Streets for People / Key West Mayoral and District IV Candidates in Their Own Words on Bike, Walk and Transit Issues

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 5, 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.

How do we make it safer and easier for more of us to ride bikes? What can we do to fix our public transit system and make it more useful to our beleaguered workforce? Are there transportation solutions for all the new housing coming to Stock Island? Can we have a more fair and equitable allocation of the City’s right-of-way and replace some on-street parking spaces downtown to get some bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, and pedestrian zones? Can we invest in some new (Smathers Beach and Salt Ponds) and existing (Crosstown Greenway/Wickers Field) bike trails to get people from New Town to downtown more quickly? What of e-scooters, Duval Street revitalization, and phasing out gas-powered rental scooters? If our City Hall leaders craft solutions to these questions it will help make our little island more healthy, green, sustainable, equitable, prosperous for local Mom and Pop shops, affordable, and happy. With this in mind, we put these questions to the Mayoral and District IV candidates running in the August 23 primary.

We want to thank all six candidates for City Office, Mayor Teri Johnston and former Commissioner Margaret Romero and District 4 Candidates Ryan Barwick, Lissette Cuervo Carey, Kim Highsmith, and Steven Nekhaila for generously taking the time to thoughtfully respond to our questions. 

Regular readers of our Streets for People column and followers on our Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown Facebook page know where we stand on these issues. Analysis of the answers shown here as “Column Notes” and recommendations for each office are made in the service of ensuring we have the votes on the City Hall dais in favor of bike, walk, transit and streets for people. We provide the candidate’s answers in full so you can decide for yourself. We’ll note early voting starts on Monday, August 8 at 530 Whitehead Street, #101 and runs through August 20.

The Questions:

  1. Describe how you have and will demonstrate leadership in making it safer and easier for more people to bike more often? Why is this important?
  2. According to the U.S. Census less than one percent of City residents use Key West Transit to get to work. What solutions do you have to improve public transit to make it useful to residents and workers? Any additional thoughts regarding serving residents of the new workforce housing complexes on Stock Island? Why is better transit important?
  3. How would you align parking policy downtown with making the island a better place to walk, bike, take the bus and use some of our streets for people? For example, on-street parking spaces are often cited as a reason for not putting in bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, or pedestrian zones. Are you willing to trade some on-street parking for these?
  4. The City and County are discussing swapping ownership of Higgs Beach for a portion of the Hawks Missile site to assist the Airport Authority. One of two potential bicycle trails identified in the Bike/Ped Plan would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with a time-saving and safe bike trail behind the airport out to Government Road. Will you fight to ensure the building of these trails are part of any land swap?
  5. Anything you’d like to add regarding transportation in Key West?

Lightening Round – Simply answer YES, NO, or DON’T KNOW. If you really need to expand upon any of these, please use question 5. 

  • 6. Crosstown Greenway. Fan?  
  • 7. Lama Electric Scooter Pilot. Fan? 
  • 8. Duval Street Revitalization Plan. Fan?
  • 9. Higher wages for Key West Transit drivers? 
  • 10. Phase out gas-powered scooter and golf cart rentals in 5 years?
  • 11. Wickers Bike Trail. City fund now or wait for FDOT funds in 2028?
  • 12. Ask County to follow Bike Plan and put bike lanes on First/Bertha Streets?

Mayoral Race: Incumbent Mayor Teri Johnston and Former Commissioner Margaret Romero

1 – Describe how you have and will demonstrate leadership in making it safer and easier for more people to bike more often? Why is this important?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
“As Mayor, I will continue to prioritize dedicated bicycle lanes and complete streets on all new road construction in Key West. As we evaluate raising roads to mitigate sea level rise, every one of those streets provides us an opportunity to incorporate a complete street upgrade. As we provide safe 5’ wide community connected bicycle lanes, more locals and guests can traverse our entire island using an economically beneficial and healthy mode of transportation. This reduces parking demand, congestion, noise, and pollution levels and improves our quality of life. By providing city wide bicycle lanes, we also have an opportunity to move e-vehicles off of our narrow sidewalks improving pedestrian safety and enjoyment. “

