this happens it is likely there’d be some micro-transit available from one’s home on Stock Island to a central hub, where a frequent direct shuttle could take residents right downtown. However, for this scheme to work Key West Transit would need to cobble together enough drivers to make a frequent shuttle from the island work. So, IF they can provide the on-demand service with less drivers, theoretically that may mean they’d have some extra drivers to put on this potential new service. We promise to follow-up in the coming weeks with a story on the potential service with Freebee. 

The Transportation Director also notes that analyzing the customer data – where people get picked up, dropped off and when – generated by the on-demand system will enable Key West transit to potentially develop new efficient fixed route, circulator and/or express services in the future. 

When Life Give You Lemons, Make Lemonade

We’ve advocated Key West leaders follow their own multiple plans to invest more dollars in transit, hire more drivers and increase frequency on fixed routes. In the current year the City set aside $2.8 million or $5,417 per employee to raise salaries and help address the increasingly urgent housing affordability crisis. It seems little of this has found its way to Key West Transit bus drivers as starting hourly rates for CDL drivers are $20 an hour and $16 for non-CDL drivers. Perhaps most of the money went to those white-collar workers already at the top of the wage scale. 

The transit agency says these low wages, combined with the housing shortage, means 45% of their CDL positions are open. Since City personnel leaders seem loathe to pay blue collar bus drivers more to address the situation, the transit agency has little choice but to try this pilot program. They are counting on the fact that this can be done with less bus operators than needed on the current fixed routes. Again, good for them in thinking outside the box and trying to make lemonade.

Key West Transit’s Success is a Win for all of Us

With increases in the number of housing units on Stock Island and the continuing increase in visitors, 77% of whom arrive by car, traffic and parking congestion continue to be a top concern. We should try to get more people on bikes to help. And for those who can’t bike we need to provide excellent transit options, or they’ll just drive. According to AAA it costs nearly $10,000 a year to own and operate a vehicle. This on-demand pilot project has the potential to give people that cost-saving option. Let’s wish Key West Transit the best in making this work, because their success will be our island’s success.

# # #

You can find a year’s plus 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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / 10 Things to Make It Safer to Bike from the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on June 17, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

There are 667 new housing units scheduled to open on Stock Island beginning this September and rolling out over the next two years. Traffic over the Cow Key Bridge is sure to increase as most work, shopping and entertainment trips into Key West will be made by car. We’ve made the argument that the City and County need to invest in improving the awful transit options that currently exist between the two islands to alleviate some of the expected traffic. Since the distance between these new housing projects and the Historic Seaport and Duval Street are between 4 and 5 miles, many of these trips could be made by bike. So, we’re making the case to also focus on improving the safety and ease of bicycling between these new housing developments and downtown. Here’s 10 things we can do to help achieve more bikes and less cars over the Cow Key Bridge daily.

New Housing Coming to Stock Island Means More Traffic

Construction has been moving along briskly at the 280-Unit Wreckers Cay at 6155 2nd Street – adjacent to Boyd’s Campground. Tenants are expected to start moving in about September 1, 2022, and officials say they’ll bring the eight new buildings online at about one a month or so with the project being fully occupied by this time next year. The Key West Housing Authority’s 104-unit Garden View Apartments on College Road is under construction and should come online in late 2023. 

Just a few weeks ago we learned that Roy’s Trailer Park at 6500 Maloney Avenue gave their 108 owners notice they have six months to relocate because the property will be redeveloped from 108 trailers to 240 workforce apartments. That’s a net of 132 additional housing units at Roy’s bringing the total of new workforce housing units on the island to 516.  Add in the 148-transient condos and 3 workforce condos – total 151 – recently approved at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club, also on Maloney Avenue, and that’s 667 new units and a ton of potential new cars crossing Cow Key Bridge. There’s a lot of concern about traffic, especially along U.S. 1, because visitor traffic is increasing too. 

Transit Between the Islands is Awful, We Don’t Know When It Will Get Better, So We Need More Options

The likelihood that all these new residents will use transit instead of driving is almost nil. At least with today’s transit system. Census data shows less than 1% of current residents use the bus to get to work. Buses come along every 95 – 120 minutes on the Lower Keys Shuttle and every 80 – 95 minutes on the North and South Line routes that serve Stock Island. That kind of unreliable service isn’t going to entice anyone out of their car. It would be great if leaders would follow their own multiple plans to invest in the bus system to add frequency. With buses coming along every 15 minutes, maybe even every 30 minutes, perhaps some new residents could be coaxed from their cars. That would be great. But whether or not transit improves, we should also be doing more to get a portion of able-bodied people to choose to use bicycles or e-bikes and e-scooters for some of their work, shopping and leisure trips between the islands.

Four to Five Miles By Bike Should Be Easy for Some People to Traverse

It will be 4 miles from the new Garden View Apartments to the Historic Seaport or about 4.3 miles to the middle of Duval Street via N. Roosevelt Boulevard. Or 21 to 23 minutes by bike, according to Google Maps. A similar trip from Wreckers Cay would be 4.7 miles and 25 minutes via N. Roosevelt or about 5.3 miles and 30 minutes via the Crosstown Greenway down the middle of the island. For the Roy’s Trailer Park and Key West Harbor Yacht Club you’d add in another half mile. All of these are well within everyday biking distances for most able-bodied people, especially as the trip is flat and there’s good weather 12 months a year. Use an electric bike and you likely match the 13 – 19 minutes you can traverse these routes via car. That and you shouldn’t have to worry about finding and paying for parking at the downtown end. Bottom line is lots of people could use bikes, especially if it were easier and safer.

The Key is Making the “Interested But Concerned” Potential Bicyclists Feel Confident in Making the Trip Between the Two Islands

According to stats provided by the City’s Transportation Coordinator, about 1,000 trips a day cross the Cow Key Bridge using the bike path and sidewalk on either side of the road. That would translate to about 500 people a day going back and forth. That’s pretty good. But how do we get more? Especially some of the new residents who will be starting new habits – which experts tell us is the best time to get someone to try a new transportation option. 

