New 91-Space Parking Lot at 1300 Duval is Missed Opportunity for Downtown Affordable Housing and Revitalizing Our Main Street
Have you seen the construction going on at Duval and United? In a city chock full of creative, inventive and entrepreneurial people, how in the world did it come to this? The best use of a huge plot of land at 1300 Duval Street, our historic main street, is a 91-space commercial surface parking lot? That’s a mainland solution to land use. The good people of South Park – “ample parking day or night” – would be proud. The good people of Key West should be embarrassed. Especially since we’re desperately looking for land to build affordable housing downtown and because we’re looking to revitalize Duval Street. What a waste.
This is a backward step for the City. The owners of the property can’t even say how long they intend to keep it a parking lot. The HARC Chairman (to his credit he hated the proposed use) bemoaned that if the lot proves lucrative, it could be there a long time. And he’s right. Watching the City’s proceedings on the proposal were painful. It seems that because the owners of the property have a currently valid permit to run a parking lot, the City was powerless in stopping them from doing the same thing after they tear down the unhistoric Tropical Rental building and expanding the lot. The City Attorneys said they couldn’t deny the permit because there were no grounds in the code on which to deny it. So they had no choice but to approve it and get a few tiny concessions in the form a a 5-foot grass landscape buffer around the property that includes 100+ plants and a dozen trees. It’s like lipstick on a pig.
These blank spots muffle urban life, deadening the surrounding human environment. There’s no arguing that huge surface parking lots create an atmosphere that is inherently hostile to the pedestrian: dull, unbearably hot in summer, windswept in all seasons, and potentially menacing.Sarah Goodyear, Bloomberg City Lab
A Failure at Planning for the Future
The failure is still on the City for not thinking ahead. Instead of always reacting to what developers bring them, the City should have identified this parcel a long time ago for redevelopment, especially since there are no historic structures on it. The City should have made the existing commercial parking lot license a non-conforming use, so that when it was sold, that use would no longer be valid. In fact they should have rezoned the property with some bonus density to prioritize getting what they do want. But in order to do these kinds of things, the City has to be more pro-active about its future. The City seems to just process requests. Why aren’t we doing any proactive planning? Instead we get stuck with a huge surface parking lot in the heart of downtown. This is a squandered opportunity.
Interim Uses Could Have Included Pop-Up Retail and the Arts
The City could have also sat down with the owner and talked about other interim uses for all or part of the lot to enliven downtown and perhaps help some struggling sectors of our community. Imagine that space with a bunch of food trucks and outdoor seating. Perfect in our Covid era. Imagine further some of that space filled with giant tents, or reused cargo containers converted for artists spaces or pop-up retail, like the wonderful Art Shack Studios and Galleries out on Stock Island. You could have still kept some parking for those uses, but THAT would have enlivened Upper Duval AND gave some of our struggling entrepreneurs a shot at starting something that could grow. That’s how you do economic development by the way, help small businesses start and grow. But we digress. Why didn’t the City call in the Chamber and the Arts Council to sit down with the owner and talk about the possibilities? No, the owner didn’t have to do anything other than they have done. But had someone showed they cared about what was going on in the middle of our main street, perhaps the new owners would have cared more too. Consider this another reason why Duval Streets needs a business improvement district (BID) (Does Duval Street Need a Business Improvement District?; June 4, 2020) because you can bet any BID worth its salt would have seized on this opportunity to do something better for downtown.
Let’s Get This Right the Next Time
We’re left with what? Hoping that if and when the new owner decides to do something with the property it will be to everyone’s liking and benefit? Or are we going to actively push now for the things we want in the future? A parcel this large and important doesn’t come along to be redeveloped that often. The City and the community have as much right to say what we want there as the property owner. And we can use carrots of higher density to sweeten the deal.
What is needed there is retail, arts, museum/attractions, restaurants or even office space on the first level. With affordable housing on top. And we should provide bonus density to go a little higher to get all the uses we want. While we’re at it the City needs to not ask for any parking minimums with any new development. This is downtown. Let’s expect people to walk, bike and take the bus for goodness sake. We can and should expect better for our Main Street, now and in the future. Let’s be vigilant and proactive in working with the new owner to think better for our future and get it right next go round.
Chris Hamilton, July 11, 2020
NOTE: To those who believe there is a lack of parking and welcome this urban blight, please read this article. We have plenty of parking downtown. The problem is it is badly managed. Here’s some solutions: “The City Raised Bus Fares. Time to Tackle Parking” May 12, 2020
This is a follow-up to our May 25 article “Can We Pedestrianize Duval Street AND Still Allow Vehicles?” The short answer was yes and we discussed the concept of a “Woonerf” or “Shared Street” that is designed for people but allows some cars at very slow speeds. In an article yesterday (Shared Street Is An Asset for Downtown, Robert Stueteville, June 23) the Congress for New Urbanism cites Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, Florida as a model for cities wanting to do similar with their main streets across the country.
From the article: “Starting in 2019, Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, has been rebuilt as a shared street, acting both as a public plaza and a traditional main street. Street improvements provide more shade trees and wider sidewalks, more seating and street amenities. The reconstructed street is completely curbless and devised to slow down traffic. Retractable bollards allow for an adaptable street where sections are easily closed to automobile traffic for special events, and the flexible curbside management combines café seating, on-street parking, bike parking, and ride-hailing pickup and drop off. All of this contributes to a strong placemaking program designed to contribute to downtown as an engine of the city’s economy.”
We reported on June 10 (Duval Street Revitalization Moves Forward) that the City Commission at its meeting of July 21 will pick between two finalists to conduct a Duval Street Revitalization Study. The Study will develop a Plan to rebuild the infrastructure of Duval Street to do many of the things that Clematis Street is doing. That’s a good thing. But the study will likely take a year to conduct and actually building new curb and gutter and much more could be many years away. Do we really want to wait that long? Especially when we need to learn to live with Covid, and could use more people-oriented streets NOW.
