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 

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on December 17, 2021 and is publishednd and reprinted here with permission. And please don’t forget to follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

For the last two years we’ve brought our readers a countdown of the year’s Top 10 most important bike, walk, transit and streets for people stories of the year. As we gathered this year’s list together, it became apparent that while good things happened in 2021, we seemed to have just as many setbacks. It begs the question as we go into 2022, is our glass half empty or half full when it comes to these issues? So, we’ve broken this year’s countdown in half. In Week 1 we counted down the Top 10 Stories of problems, disappointments and delays and made the case for a glass half empty year. This week we count down our Top 10 Stories where we’ve made progress, improvement and growth and make the case that it was a glass half full year. Tell us how you’d rate the year. Is our glass half full or half empty as we enter 2022?

Summary of Week 1 – Countdown of 2021’s Top 10 Most Important Stories that Make the Case for a Glass Half Empty Year:

10. Nothing Has Been Done in Two Years to Close the Gap at Admiral’s Cut
9. Our Bike Rank Isn’t Because of Anything We’ve Done to Improve Biking
8. Efforts to Limit Large Cruise Ships Continue to Flounder
7. KW Transit Continues to Struggle at Marketing and Communications
6. Lack of Information at Key West Bus Stops Continues
5. Nothing is Happening to Make Duval More People Friendly
4. Transit Doesn’t Get Planned Infusion of Money for More Frequent Service
3. Duval Street Revitalization Project is Two Years+ Behind Schedule
2. Bike/Ped Plan Says First/Bertha Get Bike Lanes, We’ll Get Parking Instead
1. City Gets a FAIL on Making S. Roosevelt and the Promenade Safer for All

Week 2 – Countdown of 2021’s Top 10 Most Important Stories that Make the Case for a Glass Half Full Year

#10. Volunteers and a Little Green Paint Show How We Can Make It Safer to Bike; January 29, 2021

ON THE CROSSTOWN GREENWAY SPEEDING IS DOWN AND PEOPLE FEEL SAFER:
This feel-good story discussed how a group of volunteers, City staff and folks from the “tactical urbanism” firm Street Plans from Miami worked with neighbors along a stretch of the Crosstown Greenway to make it safer by slowing cars, reducing cut-through traffic, and installing paint and signage that makes it easier for bikes to know where to go. The Crosstown Greenway runs the length of Duck, Staples and Von Phister providing a safer alternative to N. Roosevelt to get across the island. For phase 1 on Staples between George and 12th Streets, the group painted green bike lanes, ‘Super Sharrows’, yellow painted curb extensions and installed delineator posts, curb separators and signage in November 2020. Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski tells us that because of the project they’ve received positive comments from nearby residents and businesses. He also said a survey showed increases in intersection safety and vehicle speed reductions as the percent of speeding cars from 1st to 2nd Street decreased 69% (23.6 to 7.2). We’re looking forward to Phase 2.

#9. What’s Old is New Again – Two New Bike Trails Take Us Back in Time to a Simpler Key West April 30, 2021

PROPOSED SMATHERS BEACH AND SALT PONDS BICYCLE TRAILS LOOK PROMISING:
This was one of our most popular stories of the year because it reminded people of the good ol days of yore when people used to use these makeshift trails for walking, biking and recreation. While they’ve been filled in and blocked over the past couple of decades, the Bike/Ped Plan calls for their revival. Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Tim Staub slated these trails for exploratory planning work and current Coordinator Ryan Stachurski tells us he’s discussing them with the Parks and Recreation Board. Based on feedback from the public these two trails will be a welcome addition as the Salt Ponds Trail would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with downtown saving bikers 10+ minutes. And the Smathers Beach Trail would connect the High School from Flagler, behind Key West by the Sea directly to the beach. We hope these get fast tracked.

#8. We Need to Encourage Efforts Lik the Proposed Lama Electric Scooter ; August 6, 2021

CUTTING EDGE PROGRAM TO RENT STANDUP E-SCOOTERS TO HOTEL GUESTS STARTS SOON:
Back in August, entrepreneur and local hotel owner Marc Meisel went before the City Commission asking for an exemption to put 48 Lama e-scooters (the stand-up kind) at his three properties. Key West is currently in the middle of a two-year moratorium on new rental vehicles. Thus, the need for an exemption. Key West also does not allow one-way dockless bikes or scooter rentals that operate (usually by phone app) on the City’s right-of-way. The Lama e-scooter gets around these issues by putting docking stations, which charge the bikes, at the hotels and by requiring a round trip – although the user can lock the scooter at multiple destinations before returning it. Mr. Meisel tells us that his application was just approved by an enthusiastic Planning Commission that cited it’s eco-friendly, alternative transportation as important to fighting traffic congestion. He said Commissioner Hoover was a big help too. Good for the Planning Commission and the Commissioner! He expects the program to kick off in January. 

