Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: Mayor’s Race

Article 4 of 4: Mayor Teri Johnston is a Very Good “Friend” of Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People

Article 1: Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: Weekley and Kaufman Stand Out as True “Friends”
Article 2: Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: Challenger Dr. Ryan Barnett is a Good “Friend” of Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People
Article 3: Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: Challenger Kimball Ingram is a Good “Friend” of Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People

Today Friends of Car-Free Key West brings you our results for the City of Key West Mayor’s race, taking place on August 18 between incumbent Mayor Teri Johnston and challengers Mark Rossi and Rick Haskins. Based upon the incumbent’s voting record over the last two years and both hers and her challengers answers to our 13 questions in four categories: Duval Street and Downtown, Duval Loop and Public Transit, Bicycle and Pedestrian and Parking Strategies, we give Mayor Johnston a Grade of B+, Mark Rossi a Grade of F and Rick Haskins a Grade of D- on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Issues. It isn’t even close. Therefore, Friends of Car-Free Key West enthusiastically recommends voting to re-elect Teri Johnston as Mayor of our City.

We want to thank all three candidates for talking with us and to Mayor Johnston (response) and Mr. Haskins (response) for taking the time to respond to the questions in writing. (Mr. Rossi’s brief response.) The Mayor’s effort was particularly commendable. Mr. Rossi was thoughtful in following up and talking with us and we respect his past service and standing in the community, but in the end his response was lacking. We appreciate that Mr. Haskins submitted something in writing but he showed a lack of depth in his responses. Further below we provide a spreadsheet that includes the specific Past Votes and how we scored them, the 13 questions and our scores of each answer and all of the responses from the candidates in their entirety in their own words. (Photo credit for restaurant picture Michael Beattie at Conch Scooter blog.)

CandidatePast Votes ScoreQuestionaire ScoreGrade
Mayor Teri Johnston1015.5B+
Mark RossiNA-2F
Rick HakinsNA2D-
Past Vote Scores can range up to 16+ points, Questionnaire Scores can range up to 13+ points.

Why Teri Johnston for Mayor

The Mayor’s Record and Vision Stands Head and Shoulders Above Her Competitors

In her brief record as Mayor, Teri Johnston has three times voted for the Mall on Duval, voted for each of the bicycle and pedestrian initiatives we researched, and voted for the expansion of metered parking in every case. The only time we disagreed with her voting record was when she voted to impose a $1 fee on Duval Loop bus rides for visitors, and even then she’s made clear her intent for that to be temporary and to expand free transit to all other city routes. The Mayor’s vision on Duval Street and downtown, public transit, bicycle/pedestrian and parking strategies issues is as progressive, far-reaching and exciting as anything you’d see from better known “bike/walk/transit cities” that get it like Paris, Seattle, Portland, Boulder, Austin and other places we regular showcase on the Friends of Car-Free Key West Facebook page. We hope you’ll take the time to read her responses in full because they show a breadth of understanding and a depth of knowledge not often seen by a public official who has so many other issues pressing on her at the moment.

In the little we’ve seen, Mr. Rossi shows that he clearly has a car-centric view of transportation. He’s championed building garages in the heart of downtown and making it easier to find cheap, easy parking for downtown employees and New Town residents. He’s also belittled efforts to invest in revitalizing Duval Street and trying any temporary measures such as Mall on Duval recently saying: “Yes, we need to fix the potholes, but other than that, I think it’s fine the way it is… We can do a fluff-and-buff cleanup, but other than that, let’s not waste taxpayers’ money on this.(City Seeks Firm for Duval Street Improvements, Mandy Miles, Keys Weekly, January 20, 2020)

While answering our questions, we didn’t find much depth in the responses from Mr. Haskins. For example, when discussing the Duval Revitalization Study, any interim steps that might be taken before the study is complete or on removing parking on Duval, his answers rested upon seeing what was presented and listening to the community before making a commitment one way or the other. He didn’t lead with any ideas or vision for a future other than waiting for people to bring him proposals and seeing what the community would support. He said similar things about transit. On bike issues, other than telling us he rides a bike for exercise he didn’t say much else. On parking, he did say he wasn’t in favor of raising any fees on permits and didn’t think Zone Parking Permits would work or could be enforced. In closing he told us “I believe that Key West is already on track becoming safer to bike, walk and bus and would again defer to the experts to provide us with a plan to improve anything that is not operating at the highest level.

The responses show the challengers haven’t given these issues much thought. If one care’s about these issues then one shouldn’t give these candidates much consideration either.