Let’s Use Tactical Urbanism To Close/Slow Duval Now
We think that we can close down some blocks and slow down other parts of Duval Street now, mimicking these improvements using low-cost, temporary, pop-up “tactical urbanism” measures. Some paint, planters, bollards, giant rocks and construction barriers could do the trick. In fact, the City already has one of the world’s leading tactical urbanism firms, Street Plans of Miami, in-house as a consultant doing the Crosstown Greenway pilot project. We can institute a program to install parklets instead of car parking and combine this with other measures to slow or close the street. This gives us the opportunity test things out and adjust before we do some big, expensive, infrastructure project. Let’s use the summer and fall to implement some projects on Duval before the next winter season begins at Christmas and get a head start on our future while improving our health.
By Josh Bassett; June 20, 2020
I know, I get it, I completely understand where your mind goes when you hear it. Friends of Car-Free Key West and Car-Free Key West evoke visions of an island full of bicycles with no cars in sight. I can tell you that this is exactly what I pictured when I first saw these words on my Facebook. My first thought was “How am I going to pull my boat with a bike? Forget these people. Car free, they must be crazy!” I did as most of us tend to do and I went from nothing to high alert in a matter of milliseconds. So, being the rational person I think I am, I ignored all of the stuff that popped up on my timeline from the Car-Free pages.
It was fine for a while but a funny thing happened, I saw an article about the bus routes in Key West and it was written by an acquaintance that I have. Yes, we were “friends” on Facebook but in the real world, we are more like acquaintances. So anyway, I read the article that he wrote, and I get all fired up again, but this time, I didn’t ignore it. I sat down and wrote a message and asked questions. It was a lengthy message with a bunch of questions and, low and behold, he responded and gave me his phone number so he could talk to me about my questions. As it turns out, Car-Free isn’t the intention at all. The vision of Car-Free is just less cars, more expeditious bus routes, giving the people the option of exploring car-free transportation and making it safer for those that take that option. I can honestly say that I received a very good education during that phone call. I was changing my views based on research provided to me, the dedication of a group of people who care, and the fact that I could still pull my boat. I wasn’t a completely changed person, but my mind was more open and I wasn’t as doubtful or bothered by the concept.
Fast forward a few more weeks, and I have now liked the pages on Facebook because I want to see where this is all going. Another article is posted and it strikes a nerve because it is about an area where I grew up and I am familiar with. I’ve seen enough articles posted now and I make a public comment, something along the lines of: It’s time to start showing the vision of what WE will see in Key West and not what other places are doing. My post may have been a bit aggressive, which I eventually apologized for, but it sparked more conversation and another Facebook friend. Yet again, I was educated as to what the idea behind all of this is and this time, I believe it is for good reasons.
In my multiple conversations, with some very dedicated and good hearted people, I’ve come to learn that Car-Free Key West is actually a movement that will also help to revitalize the business district in Key West. It’s a movement to look at injecting more life into our businesses and getting our biggest economic producer, tourists, around our island a bit more safely and efficiently. This is a movement aimed at capturing the island paradise charm of Old Key West and conjoining it a business revitalization project that can accommodate pedestrians and restaurants on our busiest streets.
Before you overreact like I did, I encourage you to look around and see where the downfalls are in our community and bring reasonable ideas to the table. Just saying no or don’t change it, doesn’t help towards the solution. The fact of the matter is, we are ever evolving and as such, our communities have to evolve with the times. I believe that Car-Free Key West and Friends of Car-Free Key West have some great ideas for our community and it’s time we look to embrace the future before it passes us by.
About Josh Bassett
Josh Bassett has been a Key West resident for the past 7 years. He is a retired Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer, a graduate of the CFFK’s Leadership Success Academy, current member and past President of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, and served on several school boards throughout the country. He is also the current chairperson for a Basilica School fundraiser, Mariners March 5k.
Josh is a 10th generation Cape Codder, and while his love for the Cape and Massachusetts runs deep, his dislike for winter runs deeper. When he arrived in Key West with the Coast Guard, Josh knew he had found the place that he wanted to call home. Josh and his family love to take advantage of the Keys, from boating and fishing to hiking and biking, enjoying all that Monroe County has to offer is a family adventure.
On June 9 People for Bikes released their ranking of 575 communities in North America (567 in the USA) in their Annual 2020 City Ratings for Best Cities for Bikes and Key West came in at #115 with an Overall Score of 1.9 out of 5 and received one out of five stars. Yay! Kinda. Sort of? The highest score was San Louis Obisbo, CA with a 3.5 score. The number five city is Washington, D.C. with a 3.2. Our sister City of Provincetown, Massachusetts came in at #17 with a 3.1 score. Yes, People for Bikes is a hard grader. And they should be because North America still has a long way to go in being really bike friendly.
Number 115 doesn’t seem like a great ranking. But that’s out of 575 places. So when you have that perspective, its pretty good, right? Then again we do have some natural advantages for biking because we’re warm, flat and compact. So maybe we should be higher, no? And how did PTown do so much better than us, because they certainly don’t have the warm part? Out of 20 Florida cities, Key West ranked number 4 behind St. Pete 2.4, Orlando 2.3, and Gainesville 2.2. Actually, to think of any Florida city, because they all seem so car-dependent, beating out Key West amazes me. Yes, we should be doing better.
Overall City Ratings are shaped by five key indicators: Ridership (how many people are riding bikes?), Safety (how safe is it to ride bikes?), Network (how easy is it for people to bike where they want to go?), Reach (how well does the network serve all members of the community?) and Acceleration (how fast is the bike network growing and/or improving?). These indicators are ranked on a scale of 1-5 and weighed equally to provide a city’s comprehensive City Ratings score. Key West received a 1.9 Overall Score in 2019 and had a 2.1 Overall Score the first year in 2018.
