Streets for People / New “Locals” Multi-Use Paths Behind the Airport Move Closer to Reality, Maybe
Posted on March 17, 2023 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on March 17 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
Three new multi-use paths behind the airport are moving closer to reality as City and County officials take the advice of the Parks and Recreation Board and use the City/County Hawk Missile Site/Higgs Beach land swap as a mechanism to get the process started. The City Commission approved the land swap agreement, negotiated between City and County staff that includes the trails on March 7. The County Commission has the agreement on its March 22 agenda. If, as expected, the County approves the agreement, then the hard work begins. That’s why we hedge our bet with a maybe, because working in an environmentally sensitive area, next to an airport means layers of rules, conditions, permits and bureaucracy, any one of which could derail the project, despite good intentions.
Trail number one would be a new “Salt Ponds Multi-Use Path” connecting the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas, Seaside and Sunrise Suites to downtown via a safer and time saving short cut behind the airport that will shave 10+ minutes off the existing 30-minute bike commute. Another is the “Smathers Beach Multi-Use Path” connecting Flagler with a short-cut to the beach behind the Key West By the Sea condo. And yet a third multi-use mini path would provide a short-cut from Flagler via Riviera Street (not Drive) to Little Hamaca Park.
This is a big deal because it resurrects and makes real some old pathways that were used by locals a generation ago and fulfills some of the key visions of the City’s adopted Bike/Ped Plan. By making it easier and safer for workers to bike downtown and for locals in New Town to get to the beach and Little Hamaca Park it gives more people the option of ditching a car for these trips. And when more people choose to bike instead of drive, we all win by reducing traffic and parking congestion. But for these trails to become a reality, local residents and workers are going to have to demand the City and the County overcome the bureaucratic inertia built into a difficult project like this and insist we find ways to get it done.
How We Got Here
The 2019 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan calls for building the Salt Ponds Trail, called the “Airport Connector” in the document, and the little short cut from Flagler via Riviera Street to Little Hamaca Park on page 65. The Salt Ponds Multi-Use Path cuts from access behind the Sunrise Suites to behind the backside of the Key West International Airport, with the ideal design, using a wide elevated concrete boardwalk where needed to traverse water and wetlands with limited impact of nature, to Government Road where it would cross Flagler Avenue at 7th Street and then connect up with the Crosstown Greenway. The “Smathers Beach Connector” is found on page 69 of the Bike/Ped Plan. Both paths are described in detail, along with locals’ recollections of their origins here.
In 2021 the City’s then Multi-Modal Coordinator Tim Staub identified beginning design and planning for the “Salt Ponds” and “Smathers Beach” trails in 2022. That generated excitement in the community. In our story, What’s Old is New Again. Two New Bike Trails Take Us Back in Time to a Simpler Key West, April 30, 2021, we shared some locals’ stories about how these had all been informal paths back in the day and that Key West Bicycle Coordinator Jim Malcom had tried to revive and formalize them before his untimely death in 2008. Nothing came of Mr. Malcom’s Plans until people remembered it during community meetings and had it put in the Bike Plan. In our 2021 story we wrote:
“Former City Manager Greg Veliz was said to be a champion of these trails because it revives routes that many Conchs used to use to wander through the Salt Ponds.”
Despite Tim Staub putting the projects in his work plan, it looked like they may stall out because of how complicated the reality of building anything in Salt Ponds was proving to be. In our story, Airport’s Need for Additional City Land Could Help Spur Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach “Locals” Bike Trails, February 11, 2022 we discussed how the potential land swap between the County, wanting the City-owned Hawk Missile Site and the City, wanting the County-owned Higgs Beach, gave all the Salt Ponds trails renewed life.
City’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Leads
With the County wanting to swap land to help facilitate airport expansion, the City Commission tasked the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board with looking into and making recommendations on the land swap. The P&R Board had many meetings and discussions over a two-year period with the community about activating the HAWK area (over 60 acres) as a passive park and valuable asset to the City and have always included the “multi-use” paths as a key element. As one P&R Board member said to me: “These are more than just bike paths. They are recreational trails for walkers, runners, and all sorts of people to use to access outdoors and nature.”
The Board has been instrumental in ensuring the paths would become a reality by insisting that getting them constructed be included in any Inter-Local-Agreement (ILA) between the County and City for the land swap. Here’s how Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Chair Tiffany Pellicier put it:
“This is an exciting opportunity for the City and the County to work together to revitalize an area while also creating a safer space for our biking, walking and alternative transportation community. A lot of great work and visionary plans are readily available as a result of the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan as well as some positive preliminary correspondence between the County and the Department of Interior and National Park Service. The tricky part will be navigating the state, federal and environmental agencies throughout the permitting process. However, I’m confident and hopeful that both governing bodies will work in tandem to see this project to completion.”
City Approves Agreement, County Up Next and Then…
On March 7 the City Commission approved the ILA with the provision that their staff would provide the County with concept plans for the new trail within one year. Upon receipt of the plan, the County would have three years to move from concept to formal design, get all necessary approvals and construct the trail. Per the agreement, once the County approves the ILA, which has already been negotiated by staff, the clock will start ticking.
We’re told the Bike/Ped Plan itself already provides a good conceptual framework from which the process can begin. City staff has also prepared a $158,000 request to FDOT for a “Salt Ponds Pathways Feasibility Study” Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grant to supplement the work already done in the Bike/Ped Plan with more specifics. Both sides have agreed they’ll be flexible on the exact timing, but the City Manager said she thought her staff would meet the one-year deadline to get concepts to the County.
At that point the County, “to the extent allowed by city, county, and federal laws and regulations governing the airport and the salt ponds” would then have three years to construct a path. To the extent that financing is available, more than one path could be done. If all goes well, we’re talking about spring/summer 2027 before these are done.
Residents Need to Vocally Support the Salt Ponds Multi-Use Pathways
Nothing good is easy. And these paths being built on land the U.S. Department of Interior gave the City attached with many conditions, that are in an environmentally sensitive area and next to an airport will prove complex. And expensive. As staff hit roadblocks and NIMBYS, naysayers and whatabouters come out of the woodwork, as they do for any project, it will be important that the locals these multi-use paths are intended for, speak up and say, “Yes, we want these, find a way to get it done.”
Speaker Bert Sise said at the March 7 City Commission meeting in speaking of the agreement: “…and yes put in bike paths from S. Roosevelt to Government Road so people from the condos can ride bikes instead of being on Flagler, which is a deathtrap and there’s no real good bike lanes on the promenades anymore.” Building the Salt Ponds Multi-Use Path will help these workers. And building all these “Locals” short-cut paths will make our island smaller and therefore more convenient and much safer to get around by bike. And that’s very good for all of us in so many different ways. Please let your City and County Commissioners know you support these paths too.
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Streets for People / One Year In Lama E-Scooters Are Proving to Be a Success. We Need to Make It Easier for Them to Expand
Posted on March 1, 2023 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on March 1 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
Last March we brought news of a gleaming new e-scooter (the stand-up kind) share service, starting in downtown Key West that whisks visitors around town in an eco-friendly way to shop, dine and visit attractions without need of a personal car, Uber, golf cart or loud, smoke spewing, gas-powered moped. The system, with the friendly name Lama, is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Marc Meisel, who has four stations with 48 scooters at his H2O Suites, Santa Maria Suites and Southwinds Motel properties. We test drove a scooter for a morning and loved it. One year later we’re happy to report that Lama has been a huge success.
According to Lama officials over 4,400 rides have been taken in the first year covering 18,000 miles and reducing about 2,600 vehicle trips on Key West’ streets saving all of us traffic and parking congestion headaches. Riders report going to attractions, beaches, shopping, and restaurants in support of our local economy. Best of all there have been zero accidents or injuries in a testament to the system’s deployment of numerous safety features.
Mr. Meisel says he’s enthusiastic about expanding the program to additional, mostly other hotel locations, throughout the City. And given their popularity he’d like to introduce e-bikes – they can fit into the same docks as the e-scooters – to further decrease the number of vehicles on our streets. But Mr. Meisel says they are facing challenges in expanding the program due to the strict regulations enforced by the City. We’d like to see City officials streamline the process for alternative modes and make it easier to get more people on bikes and scooters instead of defaulting to cars. Think about this. 28 percent of car trips are 1 mile are less. 40 percent are less than 2 miles and 50 percent of car trips are 3 miles are less. Getting more people to use alternatives to cars, especially for these short trips, will make our little island less congested, cleaner, greener, healthier, and more prosperous. Let’s dive into some of the details.
Simple, Elegant, Easy to Use
Here’s my notes on how the Lama system works from when I took my test ride:
- Scooters are parked and charged at Lama charging racks located at Santa Maria Suites, Southwinds Motel and H2O Suites.
- Anyone, not just hotel guests, may use the system – as long as you’re 18 years of age and have a valid form of government identification and credit card.
- Riders utilize the Lama app to rent the scooters and are charged $9 hour or $36 max per day.
- You open your app, press “Scan & unlock”, and a camera opens up for you to scan the bar code on an individual scooter. Once verified, the scooter will unlock. You unplug the charger and away you go. It’s that easy.
- The system enables the rider to “pause the ride,” as many times as they like, to shop, dine and visit attractions and lock the scooter to a bike rack. This “pause” prevents someone else from unlocking and thus using the scooter and is why it is considered a round trip instead of point-to-point rental.
- At the end of the ride, you simply “Scan & lock” the bike the same way you unlocked it. And remember to plug in the charging cable. Easy breezy.
- Helmets are available at the front desks. Note – I didn’t feel it necessary to wear one while riding the scooter, just as I don’t in riding my one speed bike around town. If you are going slow enough it just isn’t needed.
Watch this video to see how the company explains the customer experience.
With the weight of the scooter in the battery at the bottom, the scooter feels grounded and sturdy. The footboard is wider than most scooters too – which makes it easy to get steady footing. You must push the scooter a bit before the throttle will engage, preventing it from jumping away from you. Using the throttle and hand brake are very intuitive. Within minutes I felt comfortable keeping up with traffic, weaving around potholes and stopping and starting.
Innovative Roundtrip Rental Solves Right-of-Way, Charging and “Abandoned Scooter Problems
Mr. Meisel saw a need to provide his guests with another alternative to get around in addition to the bikes they rent. But he realized that dockless scooters, which traditionally operate with the pickup and drop off transaction conducted on the street via an app, has been problematic in other cities. In fact, Key West doesn’t allow these kinds of operations in the City right-of-way, which has been the Achilles heel of several other failed attempts at Key West based private bikeshare, public bikeshare and Zipcar carshare.