In transportation planning circles several studies have coalesced around a generally accepted categorization of people’s willingness to use bicycles as follows:

1 – Strong and Fearless: People willing to bicycle with limited or no specific bike infrastructure
2 – Enthused and Confident: People willing to bicycle if some specific bicycle infrastructure is in place
3 – Interested But Concerned: People willing to bicycle if high-quality bicycle infrastructure is in place
4 – No Way, No How: People unwilling to bicycle even if high quality infrastructure is in place

According to three major studies, 31 – 37% of people will never use a bike for transportation. Another 8 – 13% are included in the Strong and Fearless and Enthused and Confident categories. These are likely the people already cycling across the bridge. But by far the biggest category, between 51 and 60% in the studies, say they are “Interested But Concerned” and will bike if we make a network of facilities where they feel safe and comfortable. Or high comfort and low stress. While the terms are subjective, planners generally note that continuous or networked trails, protected bicycle lanes and greenways are the kinds of facilities that will attract riders. If there are serious stress points or interruptions in that network, things can fall apart.

Now think about the bicycle ride into town from Stock Island. While we can identify some nice, safe, comfortable sections, we can also identify just as many stress points that may prevent the Interested But Concerned from riding. 

In its annual survey of best places to bike, PeopleforBikes’ Bicycle Network Analysis identifies the high stress areas on this map in red. The Key West Bike/Ped Plan uses the same map to help identify problem points to be fixed. Take a look at the red areas – we’ve got some work to do.

PeopleforBikes Stress Map of Key West. Click to enlarge.

Ten Things We Can Do to Make the Trip Easier and Safer

Here’s 10 things we think could coax more of those 51 to 60% of people to bike between the two islands:

1 – Covered and Secure Bicycle Parking at New Developments

Keeping your ride dry and secure is important to many who depend upon their bicycle to get to work and get around for everyday activities. The City’s Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski pointed us to this good information. We are happy to see the Housing Authority is putting 77 bicycle and 40 scooter parking spaces under the buildings, out of the elements, along with about 61 car parking spaces. In the old days, there’d be a few bike racks outside and all the covered spaces would be for cars. So, this is progress. There looks to be about another 58 car parking spaces outside and perhaps a yet to be determined amount of bicycle and scooter parking spaces outside too. While we’d like to additionally see the bikes in a secure locked cage, we think this is better than many local apartment buildings provide so we’ll count it as a victory.

At Wreckers Cay, the County’s Senior Director of Planning & Environmental Resources Emily Schemper, AICP, tell us that there will be 328 bicycle parking spaces in racks for the 280 units. She estimates that about half of these are under the cover of the buildings, per the site plan. Another win!

The recently approved permits for the 151 Key West Harbor Yacht Club condos, if we’re reading this correct, will have 229 car parking spaces for the residential units and NO required bicycle racks. Do they just assume vacationers won’t bike? This is awful and we hope to follow-up with the County.

Original drawings for ground floor of Garden View Apartments indicating where bicycle parking will go. Click to enlarge.
2 – Keep Sidewalk on South Side of U.S. 1 Clear of Cars

The Stress Map clearly shows the south side of U.S. 1, where bikes on the County side of Stock Island ride along the sidewalk next to the retail is stressful. Its stressful because people on bikes must navigate cars coming to and from the businesses, pedestrians and in some cases, cars parked across the sidewalk and forcing them into U.S. Route 1. Most of the businesses, like Shifting Gears Auto Care at 5172 U.S. 1 do an admirable job of keeping the sidewalk clear. One or two don’t (Keys Customs 5200 U.S. 1 is the worst offender) and they need to clean up their act.

3 – Put Bike Lanes on College Avenue

The County has done a nice job on their side of Stock Island by putting wide, green bicycle lanes on the major streets of Maloney Avenue, 5th Street, 5th Avenue and Cross Street. On the City’s side of Stock Island, where the Garden View Apartments are being constructed, College Road lacks any bicycle infrastructure. This is evident in the Stress Map. There seems ample room for the City to rectify this safety concern.

4 – Widen Sidewalks Around the Triangle

Most of residents of Stock Island live on the south or County side. So, many never navigate the long light to get over U.S. Route 1 at Cross Street and take the bike path to N. Roosevelt. Rather they simply stay on the narrow sidewalk past the retail, over Cow Key Bridge, around the bend at the Triangle and then use the Crosstown Greenway to get into town. The problem is the sidewalk is a narrow 5 feet for much of the way and is less when you encounter poles and foliage. This makes it difficult when pedestrians are present, when bikes are coming in another director or when faster bikes need to pass. There’s plenty of room to make the sidewalk wider. Especially if the Navy gives up a few feet of unused grassland behind their big chain link fence. Time for the City, County, FDOT and Navy to talk.

5 – Put an Official Crosswalk at Duck Avenue and S. Roosevelt Intersection

For the many people coming around the Triangle on the south side, if they aren’t going to stay on what becomes the Low Stress Promenade and go all the way around the island by the Airport and Smathers Beach to get downtown (an extra 1.3 miles out of the way), they’ll cut across S. Roosevelt to Duck Avenue and use the Crosstown Greenway. Trying to cross 4 lanes of high-speed traffic – two lanes in each direction – is the very definition of High Stress. There’s no acknowledgement in the roadway that that this is the crossing to the City’s official Crosstown Greenway. For the Greenway to be useful for people coming and going to Stock Island the intersection should be treated accordingly and made safer by demarcating it as a crossing and slowing the cars down.

6 – More Infrastructure on the Crosstown Greenway – Including Wickers Trail

We love the Crosstown Greenway because it provides a safe alternative to N. Roosevelt Boulevard to quickly get from one end of the island to the other. Starting at the top at S. Roosevelt the 3.5-mile-long trail follows Duck Avenue, wiggles through the Wickers Sports Complex (football, baseball, and soccer fields next to Poinciana Elementary) and onto Staples Avenue, Von Phister and then South Streets where it hits downtown at the upper end of Duval Street. After a series of community workshops in 2019 and 2020 in November of 2020 City staff worked with a big group of volunteers to put down green paint, directional signs, bollards, delineators and curb stops on a segment of the Crosstown Greenway on Staples between George and 12th Streets. It looked beautiful. A year later, we learned (see #10) that the project continued to receive positive comments from nearby residents and businesses and a survey showed increases in intersection safety and vehicle speed reductions. Additional phases of similar treatments are supposed to come to the rest of the Greenway. It has been more than 18 months since anything new has been put on the ground. We’d like to see the City double-down on the already good work and do so more quickly.