Mayor Johnston Champions Revitalizing Duval Street and Downtown

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

The grand opening of the Mall on Duval

As for ideas before the study is complete, the Mayor Johnston says: “As we strive to find that fine balance between a healthy community and economy, we started closing down congested blocks of Duval Street to vehicular traffic to provide a space for locals and visitors to safely social distance. After the reduction of allowable restaurant capacity, we are encouraging outdoor sidewalk cafe seating. Prior to Covid-19, merchants on Fleming Street hosted “First Friday on Fleming” to attract guests to a local neighborhood atmosphere. During my first 19 months, we invited the Key West Jazz band down to entertain shoppers on Duval. These smaller, more intimate events could be our future.” We like that while she believes in having a plan, her upcoming City Strategic Plan and Duval Street Revitalization Study to name two, she dares to just try things in the interim, like Mall on Duval or closing Duval for Covid. Trying new things and iterating them on the fly, without assurances they’ll work, shows guts and leadership.

Mayor Johnston Envisions a Future With Free Transit

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

Regarding hiring transit marketing firm, the Mayor agreed with us on the need and said: “Yes, a quality marketing firm, who represents and highlights our City’s public transportation system, would be a tremendous asset.” We appreciate that the Mayor broadens the discussion to all communications and mentions the Key West Bight’s successful marketing, something we’ve mentioned before (Does Duval Street/Downtown Need a Business Improvement District?, June 4, 2020), and says: “This type of proactive communication would certainly increase ridership on the Loop, KW Transit and Lower Keys Shuttle all while reducing vehicular congestion in our community.

In response to our question about higher wages for bus drivers the Mayor demonstrates a depth of knowledge on the issues saying: “Our pool of CDL-qualified bus drivers in the Lower Keys is limited and in high demand between the Monroe County School Board bus drivers, HTA trolley and train drivers, and the City of Key West. Because our public transportation system runs 18 hours a day for 362 days a year, our demands on these qualified drivers are much greater than either of the other entities. So, yes, our compensation has to clearly be commensurate with our demanding job requirements. Our drivers are responsible for transporting over 760,000 riders a year.

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

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

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

In the same answer she goes on to discuss the potential for one-waying some of our narrow streets to find room to promote shared mobility. This shows the potential promise of having room for the “dedicated bike lanes” she speaks of to be safely separated from cars. Another win for persons on bicycles.

We are happy to see she mentions the Crosstown Greenway pilot project moving forward in October and agreeing to implement Phase 1 of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. The Mayor says she rides her bike a couple times a week, scores points for being one of the “Zombie Ride Nannies”, and closes with:

“I look forward to seeing more locals and visitors on bicycles as we create safe, connected, dedicated bicycle lanes and routes through our entire city and into Stock Island.”

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

In answer to our question about raising the cost of a Residential Parking Permit this year and incrementally in future years, Mayor Johnston says: “Yes. The value of the residential stickers is $5,840 per year in free parking throughout our community. We have continued to add 4 hours of free parking in new city lots and areas to benefit our locals. I believe that our sticker fees should be proportionate to the value of the sticker and be included with the annual CPI increases that other city fees incur. This lets us keep up with costs associated with the sticker and no one takes a major hit in any one year.” She was the only candidate in all the surveys that answered both parts of the question and she stuck her neck out.

As part of the Mall on Duval, Mayor Johnston and management staff set up a booth to answer questions.

The Mayor is also one of the few willing to say a Zoned Permit Parking system is needed, noting “This need exists right now in Bahama Village and Old Town because of their proximity to our commercial corridor and the number of existing transient facilities in these areas.” It was interesting to hear her go on to say that granting exemptions eliminating off-street parking spots is a problem. Good for her. We’ve listened to the Parking Director John Wilkins on many occasions bemoan parking problems on blocks resulting from home owners eliminating their driveways. The Mayor also agreed on the need for additional parking enforcement saying: “It is essential that we enforce residential parking spots; otherwise their value diminishes and we send the wrong message to the violators.

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

Mayor Johnston Will Continue To Make Our Island a Better Place

We like that the Mayor is a planner, but more importantly she’s a proven doer who’s willing to adjust and iterate as projects meet the reality of hitting the ground. In each of our subject areas, Duval Street, public transit, bicycle/pedestrian and parking issues, Mayor Johnston is leading. The Mayor’s toughness on making hard decisions is an asset. She’s shown in her votes and answers that she’s willing to do the right thing. Keeping Teri Johnston as our Mayor provides us the best chance to make our little island paradise more bike, walk, transit and streets for people friendly.

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The Scoring and Backup Documents

We’ve compiled a spreadsheet that includes scores from Past Votes and scores from the Questionnaire and provides a final Grade, based upon those scores, for each candidate. A snippet of the Candidates Scoring Spreadsheet is below. You can also download the spreadsheet as a PDF for ease of reading. You’ll notice it has the Past Votes scores of the existing City Commissioners too. Scores are broken down into four categories:

  • Duval Street and Downtown
  • Duval Loop and Public Transit
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian
  • Parking Strategies
Past Votes Record and Scoring

We were able to find 16 votes over the past four years on these issues broken down as: Duval Street and Downtown (4 votes); Duval Loop and Public Transit (2 votes); Bicycle and Pedestrian (6 votes); and Parking Strategies (4 votes). In scoring these votes we generally gave a plus one (+1) if they agreed with our position on the item and a minus one (-1) if they didn’t. In a few instances we gave an extra point for some votes we deemed extra worthy or an extra point for the item’s Commission sponsor. Generally a total Score of about 16+ is possible.