In other cities across the country, traditional dockless rideshare e-scooter programs like Lime, Spin, Bird and Lyft, operate when a customer sees an e-scooter on the street and then uses an app to unlock it and go. Lama Mobility was designed to operate as a round trip rental, like the way bicycles are rented traditionally from a storefront or as we often see here in Key West, at a hotel.
Mr. Meisel said their system was designed this way because one of the biggest complaints of electric scooters in other cities is the problem of abandoned scooters’ littering sidewalks, parks, and other public spaces. The other problem is keeping those scooters charged.
By creating docking stations where the scooter is charged while it’s parked, it solves the charging problem. Putting the docking station on a hotel property where the user picks up AND returns the scooter to the station means they won’t be left somewhere else. That takes care of the problem of “abandoned” scooters littering sidewalks and it solves the Key West specific problem of moving the transaction off the City’s right-of-way too.
Here’s how Marc Meisel explains how this has worked with the hotels:
“By hotels offering Lama e-scooters and having them conveniently located at a charging rack in their parking lot, guests of that hotel, if they drove or rented a car, do not need to use their cars, and can opt to use a Lama e-scooter while their vehicle is parked in the hotel parking lot during their stay. The other benefit of locating Lama e-scooters at hotels is that guests who rent the Lama’s will eventually return to the hotel. Therefore, the Lama’s are not littering public spaces throughout h city but instead being taken back to the hotels and put into their docking station to charge for the next customer. To date, with over 4,000 rides logged only 3 scooters were not returned to their Lama’s docking stations.”
Safety Education and Features Are Built Into the System
When I took my test ride a mom and two teenage kids asked where they could get these. It was pointed out that one must be 18 years old to use the system. When you download the app, the next step is to take a front and back picture of your driver’s license and then a selfie. Within a few seconds, the system verifies you have a valid permit and verifies you are the person with that license. This prevents fraud and is a good safety feature.
Safety education is built into the system so that riders are readily aware of how to operate the scooters and of the rules of the road. The app walks users through instructional/safety information and videos. That same information is then displayed on the charging rack monitors. There are bright front and back lights on the scooters, a loud bell and the device can’t go more than 15 mph. Let’s say that again because it is such an important point. The e-scooters can’t go more than 15 mph! All users must be 18 years of age.
As most of us are now aware, Key West prohibits e-bicycles and e-scooters on sidewalks except on the Multi-use paths or promenades on North and South Roosevelt, Bertha, and Atlantic. As part of the safety education and rules of the road on the app and at the station, Lama stresses to customers that you aren’t allowed to ride on the sidewalk. One gets the message loud and clear.
Additional Safety Features Can Be Added to the System
These cool scooters have a feature that allows the company to put a virtual fence around an area where the Lama scooter won’t be able to operate. For example, there’s a block of residential homes behind one of the hotels that asked for this. In theory it would allow the City to ask Lama to say, restrict the maximum 15 mph speed of the vehicles in certain zones to something less. For example, if wanted, you could set the maximum speed at 10 mph for heavily used areas like Duval Street. Or you could even have the scooter not be able to operate when it hit a certain zone like Mallory Square where you don’t want them mixing with pedestrians.
Survey Says Scooters Reduce Car Traffic
Lama emailed customers who used the system between March 4 and May 31 a 3-question survey. Here’s what they found out:
- 70 percent of the riders are hotel guests of the 3 properties.
- Over 60 percent of riders traveled to restaurants and bars and over 50 percent went shopping. Attractions and beaches were popular destinations too.
- 68 percent of riders would have used a personal vehicle, taxi or rideshare service if they didn’t have the Lama e-scooter to get around. 23 percent would have walked, and 4 percent would have biked.
Here’s an important point. While a little more than a quarter of users would have simply walked or rode a regular bicycle, 72 percent would have used their personal or rental vehicle, a taxi or rideshare company like Uber or rented a gas-powered scooter. THAT’S a lot of car trips taken off our congested little downtown streets.
Said Mr. Meisel of the results:
“Lama Mobility has proven to be a safe method of transportation that tourists have welcomed as an alternative method to using an Uber or their vehicle to explore Key West. As seen on the attached heat map, people have been using Lama e-scooters to visit attractions, explore, shop, and dine all over Key West (Old Town, New Town, and some locations in Stock Island). They have been exploring and shopping in an environmentally friendly way that has not been adding to the traffic, parking, or noise pollution problems we currently have with cars and gas-powered mopeds. Meanwhile, the hotels we serve have been applauded by their guests for providing a fun, eco-friendly way to get around. Many guests have commented that they would only have seen or done so much of the island with the scooters.”
Lama Is Part of the Solution So Let’s Get the Regulations Off Their Back and Let Them, And Others, Innovate to Make Our Island Better
It is no secret that we’re enthusiastic proponents of getting around by bike, walk and transit as a means of helping our island and especially our congested downtown prosper and be more people friendly. So, expanding Lama, especially since the City doesn’t have to pay a dime for any of it, seems like a no-brainer net public good. So why isn’t Mr. Meisel more quickly following up on year one success with expansion? Here’s how he explains it:
“I am enthusiastic about expanding the program and introducing Lama e-bikes to assist in helping reduce the issues in Key West revolving around automobiles, including traffic, parking, and noise pollution, to name a few. The City of Key West regulates what they call Recreation Rental Vehicles, which is what the Lama e-scooters fall under. It took over 9 months to go through the City of Key West’s approval process for the 48 Lama Mobility electric scooters. A lot of money is spent on legal fees, application fees, traffic studies and more. Each location requires a separate application, traffic study and more. You can’t walk in with an application, fulfilling all the requirements, and obtain a license like in many other jurisdictions. There is no guarantee that the City will allow any more as it was difficult to get these in place.”
He’s also leaving out the part that once he has his application, study and fees for each individual location initially approved by staff, they then have to be routed through a bunch of different departments for sign off and then the company has to walk these applications through Planning Board, perhaps HARC and then the City Commission. It’s not like the Lama Mobility Company wants to dispose of nuclear waste. They simply want to add more stations – on private property – and more bikes and scooters. A GOOD THING. That and their initial stations and scooters were approved once already. And this report looks like it would meet the requirements of a parking study that says they don’t contribute to more traffic, rather they reduce traffic.
Recent research from Carnegie Mellon University, among other sources, shows how replacing short car trips with bike and scooter trips can lead to less congestion. Remember those short trip stats we gave you above where half of all car trips are 3 miles or less? So getting people out of cars and into quiet, eco-friendly alternatives like the Lama e-scooters for these trips is a good thing. It nicely compliments efforts like the Duval Loop. It makes our downtown a more friendly, green, and prosperous place.
Our question is WHY isn’t City Hall expediting these kinds of programs instead of overregulating them? Why aren’t we putting in more bike racks and bike lanes? Why aren’t we pedestrianizing more downtown streets? Why isn’t there more frequent service on our Duval Loop? Why aren’t we spending marketing money to educate visitors that they don’t need a car to get around? And why aren’t we properly managing our parking so that we direct short-term parkers to meters and longer-term visitors and workers to long-term lots and garages instead of letting them park for free in our neighborhoods? All these things, including e-scooter and e-bike share, would make our historic downtown and whole island healthy, green, sustainable, equitable, prosperous, affordable, and happier too. Thanks to smart people at Lama Mobility like Marc Meisel we have a path to progress.
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Streets for People / New Bike Lane on Bertha Street Is Half a Loaf for Bike Safety
Posted on February 24, 2023 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on February 24, 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
As we near the end of what seems like a decades long rebuilding of Bertha Street, we’re happy to report a tiny victory that’s been unveiled as final repaving is being done. There’s a brand-new bike lane on the westbound side of the street between S. Roosevelt Boulevard and Flagler Avenue. This is the first new bike lane in the City since lanes were put in on Butler Boulevard in the brand-new Truman Waterfront Park in 2018 and the first new lane on an old street, where there wasn’t one before, since Reynolds Street got bike lanes on each side of the street in a 2017 repaving. Yay! Sort of.
But what’s sad is on the eastbound side of Bertha on the 3-block stretch between Flagler and Atlantic, there’s no bike lane so that we can instead accommodate six private car storage spaces. Yes, you got that right, six car parking spaces along an entire 3-block stretch. We’re being told to accept this modest achievement on the westbound side as half a loaf is better than none. I suppose in a city that routinely favors car convenience over bike safety we should accept our tiny new piece of infrastructure and be happy. But somehow the little win seems hollow in the face of what could have been. We need a whole, connected, and safer network of lanes, protected lanes and trails that makes it easy for more of us to choose to get around by bike. When we do, that’s good for our little island.
Plenty of Missed Opportunities For Bike Lanes Around the City, Including Bertha
As nice as this new westbound lane is, we won’t sugarcoat the fact that over the last few years we’ve missed some opportunities to include improvements for bicycles, as prescribed in the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, on Palm Avenue, S. Roosevelt Boulevard, Whitehead Street, Simonton Street, Duval Street and on the First and Bertha Streets corridor. The Bike/Ped Plan calls for a separated trail, similar to what you find on Atlantic Boulevard on the entirety of First and Bertha – thus connecting one side of the island to the other with a safe, protected trail. But as we’ve detailed in multiple stories (here and here) that was ditched in favor of keeping car parking.
What We’re Getting On Bertha Is Half a Loaf at Best
Instead, we’re getting half a mile of bike lane on one side of Bertha between S. Roosevelt and Flagler. Don’t get too excited, they didn’t take any car parking away to put in this lane. There never was parking on that side of the street, they simply narrowed the already too wide lanes a bit, which should help reduce speeding. We asked the City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski about the lane and here’s what he said:
“I’ve seen happy bicyclists riding in the bike lane along Bertha – and there are only a few crossings, and they have good visibility, so it feels pretty safe. The speed limit is 20mph. I know a lot of people wanted to see more bicycle infrastructure, but I feel like this is a tempered improvement. With it we’re also improving pedestrian crossings, sidewalks, and improving visibility at intersections.”
While we appreciate Mr. Stachurski’s take, we’d point out that the problem with this bike lane is that it doesn’t connect to anything on either end, as there’s no bike lane on S. Roosevelt onto the Bertha lane. Everyone is on the Promenade and multi-use path side of Bertha anyway. We can’t imagine anyone on a bike getting off the safe multi-use path to cross traffic to get to the bike lane and when the multi-use path turns onto Atlantic there’s no safe way to navigate from there to the new lane. It’s a disconnected mess.