That includes finding more money to jumpstart the now delayed Wickers Trail segment that was supposed to have started construction by now but could be delayed until 2028. Going north on the Greenway as one comes out from the Seidenberg Avenue segment – the concrete cut-through path from Seidenberg Avenue between 12th and Kennedy – bicyclists are met with four lanes of car traffic on Kennedy and then have to navigate two parking lots at Wickers Sports Complex before getting onto Duck Avenue at 14th Street. The new segment is supposed to line up and make a safe crossing of Kennedy’s four lanes of cars and bypass the parking lots to get to Duck. Money had been budgeted but preliminary engineering found that to mitigate the standing rainwater that often floods the area, another $300,000 would be needed for the project. That $300,000 could potentially be found via an FDOT grant but wouldn’t be available until 2028. We like the idea of mitigating the standing water but think the City should find the money in the upcoming budget and get the project completed in the coming fiscal year. We promise to take a deeper dive into this story over the summer.

7 – Make N. Roosevelt Safer for Bicycles

For many people who live above Cow Key Bridge the shortest distance between Stock Island and downtown is N. Roosevelt Boulevard, so that’s their preference. And while the wide Promenade that makes its way along the water much of the way can be beautiful, the many retail driveways make for a stressful and sometimes dangerous commute. Especially if drivers who aren’t accustomed to bicycle traffic coming from both directions, don’t look both ways before trying to exit or enter the shopping off of N. Roosevelt. FDOT and the City made it safer when they installed the HAWK signals at five crosswalks, but there’s still much work to do make it safer. We’ve heard of nascent efforts and studies but haven’t seen anything concrete happening recently. At the very least perhaps all the driveways need green bike paint across them indicating this is a bicycle crossing. What are some other ideas to make it safer?

8 – More Quantity, Quality and Consistent Bicycle Parking Downtown

On Duval and adjacent streets, we’ve observed full bike racks and as a result bikes parked on trees, streetlights, signposts, and fences. This doesn’t help our already overcrowded narrow sidewalks. Like at the home end, safe, secure, and plentiful bicycle parking is needed all around downtown to make it easy for people to choose bicycles as an option. We need to go beyond the hodgepodge placement of racks on sidewalks and in the street to a system of bicycle corrals in the same place on every block – such as the first parking space on every street that crosses Duval – so that people know what to expect. Here’s a story on how we do that. And we need to budget some real money – not the usual annual $40K – and get this done much sooner.

There needs to be much more bicycle parking like this downtown, where the first space in the cross streets along Duval are for bikes and the second space is for scooters. This is on Petronia north of Duval.
9 – Educate Drivers that Bikes Rule Key West – Slow Down This Ain’t the Mainland

Educating the over million people visiting Key West each year, 77% of whom arrive by car, to watch out for and cede the way to bikes and pedestrians should be more of a priority. Most of these folks come from car-centric places where they are not used to sharing streets with so many bicycles and people. Most of them aren’t used to our crowded tiny downtown streets. If we can spend $350,000+ annually on marketing the seaport by all means we should market a car-free experience for visitors, and that campaign needs to include a safety education element that informs visitors, you aren’t on the mainland anymore. Our compact little island is different, and you need to slow down and yield to bikes and pedestrians because this is THEIR island – and that’s how we roll around here. We’ll all be safer for it.

10 – New Bicycles, E-Bikes or E-Scooters for Residents of the New Housing

Costs for e-bicycles of all kinds have been coming down for the past few years making them a good choice, especially for those living on Stock Island who must travel a little further. We Cycle and Island Bicycles both sell and service them. E-scooters can cost even less. Still a good bike can cost $500, and an electric bike could cost $1,000 or more. So how can we incentivize residents of these new complexes to take up bicycle commuting?

What if every new resident of Wreckers Cay, Garden View, and Roy’s Apartments – say about 1,000 people – were given gift certificates for new bikes that includes lights and locks. Say $500 each. That gets you a nice bike and half the cost of a new electric one. Yes, that’s a lot of money, but compared to the cost of additional bus service or the County’s consideration of spending $425,000 on a private carshare project between the islands, it doesn’t seem so much. And if we can get people to commit to biking downtown on these new bikes, perhaps its worth the investment.

We’re Flat, Compact and Have Good Weather, So Let’s Make It Even Easier and Safer to Move Between the Islands by Bike

We have great conditions in Key West and Stock Island for bicycling as we are flat, compact and have good weather 12 months of the year. 15% of us already bicycle to work. More of us should and would if it were safer and easier to do so. With much of our workforce living on Stock Island, the City, County and FDOT need to work together to mitigate the impacts of the high stress areas in our bicycle network and get more of the Interested But Concerned feeling comfortable enough to cross Cow Key Bridge on their bikes to get to work instead of defaulting to a car. We’ll all be happier if they do.

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You can find a year’s plus 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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Duval Loop Ridership is Plummeting. Save the Duval Loop!

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on June 3, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

Think about our experience in Key West the last year or so. Everyone’s exhausted from an amazingly busy 2-year period. More visitors than ever. Increased overnight stays and record numbers of hotel and sales tax receipts. Parking revenue has never been higher. Everything, everywhere on the island is up! But ridership on our once very successful downtown circulator, the Duval Loop, has fallen off a cliff. Projections for ridership this year are 25% less than even last year’s awful pandemic-stricken numbers and are less than 1/5 of the rides in Fiscal Year 2018/2019 prior to Covid. When all other economic indicators are up, why is Duval Loop ridership plummeting?

