Streets for People / City to Make It Easier to Bike to the Lower Keys Shuttle Bus

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 20, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

If all goes as planned, by this time next year the City will be in the process of installing bicycle racks and lockers, map and schedule information, hail lights, bicycle fix-it stations and trash and recycle bins at most of the 62 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops between Marathon and Key West as well as 20 of the most frequently used North and South Line and Duval Loop bus stops. The effort is part of a “Final Mile” grant aimed to bridge the gap between people’s homes or destination and the bus stop.

Over the last couple of decades more people that work in Key West, have moved to the County to find cheaper housing. According to 2015 and 2021 surveys, traffic congestion is a top three problem with congestion along U.S. Route 1 and through the Triangle a familiar headache to many. The popular Key West Transit Lower Keys Shuttle (LKS) is one of the only alternatives to driving for people commuting in from the Lower Keys as the bike ride all the way is in just too far for most people. Investing in making the Lower Keys Shuttle easier to access provides an opportunity to get more people off the only road into town and decrease congestion and pollution.

The First and Final/Last Mile Problem

In transportation circles, the Last or Final Mile problem describes the difficulty in getting people from transit hubs, train stations and bus stops to their final destination after they get off the vehicle. The First Mile Problem is about the difficulty of getting people from one’s home to the beginning transit stop. Walking is the primary mode for getting to and from a transit stop. But research shows that most people will only walk a quarter mile or two to three blocks to reach a bus stop. Now think about our islands in the Lower Keys and how far away much of the housing is along U.S. Route 1 where the Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops are located. Extending that quarter mile radius around the bus stop by enabling people to use other modes to get to the stop means more riders. More riders mean less congestion on the Overseas Highway.

In many cities technology has enabled new ways to address first and last mile problems. Bikeshare and scooter share has proven to increase transit ridership on both ends of the trips. Park-n-ride lots allow people to drive to the bus stop and park for free for the day and hop on the bus or train. And many transit systems are experimenting with Uber, Lyft, taxis, and new-fangled micro-transit (van-sharing) to get people to and from transit stops. In formulating their grant, the City considered many of these options. In the end, what they will construct is a pretty good start at making transit, especially along U.S. Route 1 into Key West, an easier and more convenient alternative to driving.

The City’s Transit/Bike Champion Puts Together a Winning Strategy 

It is no surprise that Alison Higgins, the City’s Sustainability Coordinator for more than a decade, wrote the proposed “Final Mile” grant. She obviously works closely with Key West Transit staff. To her credit, Ms. Higgins has a long and storied record of championing transit and bikes as part of her sustainability role with the City. For example, she created and chairs the Transportation Coordination Team (TCT), which is a multi-departmental group that meets regularly to pull together transportation strategies. She was instrumental in helping to build the City’s Transportation Alternative Fund or TAF and the highly successful Duval Loop, which originally relied on TAF funding to get going. That and she championed the creation of the Bicycle Coordinator now Alternative Transportation Coordinator position. Says Alison of the Final Mile grant:

“This was a high priority project for the City’s internal Transportation Coordination Team.  The Final Mile project is a win win for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, reducing vehicle miles travelled on our roads. While we need to make the Lower Keys Shuttle service more frequent, we hope that these amenities will reduce the barriers that are out there for folks who want to take a cheaper and less stressful way to get into town.”

As the project, which is 95% funded by the State, uses Federal dollars, there’s a rigorous planning process that must be adhered to before hardware starts getting installed. Ms. Higgins says that every stop, 80+ altogether, must have a plan including an environmental and cultural review. All the stops are at 60% completion. It is expected the stop designs will reach 90% by spring and that construction or installation bids will then go out for work to start next summer. Here’s what’s coming:

Space for 364 Bicycles in Racks and Lockers

As the Lower Keys Shuttle is popular, the two bicycle racks mounted to the front of the buses are often full early on in the run, leaving people who hop on outside of Marathon with no place to put their bike. Fights have been known to break out for the coveted spots. To address this, the City is installing space for 292 bikes in racks and 72 bikes in lockers at the most popular stops along the route. That’s 364 more riders that can access the bus from their homes by bike.