Six Car Parking Spaces Along 3-Block Stretch Instead of Eastbound Bike Lane
What’s particularly maddening about the tiny victory on the westbound side is that it would have been very easy to put in a bike lane on the eastbound side. But instead, we’ll get six private car storage spaces along an entire 3-block stretch. The block I live on Fleming has 12 and 14 car parking spaces on each side of one block. So, why so few spaces on 3 blocks? Well, there are so many driveways and curb cuts and sightline issues that the street engineers could only find space for six car parking spots along three entire blocks. There’s literally more striping for “no parking” than there is parking. So why in the world didn’t they simply bag the parking and put in a bike lane as on the other side of the street because the trade off seems way out of whack. In fact, the width of the parking would allow them to put in protected bike lanes (with the 2 feet of extra width) on each side of the road.
We Need a Network of Bike Facilities Not Disconnected Half a Loaf Pieces
Key West is full of cars AND bikes and that’s different than most places. According to the U.S. Census 15% of Key West residents commute to work by bicycle. That’s a lot more than some of the top “bike” cities in the country. Key West bike rental companies continue to do a record business. So, there’s a lot of bikes and now e-bikes and e-scooters mixing with golf carts, scooters, and cars. As so many of these people on the street are visitors from car-centric mainland places, they aren’t used to this jumble of vehicle types and that’s a dangerous mix. And it is why we need a seamless, connected, and safe network of bike facilities.
Yes, this little piece of new bike facility represents some progress, or half a loaf. But if we really want to make our little island a bicycle paradise that will help us fight traffic and parking congestion, improve our environment, and make us healthier, more prosperous, and happier, we need the whole loaf please.
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Streets for People / Do We Need a Traffic Light at Duck Avenue and S. Roosevelt?
Posted on February 9, 2023 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on February 10, 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
FDOT is busy in Key West this month starting three new projects. A 2-year $24M rebuild of S. Roosevelt between Bertha and the end of Smathers Beach. A 6-month $2.6M rebuild of Whitehead Street between Truman and Fleming. And a $1M repaving and repainting of S. Roosevelt between Flagler and the Triangle. In each case, opportunities to put in new and safer bicycle infrastructure will be ignored in favor of existing car convenience.
Today we bring you the case of the smallest of these projects, where the City’s Crosstown Greenway bicycle facility on Duck Avenue meets four lanes of fast-moving traffic on S. Roosevelt Boulevard. We ask the question, could this facility use a traffic light or HAWK Light to get bicyclists across the highway and make travel safer and more convenient between Key West and Stock Island? And while we’re looking at this from the perspective of people on bikes – hey, cause that’s what we do – it would seem that people in cars have difficulty at this intersection and could use some help too.
The City Encourages People to Use the Crosstown Greenway
The Crosstown Greenway is a designated bicycle route identified in the City’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan and 2019 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan stretching from Reynolds Street on one end along VonPhister to Staples and Duck and ending at S. Roosevelt where it meets 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic. Over the last few years, the City has been doing pilot projects and planning safer segments, like the Wickers Trail, because this facility is the safe and quick alternative for bicyclists to get from one end of the island to the other instead of traffic heavy N. Roosevelt Boulevard or Flagler Avenue. The Crosstown Greenway provides a wonderfully quiet, safe, and direct passage right through the heart of the City.
An yet the bike lane on Duck simply dead ends at four lanes of traffic. Shouldn’t there be a safe way to cross here?
More People Are Using Bikes Between Key West and Stock Island
Traffic volume is up over the Cheryl Cates Bridge between Stock Island and Key West and that includes people on bicycles. This is especially true as the 240 units of workforce housing at Wreckers Cay are about half occupied now and more units are on the way at the Garden View Apartments (104), Roy’s Trailer Park (132) and the Key West Harbor Yacht Club (151). According to FDOT data more than 1,000 bicyclists a day use the inbound side of the bridge where the official Multi-Use Trail is that flows into the Promenade on N. Roosevelt Boulevard. While we don’t have good data at the moment on the bicycle volume on the outbound side, we do know that more than 700 bicyclists a day cross the middle point of the Crosstown Greenway on the Staples Avenue Bike/Ped Bridge.
I bike past this intersection about six times a week on my daily travels and can attest that lots of people on bicycles use the sidewalk on the outbound/south side of the road. It makes sense. For the many people coming around the Triangle on the outbound 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 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.
Does that mean a HAWK light like the five we have on N. Roosevelt Boulevard that are only activated when a person requests a crossing? Or does it mean a full blown 3-way traffic? Or perhaps something else like speed bumps or paint and signage indicating that people and bikes are crossing here? Some people say, how about a roundabout. We aren’t sure. But isn’t something needed?
FDOT Says Nothing Is Needed
We asked FDOT officials if they had considered some sort of crosswalk at Duck Avenue. Here’s their response in full:
“During the Design phase of this project, the Traffic Operations Office performed a review of the request for a crosswalk from Duck Avenue across South Roosevelt Boulevard. This review determined that it was not warranted.”
We don’t exactly know what “not warranted” means. Do not enough people cross here? Of course, even that might be a chicken and egg question as if there was a crossing, would more people use it? Or does FDOT think it makes sense to get on the narrow-side sidewalk and go two blocks down to Flagler, cross with that light and then come two blocks back? Which, given human nature no one would do, so…
We just don’t know how FDOT squares a major bicycle facility just dead ending at their road and ignoring it. This surprises us because on other projects like the rebuilding of S. Roosevelt in front of Smathers Beach it was actually FDOT that had the safer more progressive recommendations that were turned down by the City.
While We’re At It Let’s Widen the Sidewalks Around the Triangle
Most residents of Stock Island live on the south/outbound 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 Cheryl Cates 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 direction 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.
When we asked FDOT about this they said:
“The section of sidewalk that you mention (along the south side of the road from the bridge to the Triangle) is outside of our project limits.”
We Need to Make It Safer to Bike Between Key West and Stock Island
In our June 17, 2022 story 10 Things to Make It Safer to Bike from the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West and our September 2, 2022 story Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Ride Bikes Between Stock Island and Key West we make the case that we have great conditions in Key West and Stock Island for bicycling as we’re flat, compact and have good weather 12 months of the year. 15% of us already bike to work. But 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 unsafe segments in our bicycle network to create a seamless and safe way to cross the Cheryl Cates Bridge on bikes to get to work instead of defaulting to a car. We’ll fight congestion, parking problems and make for a cleaner, more prosperous, and happier community if we get even more people biking more of the time.
Streets for People / City Snags $400K Federal Safe Streets Planning Grant That May Lead To Additional Construction Dollars
Posted on February 3, 2023 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on February 3, 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
On February 1 the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $800 million in grant awards for 510 projects throughout the country from a new Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) Grant Program to help localities tackle traffic fatalities. Thanks to some smart work by City staff, the City of Key West is one of the 510 projects, receiving $400,000 for planning with the possibility of even more for constructing infrastructure in the future. This is important because our little island is full of cars and bikes and all manner of e-vehicles and scooters sharing our compact streets. Funding can help jumpstart needed infrastructure changes called for in our Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and Vision Zero policy to make our streets safer.
Great to See Key West Get Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
In announcing the competitive grant program, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said:
“Every year, crashes cost tens of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to our economy; we face a national emergency on our roadways, and it demands urgent action,” said U.S. Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We are proud that these grants will directly support hundreds of communities as they prepare steps that are proven to make roadways safer and save lives.”
The Safe Streets & Roads for All Grants established by the Biden Administration’s “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” provides $5 billion over five years. Approximately $1B is set aside for this first round that provides funding to develop Comprehensive Safety Action Plans to meet Vision Zero goals. The second round of about $4B is set aside to implement those plans with infrastructure.
Key West’s Vision Zero Sets the Stage
In 2020, Key West called for a Vision Zero goal to eliminate roadway fatalities and serious injuries by 2035. Says Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski, who wrote the $400,000 “Key West City-Wide Comprehensive Safety Action Plan” grant:
“We hope that with public engagement and collaboration, we can produce policy and process recommendations to develop a well-defined strategy to prevent roadway fatalities. But once we create our plan, we have to do something with it. An important aspect of this grant opportunity is that the program managers don’t want to just create plans. Once we identify opportunities, there is an option for implementation funding.
This opportunity is important to me because pedestrians and bicyclists – as vulnerable road users – are disproportionally affected by roadway collisions. But our entire community suffers when tragedy strikes on our shared streets. Developing a plan is a step toward achieving our Vision Zero goal.”
Mr. Stachurski graciously added: “Writing this grant was a team effort with Christine Lane of Langton Consulting, Carolyn Sheldon, Alison Higgins, and the support of City Management: all working to make our city safer.”
Key West Community Support Needed
As staff moves forward on developing a “Key West City-Wide Comprehensive Safety Action Plan” they’ll lean on the Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and Vision Zero policy but will really need the community to step up and identify priorities for what to do with any potential second round funding.
This couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. Last year three bike riders were killed in crashes on Key West and Stock Island. And we’ve talked about how Key West is full of cars AND bikes and e-vehicles and how that often unsafe mix is different from most places. So having some planning money to identify the most needed projects and the opportunity to get more funds to actually build some infrastructure is a huge get for our little island.
Congratulations to the forward-thinking staff who enabled this. As a community we need to support them and the process. In the end, everyone stands to benefit from safer streets. People in cars, on bikes and on two feet.
Streets for People / City and FDOT Fail, Again, to Follow Key West Bike Plan. This Time On Whitehead Street
Posted on January 27, 2023 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on January 27, 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
On January 18, FDOT officials presented City Commissioners with an update about three projects about to begin construction in Key West. One of those is a $2.6M project on Whitehead Street between Truman and Fleming (the portion of the street that is part of U.S. Route 1 and thus FDOT’s) to reconstruct and repave the street and to replace damaged sidewalks. The City’s adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan calls for protected bike lanes on this street. Instead, we’ll get essentially what we have now, 33 spaces for private car storage and no bike lanes.
We’ve heard this story before. On S. Roosevelt Boulevard. On First and Bertha Streets. On Palm Avenue. And now on Whitehead Street. The adopted Bike Plan calls for all of these to get bicycle infrastructure. In each case car convenience was chosen over bicycle safety. When asked why we aren’t building bicycle infrastructure in these projects FDOT, County and City officials circle the wagons and roll out a litany of bureaucratic double-speak to explain how they really care about building safer streets, but it just couldn’t happen in this case because well…
- people need parking,
- there’s not enough right-of-way,
- think of the trees,
- it would cost more money,
- the design was made before the Bike Plan was adopted,
- it would impact our schedule, or
- no bike advocates showed up to the meeting and asked.