Perhaps because today, buses arrive maybe every 30 and more likely every 40 minutes instead of every 15 as during the system’s first couple of years. Maybe because the distinctive and beautifully branded pink and blue buses are now replaced more than half the time with unbranded buses that include short plain white vans, longer plain white buses and the City’s lone hybrid bus painted green. It could be because the 18 Duval Loop bus stops are a mish mash of inconsistent branding with absolutely no map and schedule information whatsoever. And perhaps it’s because there’s no marketing and outreach for a service that is the front door to over a million visitors annually. The lack of effort is simply appalling. Why is City Hall letting the goose that laid the golden egg crumble before our very eyes? The City needs to take corrective action now before things get even worse. Here’s why we need a great service and how we fix it.

This white van is more often than not the bus you’ll ride if you hop aboard the Duval Loop.

Once Upon a Time the Duval Loop Was Awesome

In its first couple years of service the Duval Loop was universally hailed as something City Hall got right. Talked about for decades, the downtown circulator, when it finally debuted in the summer of 2017, was distinctively branded, had a business-friendly outreach and partner program and most importantly was free, frequent (every 15 minutes) and had a simple, easy to understand route. This formula was immediately successful. In its first year it helped double Key West Transit Ridership. In its second year it accounted for nearly 60% of the entire systems’ total rides as it hit 419,000 total trips. In the City’s 10-year Transit Development Plan (TDP) adopted at the end of 2019, the Duval Loop was cited in surveys as the model for an overhaul of the system’s other routes.

And then Covid happened. So understandably the numbers dropped, just as everything on the island did for a bit of time. But as the rest of the island rebounded and prospered as the visitors returned, the Duval Loop hasn’t because its frequency was cut back, its bus stops and marketing ignored and allowed to rot, and its distinctive buses replaced by ugly white vans and buses indistinguishable from work and delivery vehicles. This year the Duval Loop is anticipating about 74,000 trips. Less than a fifth of its over 419,000 2018/2019 Fiscal Year high. 

With over half the funding of Key West Transit coming from State and Federal funds dependent on ridership numbers, we shouldn’t be letting this happen as it could cause a death spiral on outside funding.

Click on chart to enlarge it.

Why We Need a Great Circulator Downtown

Traffic and parking congestion have been a top concern for decades. More and more visitors are coming to our island and 77% of them arrive by car exacerbating traffic problems and parking conflicts. As beloved Key West Island News columnist Linda Grist Cunningham aptly explains:

“We’ve got too many motorized things clogging our streets…After all, our streets were laid out a couple hundred years ago. Tiny streets on a tiny island, when both people and transportation devices were smaller and fewer. The island simply isn’t built to handle our crowds and must-have SUVs.”

2019 study confirmed that visitors want and expect a frequent downtown circulator like the Duval Loop. The study also showed that visitors who rented cars on an initial visit to Key West did so much less on subsequent visits as they learned they didn’t need a car to get around. The analysis told us that visitors who have access to a vehicle, will indeed use it to get around, if there aren’t good options, like the Loop, instead.

And there’s the rub. Without an awesome Duval Loop and better all-around transit and safer biking for that matter, visitors will default to using cars. And that’s bad for our environment, our health, and our prosperity. Here’s what we need to do to fix this:

A screen capture of the old website advertising service every 15 minutes.

1 – Bring Back 15 Minute Frequency

When the Duval Loop was created everyone understood that frequency was the key to success. They used two buses on the route at a time. The bus came along every 15 minutes 10 am to midnight and every 30 minutes 6 am to 10 am. While today the City says on its website that the bus comes along every twenty minutes 10 am to 8 pm and every 30 minutes 8 am to 10 am and 8 pm to 10 pm, this is rarely the case. That’s because they are only using one bus at a time, on a longer route. We’ve been tracking the Duval Loop for months using the “Live Map” feature on their website and from our observation deck on Fleming Street and if the bus comes along every 35 to 40 minutes, you’re lucky. During the busy season when there’s plenty of traffic and parking congestion on the street – you’d be hard pressed to drive the route without stopping in 20 minutes. So, this stretches to 30, 35 and 40 with traffic and stops. And that’s because they are using one bus at a time, not two as Key West Transit did in the old days.

When the bus arrives every 15 minutes there’s no need for a schedule. Research from around the world and Key West Transit’s own surveys show frequency is the number one driver of getting people to use the bus instead of opting to drive. If the bus comes along every 15 minutes no one has to think about it, consult a schedule, or download an app, hope it is working and track when the next bus is arriving. You simply go to the bus stop, wait a few minutes and board. It is the number one recipe for success and it is a key ingredient in making downtown more prosperous.

2 – Only Use Branded Buses

When most of the Loop’s riders are visitors, you can’t leave them guessing about what bus to get on. When a small white van or big blank bus pulls up to the bus stop would you expect visitors to exclaim, that must be our bus! No. They likely think “What is this cheap outfit?” and are afraid to hop aboard. If Oceans Edge, Beachside Marriott, and the Perry all use branded shuttles why in the world is Key West Transit rolling out vehicles that could be mistaken for work trucks? If there’s a reason Key West Transit is using multiple types of buses, why aren’t the buses branded? The distinctive pink and blue Duval Loop buses are smartly designed. They have the route largely painted right on the side of the bus. It says, “Free and Frequent,” has the website on its side and even boasts “Get there. Have fun. Get back!” branding. 

3 – Put Map and Schedule Information at the 18 Bus Stops

We’ve written a couple of times (here and here) about the lack of care exhibited with the 18 Duval Loop bus stops. Many of the stops don’t say Duval Loop. Two years after the system went back to no cost to ride, orange tape still covers the word free. The tape was put on for a brief time when the system ill-advisedly charged a $1 fee. To be fair, some stops do have a small sign that says Duval Loop, but it’s hit or miss. 17 of the 18 stops do have a number, one through 18, but what does this mean? Not one stop has any map that might correspond to these numbers or provide any “You are here” context. Not one stop has any information about when the bus might operate or how often it comes along. None have a website either. Experts and common sense tell us that each bus stop is an opportunity to market the service to potential riders and telegraph to regular customers that the system cares. The current state of the bus stops tells visitors and residents alike, that the City just doesn’t care about its transit system.