Key West Does Best in Ridership and Reach
The City got a 2.4 Ridership Score and ranked #32 out of 575 communities. Ridership is about how many people are riding bikes. “Studies show that when more people ride bikes, biking is safer and more appealing. The Ridership score takes into account riding for both recreation and transportation. Data Sources: U.S. Census American Community Survey, Sports Marketing Survey Bicycle Participation, and PlacesforBikes Community Survey” This shouldn’t surprise us. We know lots of residents commute by bike and that lots of people use bikes to get around, including visitors. Perhaps this also reflects the fact that we’re warm, flat and small.
Key West also did well on Reach with a Score of 3.0 which ranked Key West at #53 out of 575. Reach is about how well the bike network reaches the entire community. “The Reach score determines how well a city’s bike network serves all members of the community. It uses demographic data to understand differences in ridership and network access for traditionally underserved populations compared to the whole city. Data Sources: U.S. Census American Community Survey and PlacesforBikes Bicycle Network Analysis or BNA”
We’re basically hitting the low hanging fruit by scoring well on these two attributes.
Key West Needs Improvement on Safety, Acceleration and Network
Where Key West needs to do some work has been obvious to most of us for a while. Safety. While we have the natural advantage of being warm, flat and compact, our city fathers have built too much of our street system with a huge preference for cars. The car-centric nature of our streets leads to safety issues and that’s no doubt reflected in our low 1.5 Score for Safety. This score will only improve if we start installing infrastructure such as neighborhood greenways, protected bike lanes and bike boxes and markings through intersections.
Acceleration is about how quickly a community is working to make biking better. “Acceleration is about setting plans into motion, getting things ready for the future and recognizing that changing long-term safety and ridership requires action today. The Acceleration score looks at a city’s current actions to encourage more people to get out and ride.” The dismal Acceleration Score of 0.5 seems a bit low to us but we’ve then again we’ve heard many complain the City isn’t doing anything for bikes. The fact that a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan was adopted in March 2019 should count for something. Perhaps People for Bikes is looking for evidence of of actual implementation and it is here that perhaps we can do much better. Check out our May 20, 2020 article Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan for ideas on why it is important and how we can accelerate and get going sooner.
Network is about how easily people can get to where they need to go by bike. “A strong bike network comfortably and efficiently connects people to the places they want to go. People are much more likely to ride a bike in a city with a strong network.” We’ve talked often about the network effect. It is nice to have a good bicycle facility one one street, but unless it connects to other good facilities across the city, then it becomes useless. Network is about a string of protected lanes, trails and intersections all over the place. Not a bike lane here and a sharrow over there. It also means having good wayfinding signage.
Why There’s Hope for Key West’s Future
There’s hope for our improving because with all of our natural advantages it shouldn’t take too much design and intention to make things better. Key West isn’t hilly or sliced up by highways or rivers that cut us off from other parts of town. We’re not sprawled all over the place and our downtown has a grid that is especially conducive to hopping around. And for all the complaints about how hot it is right now, we really do have good weather 12 months of the year. Would you really rather have the weather of Madison, Wisconsin? And they’re ranked #2!
We also have a Bike Plan that was drafted by one of the best firms in the business, had tons of community meetings and input and has been adopted by the City Commission. All we need is a little political will to implement some of the recommendations to move on up the list. We’re hopeful….
Sources and Additional Information
Key West City Scorecards 2018 through 2020:
Photo Credit Rob O’Neal of the Citizen newspaper.
Duval Street Revitalization Moves Forward blared the headline at the top of the page in this morning’s Key West Citizen news story by By Pru Sowers. THIS IS GOOD NEWS. We’ve been talking about the Duval Street Revitalization Study since last fall as the next step after the experiment with the Mall on Duval. That the City got the RFQ out, solicited six firms to provide proposals and is down to the final two is progress. The two firms will make presentations to the Commission at their July 21 meeting that will also be the first to be open to the public again.
The Citizen reports: “The two finalist companies had myriad ideas, including lighting, signage, landscaping, seating and shade. Maintaining the historic nature of the street and buildings while protecting them from sea level rise, encouraging pedestrians and bicyclists while balancing them with all modes of transportation, and providing seating and space for events were suggested.” That and the quality of the two finalists is the good news.
The not so good news is that at the moment no one is committing any money to move this forward after a firm is selected. Says the Citizen: “…no one knows yet how much money the city will have in revenues and whether it can afford to hire a design company to begin the multiphased project.”
“I was far more excited when we didn’t have the financial hardships we have right now,” Veliz said about the Duval revitalization proposals. “Right now, I’m just trying to get back on our feet.”City Manager Greg Veliz
“That’s a question mark right now. We’re in a land of unknowns,”Assistant City Manager Patti McLauchlin
“Duval Mall is dead. That term should never be mentioned again. The mall was controversial.”City Manager Greg Veliz
The Mall on Duval wasn’t perfect but it doesn’t need to be disparaged so, does it?. The Mayor and some City Commissioners were responding to citizen requests for pedestrianizing Duval and came up with a worthy experiment. In fact, as the Mayor and others have noted, the Mall on Duval brought citizens back to the street to eat, shop and drink. And as mentioned in the Citizen article, it was the discussions around Mall on Duval that directly led to the Duval Street Revitalization Study. It served a purpose. Let’s move on.
The Takeaway – We Need to Fund the Study
We are going to look at today’s news as a good thing. But we should be forewarned that City management is already laying the cover for not funding the study in next year’s budget and thus delaying the project. What that means is that us citizens need to be talking to our Commissioners and City management about the importance of investing in doing this study now. If there’s going to be a downtime, it is the exact time we should be investing in the planning effort for the future of our Main Street.