Having multiple agencies involved in these particular projects helps each escape responsibility. In this case the City says it isn’t their street and FDOT says they consulted with the City, and this is what they wanted. The exact same thing happened on First and Bertha between the County and City.
There were three bike riders killed in crashes on Key West and Stock Island last year. Key West is full of cars AND bikes. That’s different than most places. And our Mayor keeps asking for bike lanes. And yet the prevailing bias for car convenience in all three bureaucracies makes change extremely difficult. And so once again, it looks like we’ll get Sharrows instead of bike lanes and that’s not safer for anybody.
The Bike Plan and City Strategic Plan Point the Way Forward
The Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan, adopted in March of 2019 after two years and spending nearly $300,000 is an exceptional plan produced by the world-class engineering, urban design and planning firm Toole Design. It had a ton of public input, was thoroughly vetted and Commission approved. (For an overview read: Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan, May 20, 2020.
One of the reasons for the Plan is because the State requires localities to have approved plans in order to seek State funding for projects and so when the State or local government do projects there is some guidance for what to do.
The Key West Forward Strategic Plan, adopted in 2021 emphasizes Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness as one of the six overarching priorities, specifically to “improve the ease and safety of residents and visitors as they traverse the island.” Goal 1 of this priority reads: “Complete Streets: Ensure safe and more accessible bike and pedestrian routes in accordance with the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan…Improve and expand bicycle and pedestrian trails and implement the three overarching goals in the Bike/Ped Plan.”
Whitehead Street is addressed as needing “separated bike lanes” in the Vision or Long-Term Plan on pages 34 and 72 as explained on page 46.
Optimal Time to Put In Bike Infrastructure Is During Street Rebuilding/Repaving
The optimal time to put in new bicycle infrastructure is when a street is rebuilt (such as in the case of Whitehead Street) or when it is repaved. So, the opportunity to implement the Vision Plan presented itself when FDOT said they were rebuilding the street because that’s when the curb line, if needed can be moved, that’s when tree wells can be moved and so on. And once a street is repaved it can be painted in any configuration you want.
So, if anyone at City Hall had the guts to actually follow the plan in the face of losing private car storage and moving some trees, this would have been the time to speak up. OR it would have been the time, as the Mayor has asked, time and again, to bring some options to the City Commission. But FDOT and City staff determined that because parking and tree removal are political third rails in this town they were simply going to opt for the existing short-term plan and default to Sharrows.
Sharrows Are Make Believe Safety Infrastructure
Sharrows are short for shared lane markings. They are used to indicate a shared lane environment for bicycles and automobiles. They are supposed to reinforce the legitimacy of bicycle traffic in the street and recommend proper positioning of the bicyclist.
Google “are Sharrows safe” and you’ll get a string of articles, none of which are flattering about this supposed “infrastructure.” Up pops “ineffective.” “Unsafe.” “Worse than Nothing At All.” But my favorite is “Sharrows Are Bullshit.” Yes, that’s the title of an excellent article by Peter Flax. I highly recommend reading the entire thing, but here it is in a nutshell:
“Sharrows are perfect for city officials who care enough about safety to do the very least. There’s only one problem: Sharrows are make believe safety infrastructure.”
The Project We’re Getting for Whitehead Street Looks an Awful Lot Like It Does Today
The plan presented by FDOT for this stretch of Whitehead Street calls for the street to be rebuilt and repaved. Sidewalks will be fixed. Broken curbs mended. Signage will be improved, and pedestrian beg buttons will be upgraded. And best of all, as FDOT touts in nice red writing, 33 of the existing 38 car storage spaces will be kept. In a nod to what they say is a safety improvement, some car parking spaces will be removed near intersections and driveways so as to improve sight lines, making it easier for people in cars to exit onto the street and not have to contend with trying to see around those mega vehicles so prevalent today, without hitting people. The street will no doubt be shiny and new, but it is essentially the same street. And no bike improvements. We get those good for nothing Sharrows.
Are Master Plans Only Good for Gathering Dust? We Asked Advocates, FDOT and the City
We asked some bicycle advocates what they thought about the Whitehead Street plan presented by FDOT and here’s what Evan Haskell, owner of the WeCycle bike shops on Stock Island and Key West told us:
“Just a couple meetings ago, the City Commission gave 6 acres of public land to the airport, with nothing in exchange. That land was identified in our master plan as a critical connector for the hundreds of residents in the Ocean Walk and Las Salinas apartments. Only Commissioner Kaufman protested that appalling giveaway. Now, we learn that staff continue to ignore the Bicycle Master Plan in their daily operations and the upcoming Whitehead Street project will include no improvements for cycling. Unfortunately, we are seeing again that in this City, Master Plans are only good for one thing – gathering dust.”
When we asked FDOT if they’d consulted the plan their Communication Manager Tish Burgher said:
“Regarding the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, the FDOT Design Team reviewed it; however, it was determined that incorporating bike lanes would impact trees located within the utility strip and also require widening the road, acquiring potential easements, removing parking spaces, and adding additional storm water drainage improvements. The associated costs would result in an increase of approximately $3.5 million and would impact the schedule of this project.”
They went on to further explain that when they met with City staff in March of 2020, everyone agreed “to include Sharrows with sign routes for bicyclists, instead of separate lanes due to the scope and limited right-of-way in this project.” FDOT was adamant, they coordinated and got approvals from the City.
We asked the City the same questions as FDOT and didn’t get an official response.
Again, if you are literally going to rebuild the street, curb and gutter and sidewalk, that would have been the time to do something brave. Even at the cost of parking, a few trees and more money. Alas, we get Sharrows.
After our deadline for KONK Life news we did get a response from our friend Alison Higgins, the City’s Sustainability Coordinator saying:
“We’re taking the longview on the separated lanes for Whitehead and Simonton. Because we’ll never have the political will to remove parking without an alternative, we’re working on off street parking options for those areas. We’ll be doing renderings of six different roof deck parking options this year to start the ball rolling on that. Once we get alternative parking, we can remove the existing parking, and get the bike lanes we desire.”
Going Forward, Let’s Do Better By People on Bikes
It seems like the last few years haven’t seen progress on bike lanes in our City. But we’ve got a great Bike Plan and a Strategic Plan that emphasizes getting bike projects done. We have a Mayor who gets it and has asked that every repaving project consider bike lanes. We also have a fairly new and progressive team in the Engineering Department in the persons of Interim Engineering Director Gary Volenec and Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski who weren’t around when these projects were approved by others. And we think our friend Alison’s take above bodes well for the future. So we’re hopeful.
Key West is full of cars AND bikes. That’s different than most places. We are one of the few places in the country where so many bikes, pedestrians and e-bikes/scooters share our compact streets with vehicles. Add the fact that many of the folks out there are visitors from the mainland, unfamiliar with this, makes for an unsafe mix on our streets. So, we can no longer accept that status quo of always taking the easy path of what we’ve been doing before. We need to do things differently. We need our staff and politicians to be brave enough to lose some parking or car lanes and make our streets safer. Our island will be better for it. Let’s lay down a marker here and say from now on we expect better by everyone involved.
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Streets for People / The Lofts Moves Forward With Less Car Parking and More Bike Racks
Posted on January 20, 2023 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on January 20, 2023. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.
On January 18, the one-year anniversary of city residents approving a referendum to lease 3.2 acres of City-owned land in Bahama Village to a non-profit group for 126 units of much needed workforce housing, the City Commission approved final plans allowing the project to move forward to construction with a groundbreaking ceremony in May. That’s great news! Best of all, the initially proposed 180+ surface car parking spaces have been nearly cut in half to 99 while bicycle parking went from 20 proposed spaces to 121. City staff, the Planning Board and City Commission acknowledged the site’s central location with good transit, walk, and bike access to downtown and citing similar neighboring properties less than full parking lots, allowed for the car parking reduction. That’s a win for common sense, our historic downtown and the project.
The Big Picture: Putting Workforce Housing Downtown Is a Good Thing
In a story we did last year leading up to the referendum, 3 Reasons You May Not Have Thought of for Voting YES on 3.2 on January, 18, January 7, 2022, we acknowledged the real need for more workforce housing and said more of it should be on the island of Key West. We especially applauded the proposed Lofts at Bahama Village project for three reasons:
- More locals living downtown creates a more local focused, less touristy vibe and that’s good for the historic business district,
- Housing downtown makes it easier to bike, walk and use transit to get around, and
- Not being car dependent brings livability costs down further for residents of the project.
Win. Win. Win.
But Lots of Surface Parking Was Initially Proposed – And That’s Bad
After the referendum passed and the project moved to the planning phase we argued in a story on February 4 that Too Much Surface Parking at The Lofts Is a Wasteful use of Valuable Downtown Land. At the time, Executive Director of A.H. Monroe Scott Pridgen, the leader of the non-profit coalition selected to build The Lofts said: “We currently propose 126 units…with 189 parking spaces.” As we dug in further, we found that City Code required 131 spaces (1 car parking space per unit + some handicapped spaces) and that in addition to these Mr. Pridgen was counting 48 spaces in the crescent parking lot adjacent to The Lofts and included in their site plans, already built at Truman Waterfront Park. The 131 spaces weren’t built yet, and they were going to take up a lot of land because given the height limitation, to maximize the number of units (126) meant the cars couldn’t be parked under the buildings.
Months later, as the project moved toward the Development Review Committee (DRC) in September, we learned that 126 new surface parking spaces (now inclusive of the handicapped spaces) were still being required on the site. The 48 spaces in the crescent still sat there unused and uncounted in the projection. 13 bicycle parking spaces were being required and 20 were proposed. In a letter to the DRC, we asked why there wasn’t more bicycle parking and questioned why there wasn’t any parking reduction, taking into account the project’s access to downtown, good transit, biking and walking options and access to those 48 spaces.
The Navy’s Rules Nudge Developer/City to Build Less Car-Parking and More Bike Parking
As the project moved through DRC to the Planning Board the Navy objected to parking within 50 ft of their property housing the Navy communications tower, referred to as the TACTS Tower. This necessitated the project developer to rethink the parking scheme and propose the following:
Required Parking: 1 space per multifamily unit = 126 spaces
- Proposed New Parking: 8 ADA + 75 Standard = 83 new spaces
- Truman Park Waterfront Parking: 16 Spaces through a parking agreement with the City
- Bicycle Substitution: 108 new bicycle spaces (in addition to the 13 required) for 27 vehicle spaces (bike parking can be substituted for some parking at a 4-1 ratio)
Total Provided: 126 spaces
In essence, the required 126 car parking spaces on the site are being reduced to 83 for a 34% overall reduction in the amount of new surface parking. Not bad. Some of that (16 spaces) would be made up for by dedicating 16 of the 48 existing parking spaces in the crescent lot adjacent to the project in the Truman Waterfront Park for use exclusively by residents of The Lofts. And the big reduction comes by reducing car parking by 27 spaces and providing parking for 108 additional bicycles instead. So, there will be dedicated parking for 99 cars (83 on the site and 16 in the crescent) and 121 bicycles. Much more in line with the realities of downtown living.