4 – Market the Service

While we’re convinced that 40-minute frequency, unbranded buses and awful bus stops with no information are the major culprit in declining ridership, it doesn’t help that the City doesn’t market the service whatsoever. This when the City spends upwards of $350,000 annually to market the Historic Seaport. We’ve talked about a dozen marketing things Key West Transit can do to help increase ridership in the past. Research tells us that you get more use out of whatever service you put on the street if you market it well. Sad to say, more than a year after we wrote the story on easy to implement, low-cost marketing ideas, none of these are being done. If we care about our system, we need to invest in a little marketing. It will go a long way towards helping.

Address the Elephant in the Room – No More Excuses

No doubt officials will whine about the lack of drivers as the reason for less frequent and unbranded buses. We get it. The whole island is going through a staffing crisis. But this has been the Transit Department’s lament going on five plus years with no resolution. In the current fiscal year’s budget, the City committed $2.8 million or $5,417 per employee annually to help with that problem. That, and Key West Transit received a no strings $1M American Rescue Plan grant this year. Where’d the money go? Time to stop crying wolf and raise driver wages more significantly like HTA does.

The City currently advertises a $19.96 per hour + benefits for CDL (commercial driver’s license) licensed drivers, full or part-time. They advertise $15.30 per hour for non CDL drivers. It is the non-CDL licensed employees driving the unbranded vans and cut-a-way buses.

Historic Tours of America or HTA (think Conch Train, Ghost Tours, and Trolleys), which uses CDL drivers for their buses, starts their drivers at $22 + tips. They often provide bonuses. Perhaps the City needs to match HTA as a start, or even go higher since City drivers don’t make tips. There’s no excuse, not to get this done.

City of Key West Leaders Need to Rally Round Our Duval Loop

When confronted with the reality that the once successful Duval Loop is struggling and needs an infusion of help, let’s hope the City leaders don’t circle the wagons as is often done and get defensive and make excuses. Pay a wage that attracts drivers. Get the frequency back to 15 minutes. Use only branded buses. Upgrade all 18 bus stops with branding, map, and schedule information. And spend some effort and money marketing what a very good program Duval Loop could be once again. Our beloved downtown will be a better more prosperous place if we get this done.

# # #

You can find a year’s plus 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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Traffic Nightmare Looms as 132 New Housing Units Added to Over 700 In the Pipeline on Stock Island and Lower Keys 

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on May 20, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

This week Roy’s Trailer Park at 6500 Maloney Avenue on Stock Island gave their 108 owners notice that they had six months to relocate because the property is going to be redeveloped into 240 units of workforce housing apartments. The net of 132 new units brings us to about 860 workforce housing units, on Stock Island and the Lower Keys, that have been recently occupied, or are under construction, or have building permits approved in just the last two years. All this new housing is north of Cow Key Bridge. So, nearly all work, shopping and entertainment trips into Key West will be by car because transit options are so awful. These additional car trips harm our environment and degrade our island with more traffic and parking congestion. 

We think it is very good news that more needed workforce housing is being constructed. But if we don’t build the new housing, where it should be, on the island of Key West where more people could bike and walk to work, shop, and play, shouldn’t the City and County be enhancing Key West Transit service to mitigate the mess? Yes, yes, they should. Here’s how.

Lots of New Units Means Lots More Traffic

Roy’s Trailer Park undergoing redevelopment from 108 trailers to 240 workforce apartments means there’s a net of 132 additional housing units on Stock Island. (For more on the story read: Stock Island Trailer Park To Be Demolished & Redeveloped, Mandy Miles, May 16, 2022) Also on Stock Island, at the under construction 280-Unit Wreckers Cay, tenants are expected to start moving in on September 1, 2022. Wreckers Cay officials expect to bring new buildings online at about one a month, so the project should be fully occupied within a year. The Key West Housing Authority’s 104-unit Garden View Apartments on College Road is under construction and should come online in 2023. That’s 516 new housing units on Stock Island.

There’s an additional 352 units beyond Stock Island in the Lower Keys. On Big Coppitt, the 208-unit Quarry Apartments were just finished at the end of 2021. Building permits have been issued for 88-units at Dockside & the Landings Apartments on Lower Sugarloaf. 36 units received building permits in two separate developments on Cudjoe Key. Another twenty plus units have been requested on Big Coppitt. 

The 868 unit total doesn’t even include the 148-transient condos recently approved at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club, also on Maloney Avenue, on Stock Island. 

There’s a lot of concern about traffic, especially along U.S. 1, because visitor traffic is increasing too. As all the adult and teenage residents of these new car-dependent developments each need a car to get around, it is a traffic nightmare in the making. We need to do something. Fast.

The Bus Service Is Awful and Ridership is Declining. The Solution? More Frequent and Free Service

The County and City should be encouraging these new residents to use the bus instead of driving. The problem is that the bus service is so awful, no one uses it for commuting. Census data shows 1% of Monroe County residents and less than 1% of Key West residents use the bus to get to work. That’s because on the Lower Keys Shuttle there are just 10 trips all day into Key West and 10 trips a day from Key West to Marathon. It’s 95-120 minutes between buses. On the North and South Lines that serve Stock Island the bus comes along every 80-95 on weekdays and less on the weekends. The frequency of the buses and span of service simply can’t compete with the convenience of driving, no matter the hassles of traffic and parking. And if existing residents don’t use it, why would we expect the new people moving in to use it?

Then there’s the issue of cost. The Lower Keys Shuttle is $4 each way. The North and South Lines are $2. While one can get reasonably priced $75 and $25 monthly passes for each, the incentive to take the bus when the service is so infrequent just isn’t there. It needs to be frequent and free. 

Require Shuttles or Payment Into Public Transit

The Perry and Oceans Edge hotels on Stock Island each offer free shuttle buses from their properties to the Historic Seaport in downtown Key West. They operate hourly service in each direction from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The Marriott Beachside’s shuttle operates hourly from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm and has two stops on Duval as well as the airport. They work at keeping a portion of the guests from using their cars to get downtown. 

