2019 Top 10 – #4: Mall On Duval

Before we bring you the Top 10 Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Stories of 2020 we are counting down last year’s 2019 Top 10 to refresh our memories of where we’ve been. Especially as many of the 2019 stories carry over into 2020. Each day we’ll share another story until we get to 2019’s #1 on December 18. THEN we’ll build on that and begin counting down 2020’s Top 10 till the end of the year. We hope you enjoy our 2019 Recap and our new 2020 stories throughout December. Thank you.

By Chris Hamilton; Saturday, December 27, 2019

On February 15, with a big ribbon-cutting ceremony and much fanfare, a pilot project dubbed “Mall on Duval,” where the 500, 600 and 700 blocks of Duval where closed to car traffic between 5 pm and midnight, was born. 

In a report at the time by Gwen Filosa for the Miami Herald: “City leaders hope the big change, will please visitors and also attract locals who have sworn off Duval Street because of maddening traffic that at times pits cars, bikes, scooters, pedicabs, skateboarders and pedestrians against each other. The car-free zone was created to “stimulate economic activity, and provide lessons learned for potential expansion of restricted vehicle events,” according to a memo from the city’s engineering. The plan emulates other pedestrian malls such as Lincoln Road in South Beach; St. Augustine’s George Street; Boulder, Colorado’s Pearl Street; San Diego’s Seaport Village; and parts of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. “This is not a tourist attraction,” Mayor Teri Johnston said at the Feb. 5 City Commission meeting when the decision was made in a 6-1 vote. “This is for us, the people who live here every single day.”

Restaurants and shop keepers got involved. Local radio stations came out. City leaders and staff set up weekly booths to talk to residents. Most importantly of all, it did draw locals downtown to see what all the fuss was about. People liked the convivial, car-free atmosphere. We’ve posted many pictures, week after week, of happy, smiling people enjoying the car-free weekends.

The pilot, which was to last through April 27 was popularly extended into the summer. But the positive energy created in the winter and spring didn’t seem to last. At least, for some. When that pilot was ending mid-summer, some business interests balked at further renewals and said they were losing money. This time the extension only passed by a 4-3 vote and when implemented, was done only once a month to appease vocal business opponents. Recently, City Commission extended it on a 4-3 vote through mid-February but compromised on only every other weekend. 

We give the Mayor, Commissioner Weekly and others kudos for trying. Is the pilot a home run? No, perhaps it’s a double. The project is likely too complicated to succeed for everyone without some corresponding changes to the infrastructure of the street. Or without the help of a dedicated group, like a business improvement district (BID), to help orchestrate and run it and coordinate with the City. But the reason Mall on Duval is important and comes in at #4 on our list is because, as Mayor Johnson has said, it HAS succeeded in getting more locals to come downtown. Surveys show people have liked it and had some fun. It has gotten the Duval businesses AND the community at large talking about how to take better care of our main street and stimulate economic and social activity that benefits everyone. Most importantly, the conversation that has been generated about what works and what doesn’t has made everyone realize we need help (in the form of some expertise), we need a plan of action, we need to define success and then measure it. Item #8 on our list, Duval Street Revitalization Sought Via RFQ (Dec. 22), would never had happened were it not for the Mall on Duval Pilot Project. That’s why this pilot was a good thing.

#5 “HAWK” Signals Installed at 5 N. Roosevelt Crosswalks (Dec. 27, 2019)
#6 City Implements Progressive Parking Strategies (Dec. 26, 2019)
#7 Starting the Crosstown Greenway Project (Dec. 23, 2019)
#8 Duval Street Revitalization Sought (Dec. 22, 2019)
#9 City Rebuilds Atlantic Boulevard Bike Path (Dec. 21, 2019)
#10 City Addresses Closing the Gap at Admiral’s Cut (Dec. 20, 2019)

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

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