Margaret Romero:
“a. I perceive three types of “bikers”: a) those getting to / from work b) recreational – local c) recreational – tourists. I think more education of self-bicycle safety is very important: things like no wearing of ear buds / headphones, stopping at stop signs and red lights, following the “rules of the roads & sidewalks”, not darting in front of vehicles that clearly are attempting to enter into traffic or back out of spaces. Those who bike have rights, also have the accompanying responsibilities.”
Why is this important?
“b. To prevent injuries and all of the ramifications that surround them.”

Column Note: Mayor Teri Johnston, like most national bicycling and street safety organizations, emphasizes engineering and design and a safe connected network of 5 feet wide bike lanes and adds this help get e-vehicles off our sidewalks. Ms. Romero puts the onus on educating people riding bikes to be visible and follow the rules of the road to keep themselves safe. She doesn’t mention educating drivers about slowing down and watching for bikes and pedestrians though. Nor does she mention any infrastructure fixes.

2 – According to the U.S. Census less than one percent of City residents use Key West Transit to get to work. What solutions do you have to improve public transit to make it useful to residents and workers? Any additional thoughts regarding serving residents of the new workforce housing complexes on Stock Island? Why is better transit important?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
”The solution is to provide a free, frequent and reliable public transportation system. We attempted to get this approved during our last budget cycle but due to conflicting priorities like bringing our city staff to an equitable pay level for our community we could not make it work without placing a financial strain on our taxpayers. We are combating the shortage of qualified CDL drivers by piloting an “on-demand“ public transportation system. We are working collaboratively with the County to provide public transportation for the 280 units opening at Wreckers Cay and the 103 units coming on line on College Road in 2023.”

Margaret Romero:
“a. Our transportation department is constantly collecting data and opinions to enhance their routes and times of availability. I will rely on their expertise and advice. Unfortunately, many people do not like waiting a short time for anything – and that includes public transit. Public transit is not free uber.
Any additional thoughts regarding serving residents of the new workforce housing complexes on Stock Island? Why is better transit important?
“b. Our transportation department is already looking ahead to the opening of that facility. As people take residence, I expect that their needs and requests will be taken into consideration. However, some folks just want to come and go as they please.”

Column Note: Mayor Teri Johnston rightly cites a solution as free, frequent, and reliable public transit, acknowledges the shortage of CDL drivers and provides a solution in trying on-demand transit. She also says they are working with the County to provide solutions on Stock Island. Ms. Romero seems to be saying people aren’t patient enough in waiting for the bus (and at 80-95 minutes between buses that’s a lot of patience) and that people “just want to come and go as they please.” Hmmm… we think that’s the whole point of public transit – the ability to get to work and play as needed. The kicker is scolding the public that “transit is not free Uber.”

3 – How would you align parking policy downtown with making the island a better place to walk, bike, take the bus and use some of our streets for people? For example, on-street parking spaces are often cited as a reason for not putting in bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, or pedestrian zones. Are you willing to trade some on-street parking for these?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
“Yes, it is important to keep moving forward towards a pedestrian/bike focused downtown. Noise, congestion, and pollution would all decrease increasing our enjoyment of our downtown area. Our Duval Street revitalization is not only going to prioritize a number of mitigation projects to keep our streets dry and our storefronts from flooding, but also on creating a flexible street that can accommodate vehicular traffic and emergency vehicles when desired and the flexibility to convert to a pedestrian only corridor with wide, walkable sidewalks, seating areas, shade, underground electric and landscaping. The cafe program could certainly be enhanced for our downtown if we could utilize some evening “on street” parking spots for outdoor dining. Dedicated bicycle lanes are a must and need to be connected throughout Key West. Our visitors have been incredible opting for a bicycle, scooter, golf cart or walking over their car.”