The Votes

Duval Street and Downtown

  • Aug 21, 2018; Approving Lease of 1400 Block to Southernmost House in exchange for them building a pocket park (FOR)
  • April 2, 2019; Item 22, Vote to Extend Mall on Duval through May, June, July & until midnight (FOR)
  • August 20, 2019; Vote to Extend Mall on Duval through November, 2019 (FOR)
  • November 19, 2019; Vote to Extend Mall on Duval twice a month through February 17, 2020 and then cease (FOR)

Duval Loop and Public Transit

  • August 6, 2019; Item #11, Approve submission of 10-Year Transit Development Plan (FOR)
  • May 5, 2020; Item #10, Authorize $1 Fare for visitors on Duval Loop (AGAINST)

Bicycle and Pedestrian

  • February 7, 2017; Item #23, Authorize FDOT to proceed with 4 car lanes or no changes instead of FDOT and publicly recommended 2 car lanes, middle turn lane and protected bikeway (AGAINST)
  • March 20, 2018; Item #16, Recommend City Manager make efforts to hire a Transportation Coordinator in a timely manner (FOR)
  • September 20, 2018; Item #27 Revisit Speed Limit Map, establish limits to greatest extent (FOR)
  • March 5, 2019; Item #21 Accepting Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan (FOR)
  • September 19, 2019; Authorize rebuilding Atlantic Boulevard Multi-Use Path (FOR)
  • November 16, 2019; Admiral’s Cut discussion sponsored by Weekley. Withdrawn from Agenda (FOR bridging Admiral’s Cut)

Parking Strategies

  • September 20, 2018; Item #14, Accepting Parking and Alternative Transportation Report (FOR)
  • September 4, 2019; Item #22, Meter 1500 block of Reynolds and 700 and 800 blocks of Seminole (Casa Marina) (FOR)
  • September 4, 2019; Item #23, Meter Smathers Beach (FOR)
  • December 3, 2019; Meter Jackson Square and 500 block of Thomas Street while accepting Employee Pass (FOR)
Questionnaire Scoring

Each of the four categories includes three questions and one final overall question for a total of 13 that we sent to the candidates. They are scored the same way with up to one point (+1) for a good answer to minus a point (-1) for a bad answer. There were a few answers we deemed good enough for an extra half point. Generally a total score of 13 is possible on the Questionnaire.

The Questions

Duval Street and Downtown

  1. Do you favor funding the Duval Street Revitalization Study in the fiscal year 2021 budget? Will you fund the recommended improvements in the next year? Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. What are your ideas for interim projects (before the Study makes recommendations) on Duval or Downtown that would make it more pedestrian friendly and people oriented? Answer limited to 100 words.
  3. Do you think removing all parking on Duval Street would enhance the downtown environment? Would you support an ordinance that would allow parklets (benches or tables and chairs on a platform) to replace parking downtown? Answer limited to 100 words.

Duval Loop and Public Transit

  1. Do you favor returning to a free Duval Loop for visitors to our island? Do you favor fare free rides on other City routes for everyone? Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. Do you believe a third-party consulting firm should be retained to assist the City with branding and marketing the Duval Loop, Key West Transit and Lower Keys Shuttle programs? Answer limited to 100 words.
  3. Do you believe compensation of bus drivers should be increased to attract and retain a stable base of drivers?  Answer limited to 100 words.

Bicycle and Pedestrian 

  1. Please name a few bicycle and/or pedestrian projects (they can be from the Bike/Ped Plan) you would vote to fund in your term. Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. How often do you ride a bicycle and for what purposes?  How do you propose we get more people to bike and walk in Key West? Answer limited to 100 words. 
  3. Do you believe increased traffic enforcement (speeding) will improve public safety for pedestrians and people on bicycles? Or do you believe that infrastructure improvements will improve safety? Or Education? Perhaps nothing more is needed or perhaps all 3? Explain how public safety should be accomplished. Answer limited to 100 words.

Parking Strategies

  1. Do you favor raising the price on Residential Parking Permits to the $35 proposed in the FY21 budget? And even more for 2nd and 3rd vehicles? Do you favor going incrementally higher in future years? Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. Do you favor instituting Residential Permit Parking by Zone so that the permit allows one to park near one’s own home? Answer limited to 100 words.
  3. Should the City hire more parking enforcement officers since it has been demonstrated that these positions are self-funding and that residents desire increased enforcement efforts. Answer limited to 100 words.

GENERAL/CATCH ALL

  1. What do you think of when you think of Car-Free Key West and its mission and how do you propose to make it easier and safer for more people to bike, walk, take the bus and use streets and why do you think this is important? Limit 300 words.

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