If the study is funded and gets started this fall, it could be another year of process before any Duval Street Revitalization Plan is in place. Anything in the plan that will take money, especially big infrastructure projects, could therefore be years and years out into the future. So in the meantime that doesn’t mean we have sit and wait. There are some things we can do now:
- 20 Parklets on Duval in 2020
- Can We Pedestrianize Duval and Still Allow Cars?
- City of Key West – Let Our Restaurants Take the Streets
And during the Duval Street Revitalization Study about infrastructure we should ask the question: Does Duval Street/Downtown Need a Business Improvement District? to help with its operations?
We’ve recently been making the case and seen lots of public support for putting in parklets to widen the sidewalks, for restaurants and retailers to “take the streets” or even for some semblance of the return of Mall-on-Duval-like activities. It seems a missing element is someone to organize and help the businesses along Duval Street and adjacent blocks to accomplish activities like this.
The City has embarked on a needed “Duval Street Revitalization Study” that will enlist an engineering and planning consultant to help plan the revitalization of the infrastructure or streetscape of Duval. The goal of the Project is to “renovate and revitalize Duval Street to increase opportunities for public use as an iconic civic space for leisure, commerce, and tourism; address the infrastructure which will allow for reasonable maintenance frequency and reduce costs to businesses and taxpayers; improve safety for pedestrians and vehicles; and maintain mobility for desired transit operations for all users.” The Mayor said she envisions improvements including widening sidewalks and adding planters, benches and water fountains. But once we renovate Duval Street, is that enough? Or do we need someone to help the businesses and community take advantage of and operate this improved asset?
(Photo credit for the dining photo: Michael Beattie of the Conch Scooter blog.) The businesses themselves are too busy just trying to run their own operations. These days that’s harder than ever to do. Mom and Pop shops shouldn’t also be expected to figure out how to make all this happen, coordinate with each other and actually do it. While the City should certainly set the table and provide services and capital improvements for one of its most important assets, Duval Street, and they do, should they be expected to do all the work or even more work, especially the activities part? Or should there be some sort of empowered third party organization that can take responsibility for helping small businesses thrive while liaising with and enhancing what the local government does do? There’s actually about 1,000 of these kind of organizations across the U.S.A. They’re called business improvement districts or BIDS. Would it be helpful to have one in downtown Key West? Let’s explore…
“Downtown success is becoming widespread. At its heart is a quiet revolution concerning who takes responsibility for the “operations” of downtown commercial areas. Rather than blaming City Hall, hotel operators, theater owners, storekeepers, restaurateurs, service providers, office employers, developers, property owners, and property managers are planning and managing urban services in their neighborhoods.“Larry Houstoun of Larry Houstoun’s Urban Public Spaces & Business Improvement Districts blog
What’s a BID?
According to Wikipedia, BIDS are special commercial districts within a city overseen by a non-profit entity, typically funded by some sort of taxing authority with the money going towards improvements and services within the area. BIDs often rely on other sources of revenue, in addition to the tax assessment, to fund their operations. Services financed by a BID are intended to enhance existing city services, not replace them and/or provide services the city doesn’t do. The International Downtown Association (IDA) says: “A Business Improvement District (BID) is a public/private partnership in which property and business owners elect to make a collective contribution to the maintenance, development and promotion of a commercial district.” Since the 1970’s nearly 1,000 BIDS in big cities (New York City has 76) and small towns across North America have popped up. Wikipedia says “Often, BIDs are formed as a result of property owners in a defined district who seek funding for a variety of services, including governmental services such as cleaning and maintenance, non-governmental services such as marketing and promotion or beautification, and the implementation of capital investments.” As a DOT employee of Arlington County government, I worked closely with six Arlington, Virginia business improvement districts over the years – each one being indispensable to helping its neighborhood thrive.
I got to work with the DC Downtown BID on birthing and branding a brand new downtown circulator bus and with the Crystal City BID on starting bikeshare in Arlington. Both huge undertakings that needed a push, planning and even funding to get the two local governments moving. I witnessed local BIDS do small things like provide ambassadors on the street to welcome people and provide them with directions. They helped small shops with permits and applications. The local BIDS did extra sweepings of the streets and emptying of the trash cans. They sponsored branded benches, bus stops and recycle bins. They provided maps and wayfinding signage. ALL of the BIDS I worked with promoted walking, biking and transit because they knew that was better economically for their small business owners. They fostered farmer’s markets, block parties, movie nights, lectures, gallery walks and first Friday events to promote businesses. And when when of the home teams went to the playoffs or when it was a holiday or special occasion they made sure the street light poles were festooned with flags sharing the moment as a neighborhood. They helped foster a stronger sense of place and belonging.
Typical BID Services
Every business improvement district is different and what they do and offer may change over time. But my experience and the literature on the subject suggests the following are typical business improvement district type services:
- Supplement maintenance, sanitation and cleaning
- Supplement security
- Supplement or provide landscaping
- Provide welcoming services including “Ambassadors” on the street
- Conduct research and analyze economic, demographic and psychographic data
- Provide alternative transportation and parking information and promotion so visitors don’t clog downtown looking for parking
- Provide unified marketing services and promote businesses
- Help brand or rebrand a district to impart a new, more positive or unified identity
- Connect property owners with the right tenants
- Promote and expand district business activity, thereby creating more jobs and furthering economic vitality or revitalization. A BID, in effect, acts as a localized chamber of commerce
- Initiate event planning and production – think what Nadene Grossman Orr’s wonderful Key West Event’s does for Fantasy Fest and this is what BIDS do for their members
- Advocate and promote civic art installations in public spaces or on publicly visible private properties in the district
- Advocate and lobby on behalf of businesses to City Hall
- Provide unified wayfinding signage
- Report potholes, broken streetlights, malfunctioning traffic signals, illegal dumping and other urban shortcomings
- Foster or generate starts for eventual City programs like circulator buses, carsharing and bikeshare programs
- Initiate small capital improvements by funding or installing
- trees and landscaping
- bike racks
- street furniture
- public amenities such as bathrooms
The Key West Historic Seaport Kinda Acts Like A BID
Key West already has one BID-like organization. Kinda. The Key West Historic Seaport. While they are a city-agency they have their own income and budget, overseen by their own board of directors. While they are City employees, they have staff that do similar work to other departments but just for the Seaport. As they have their own budget they have their own contractors and even have an almost $350,000 budget to market member businesses and put on events. Check out their web site. So while their marketing firm is asking people to shop and dine at the Seaport, who’s doing that for businesses on our Main street?