Hail Lights Installed at 43 Stops

Stops along the Lower Keys Shuttle that have enough right-of-way have standard bus shelters. Five new ones were installed just this past year. Each of these bus shelters have solar powered lighting so they can be seen at night by the bus driver and customers. On parts of U.S. Route 1 it can be dark. So, with this in mind, 43 stops that are in the darkness are slated to receive bright LED “hail lights.” A customer presses a button on the pole and a solar powered light on tops shines to alert the bus driver that someone is waiting at the stop. 

Information at Every Lower Keys Shuttle and Many Downtown Bus Stops

We knew we loved Alison when she told us the bus stop is an opportunity for passersby or people that live nearby to see map and schedule information at the stop and then they may be more inclined to use the service if they need it. As we’ve railed about the lack of bus stop information in the past (The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops – We Just Don’t Care; April 2, 2021), this action gives us hope. All 62 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops will get map and schedule information installed on the pole or shelter. AND 20 of the highest priority stops on the Duval Loop and North and South Lines (some of which also share poles with LKS) will also get map and schedule information. 

Trash and Recycle Bins at Every Lower Keys Shuttle Stop

Many of the bus stops along the Lower Keys Shuttle route already have trash and recycle bins. Those that don’t will be slated to get them. Not surprising that the Sustainability Coordinator would think to do this too.

16 Public Bicycle Fix-It Stations

Nothing is more frustrating to a bicyclist than a flat tire, loose gears or basket that is falling off. While Key West and Stock Island have lots of wonderful bike shops, that isn’t necessarily so for the entire Lower Keys. So having a convenient place to fix one’s bicycle helps keep people going. A fix-it station includes all the tools necessary to perform basic bike repairs and maintenance, from changing a flat to adjusting brakes, bells, and accessories. The tools are securely attached to the stand with stainless steel cables and tamper-proof fasteners.

Alison explains that Fix-It Stations will go into public areas near bus stops but not directly on U.S. 1 for safety reasons. 16 of them will be installed. The locations include four in Key West at the GATO Building, Kennedy Ball Field and two fire stations, three on Stock Island, one each at the Big Coppitt and Sugarloaf Fire Houses, one at Big Pine Key Park, one at the 7-Mile Bridge parking area and another five in Marathon. 

Regional Park-N-Ride Hubs

Some places in the Lower Keys have nearby commercial parking adjacent to the Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops. These areas can be convenient hubs for people to drive a short distance from their home, park and hop on the bus for the long trip into town. As part of this project Ms. Higgins anticipates providing five Regional Park-N-Ride Hubs at locations such as the Big Pine CVS, the Tiki Bar on Ramrod Key and Baby’s Coffee. They’ll work with the businesses to make this a win win. These bus stops will include the map and schedule information, trash and recycle cans, bike racks and lockers, AND the ability to access the bus stop by car. 

Let’s Double Down on This Excellent Project and Add More Service to the Lower Keys Shuttle Too

With U.S. Route 1 being the only road into and out of the Keys it is in everyone’s interest that this road does not get too clogged up with traffic. For business and logistics reasons, for safety reasons and for our environment. So, investing in moving people more efficiently along the Overseas Highway should be an imperative of both the City and County. This project fits the bill by making it easier and more convenient to get to the bus stop. Kudos to the City’s Sustainability Coordinator and Transit folks for pulling this off. Especially as the state is footing 95% of the cost. But we need to double down on making it easy for people to choose to use the Lower Keys Shuttle by further investing in additional frequency. There are only 10 trips in and 10 trips out a day, or about every two hours. Imagine if that service between Marathon and downtown Key West was every 30 minutes. We might really help some people get out of their cars and make a dent in traffic. 

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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

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