Nagging Questions About that Crescent Shaped Parking Lot
We still don’t understand why only 16 of the 48 parking spaces in the crescent shaped lot, depicted as part of the 3.2 acres in the referendum and initial planning documents, can be used by the project residents. Especially as one member of the Planning Board and our own research have observed, those spaces are never, ever occupied. They just sit empty all year round. If the remaining 32 empty spaces could be used by The Lofts residents too, perhaps Allen Avenue wouldn’t need perpendicular car parking dedicated to private use on public right of way and could be a pedestrian-friendly street. Perhaps some of the land adjacent to the buildings given over to all that asphalt could be used for more landscaping or a tot-lot or fire pits and grills for the residents? Or even a few more units of workforce housing.
We’ll likely never get a satisfactory answer that makes sense on this.
Half a Loaf Is Better Than None And It Is Good the Project Is Moving Forward
So, while we might lament the fact that there’s tons of underutilized parking right next door that could have been used to reduce the amount of land dedicated to new asphalt, we’re inclined to accept half a loaf is better than none. The big picture here is that much needed workforce housing is coming to downtown. And the amount of land dedicated to car parking was in the end reduced by one third. That and there’s much more bicycle parking included in the final project.
More working residents living in the heart of downtown is good for our business district as it brings more local flavor. The central location allows new residents of the project to not have to drive to get to work, shop and play. That can save them some money on the huge cost of owning and operating a vehicle. Win. Win. Win.
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Streets for People / Three Crashes = 3 Bicycle Rider Deaths Leads 2022’s Top 10 Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Stories
Posted on December 16, 2022 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on December 16, 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.
Breaking ground on an expanded airport. Planning for refurbishing Mallory Square, revitalizing Duval Street, renovating the Diesel Plant and building a new Clinton Square. Introducing Llama scooters, “Key West Rides” On-Demand Transit and maybe soon Freebee transit. Sorry bus stops, QR code Loop stops and Final Mile Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops. Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach bike trails envisioned, and Wickers bike trail planned. Votes on 3.2, Mayor and District IV. A City strategic plan that gets stuff done. Workforce housing at Wreckers Cay opens, nears completion at Garden View and is in planning at The Lofts and Roy’s Trailer Park. Kmart closed. Searstown is bought. N. Roosevelt reimagined. First and Bertha Streets construction goes on and on. Three cars crash into bikes = 3 bicycle rider deaths. These are just some of the bike, walk, transit and streets for people developments that happened during the year.
As 2022 comes to an end, for the fourth year in a row we’re going to try to make some sense of all this and rank the issues we’ve been covering by their importance from number 10 to number 1. We’ll try to provide some insight on our reasoning and updates along the way.
10 – Scooter Share Comes to Key West
Our story Innovative Lama E-Scooter Share Comes to Key West, March 18, 2022 shows the e-revolution finally landed in Key West. In March, local entrepreneur and hotel owner Marc Meisel opened at 48 e-scooter pilot at his three properties H20 Suites, Santa Maria Suites and Southwinds Motel called Lama Mobility. He needed a Commission-approved pilot because the City is still in the midst of a now going on three-years moratorium on recreational vehicles rentals.
The service is innovative because, unlike controversial dockless e-scooter shares in other cities that get left on the street, Lama operates as a round trip rental. Putting the scooter away in a dock solves the problem of needing to charge the vehicle. And by putting the docks on private property Mr. Meisel got around the problem the City doesn’t allow these kinds of operations in the City right-of-way – an Achilles heel that doomed attempts at Key West based private bikeshare, public bikeshare and Zipcar carshare. Best of all, anyone at least 18 years of age can use the scooters, not just hotel guests.
The pilot is important because if it proves successful, Mr. Meisel could expand it across the City and even include bikes in the docks in addition to the scooters, thus instantly providing bike AND scooter share. The more options residents, workers and visitors have to get around, the better!
9 – Airport Expansion Can Mean Fewer Cars and Opens Up the Possibility for Two New Bike Trails
A couple months ago the County broke ground on a $100 million expansion of Key West Airport. Our story Airport’s Need for Additional City Land Could Help Spur Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach Locals Bike Trails, February 11, 2022 discusses how the County’s need for a little bit of additional land in the area of the Hawks Missile site may help spur the building of two bike trails identified in the City’s Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan. The Salt Ponds Trail would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with a time-saving and safer short-cut downtown through the back of the airport. The Smathers Beach Trail would provide a safe and time-saving trail from the High School directly to the beach behind the pink Key West By the Sea building. Both trails would be good for local residents and workers.
Our April 8 story Ten Ways to Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors – Part 1: Marketing, and the April 15 follow-up 10 Ways to make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors – Part 2: Services, Infrastructure and Policies discusses how the airport expansion means fewer cars on our island IF we do the following:
- Educate visitors they don’t need a car – before they get here.
- Educate visitors about transportation options – once they’ve arrived.
- Direct visitor to existing long-term lots with better wayfinding.
- Enlist the help of recreational vehicle rental companies.
- End free on-street parking for visitors.
- Make the Duval Loop every 15 minutes, again.
- Install more green paint and bike racks.
- Lift the moratorium on recreational vehicles.
- Build the parking lot/garage on Stock Island.
- Increase ferries and add “buses-as-flights.”
Key West is getting more and more visitors and most of them arrive by car. This makes the airport expansion important because it provides an opportunity to get these travelers onto bikes, buses, and e-scooters to get around. IF we make it easy for them to use these options. The choice is ours.
8 – City Adopts E-Bike/E-Scooter Regulations
In our most read story of the year Here’s the Real Lowdown on the Do’s and Don’ts for E-Bikes and E-Scooters in Key West, January 28, 2022 we discussed e-bikes and e-scooters. Everyone has seen more and more of these vehicles. And while they provide a real and inexpensive alternative for residents to commute and get around, lots of people find their speed and use on our sidewalks dangerous. So, the City Commission adopted some new rules based on changes at the State level. That’s important! We went into the details about how all of this came about and the fine distinctions in the law, but here’s a summary of the new rules:
- Bicycles MAY ride on sidewalks but must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.
- E-vehicles may NOT ride on sidewalks.
- E-powered ADA mobility devices MAY ride on sidewalks.
- E-vehicles MAY ride on multi-use paths that include the promenades.
- E-vehicles may NOT go faster than 15 mph on multi-use paths.
- E-vehicles/ADA mobility devices must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.
7 – Workforce Housing Coming to Downtown; But Parking Issues Remain
That we need more affordable workforce housing in Key West is something we can all agree on. In our story 3 Reasons You May Not Have Thought of for Voting YES on 3.2 on January 18, January 7, 2022 we talked about how:
- More locals living downtown creates a more local focused, less touristy vibe and that’s good for our historic business district,
- Housing downtown makes it easier to bike, walk and use transit to get around, and
- Not being car dependent brings livability costs down even further for residents of the project.
But even as we applauded that the referendum passed to give A.H. Monroe a 99-year lease on City land in Bahama Village next to the Truman Waterfront Park to build 126 units called The Lofts, we were concerned about the then proposed 189 surface parking spaces. Especially given the abundant and little-used parking on surrounding properties. We detailed those concerns, as well as conducted a parking study and presented alternatives for reducing the amount of surface parking and turning the land saved from asphalt into amenities for the residents or even more units in our story Too Much Surface Parking at The Lofts Is a Wasteful Use of Valuable Downtown Land, February 3, 2022. We’ll note that the project is still making its way through the Planning process, and we hope City leaders wake up to the fact that the proposed abundant and ugly surface parking looks like it belongs on the mainland in Boca Raton and not in a compact, historic downtown. We need the City to consider sharing the use of some of the unused Truman Waterfront Park parking and reducing the asphalt on this site.
6 – Kmart Closes and Searstown Plaza Being Bought by Publix Provides Opportunity to Reimagine Sites Into Island-Friendly Centers With Workforce Housing
In January we learned that Kmart was closing in March and that the Publix Corporation had bought the entire Searstown Plaza. In our third most popular story of the year Time to Reimagine Car-Centric, Mainland Style Searstown and Kmart into Island-Friendly Centers with Housing, January 21, 2022 we talked about the possibilities these two news items presented. We discussed in detail how Publix was building mixed-use, urban centers with housing in other parts of the country and how the City had some incentives to redevelop with workforce housing and what it could look like. We closed with:
“Kmart closing and Searstown being bought by Publix offer a golden opportunity to remake these mainland style, suburban parking lots into mixed-use centers that are nice to look at, more pedestrian and bicycle friendly and that include a mix of uses, including much needed affordable workforce housing, that exude Key West charm….In the end our whole island will be better for remaking these outdated strip shopping centers, that look like they belong in another place and time, not our beloved Key West.”
5 – New Housing Comes to Stock Island Sparking Need for Better Transit and Bike Facilities Between the Islands
Stock Island was in the news a lot this year as the 280-unit Wreckers Cay started opening buildings for occupancy in September, the 104-unit Garden View Apartments is fast under construction, Roy’s Trailer Park was sold to be redeveloped from 108 trailers to 240 workforce apartments and 148 transient condos were approved at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club. That’s a lot of new housing. So in stories Stock Island and Lower Keys Workforce Housing Needs Frequent Transit, March 11, 2022 and Traffic Nightmare Looms as 132 Housing Units Added to 700 in the Pipeline on Stock Island and the Lower Keys, May 20, 2022 we detailed what’s happening and made the case for the City and County to ramp up transit to serve all these new residents lest U.S. Route 1 and the Cheryl H. Cates Bridge get overrun by cars.
In our story Freebee On-Demand Ride-Hailing-to-Transit Might Provide Stock Island Residents With Reason to Leave Their Cars at Home, July 22, 2022 we talked about an $850,000 project the County is considering to provide residents with an Uber-like lift to a future long-haul frequent transit service direct to downtown as a partial solution. And in our story Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Ride Bikes Between Stock Island and Key West, September 2, 2022 we detailed how woefully inadequate the current efforts are to help new residents at Wreckers Cay to bike to Key West.
We can’t keep building car-dependent housing for workers five+ miles from downtown and not provide them with good, reliable, and safe bus and bike options, otherwise all these new residents will drive and worsen our traffic and parking congestion.