Do We Need a BID?
In our humble opinion, yes. Especially since the City sorta runs one already at the Historic Seaport. There isn’t a downtown commercial district in the North America worth its salt that doesn’t have one. Every BID I had the pleasure to work with made its neighborhood a better place and the businesses appreciated that. We’ve noticed many local business owners say they have problems getting permits for sidewalk seating and others don’t know where they’d even begin at the City if they wanted to put in a parklet in front of their business. Others have shared stories of receiving little support when they tried to participate in Mall on Duval. That and there seems to be a different City department for everything. Wouldn’t it be easier to have an advocate? Someone who could help organize things? Our downtown business district is our city’s life blood. If we’re going to invest in its infrastructure, shouldn’t we likewise invest in its smooth operations?
What About the Chamber and Other Organizations?
We have a lot of organizations in Key West that may seem kind of related. The Key West Chamber of Commerce, the Key West Business Guild, the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West, the Key West Attractions Association, and of course there’s the Monroe County Tourist Development Council or TDC. They all do a fantastic job at what they do. I attend many of their functions. There’s indeed a little overlap, but do any of them specifically look out for and provide the kind of typical BID services we share above to Duval Street businesses? No. That’s not to say one of these organizations couldn’t do if tasked with running a BID. But none of them are providing those typical services to Duval Street at the moment. The creation of any Downtown BID would need to cede to these other organizations what they do best and concentrate on filling in the gaps.
Architecture professor and Washington Post columnist Roger K. Lewis in an article about How a BID Helps explains “BIDs are financed primarily through a dedicated, add-on BID tax, assessed over and above normal real estate taxes. Only businesses within the improvement district pay the extra tax. Typically the jurisdiction collects the additional BID tax, which is then available to the BID for its budgeted operating costs. However, BIDs are not official government agencies but, rather, function as independent, nonprofit organizations.” The Center for Innovative Finance Support adds “BIDs often rely on other sources of revenue, in addition to the tax assessment, to fund their operations.” I’ve also seen BIDS where the local government, in addition to the services it already provides in the BID Area, gives annual cash matches and allows the BIDS to access the City’s capital budget. There are likely as many ways to finance a BID as there are BIDS.
Typical BIDS can operate on budgets that are a couple to a few million dollars annually. In New York City the 75 bids average an annual budget of $2 million with a couple of them topping $5 million and a few that have budgets much less. The brand new Flagler District BID in Miami is targeting a $1 million first year budget. In Arlington, VA the Crystal City BID, mentioned above, has a $2.8 million annual budget and a tax rate of $0.043. The Ballston BID has a $1.6 annual budget and a $0.053 tax rate. The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization has a budget of about $550,000. So you can see there’s quite a range. If there is to be a BID in downtown Key West, its budget would be predicated upon what services were wanted and what money could be made available. It would seem that budgets on the smaller end, may not need much if any tax rate.
Perhaps in Key West there are opportunities for some innovative funding to keep any additional tax or fee burdens low on downtown commercial property owners. The County’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) takes in an awful lot of money annually. Perhaps some of that money could be put to use actually enhancing our downtown’s Main street’s operations rather than some of the money it spends on advertising Key West in general. Making the product they are advertising a stronger place might be a better way of attracting tourists, rather than clever marketing slogans. Just a thought.
Typically BIDS begin when a group of local business people or a local business organization petitions a City to legally create one. Given that we quickly found 16 Florida BIDS, and there’s likely more, it would seem easy enough to start by asking one of them for assistance. This article is meant as a starting place for discussion. There really needs to be a groundswell from the business people on Duval and adjacent blocks to rally for something like this. It could also come from a champion at City Hall. Or ideally both.
Could the Duval Street Revitalization Study Look Into Creating a BID?
Perhaps the best avenue to approach this subject is via the Duval Street Revitalization Study process. The City has received proposals from two firms and a selection committee is expected to make a recommendation soon. Then the process will begin, perhaps this fall. While the Study is focusing on infrastructure, it seems appropriate that the selected consultant, in consultation with the business community and public, could come up with recommendations and action items relating to a Duval Street or Downtown BID overseeing this enhanced asset too.
Now’s the time to learn more, think it through and hopefully have a good discussion about creating a BID during the Duval Street Revitalization Process. Let’s help make that discussion happen.
Chris Hamilton, June 4, 2020
Feature Image (top of page) photo credit Keys Weekly.
Florida Business Improvement Districts
Here are some nearby Florida BIDS: South Miami BID, Winwood BID, (Miami), The Beach BID (Fort Lauderdale), Flagler District BID (Miami), City of Palm Bay BID, Coconut Grove BID (Miami), Lincoln Road BID, Fifth Avenue South BID (Naples), St. Armonds Special Business Neighborhood Improvement District (Sarasota), International Drive BID/TMA (Orlando), Downtown South BID (Orlando), Downtown Orlando Central District BID, Downtown Jacksonville, Downtown Coral Gables BID, Tampa Downtown Partnership, Westshore District Tampa Bay.