To its credit the County did require the developer to install two bus shelters at bus stops next to Wreckers Cay. And on Wednesday they just voted to spend $425,000 to match a potential State grant to provide a carsharing service between Stock Island and Key West to help reduce traffic trips (County to Vote On Ride-Sharing Program, Timothy O’Hara, May 14, 2022). But why aren’t the developers of larger projects like Wreckers Cay, Garden View, the Quarry, and Dockside & the Landings Apartments required to do shuttles like what the hotels do? Or if not their own shuttle, then some significant annual contribution to Key West Transit that can buy free rides for residents and help increase the frequency? This kind of thing is done all over the country to mitigate the traffic and parking congestion that comes with new development. Seems we’re missing the boat by not requiring a shuttle or contribution to Key West Transit on Stock Island and the Lower Keys. Perhaps the County can start with the new Roy’s Trailer Park development.

Think of it this way, if the County can spend $425,000 for a carsharing service, why aren’t they contributing more to Key West Transit to increase the frequency of the buses serving Stock Island?

Let’s Follow the Multiple Plans to Increase Transit Frequency Instead of Constantly Punting on This Issue

Through many meetings and multiple processes, a consensus has been built that improved public transit is vital for our future prosperity. Key West Transit’s adopted 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP), the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) and the first draft of the City’s 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.

During last year’s Strategic Plan process, presentations to the public and Commission in June stated that North and South Lines should go from the current 80 – 95 minutes to 30 minutes and on the Lower Keys Shuttle from 95 – 120 minutes to every 60 minutes. At the time the Mayor and Commissioners noted they hoped the 30-minutes was interim as they eventually wanted to get to 15 minutes between buses. After all this planning and consensus building the Finance Department presented a no-growth Transit budget for the coming year at the July 22nd City Commission Budget Workshop that didn’t include these changes. Later we were told that a decision by the City to raise employee salaries by $2.8 million annually or $5,417 per employee meant there was no money for transit.

So, we’ve lost a year when we could be making improvements. We suppose we have no choice but to give leaders a mulligan and move forward. But when we asked Key West Transit officials, on two different occasions what plans they had to serve these new communities, the totality of their response was “Existing routes already serve these areas.” That’s not acceptable. Not when buses arrive every 80 to 120 minutes.

The Key West Forward Strategic Plan for improved frequency presented to the public and Commissioners in June, 2021.

City AND County Need to Work Together to Invest in Transit. NOW!

We must do better than just 10 trips a day in each direction on the Lower Keys Shuttle and the North and South lines serving Stock Island. Waiting an hour and twenty minutes to two hours between buses isn’t reliable and frequent enough service to entice anyone to ditch their car and take transit instead. 

In next year’s budget, the process for which starts next month, we need to do what the Strategic Plan originally called for and increase the frequency on the Lower Keys Shuttle to at least every 60 minutes and on the North and South lines to at least every 30 minutes. And the next year that should go to every 30 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. Seven days a week. Early morning until late at night. And the ride needs to be FREE for residents. 

Currently 55% of the Transit Department’s budget comes from Federal and State sources, and that doesn’t include a recent additional $1M American Rescue Plan grant. That grant could be used to jump start more frequent service rather than simply replacing other sources and saving elsewhere. Most of the balance of the 45% comes from various dedicated parking fees. There’s little if any local tax dollars going into the transit system. Changing that could be an option. Or if there’s no stomach for using tax dollars, we need to get creative and find additional sources to cover an increased investment in the system. Higher parking fees? TDC funds? Sales tax? Bed tax? Liquor tax? Toll on Cow Key Bridge? 

Again, we give the County credit for starting to search for ways to reduce traffic congestion. We wish the City was thinking similarly. What’s clear is that both the County and the City need to work together and find ways to invest in Key West Transit. If more people take the bus, it makes our streets less congested and makes it easier to find parking for residents that must drive. It is friendly to our environment and helps combat climate change. It will allow more of our beleaguered workforce to get around without the expense of a car. It makes us healthier and happier too. We must get this done or the traffic nightmare will be upon us.

# # #

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

Streets for People / The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops Revisited – What’s Happening a Year Later

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on May 6,, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

Last April 2, 2021, we began our story: “Experts say, the bus stop is one of the biggest signals, to everyone in the city, about a community’s attitude toward buses and their customers. What do Key West Transit’s bus stops say to residents, workers, and visitors? Judging by their quality and lack of information one would have to answer: “We just don’t care!” Sadly, as we revisit these bus stops more than one year later, we find that absolutely nothing has changed on the ground. 

In a City that tries to walk the green environmental talk and says it wants people to use transit to get around, how in the world can we treat the public entryway into our Duval Loop and Key West Transit system so shabbily. It’s embarrassing to have visitors come face to face with stops that look like they belong in some third world country. And for residents, it’s a reminder that our City hasn’t taken our transit system seriously. We’ve taken pictures of every Duval Loop and many other Key West Transit bus stops. Judge for yourself about the current sorry state of Key West bus stops. Let’s dive into why this is important and talk about hope for the future via a grant project that may get off the ground shortly.

Bus Stops Are the Front Door to Your Transit System

This is simple and basic for most bus systems. Bus stops are easy to do well and worth doing right. They are a low-cost and high impact. Experts at the Transit Center think tank say, “A bus shelter is not a luxury; it provides a basic level of comfort and dignity to people waiting for transit.” They go on to tell us:

  • Research says that better stops encourage ridership and improve the transit experience. Agencies/cities need to invest in the entire experience.
  • Amenities at bus stops make the wait easier and feel shorter. Think shelters, benches, and real-time info. It makes people feel safer too. 
  • Bus stops market the existence and quality of the service, both helping to retain existing riders and attract new ones.
  • Smartly managed stops indicate a customer-focused agency that considers its riders.
  • A poorly managed bus stop communicates that the agency does not prioritize riders’ needs and suggest to riders that buses are lower quality.
  • Standard features include benches, shelters, trash cans, branding, information on routes and schedules, wayfinding and sidewalks and lighting. 