4 –Key West Transit Starts to Turn Around a Sinking Ship
Buffeted by Covid, a shortage of workers and a lack of investment in the system our Key West Transit bus service has been rocked by declining ridership over the last few years. We’ve amply covered this decline in stories including this year in The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops Revisited – What’s Happening One Year Later, May 6, 2022 and Duval Loop Ridership is Plummeting. Save the Duval Loop! June 3, 2020, where we discussed the awful state of bus stops on the Duval Loop, City Routes, and Lower Keys Shuttle and how this combined with a lack of frequency and non-branded plain white buses was causing ridership on the Loop to nosedive. But toward the second half of the year, it seemed things started to change a bit for the better.
In our story Staff Takes Bull By Horns and Upgrades Embarrassing Duval Loop Bus Stop Signs, August 20, 2022 we talked about how some enterprising staff took it upon themselves to not wait for a bigger fix a few years out and instead fabricated some quick but elegant signs with a QR Code that takes people to real-time information on the whereabouts of the next Duval Loop bus. It works wonderfully. And then last month in City to Begin Work On Making It Easy to Bike to lower Keys Shuttle and Enhancing Bus Stops from Marathon to Key West, November 4, 2022 we detailed a $1.4 million project, now underway, to add bike racks, information signs, lights and trash/recycle cans to 74 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops between Marathon and Key West. And the transit agency says they have plans to duplicate this project on the rest of the stops in Key West in the coming years. That’s a big deal for a system that has third-world level bus stops.
As we’ve documented in many stories over the last couple of years the buses have been getting less frequent and the ridership has been declining. Seeing no way to hire enough drivers to increase frequency substantially on fixed-route lines, Key West Transit is trying something completely out of the box. Instead, like Uber, they’ll run a bus when a customer requests a ride. In stories City’s Uber-Like On-Demand Transit Service is Back On Track, June 24, 2022 and Key West Transit’s Uber-Like On-Demand “Key West Rides” Service Begins November 30, November 18, 2022 we discuss the behind the scenes maneuvering to make this happen and how the system works. The new on-demand service called “Key West Rides” started November 30 and by January 1 the North and South Line fixed-routes will disappear, meaning if you want a bus ride on Key West or Stock Island, you’ll need to download the app and request a trip. So far over 400 people have done so.
In our story Key West Transit’s New On-Demand Service Is Off and Running. Now the City Needs to Put Real Marketing Money Into It, December 9, 2022, we talked about how the City needs to spend some real money and hire a marketing contractor to leverage the investment in the new way of riding and make sure it is successful. If it is, that’s good for our residents and workers especially and that’s why this was such an important development coming in at #4.
3 – Downtown Revitalization Back On Track
For a few years we’ve championed investing in our historic downtown. It’s the reason for our Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown name and “Streets for People” column. Key West citizens have long discussed and tried to grapple with refurbishing Mallory Square, revitalizing Duval Street, renovating the historic Diesel Plant, building housing on the 3.2-acre Bahama Village site, and cleaning up Clinton Square in front of the Custom’s House for a decade plus. We lamented that the history of each project was strewn with false promises, hopeful beginnings, and dashed dreams. In a story at the beginning of the year, Mallory Square, Diesel Plant, Duval Street and Bahama Village Housing Projects Create Synergy to Bolster Downtown, January 14, 2022 we discussed how we could start to see light at the end of the tunnel as each of these projects was just getting underway.
In a story this fall, Progress on Five Historic District Projects means More Life, Locals, Prosperity, and Resiliency for Our Downtown, October 21, 2022, we talked about how the accountability built into the City’s Strategic Plan (see our #1 item) was delivering real progress on all five of these projects. Clinton Square Park is now under construction. The planning process for the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square Master Plan is well underway and will be completed this winter. Interim work on the Diesel Plant will start soon and a solicitation for a developer will happen in the spring. The Lofts at Bahama Village are expected to start construction in the spring too. And the new Duval Street Economic Corridor Resiliency and Revitalization Plan process completed ranking planning firms to be hired in October. A vendor should be under contract shortly.
The actions, all happening in quick and overlapping succession, with plenty of resident and business community input, are giving us a synergy to bolster our entire historic downtown commercial district, the lifeblood of our city, for decades to come. It means more prosperity for our local Mom-and-Pop shops, a more locals focused destination for residents and enhanced experiences for visitors. THAT’s why this is such an important story and comes in at #3.
2 – Three Bicyclist’s Deaths Bring Bicycle Safety Concerns to Forefront
Sadly, and tragically, there were three instances of cars crashing into bikes that resulted in three deaths by bicyclists on Stock Island and Key West in 2022. In each case the person on the bicycle was following the rules of the road. We chronicled two of the three deaths in our story Two Fatal Bike Crashes This Week Are Two Too Many. Here’s 10 Things To Make Bicycling Safer, November 12, 2022.
In the story we provided data about how Key West is full of cars AND bikes and that’s different than most cities. As we are different, we suggested 10 things we should do:
1 – Slow down. This ain’t the mainland.
2 – Educate visitors this isn’t the mainland and that they must behave differently on our little island’s streets.
3 – Enforce existing speed limits.
4 – Engineer our streets for slower speeds.
5 – Invest in new and upgraded bicycle facilities
6 – Connect all of our bicycle facilities in one seamless network.
7 – For a change, let’s choose people on bikes over car storage and convenience.
8 – Do something about N. Roosevelt Boulevard.
9 – Safety in numbers: Get more people, especially visitors out of their cars.
10 – Install speed and red-light cameras and eliminate right-turn-on-red.
It doesn’t help matters that the County and City have for years been behind the eight-ball when it comes to putting in infrastructure that would make bicycling safer. The elephant in the room is our story Construction on First and Bertha Street Doesn’t Follow the Bike Plan. Is It Too Late? July 8, 2022, where we lay out the sad reality that when the County and City were presented with an opportunity to put in a bike facility, called for in the City’s adopted Bike/Ped Plan, on an important cross island throughway, they chose to ignore making it safer for bikes and put in parking instead. THIS has been repeated in street projects across the City. Duval Street, Simonton Street, Whitehead Street, Front Street, and Palm Avenue have all been resurfaced and rebuilt in the last two years. And it is going to happen in the future on S. Roosevelt – they just haven’t started construction yet. In every case the Bike/Ped plan calls for bicycle facilities on these streets and roads. And in Every. Single. Case. The City and County put or will put the road back together with a shiny new surface and the same old parking spaces that were there before. No new bike facilities. Not even green paint. You’ll hear City officials tout the new and improved asphalt. Yep. That’s nice. But it’s lipstick on a pig when it comes to making our streets safer for people on bicycles.
In our story 10 Things to Make It Safer to Bike from the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West, June 17, 2022 we lay out the case for 10 things the City and County can do to make it safer for people to bike between the two islands and in our story Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Ride Bikes Between Stock Island and Key West, September 2, 2022 we lay out similar arguments. We’re still waiting to hear from any officials that they hear bicyclist’s plight.
Three deaths in one year are a wakeup call to County and City officials that more needs to be done. This isn’t rocket science. The City spends $6 million annually on transit service. They spend god awful amounts on parking amenities. On bike infrastructure, its only thousands of dollars unless the State gives the City money in grant funds like with the bike racks for the Final Mile Grant or the Wickers Field Bike Trail. It is time to turn the car-centric paradigm upside down and finally spend some real money on bike facilities, green paint, signs, and marketing and education to make our islands safer to bike on. THAT’s why this story is #2 in our countdown.
1 – Mayor’s Re-Election and Strategic Plan Help Get Things Done and THAT Bodes Well for the Future
We want our top story to end on a more hopeful note. Despite the fact that people on bikes feel unsafe and that people who want to take the bus still don’t have a proven and reliable alternative to driving just yet, there’s hope on the horizon. That hope starts with our story PeopleforBikes’ 2022 City Ratings Ranks Key West 15th in North America. What Can We Achieve If We Really Try? Our Mayor Says #1, July 1, 2022. Of 1,105 cities rated by PeopleforBikes, Key West rated #15 as a best biking city. Yay! But the data reveled that the reason we ranked so high was because we’re flat, compact and have good weather – so lots of us bike. Not necessarily because of anything the City or County have done to make using a bike safe and easy. But the good news is that our Mayor and City officials understand this. Here’s Mayor Johnston’s response to the PeopleforBikes ranking:
“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.”
In our story Key West Mayoral and District IV Candidates in Their Own Words on Bike, Walk and Transit Issues, August 5, 2022 we go into detail about how our Mayor understands the shortcomings of past bicycle and transit actions and is determined to make it better. In short, our says our Mayor on bikes:
“As Mayor, I will continue to prioritize dedicated bicycle lanes and complete streets on all new road construction in Key West.” And on transit: “The solution is to provide a free, frequent and reliable public transportation system.” Her vision is extraordinary.
Our story The Mayor’s Strategic Plan is Helping the City Bureaucracy Get Stuff Done, September 16, 2022 provides the crux for a hopeful future on bike, walk, transit and streets for people issues.
Key West has a reputation for muddling along and well, let’s face it, not addressing the big things. Decades later we wonder how our problems got so bad. Think our lack of affordable workforce housing, our crumbling roads and sidewalks, traffic and parking congestion, our moribund transit system and withering on the vine projects such as Duval Street, Mallory Square, the Diesel Plant and so much more. Not to mention sea level rise and our degrading environment. But Mayor Johnston said we could do better by developing and following a strategic plan to do the things the citizens think are the most important. And to her credit she got that plan developed and passed.
What’s amazing, rather than in the finest Key West tradition of putting the plan on the shelf and congratulating themselves, she insisted on some mechanisms for accountability and implementation. And lo and behold, during the past year, a TON of stuff has been accomplished. Everything we just mentioned is in the works. Most of the stories from a new transit service, better bike facilities, plans for Mallory Square, Duval Street, affordable housing, and so much more in the above-mentioned articles are because they are embedded in the Strategic Plan.
There’s no question the Plan is concentrating the Manager, department heads and staff on what’s essential and not just responding to the loudest complainers in a game of whack a mole as bureaucracies tend to do when they aren’t pointed in the right direction. The results from 2022 and the new momentum make the next few years look even more fruitful. That means a better Key West future for all of us and THAT’S why this is our #1 story of the year. HOPE!