Sources for This Article and Additional Information
- Business Improvement Districts in the United States – Wikipedia
- City of Key West Annual Budget 2019-2020, Key West Bight Fund 405
- Key West Historic Seaport – website
- International Downtown Association (IDA) – website
- Partnerships and BIDS, Arlington Economic Development website
- Crystal City BID, Arlington, VA
- DC Downtown BID, Washington, D.C.
- A to Z of Business Improvement Districts, Project for Public Spaces
- How a Business Improvement District Helps, Roger K. Lewis, Washington Post
- Betting On Bids, Larry Houston’s Urban Public Places and Business Improvement Districts blog
- Business Improvement Districts – Self-Help Downtown, Compilation of Articles, International Economic Development Council
- Business Improvement District Fact Sheet, Center for Innovative Finance Report, U.S. DOT FHWA
- BIDS Bring Financial and Community Benefits to Miami-Dade’s Neighborhoods, by Many Gonzalez, Miami Herald
- City Plans Duval Revitalization – Long Term Plan Rolls Out, Sarah Thomas, September 2019, Keys Weekly
Back in April we shared an article Reimagining Key West – 3 Quick Wins for Revitalizing Duval Street that suggested to get a start on pedestrianizing Duval Street, now during the Coronavirus slowdown, we could install parklets, put in more bike parking and “Slow the Cars Down and Let People Take the Street.” We’ve expanded on the parklets idea (20 Parklets on Duval in 2020), talked a bit more about bicycling (Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan) and even suggested City of Key West – Let Our Restaurants Take the Streets! Now we’d like to further explore the idea of letting people take the street by slowing the cars.
Photo credit for the above big picture Michael Beattie of the Conch Scooter blog.
The idea of closing Duval Street off to vehicles after a certain time of day has been talked about for decades. To be clear, this would be our preference. People love the idea for obvious reasons, but we often get stuck on the details. Conversations usually devolve into “close the block entirely to cars” or “you can’t do that because…” and so nothing gets done, as there’s seemingly no in-between or compromise way to do this.
When asked what they like most about a city they have visited, almost no one answers: “The cars whizzing by on the streets.” Cultural attractions, the people we meet, walking through the city and gazing at plazas, buildings, and places—these are the things that make a city unique.Brooks Rainwater, National League of Cities
We give credit to Mayor Johnston and Commissioners Weekley and Kaufman for trying with the Mall on Duval, but even that little 3-block experiment, eventually got smothered by whining and opposition and withered away in a 4-3 Commission vote against extending it any longer.
What about the delivery vehicles? What about seniors, people with mobility or ADA issues that need to be dropped off at the front door? What about taxis, Ubers and Lyfts? What about the hotels and inns with access off of Duval? Good questions, but certainly something we can overcome, if not accommodate, right?
In our previous article we suggested that if we don’t ban cars outright, perhaps we institute a 5 MPH speed limit and simply allow people to walk in the street. We gave the example that Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts does something similar in their season, during the summer. They have small sidewalks and a narrow street and so they allow people to walk in the street. Notice that in most of these pictures there are indeed cars on the street. But in this case, the sheer number of people forces a vehicle to slow down. There’s people riding bikes too. But if you look at the pictures closely you’ll notice that sometimes the amount of pedestrians makes bike riding uncomfortable and so people are walking their bike. Even though Commercial Street is their main retail and activity street, unless people in cars really need to use it, they try to avoid it, especially in the afternoons, evenings and weekends during the season. It works. No extra police. No infrastructure. People know the nature of the street and everyone adjusts.
Now some people will say Key West is different and unique. We know. Duval Street is wider. Yes. Commercial Street is a one-way street. Yep and Duval is two-way. Provincetown’s a special case. Okay, that’s a given. And this is where our conversations usually get derailed because well, Key West isn’t anyplace else and the powers that be are loathe to try anything from someplace else. We know. We know. We are unique and do things our own way. But there is growing evidence from around the world that people adjust to these types of situations and that it can be done. So why can’t we figure this out in our own Key West way?
“Shared Streets” or “Woonerfs”
This isn’t a new concept. A Woonerf is a Dutch term for a street shared by cars, bicycles and people as equals. Woonerfs are alternately called “Shared Streets.” Although cars are allowed in most — but not all — of the zones or blocks of a Woonerf, they are generally restricted to “walking speed” with the onus of responsibility for safety entirely on the driver. Bikes cede the right of way to pedestrians. Instead of dividing a street with barriers like curbs, sidewalks and bike lanes, everyone uses the street simultaneously and cars are forced to drive slowly. There are things called Slow Streets, but usually those are associated with residential neighborhoods. And these aren’t Complete Streets, which accommodate all users but do so with separate infrastructure or lanes for pedestrians, bikes and vehicles.
In speaking of a woonerf, “They’re designed to allow cars but they aren’t designed for cars. Cars have to behave themselves in a different way.”Stan Eckstut, the lead architect in a huge Washington, D.C. project called the Warf in an article about it’s growing use in North America
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) just came out with a free guidebook Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery that compiles emerging practices from around the world and includes implementation resources for cities and their partners. This offers us a how-to-guide for quick implementation of these ideas over the course of the summer and fall, so that by the season, we’re more prepared to provide visitors and residents with a safe experience.
So perhaps in Key West on Duval and some adjacent streets we:
- set the speed limit at 5 MPH,
- get rid of on-street parking so people aren’t coming down the street looking for it (up to one third of traffic are people looking for a parking space),
- ban cars outright on a few blocks at certain times of day, thus alleviating people trying to traverse the entirety of Duval for a sight seeing adventure and giving a few blocks that want it, more of the “Mall on Duval” experience,
- not allow cars on one side of the street on some blocks to allow retailers, restauranteurs, and artists to use the space and have vehicles go around these,
- discourage through traffic. If you come down the block it is because you are making a delivery, dropping off or picking up passengers or you are going to a specific destination that has off-street parking or needs access on that block (like a hotel),
- encourage private and public parklets in former parking spaces,
- install temporary barriers, barricades and signs that make it clear you are entering a Pedestrian Zone and to block or protect temporary seating and displays,
- educate visitors, residents and workers that this area works this way.