“Transit agencies should view bus stop improvements as the low-hanging fruit for improving transit service and growing ridership. Research shows that stops and their surrounds factor heavily on the rider’s experience of taking transit, and that a great bus stop can drive ridership. Better bus stops entice new riders to try the bus.”

Amen!

Resource: From Sorry to Superb: Everything You Need to Know About Great Bus Stops, Transit Center

Nobody Takes the Bus – And It’s Getting Worse

So few people use the local bus lines that in a Strategic Plan survey of residents of 19 different City services in January 2020, no one knew enough to answer the questions about Key West Transit and so the system was left with no rating.

Census data shows less than one percent (1%) or almost no one takes the bus to commute to work. That’s almost unheard of in cities that have a bus system. Officials admit that ridership is declining, even on the at one-time successful Duval Loop. Every number in Key West is up over the last year. Except for transit. More visitors. More sales tax revenue. Record parking receipts. And yet in the current 2021-2022 Fiscal Year, Key West Transit trips are down 8% over the entire system vs. the pandemic stricken previous year of FY 2020-2021. And trips are down 70% vs. pre-pandemic 2018-2019 numbers. 

While we’d argue that the awful frequency of the buses (fodder for another time) is the main culprit behind the declining ridership, it certainly doesn’t help that the bus stops look so uninvitingly awful and that simple improvements keep getting pushed off to the future.

Current State of North and South Lines and Lower Keys Shuttle Bus Stops

North, South and Lower Keys Shuttle routes have no identifying information. There’s a pole with a generic bus on it. That’s it. What bus stops here? For all one knows it could be a MetroBus de La Habana (Havana’s system) stop. If you squint or perhaps if you have binoculars, you may make out that a few of the signs have little green, red, or beige conch shells at the bottom signifying that this was a green or red route at one time. KW Transit ditched the Red, Orange, Green and Blue routes two years ago and replaced them with North and South Lines.

In teeny, tiny, little letters (thinking none of this meets ADA font size standards) you might be able to read the words Lower Keys Shuttle on the beige shell. But where does this bus go? When does the next bus come by? There’s no map, no schedule, nor any “You are here” wayfinding identification either. Let alone shade. A bench. Branding or marketing. Not even a website address where you might get some information. Does this lack of effort in welcoming riders onto the system or potential customers understand what’s happening seem like we care about people using Key West Transit?

Current State of Duval Loop Bus Stops

The Duval Loop bus service has been a smash hit since it arrived on the scene in the summer of 2017. Especially with visitors. So, with more than a million tourists walking around downtown every year you’d want the entrance to our “Free, Fun and Frequent” downtown circulator to make a good impression. Right?

Well think again. While admittedly there’s a bit more information than at the North and South and Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops, the Duval Loop stops are a mish mash of inconsistent information and branding. Here’s what we found:

  • Of the 15 stops (3 are out of commission due to construction on Whitehead and Simonton), seven have the Duval Loop ball at the top.
  • Seven stops have a longer blue sign that doesn’t say Duval Loop but does have the slogan “Ride Free and Frequent,” (like #8). But the word “Free” still has orange tape over it – 18 months after the Loop went back to free service. Really?
  • Six stops have a smaller blue sign that says Duval Loop and has a number (like #18) with no branding.
  • Shared bus stops with North, South and LKS have no designation that those buses stop here too, but we surmise that since in addition to some version of the blue sign there is a generic sign too, that something else stops here.
  • Seven stops have cigarette butt holders.
  • 14 of the 15 stops we captured DO have a number, one through 18 – Truman Waterfront’s stop is missing a number. But what does that mean? Without a map on the pole for context or a website address or any serious on-the-ground marketing effort that puts information in the hands of visitors (fodder for another time), these numbers are completely useless. 
  • Zero stops have ANY information about frequencies, route maps that tell you where the bus goes or even a “you are here” designation. None have a URL for the web site either. 

Come on man! Is this the best we can do? Thing is there was a branding and information plan for Duval Loop bus stops in 2017. And yet five years later, we’ve still got an embarrassing hodge-podge of inadequate and ugly signage greeting our visitors. 

The original signage plan for the Duval Loop in 2017.

There’s No Excuse

We’ve all heard about Key West Transit’s travails in trying to hire skilled drivers. But there’s no excuse in it taking years and years to get anything done about the sorry state of the bus stops. At most, it couldn’t cost more than $1,000 to $2,000 a stop to install adequate branding and map and schedule information. There are only 18 Duval Loop bus stops. Certainly, the City has the resources and manpower to at least get the Duval Loop done right. And they shouldn’t wait around another year or more for the State to pay for it as part of a grant. 

The current excuse for not doing anything on the North and South lines is that Key West Transit intends on doing away with these routes in the future and replacing them with On-Demand Transit. But the On-Demand project has been delayed a couple of times already and may not happen until next year (yes, we’re waiting on another potential FDOT grant rather than spend our own money to get this going). So, if one didn’t install map and schedule information, perhaps one could install some branding and a URL? Or temporary signage? 

Hope On the Horizon

If all goes as planned, and that’s never a foregone conclusion when dealing with multiple bureaucracies as the project is already behind schedule, the City, via an FDOT Final Mile grant, will install map and schedule information, bicycle racks and lockers, hail lights, fix-it-stations and trash and recycle bins at most of the 62 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops as well as 20 of the most frequently used Duval Loop and North and South Line bus stops on the island of Key West. A piggyback grant may fill in many of the remaining stops. The City recently announced they hope to have a contract in place later this summer to do the work. If that happens on time, they’ll begin installation in Marathon in the Fall and work their way down toward Key West. If we’re lucky, installation may happen on the island of Key West in the summer of 2023. Maybe. 

We Need to Do Better By Our Transit System

So, while there is hope on the horizon, we need to do better by our little transit system. Perhaps the City’s reluctance to spend City funds and over reliance on outside funding via grants from FDOT have clouded the thinking and made things worse. Yes, the Last Mile grant for the Lower Keys Shuttle is a very good project that may eventually rectify things. But bus stops should be an integral part of our transit infrastructure and budgeted for annually and staffed accordingly. We need to make it easier for people to choose to take the bus. Better bus stops is a good place to start.