#7. Airport Expansion Means Fewer Cars on Our Island; September 24, 2021

A STUDY AND TDC DATA SHOW VISITORS ARRIVING BY AIR CAN REDUCE CONGESTION:
This was our most read story of the year. It seems a huge discussion on various social media group pages propelled people to read the article. Nothing gets us locals so fired up as change and car traffic. Lots of people took issue with us saying that expanding the airport to accommodate more passengers was a good thing because well, who wants change? People didn’t like the architecture, the cost, nor the ability for the airport to bring more visitors to the island. But with overnight stay visitors reaching an all-time high, and most of them getting here by private or rental car, we made the case that more people arriving by airplane gives us the opportunity to reduce the volume on U.S. Route 1 and the traffic downtown, if we can get them to bike, walk and transit once they get here. Backing us up was a 2019 study from the University of South Florida and plenty of data from the TDC from which we provided lots of stats. If anything, the outpouring for this story reminds us that we’ll do a follow-up this winter on how the City and County need to do a better job of getting visitors not to bring cars to our island at all.

#6. Averting E-Bike Mayhem and Making Key West Sidewalks Safer; February 12, 2021

NEW STATE BIKE AND CITY E-BIKE LEGISLATION MAKE OUR SIDEWALKS SAFER:
A new Florida Law effective July 1, 2020, provided for three classifications of e-bikes or pedal assist and throttle bikes and gave them all the rights, privileges and duties of human powered bikes, meaning they could operate anywhere a regular bike could. The new law also gave counties and municipalities the ability to regulate their use on sidewalks. This prompted Commissioner Sam Kaufman and Mayor Johnston to pursue a year’s long effort by the City to update its E-Bike Ordinance to make our sidewalks safer. On July 20, 2021 that new legislation was adopted and restricts e-bikes on most sidewalks and limits e-bikes traveling on the multi-use trails or promenades of North and South Roosevelt Boulevards to travel no more than 15 mph. Effective July 1, 2021 the State passed additional Bike Legislation that includes a requirement to add bicycle and pedestrian safety related questions to the testing questions required to obtain a driver’s license. Says Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski: “I think adding questions to the test goes a long way to improve motorists’ awareness of pedestrians and cyclists. With increasing e-bike ridership, more people will choose to leave their car at home.” We agree. 

#5. In Quest to Improve Crosstown Greenway, City Prepares to Construct New Bike Trail Segment; May 21, 2021

WICKERS BIKE TRAIL’S DESIGN IS ALMOST COMPLETE. CONSTRUCTION SLATED FOR SUMMER:
This was another popular story as it mixed baseball and bicycles. The new Wickers Trail is going in where a minor league baseball club use to play at now long-gone Wickers Stadium from 1969 until 1975. Local parents and kids know it now as Wickers Sports Complex between 14th Street, Kennedy Drive, Flagler Avenue and Poinciana Elementary. The Wickers Bicycle Trail is a short yet key segment of the Crosstown Greenway that navigates between the concrete cut-through path from Seidenberg Avenue between 12th and Kennedy through two parking lots serving the Wickers Sports Complex before coming to Duck Avenue at 14thStreet. It’s an unsafe mess and Commissioner Greg Davila has championed doing something to make it safer for all by separating the bikes from the parking lot. According to Multi-Modal Coordinator Ryan Stachurski, Calvin, Giordano and Associates completed their report on the project and design alternatives are expected to be delivered shortly. Construction could start in June. Yay!

#4. PeopleforBikes Ranks Key West 39th Best City for Bicycling; June 11, 2021

OUR HIGH RANK AND NATURAL ADVANTAGES GIVE US OPPORTUNITY TO REACH FOR #1:
On June 3 PeopleForBikes released its 2021 City Ratings. The City of Key West received a score of 58 on a 100-point scale which earned it 39th place of 767 cities measured and 10th place in the Small U.S. Cities category. An improvement over 2020’s #115 ranking. Pretty darn good! We’re small, flat and have good weather, so lots of us ride bikes. That’s the reason for our relatively high score, not because of anything the City is doing by way of facilities – and thus why this same story was #9 on our list for making a Glass Half Empty case. But the good news and why we bring this story back to make the case for a Glass Half Full is that the natural factors (small, flat, good weather) in place should make it much easier for us, compared to other cities, to make a huge difference if we put our minds and dollars to it and invest in some facilities. Why couldn’t we be the #1 small city for bicycling in the U.S.A. instead of Provincetown, Massachusetts? 