Business can work with City staff to come up with a quick plan. It is important that at this point there be no City fees attached to this. It would help if Duval Street had a business improvement district to oversee this, but that’s the subject of a future story.
Is this a perfect solution? No. Is it a compromise? Yes. But in the face of the seemingly all or nothing conversations we’ve been having for decades on closing Duval Street to cars, perhaps this can be a start for discussion. We wouldn’t need to do much planning nor infrastructure improvements to implement this. Doing these things wouldn’t have to be permanent, so if we want to reconfigure the street in the future, we can change things. Duval Street is something that should bring us all together. The idea is to do it quickly, over the summer and fall, get a win and feel good about doing something that will be more healthy and prosperous in response to this Coronavirus mess. Repaving Duval Street was a nice start. Now let’s make it for everyone, not just cars.
Sources for this Article and Additional Resources
- 6 Places Where Cars, Bikes, and Pedestrians All Share the Road as Equals; by Eric Jaffe, City Lab
- What’s a Woonerf? The Streetscape Design That’s Sweeping DC; by Jon Banister, Biz Now
- Why Car-Free Streets Will Soon Be the Norm; Brooks Rainwater, City Lab
- Bikes, Cars, and People Coexist on Pittsburgh’s Shared Streets; by Tanya Snyder, Streetsblog USA
- Woonerf – definition from Wikipedia
- Car-Free Movement – from Wikipedia
- Living Streets – Strategies for Crafting Public Space; book by By Lesley Bain, Barbara Gray, Dave Rodgers
- Strategic Design Can Help Car-Free Streets Gain Popularity Post-Coronavirus; by Jason Plautz, Smart Cities Dive
- Small Streets, The Urban Prospector
- National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) website
Active Streets for Business, City of Milwaukee – A pilot program to support local businesses by promoting the safe reopening of restaurants and bars through expanded options for increased physical distancing and dining in outdoor areas. View the presentation from June 3, 2020.
Is the Staples Avenue Bike Bridge safe?
June 12 UPDATE: We received a nice call today from Steven McAlearney the City’s Director of the Department of Engineering about this story. He assured us that they wouldn’t let people ride on the bridge if it was unsafe. He rides the bridge often himself. He said the bridge should be good structurally for some years into the future, especially given the weight of a few people at a time isn’t much. But based upon the photos he’s having a professional go under the bridge and give it a closer look. That should happen within the week. As a result they may need a little touch up to extend the life. He promised to let us know the results.
He also said that the Community Services Department had the bridge slated for replacement in their capital budget plan. It was slated to be replaced in the coming 2020-21 budget year but will be pushed back to further out due to looming budget cuts as a result of Coronavirus slowdown.
May 27, 2020. NOTE: As a result of the story and follow-up the City Engineer is going to have this checked out. We’ll let you know what the City finds.
A local kayaker asks this question while sending us these pictures of rotting metal on the bridge. We need to take care of this vital asset because:
- hundreds and hundreds of people use it every day
- geography makes it is the only link between downtown and New Town/ Stock Island that keeps bicycles off of less safe, car-centric N. Roosevelt Boulevard and Flagler Avenue
- it is part of the Crosstown Greenway that safely connects bicyclists with downtown and points north
We’ll ask our friends at City Hall to look into this and get back to you.
We need to do all we can to make sure:
- the bridge is safe
- the Crosstown Greenway project is finished
- difficult intersections such as George Street at Von Phister Avenue and Staples at First and Fifth Streets are addressed
- the proposed trail through Wickers Sports Complex and across Kennedy Street is started
- the proposed Bike Boulevard project for the Crosstown Greenway at White Street is started, and
- all the elements of the Crosstown Greenway (formerly “Connector”) are started and completed.
Why this information is so hard to come by, we don’t know. But Key West Transit has ditched the old, meandering, hard to understand Red, Orange, Blue and Green Routes (Yay!) and replaced them with two simplified North and South routes that intersect with the “
Free and Frequent” Duval Loop. While the routes are simpler to understand, with only 10 trips in and 10 trips out per day, the frequency is still rather dismal at about one and a half hours between trips. Less on weekends.
We hope the frequency issue is temporary, but there isn’t any information on the Key West Transit or City website indicating what’s happening and what’s next. We’ll try to find out and keep you informed.
Please read our story Reimagining Key West Transit and find out the bright future for getting around the island by bus and why we think we need to speed up that plan this summer/fall. Below you’ll find the new routes and schedules.
More People Are Bicycling at the Moment
If you’ve been on a bike during the last two months you know how easy and safe it is to get around our beautiful little island without all those cars clogging things up. Bike shops report upticks in new bike purchases and people coming in for repairs. To get some exercise whole families are doing loops around the island, especially along the South Roosevelt Bike/Ped Promenade. Stories abound in our little town and cities across the country about people rediscovering the joys of bicycling for exercise AND for just getting around. One June 1 as everything starts to open up again, will we simply go back to our old car-centric ways? Will people be afraid to keep using their bikes as the cars come back?
It’s About the 50% Who Are “Interested But Concerned”
There’s an axiom in bike planning circles that categorizes people into four generalized typologies in regards to bicycling as follows:
1) “Strong and Fearless:” People willing to bicycle with limited or no bicycle-specific infrastructure
2) “Enthused and Confident:” People willing to bicycle if some bicycle-specific 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 bicycle infrastructure is in place
The numbers vary by city but generally there’s consensus that about half the population would be willing to bike if they perceived it were safer and easier to do so. These are the people that have likely been coming out and biking lately. So how do we address their concerns and get more people to use a bike and bike more often once all the cars return?