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You can find a year’s plus KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

About

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

Streets for People / Ten Ways to Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors – Part 2: Services, Infrastructure and Policies

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on April 15, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

In last year’s most popular Streets for People article, Airport Expansion Means Fewer Cars on Our Island, September 24, 2021, we made the case that more people arriving by airplane is a good thing because it reduces the volume of traffic on U.S. Route 1 and congestion and parking problems downtown. Even as additional people arrive by air, data shows a ceaselessly increasing level of vehicle traffic on our only highway, created by ever more visitors, and compounded by residents driving more because they live further outside the city than in decades past. Today we’re following up with the second part, in a two-part series of ten recommendations, inspired by feedback from the Airport article and a 2019 “Toward Car-Free Key West” study on how we get vacationers to either not bring a car to the island at all or if they do drive here to at least park it and never use it again until the day they leave. 

Traffic Continues as a Concern and Data Shows It’s a Growing Problem

Traffic congestion has been a top concern here for decades and it is only getting worse. The data shows that 77% of the more than a million visitors who make it all the way to the island of Key West arrive here by car. That’s a lot of cars on top of resident, worker, and business vehicles, especially when there are only 3,000 identified on-street parking spaces in the historic district and a slightly smaller number of publicly available off-street spaces in municipal and private lots and garages downtown. 

Two weeks ago one of our island’s most beloved and astute columnists, Linda Grist Cunningham, wrote an article for the Citizen newspaper and her Key West Island News blog entitled: “Key West Traffic – Unless we ditch some vehicles the island’s gonna sink” explaining that “We’ve got too many motorized things clogging our streets…After all, our streets were laid out a couple hundred years ago. Tiny streets on a tiny island, when both people and transportation devices were smaller and fewer. The island simply isn’t built to handle our crowds and must-have SUVs.” She’s spot on.

For those inclined to see the numbers that undergird our 10 recommendations, the column on Airport Expansion is knee deep in FDOT traffic analysis, TDC and Airport visitor data and survey and behavior change research from a 2019 study entitled “Toward Car-Free Key West” published by Mary Bishop in the Journal of Transportation Demand Management out of the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR). Start there first and then pick back up the story here. 

Repeat Visitors Give Us Blueprint for Getting To Car-Free

One of the key takeaways from Mary Bishop’s research is something many of us have come to know, but she gathered the evidence to back it up. The takeaway is that once you are here and on the island of Key West you don’t really need a car to get around. Once visitors experience Key West, the lightbulb seemingly goes off, and they understand this too. This is borne out in the fact that on subsequent visits, people get here by rental cars less and use the airport and ferry more. Here’s how Mary 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.”

From Mary Bishop’s Toward Car-Free Key West report.

10 Ways To Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors:

Based upon her research and the surveys conducted with visitors, Ms. Bishop concludes her paper with four recommendations (jump to page 26 of her report) summarized as follows:

  • Marketing
  • Increase Ridership of Key West Express Ferry
  • Increase Arrivals via Key West International Airport
  • Give Tourists the Public Transportation They Want on the Island

We’ve taken the liberty of expanding and elaborating on her excellent conclusions. We’ve also incorporated much of the feedback we heard when the first article was published last summer. So, while these may not strike you as exactly new ideas, we hope that by putting them together, in one place, it is easier to see how these would work together to get the job done. 

Last week we brought you four of the ten recommendations that fall into a broad category of marketing. Today, we’re going to bring you the remaining six recommendations that deal with services, infrastructure, and policies. As a refresher here’s a summary of the 4 in the marketing group. 

Part 1: Marketing – Summarized

A unified marketing campaign, backed up with ad dollars with the message you don’t need a car to get around Key West, spread via online national media outlets like Trip Advisor, local sites like the Chamber and all the individual hotel websites. Targeting people before they make a reservation. Perhaps the City contracts with a marketing vendor like they do with the Historic Seaport.

Make it easy for visitors to find information about transportation options once they arrive in Key West. Think signs in the airport. Maps, brochures, cards, apps and web-enabled tools with info about transit and biking distributed through the campaign’s partners, hotels, B&Bs, inns, vacation rental companies, attractions, bars, restaurants, and retailers to all easily participate in the campaign.

Wayfinding signage along U.S. 1, N. and S. Roosevelt Boulevards and throughout downtown. Transportation options maps should include public and private parking lots. One place on the internet where all lots are located, and all the lodging folks link to it. Signage and web should include real-time capacity.

Oblige companies to educate their customers on the rules of the road. Our experience with most of these companies leads us to believe that they already do this, however, perhaps there can be some uniformity, in the message.

Part 2: Services, Infrastructure and Policies

5 – End Free On-Street Parking for Visitors

There are approximately 3,000 on-street parking spaces in Old Town. About 1/3 are metered, 1/3 are for Resident Permit holders only and another third are unmarked and available to anyone for up to 72 hours (3 days) for free. Why in the world is there any free parking for visitors downtown anyway? We need to put a time limit of 4 hours before midnight on these spaces and exempt Resident Permit and worker permit holders, so only visitors have to move their cars. This will ensure that longer stay visitors park in long-term lots and garages. 

I worked at a downtown hotel that didn’t have a parking lot – most small inns don’t – and we told people we can give you a permit to park in a nearby garage for $24 or you can find a free space for 3-days. 90% of the people said they’d take their chances on the street. 

For hotels in New Town and Stock Island, that do have parking lots, visitors may be more tempted to drive downtown, if they know they can snag one of those 1,000 free parking places close to the action. By putting a time limit on these or converting more of them to metered and Resident Only spaces, it is more likely these folks will leave their car in the lot and hop on a bus or bike to get downtown. 

It is important to eliminate the free on-street parking because it acts as a pull for people to cruise for the spaces.  A good percentage of downtown traffic congestion is people hunting for parking

6 – Make the Duval Loop Every 15 Minutes, Again

Originally the Duval Loop ran every 15 minute