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And for those that are interested, here’s a look at our most popular stories for 2022 as measured by readership:
10 – 10 Things To Make It Safer to Bike From the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West, June 17, 2022
9 – Ian’s Lesson: Key West Infrastructure Needs to Be as Resilient as Its People, October 7, 2022
8 – The Sorry State of Key West Bust Stops Revisited – What’s Happening One Year Later, May 6, 2022
7 – Innovative Lama E-Scooter Share Comes to Key West, March 18, 2022
6 – Traffic Nightmare Looms as 132 New Housing Units Added to Over 700 in the Pipeline on Stock Island and Lower Keys, May 20, 2022
5 – Key West Mayoral and District IV Candidates in Their Own Words on Bike, Walk and Transit Issues, August 5, 2022
4 – Two Fatal Bike Crashes This Week Are Two Too Many. Here’s 10 Things to Make Bicycling Safer, November 12, 2022
3 – Time to Reimagine Car-Centric, Mainland Style Searstown and Kmart Into Island-Friendly Centers with Housing, January 21, 2022
2 – Stock Island and Lower Keys Workforce Housing Needs Frequent Transit, March 11, 2022
1 – Here’s the Real Lowdown on the Do’s and Don’ts for E-Bikes and E-Scooters in Key West, January 28, 2022
End of Year Top 10 Stories from Previous Years
Streets for People / Countdown of 2021’s Most Important Bike, Walk and Transit Stories – Is Our Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Part 2: The Case for a Glass Half Full Year December 17, 2021
Streets for People / Countdown of 2021’s Most Important Bike, Walk and Transit Stories – Is Our Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Part 1: The Case for a Glass Half Empty Year December 10, 2021
Streets for People / Counting Down the Top 10 Most Popular Stories of 2021 November 26, 2021
Streets for People / Countdown of the 10 Most Important Bike, Walk and Transit Stories of 2019 and 2020 Revisited December 3, 2021
Welcome to the Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 December 19, 2020
Recap of Friends of Car-Free Key West Top Stories of 2019 December 18, 2020
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Streets for People / Key West Transit’s New On-Demand Service Is Off and Running. Now the City Needs to Put Real Marketing Money Into It
Posted on December 9, 2022 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on December 9, 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.
On November 30 Key West Transit launched its innovative Uber-like on-demand transit service called “Key West Rides.” In just a week over 410 people have downloaded the app and a couple hundred people have taken one, two or five plus rides. This is a promising start. The Transit Director tells us that they are currently focusing their efforts on transitioning existing customers to the new way of riding.
We’re rooting for Key West Rides to succeed 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 vehicles brings to our paradise. Our beleaguered workforce needs decent options they can depend on, and we want visitors to bike or ride the bus. So, we’re perplexed that in a $5.7 M transit budget only about $30,000 is dedicated to marketing. The City spends almost $300,000 marketing the Historic Seaport, the TDC spends godawful amounts of money on general advertising and gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations across the city to advertise events and destinations. So, why doesn’t someone provide our little transit system with some real money and real help via some marketing vendors?
There’s no substitute for frequent, easy-to-use service. And Key West Transit is working on doing just that. But studies show that you can get a 10 to 30 percent increase in the investment of putting bus service on the street by reaching out to people and educating them about the service and how to use it. You’d be surprised at the number of people who are intimidated about using a bus. Likewise branding and marketing can enhance existing riders experience and attract new riders to try the system. In a tourist town, where there’s constant turnover, this is even more important.
Market research also indicates that once someone tries a product, they are more likely to come back. But you’ve got to get them to try it first. We’d like to suggest to our friends at the City that they take marketing their bus service way more seriously because it’s good for the system’s bottom line. With this in mind here’s a baker’s dozen things the City should be doing to market the Key West Transit family of services: Key West Rides, the Duval Loop, and the Lower Keys Shuttle.
Current Key West Transit Marketing Efforts
We asked Transit Director Rod Delostrinos what marketing things they were doing for the new service beyond the few social media posts we’d seen. Here is his thoughtful response:
“We are currently running both fixed route and demand response during this soft launch. Our current focus is on transitioning the current ridership (generally transit dependent customers) to the on-demand transit. Beside the marketing items you have seen, all buses are handing out flyers. We are also posting flyers at every bus stop. We are scheduling presentations at the Senior Center, Poinciana Gardens, and in Bahama Village. We also have On Demand Transit information on the Infotransit screens on the Gillig buses. From there we will widen our marketing efforts to radio PSAs, more in-person presentations, and expand to print advertising. As we are still short staffed and learning the ins and outs of the system, this crawl, walk, run approach seems the best strategy to provide the best service possible. I want to improve Customer Experience rather than focus increased ridership numbers. I believe the former will fuel the latter.”
We like the Director’s approach and emphasis on improving the customer experience first rather than focus on getting people on board right away. But in a few months, when all the kinks are worked out and they’ve stopped running the North and South Line fixed routes, the City needs to give Rod’s team the tools to market all three of the services at a higher level than what is currently being imagined. Here’s how:
A Baker’s Dozen Things Key West Transit Can Do to Better Market Themselves
Branding, marketing, outreach, and education isn’t done as a means unto themselves but rather to get butts in seats. Good communications leverage the investment in the service itself and gets you more riders per dollar of investment. The Small Business Administration says that companies should spend between seven and 12 percent of an annual budget on marketing. Our cursory look at Key West Transit’s budget shows that Promotional Expenses are about $30,000 or half of one percent (0.005%). Suffice it to say, a lot more resources need to be allocated here. With even just a five percent marketing budget of about $300,000 one could likely do most of the items here.
1 – Hire Some Help
Key West Transit doesn’t have any marketing or communications staff. The existing team is already stretched thin. We can’t expect them to do the following 12 things well. So why not hire a marketing support team. The Historic Seaport does this. And many for-profit and non-profit and other government agencies do too. Put out the RFP, hire the firm and get the following done.
2 – Brand the Enterprise
Bring in some professionals and brand the entire enterprise. Key West Rides, the Lower Keys Shuttle, and the Duval Loop. Are they all distinct services of the same Key West Transit family? What brings them all together? In 2016/2017 FDOT paid South Florida Commuter Services and an ad agency (the wonderful Diaz Cooper) to come in and brand the Duval Loop from the website to the buses, to the bus stops. It was a job well done. (Here’s the story.) Time to do it for the whole agency.
3 – Develop a Marketing Plan
Once the professionals have gotten the branding straightened out, develop a marketing plan that is tied to the fiscal year and budget. Follow it.
4 – Create a Communications or Public Relations Center
The agency is too big and important to not have its own communications point person. Maybe this person can be part of the vendor team hired to do the marketing (#1 above). Or if this person is in-house perhaps they can oversee the marketing contract. However it is done, PR is a slightly different skill and practice than marketing, but these days, especially with social media, they go hand in hand. Think of this as the system’s own, part-time Alyson Crean, who does such an amazing job for the Key West Police and City. Part of communications means putting out reports on ridership, budgets, what’s been done well, and what can be done better (something that isn’t currently done). Importantly, having a communications arm allows Key West Transit to share how it wants the system to grow in the future and what is needed to get there. It creates advocates! Lack of information/transparency sow’s mistrust.
5 – Ask Existing Customers to Spread the Good Word
To its credit, the Duval Loop has a 4.5 out of 5 rating and is ranked #2 of 11 services in the Key West Transportation (mostly private rental services) category off of 123 reviews on TripAdvisor. This is good news. Make a big deal of this. Ask customers through in-bus advertising to share their experience on TripAdvisor and other rating services and on their own social media. And these positive comments should be shared on kwtransit.com and its social media channels. (Of course, that means redoing the website and starting some social media…)
6 – Rebuild the Key West Transit Web Site
Yes, the mobile version of the website is quick and easy to use, and so is the new Key West Rides app, but for the other 50% of people who often use a traditional desktop instead of a mobile device, the current Key West Transit website doesn’t build confidence in the system. There’s a number of good firms on the island who could rebuild the site in a jiffy. Let’s do it!
7 – Do Social Media
Hard to believe but Key West Transit doesn’t have its own social media presence. It isn’t like they need to be everywhere, all the time, but come on now, at least get a Facebook page. This is low-hanging fruit these days. We don’t even need to elaborate.
8 – Reach Key West Workers Through Their Employers
Employers can influence how their employees get to work – use the connection to get more people riding the bus. In transportation demand management (TDM) research, the number one strategy for influencing commute behavior is working with employers. Key West Transit should develop an easy-to-use portal on their new website for employers to become partners with the agency. Key West Transit can provide each employer with a big map of the transit system/info to display in a break room with bus schedules. They can provide discounted passes for Key West Rides and Lower Keys Shuttle.
9 – Reach Key West Visitors Through Hotels, Inns, B&Bs and Vacation Rental Companies
Without fail one of the first questions front-desk and concierge people get asked is how do I get around? Rather than have these folks send these customers looking for rental cars and noisy, smoke spewing rental scooters wouldn’t it be nice if their first instinct was to share information about the Duval Loop and other buses along with bike rentals? But in order for this to occur Key West Transit needs to make it easy to do so by providing lots of map and schedule information and QR Codes flyers. Perhaps a framed route map on the wall or something that can be laid out on the desk. Simple take-one boxes that are constantly restocked and reminders of the website address so people can type it into their smartphone. Hotel staff have a million other things to do, so make it easy on them. Join the Lodging Association and attend their events.
10 – Develop a Strong Ground Game
Look around town for some great examples of a strong ground game. Start with each of the major water sports companies or Key West Finest and their On and Off Duval Guides and Info boxes. They all have excellent maps and brochures. Their people make sure these are stocked at all the lodging and take-one boxes across the island. Their people regularly visit lodging staff to make sure they have information and are up to date on the latest offering and specials. Copy this approach and do it in-house or hire it out as there are a number of companies that specialize in this. That way Key West Transit can reach the employers, lodging and retail people to carry the system’s information to the potential end users.
11 – Partner with Others
Key West Transit should have their routes, especially the Loop, on as many of the maps and guides around town as possible. Don’t expect companies to simply do this as a public service. Key West Transit must barter, trade, and pay to get there. A partnership is a two-way street and that way everyone wins. Make sure Key West Transit are members of and active participants in the Lodging Association, the Business Guild, the Chamber, Mom n Pop Key West and others.
12 – Put Information at the Bus Stops
The point of purchase – or the bus stop – is one of the best places to sell the product. But you actually have to put map and schedule information at every stop. You have to brand the stop as part of the system, so it looks like the bus, the website and marketing materials. As well as a sign that tells you what route this is and how to use it. While we have some hope because of the Final Mile bus stop project, this needs to become a priority now for the new Key West Rides service.