Picture a Better Future
Picture it. Clearly marked separated and protected bike lanes, greenways or bike boulevards, and off-street paths connect throughout the city, forming a seamless, uninterrupted network of bicycle facilities allowing safe travel through and around the island for everyone of all ages and abilities. Signs show bikers and walkers where they are and how to get to their destination. Bike boxes at busy intersections create space for bicycles ahead of the cars. Ample bike parking is found within a block of all work, shop and play destinations. Wider sidewalks in busy downtown areas, intersections with bump outs and mid-block crosswalks, traffic calming to slow the cars, and places for people to sit, watch, chat and eat in more places. This is the vision the Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan paints for our future.
Key West is Bike-Friendly Because It’s Warm, Flat and Small
As one of Key West’s preeminent bike advocates consistently says, the island is warm, flat and small, so our focus should be on getting more people to bike, because that’s cheaper than accommodating cars and ramping up transit. We agree. Key West is already a bike-friendly city for some of us. According to the U.S. Census Bureaus’ American Community Survey, an average of 15 percent of Key West residents bike to work, making the City the 3rd in the nation for bike commuting in 2013. An additional 7.5 percent of the population walks to work. But the comparatively good statistics are mostly because we’re compact, flat and have good weather, not particularly because of any amazing bicycle facilities on the ground. Imagine how many more people would bike – residents, workers and visitors – If we had some world class facilities here? What would it look like if we could get more of those 50% in the middle, who don’t find it easy and safe to bike around, to do so.
We Have a World Class Bike/Ped Plan Already Done
We could start by implementing more of the measures in the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan and spending some real money on this stuff. We spend a tens of millions of dollars on cars and transit and virtually nothing on biking in the City and County budgets. Which is kinda nuts when you think of all the upside that bicycle facilities bring. And they can be quicker, easier and less expensive than building for cars and transit.
The Plan adopted by City Commission in March of 2019 is an amazingly straightforward blueprint to make Key West the bicycling paradise it should be. The Plan’s consultant, is one of the foremost planning firms of its kind in North America, Toole Design Group, There’s a field assessment of what’s out there on the streets about what works and what doesn’t work. There are reams of data on what people think and want and what would motivate them to bike more.
To the plan’s credit it includes a Multimodal Connectivity chapter that looks at larger policies and community goals and puts the bike and walk actions in context of traffic, parking, transit and other modes. It addresses the need for safety education and marketing. It presents a vision of the future and breaks down bicycle and pedestrian network recommendations into short, medium- and long-term actions. It includes a section on Complete Streets, best practices, evaluation, funding and maintenance. In short, all City staff have to do is pick up the document and go through it step by step.
The Plan’s Had Tons of Public Input, Been Vetted and Is Commission Approved
The City’s consultant undertook painstaking field assessments and data collection to undergird its recommendations. You’ll find maps of crash data and maps of barriers to biking and walking. They then vetted the data and ideas with multiple online, email and in-person surveys, public meetings, outreach at community events, public bike rides, boards set up around the island at shopping centers, intercepts along the trails and streets and further meetings with city officials, commissioners and stakeholders – including a citizen Project Advisory Team and the City Commission’s Parking and Alternative Transportation Group. They even had an interactive online map so citizens could pinpoint trouble spots and sketch out solutions. And then for good measure more public meetings. This plan has been thoroughly vetted and is ready to go.
With Tactical Urbanism, We’ve Shown Progress
The City has already shown progress by dipping directly into the Plan and bringing forward the Crosstown Greenway Project (Staples/Von Phister bikeway) that got underway this past fall and winter. Kudos go to the City’s Transportation Coordinator for securing grant monies from and working with the legendary Miami firm Street Plans (they wrote the book Tactical Urbanism) on the project to test out selected design strategies using low-cost, temporary materials for new crosswalks, traffic circles, pavement art, and wayfinding to elevate bicycle and pedestrian priority along the corridor and slow the cars and prevent cut through traffic. This project, which should be on the ground in the coming months, helps demonstrate that there are tactics for getting things done sooner than later.
We Can and Need To Move Even Faster
So why aren’t we speeding up more elements of the Plan from bicycle parking to bike boxes to signs? Why aren’t we using the break in traffic the Coronavirus brought to sweep in and get going today on the low hanging fruit? Why can’t we use more temporary or “tactical urbanism” measures to make it even safer and easier this summer and fall before things get back to full swing?
If implemented, could we in one year double the number of work trips within the City made by bike to 30%? The Census is only measuring Key West residents (half of Key West workers live outside the City in Monroe County and those living beyond Stock Island likely drive – another story) so no one lives more than four miles from work. 30% on a small, flat and warm island seems achievable and worthy in going after.
This shouldn’t just be the City’s Transportation Coordinator’s job. It is too big and too important. Department heads and teams of people should be responsible for implementing. Especially since the City doesn’t have a formal transportation department but rather siloed transit, engineering, parking, planning and community services/public works groups. The Mayor, Commission and City Manager should make it everyone’s job to build out the Plan and make the City more bike-friendly and we need to hold them accountable for doing so.
An island that is safer and easier for more people to bike and walk would be healthier, more equitable, cleaner for our environment, combat climate change, increase prosperity for local business, and would make us happier too. Lots of people already bike and walk by default in Key West because our island is flat, small and warm. But if we are going to get more people to bik,e that is going to be because we make it safe and easy by intention and design. There are many low-cost action items included in the plan and those items should be prioritized to be completed now. And where there is a cost associated with substantial infrastructure changes, we must think of these costs as an investment in our future. All we need is the will to take this excellent document and get going. Now!
Let’s go Key West!