#3. Meet Local Ryan Stachurski – The City’s New “Bike Guy”; October 8, 2021

RYAN’S HIRING GIVES US HOPE THAT PROJECT AND PLANS WILL BE FULFILLED:
This was the feel-good story of the year and generated nothing but love on social media as we introduced local and bicycle advocate Ryan Stachurski as the City’s new Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator or “Bike Guy.” Coming after the disappointing departure of the wonky, hard-working Tim Staub, who left the position for graduate school, Ryan’s selection was widely hailed as an awesome pick that soothed the loss of Tim. We interviewed City officials and local advocates and they all had nothing but glowing things to say about Ryan. He provided us some nice background info too. It is a story that helps residents get to know Ryan better while offering hope for the future. Says Ryan: “Drawn-in by the joy of cycling, equitable and efficient transportation became more important to me as I learned about climate change, and the public health and safety impacts of the automobile status quo. I think that sometimes the best way to get around Key West is by taking a walk or a ride. It’s how I’ve been getting around for years. I think we can do more to facilitate alternative transportation in our city and the steps we take can help improve the quality of life for us all.” What’s not to like!

#2. Prominent Locals Say We’ve Got a Lot to Be Thankful for When It Comes to Biking and Walking in Key West; November 19, 2021

A SHARED UNDERSTANDING BY LEADERS AND ADVOCATES THAT WE HAVE SOMETHING SPECIAL HERE GIVES US A FOUNDATION TO BUILD A BETTER FUTURE:
It started with a simple question to some prominent people around the island. “When it comes to bike, walk, transit and streets for people, what are you thankful for?” The 30+ heartfelt and generous answers echoed similar themes that biking and walking in Key West is something everyone appreciates because it is so rare. You just can’t get this experience on the sprawling, car-dependent mainland. The great biking and walking seemed to make everyone appreciate Key West all the more. The article is worth a read because each of the quotes genuinely illustrates how lucky we are and how unique this little island is. The fact that there’s a common understanding among residents that we are indeed fortunate to have such great conditions for biking – small, flat, good weather – enables us to pursue making it even safer and easier to get around by these modes. 

#1. Mayor Bravely Puts Onus on Commission to Do Heavy Lifting on Better Bike, Walk and Transit. Will They Come Through? July 2, 2021

GROUNDBREAKING STRATEGIC PLAN PUTS A STAKE IN THE GROUND FOR BETTER BIKE, WALK, TRANSIT AND STREETS FOR PEOPLE:
Mayor Johnston ran on a platform that included developing a strategic plan and she came through on this item big time. After a year’s work with the excellent Elisa Levy Consulting, the Commission adopted the Key West Forward – Strategic Plan for the City of Key West – 2021-2024 in September. The plan followed up on a much needed Key West Recovers – 17 Point Business and Humanitarian Covid Recovery Plan for 2020 – 2021 also developed by Elisa Levy. Both plans boldly addressed the bike, walk, transit and streets for people issues we dearly care about. The Plan is thoughtful, easy-to-read and sets a roadmap out for City staff to follow. It also puts a needed marker on the table that holds them accountable over the next three years for making progress.

The six priorities of the Key West Forward Plan are: 1. Affordable Housing, 2. Sea Level Rise, 3. Streets and Sidewalks, 4. Environmental Protection, 5. Cleanliness and 6. Traffic & Pedestrian Friendliness, which we went into detail on in the above article. Some of our favorites include the aforementioned Crosstown Greenway, Wickers Bike Trail and E-bikes and scooters. The plan also includes direction to staff for more bike racks, information at bus stops, pedestrian enhancements, wayfinding, and piloting some shared or “people” streets including parklets. All issues we’ve written about and advocated for. 

Half Empty or Half Full?

Yes, a strong case was made last week for a Glass Half Empty but reading these stories leads us to believe we can overcome the substantial setbacks. There’s obviously so much more work we have left to do. Misinformation, resistance to change, NIMBY’S and bureaucracy make everything harder than it needs to be. And yet, as witnessed here, perhaps we’re finally turning the large ship around towards a walk, bike, transit, and streets for people friendly city. Our bicycle rank reminds us of our natural advantages (warm, small, flat). Our new Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator gets it and has the patience and fortitude to accomplish things. Locals have a shared understanding that we have an amazing foundation on biking and walking on which to do more good work. And we now have a Strategic Plan that can guide us to a better future. So, as we look towards 2022 and the future we can’t help but think the Glass is Half Full when it comes to the issues. What do you think?

# # # You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here and 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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

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