13 – Promote ALL Alternatives to the Car, Not Just the Bus
Studies show that transportation choice and options are what people want. Those who use one form of alternative transportation, like a bike, are more likely to want to use another mode, like the bus, or a scooter or Uber, Lyft and taxis. So Key West Transit should promote and provide information for all alternative modes. People today often like to make one-way trip decisions, perhaps taking the bus in to work and catching a taxi home. Being a one-stop shop for all the alternatives to driving is a way to lift ridership on the bus. Hmmm… perhaps there’s already a brand that can do that…. say, like Car-Free Key West. So whatever branding Key West Transit comes up with needs to work with and be coordinated with Car-Free Key West. Better yet, the same agency hired to help transit should do the whole thing.
A Small Investment In Marketing Leverages Big Rewards
Nothing would move the needle on increasing transit ridership like more frequent service on the Duval Loop and Lower Keys Shuttle and success on Key West Rides on-demand service. But research also tells us that you get more use out of whatever service you put on the street if you market it well. This is something the City hasn’t learned, and they’ve hamstrung Key West Transit by not providing them enough resources. City leaders need to allocate the money now. Doing otherwise is pennywise and pound foolish.
Getting more people to ride the bus helps our island’s workers, residents, and visitors. It helps us combat congestion and parking issues and cleans up our environment. It makes us healthier and helps our Mom-and-Pop businesses thrive. So, let’s help our transit system help the island by giving them the marketing resources to get the job done.
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You can find two years’ worth of KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.
Streets for People / Key West Transit’s Uber-Like On-Demand “Key West Rides” Service Begins November 30
Posted on November 18, 2022 Leave a Comment
By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on November 18, 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.
The City announced this week that Key West Transit’s new “Key West Rides” Uber-like, on-demand bus service begins on Wednesday, November 30. On that day the two North and South Lines that snake their way from Stock Island to downtown via different fixed City routes will disappear. In their place customers anywhere in Key West and Stock Island will be able to use an app on their smartphone to request a ride, from 6 am to 8 pm, to be picked up and then taken between any of 160+ bus stops throughout the service area. The matching technology will group riders going in a similar direction for quick and efficient shared trips at the same $2 per trip price as current City routes. Duval Loop and Lower Keys Shuttle routes will remain as they are today.
First proposed during the summer of 2021 budget process as a way to cope with a lack of bus drivers, this innovation is welcome 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 decent options like this (and bicycling) to help cope with the spiraling costs of commuting by car on top of already other-worldly housing costs. Our story looks behind the scenes on how this came about, provides some more details, and looks to future iterations and improvements.
Driver Shortage = Lack of Frequent Service = Declining Ridership
In the two years’ before Covid, annual ridership on Key West Transit’s Duval Loop, City Routes and Lower Key’s Shuttle totaled 620,071 and 652,404 and then fell by half in 2020-2021 to just 352,500. Even as the island’s economy rebounded with record numbers of visitors, transit ridership continued to plummet. In the just completed 2021-2022 fiscal year that ended last month on September 30, only 223,863 rides were taken. That’s just about 1/3 the rides taken a few years ago. U.S. Census data shows less than one percent (1%) or almost no one takes the bus to commute to work.
Part of the problem is a lack of qualified bus drivers due to our housing-crunch. Without drivers, service levels haven’t been what they were pre-Covid. With buses running less frequently, people can’t depend on it and ridership drops.
Transit advocates, I included, have lobbied the City to ramp up the dismal frequencies on the different routes to attract more residents, workers, and visitors to ride. The City routes only come by every 80 – 95 minutes, the Lower Keys Shuttle every 90 – 120 minutes and even the Duval Loop only comes by every 30-40 minutes these days. Research shows that if these frequencies were every 15-20 minutes more people would use the service. But the reality is, more frequent service needs more drivers, and this isn’t currently possible given our housing/worker crisis. When I asked Rod Delostrinos, Key West Transit Director about driver pay here’s what he said:
“The City Commission has approved the reclassification of the driver positions resulting in higher pay. The driver vacancies are slowly being filled, but we are still short drivers. The compensation along with other benefits package the City of Key West offers will hopefully persuade current drivers to continue with us and new candidates to apply.”
On-Demand Service To the Rescue
Anticipating the driver shortage is a longer-term issue, and thus the frequency problem wasn’t going to be solved quickly, Mr. Delostrinos and his team came up with the on-demand service as a solution during the budget process in the summer of 2021. Here’s how he put the difference between operating on fixed-routes and on-demand when we chatted this summer:
“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.”
As Key West Transit staff is already stretched thin, in June 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 to operate the program. We give Rod and his team credit for trying something completely different and partnering with a private sector transportation company for support. After more than a year of planning, it is now all coming together. Says Mayor Teri Johnston:
“I am thrilled to get the on-demand service up and running. As new housing units are added in and around Key West, this service can offer a cost effective and reliable way to get to and from work, save some money, reduce our street congestion, noise levels, parking issues and pollution all while lowering our stress levels.”
Key West Rides On-Demand Transit Service Explained
If you scan the QR code in the above promo flyer it takes you here. The easiest way to explain how to use the service is to say it works very similarly to Uber, meaning you use an app on your smartphone to request a ride. The free Key West Rides app will be available on Google Play and iOS App Store on November 23. Here’s how Key West Transit explains it:
“Trips must start and end within the designated service area. After booking a ride, the app will display the pick-up location where the vehicle will meet you. This is a bus stop -to- bus stop service so that you will be picked up and dropped off close as possible to your destination. Since this is a shared ride service, you may board with others in the vehicle or stop to pick up others. Key West Rides On-Demand currently has only one zone in Key West, including Stock Island. Check the zone and bus stops out in this interactive map.”
We’ve been told that Key West Transit will be taking calls in-house for those that don’t have smartphones. We don’t have a number yet. When we asked about anticipated wait times Rod told us: “Since wait times are affected on the number of riders, it would be difficult to speculate.”
As with an Uber, you’ll be able to track the progress of your ride on the app. The big difference from Uber is that you’ll still have to pay for your ride the old-fashioned way. With cash or a pass. Rides are $2 per trip, $4 for a One Day Pass, $8 for a 7-Day Pass and $25 for a 31-Day Pass. There are discounts for students, disabled/disadvantaged, military, and seniors. It would be nice in the future if you could pay using a credit card stored on your app. NOTE: Since we published this post Ryan Stachurski, the City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator tells us you CAN pay with your phone using the Token Transit app available for Apple or Android. We looked into it. Not many people have downloaded it, but this would be especially useful if you were going to purchase one of the passes. While not as convenient as paying on Uber, perhaps someday you’ll be able to pay with the Key West Rides app for a more seamless experience.
The other difference from Uber is that this isn’t a door-to-door service. You pinpoint your desired beginning and ending points and the app directs you to the nearest bus stops. So, all those stops are on existing routes. We don’t yet know if they’ll be adding stops in places where no routes currently exist, like in parts of Midtown. Regarding if there will be any information at those stops initially the Transit Director says: “Eventually all stops will have information on “how to use” the On-Demand Transit. The information will available on flyers on the bus, websites, and brochures at various locations.”
It would be nice if you could rate your ride like on Uber too. But then again, look at the savings. Your ride is only $2 instead of $20!
Staffing and Data Can Help Shape Future Service Expansions
When we asked Mr. Delostrinos if there were any plans to go beyond 8 pm yet he told us:
“Not at this time. The service level is based on staffing. If this program is successful, service hours and staffing level increases could be discussed during the next fiscal year’s budget preparation.”
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 his team to potentially develop new efficient fixed route, circulator and/or express services in the future. He said:
“The key to determining better service is to analyze the first few months of on-demand transit service, recognize emerging ridership patterns, and possibly develop additional transit service such as limited express bus.”
The tracking from the app should provide a treasure-trove of useful data.
Potential Freebee Micro-Transit Service On Stock Island Tie In
In our story “Freebee On-Demand Ride-Hailing-to-Transit Might Provide Stock Island Residents With Reason to Leave Their Cars at Home,” July 22, 2022 we discussed the County’s $850,000 experimental project to use little Freebee golf cart like vehicles to take people from their homes on Stock Island to a long-haul fixed route shuttle that would then take people from Stock Island to downtown. In order for this to work, Key West Transit would need to provide that long-haul service. Currently the Lower Keys Shuttle only comes by 10 times a day or about every hour and a half to two hours. If the on-demand project is successful at providing more service with less drivers as officials anticipate and if the City is successful at recruiting more drivers, perhaps a long-haul shuttle can be initiated, or Lower Keys Shuttle buses can become much more frequent. Then the Freebee tie in would work much better. So, a lot of potential future service could be riding on the success of Key West Rides.
Bus Stop Upgrades Coming Soon
In our story “City to Begin Work On Making It Easy to Bike to Lower Keys Shuttle and Enhancing Bus Stops from Marathon to Key West,” November 4, 2022 we talked about how the City is beginning construction on a $1.4 million dollar project to install bicycle racks and bike lockers, map and schedule information, hail or flagging devices, trash and recycle bins, lights, and even some fix-it stations at 74 bus stops between Marathon and Key West. While this project is mostly aimed at Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops, the City anticipates following this up and doing something similar at all the remaining Duval Loop and Key West Rides bus stops. Making the bus stops an attractive place to wait and providing information on how to use the service will be a key in an overall better experience for existing riders and for attracting new riders.
Key West Ride’s Success Is a Win for All of Us
The last few years haven’t been kind to our island’s little transit system. Declining ridership (here and here), third-world-like bus stops (here and here) and disappointing follow-through on planning efforts to improve the system (here, here, here, here, here, here and here) have led many to give up on seeing a genuinely useful resident and worker-friendly transit system on our islands. But the bus stop upgrades, potential micro-transit on Stock Island and now most especially the new Key West Rides on-demand transit getting off the ground gives us reason to hope for better times ahead.
Our Mayor has been tenacious about keeping transit improvements on the front burner. As has our City Manager. Including these improvements in the City’s Strategic Plan has ensured it is being addressed (thanks to Elisa Levy). And good people at Key West Transit (we’re looking at you Rod Delostrinos, Rogelio Hernandez, and Carolyn Haia), and City Hall (Ryan Stachurski and Alison Higgins) are working together as a team to improve transportation options despite being short-staffed. Thanks to all of them!
An improving transit system helps our island’s workers, residents, and visitors by providing another viable cost-effective option, in addition to bikes, to being dependent on driving a car everywhere. It helps us combat congestion and parking issues and cleans up our environment. It makes us healthier and helps our Mom-and-Pop business thrive. So, let’s wish this team success in rolling out Key West Rides. We all win if this works.
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You can find two years’ worth of KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.