Margaret Romero:
“a. I will make decisions based on the good of the entire community. We have to remember that streets are already for people, people who live there, do business there, as well as people who bike and walk there. I am not in favor of closing streets – whether downtown or in single family neighborhoods. Closing streets usually just results in diverting the traffic other streets not always able to handle it.”
For example, on-street parking spaces are often cited…?
“b. I am always willing to evaluate things. Both the positive and negative impacts have to be considered and what is best for the overall community.”

Column Note: The responses to this question are as stark as night and day. Mayor Teri Johnston provides a concise vision for a better downtown and Duval Street that is revitalized, resilient, flexible, and people oriented. Ms. Romero reminds us that our shared community asset, our streets, should be for cars and not equitably shared with other uses like wider sidewalks, café’s, shade and seating as Mayor Johnston mentions.

4 – The City and County are discussing swapping ownership of Higgs Beach for a portion of the Hawks Missile site to assist the Airport Authority. One of two potential bicycle trails identified in the Bike/Ped Plan would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with a time-saving and safe bike trail behind the airport out to Government Road. Will you fight to ensure the building of these trails are part of any land swap?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
“Yes, in fact that has been part of my discussions with our City Manager. We need to work closely with our County Commissioners to build the bicycle trail as proposed and utilize the land at Hawk Missile site for passive recreational uses.”

Margaret Romero:
“There are many things that need to be discussed regarding the potential swap – including what neighborhoods are affected and how, as well as the costs associated with taking over any responsibilities inherent in the swap. Bike paths will be a part of the discussion.”

Column Note: Mayor Teri Johnston says she wants to build the trail. Ms. Romero says the bike paths should be part of the discussion. That’s good.

5 – Anything you’d like to add regarding transportation in Key West?

Mayor Teri Johnston:
“Short term critical needs: 

  1. Build the Key West Intermodal center on College Road to park vehicles of weekly visitors. We met with FDOT several years ago and they were very supportive and excited to move this project forward. 
  2. Free and frequent (every 15 minutes) public transportation system to support our labor force in and out of Key West without a car. The current 80–95-minute routes are not effective for those trying to get to work on time. 
  3. A complete network of dedicated bicycle lanes with our goal that every street in Key West should be a “complete” street to meet our multimodal needs.”

Margaret Romero:
“Yes – comments related to the YES / NO questions:
6. Crosstown Greenway – the City has already removed the “structures and features” placed as part of the pilot. So that says a lot. I don’t support planting trees on that path because it takes away parking spots in family neighborhoods that are already parking sparse,,, and it is more things for our overworked community services teams to have to maintain.
7. Appearances seem like special consideration was given to one company. Did not seem fair to others who came before them with similar ideas or a chance for a fair lottery of who might be given the opportunity of hosting the pilot.
8. Revitalization should come from the stakeholders – not the City who hires a consulting firm to change it to something the consulting firm thinks it should be. Clean up and spruce up – yes.  Duval St has its own unique character and characters. That’s why people go there.  We need to think long-term.
9. YES. as to be competitive in the marketplace and in fairness to other City employees.
10. NO what are you going to replace them with? What is the impact to all concerned?
11. DON’T KNOW – Let’s see what stays in this year’s budget planning process for capital projects, and in parks and recreation department. Then let’s evaluate based on community priorities.
12. I said DON’T KNOW because those projects appear to be relatively close to completion. Could be a case of being too late.”

Column Note: Mayor Teri Johnston nicely circles back to emphasize the need for more frequent and free transit to help our workforce and to completing a network of dedicated bicycle facilities. She also brings up moving forward on an often-discussed parking garage on Stock Island. Win. Win. Win. Ms. Romero disparages two projects we’re fond of – the Crosstown Greenway and the Lama Mobility (e-scooter) pilot project. Ms. Romero’s laissez faire approach on Duval Street Revitalization couldn’t be more out of touch with the need to invest in one of our city’s most important assets.

Lightening Round – Simply answer YES, NO, or DON’T KNOW. If you really need to expand upon any of these, please use question 5. 

 JohnstonRomero
6. Fan of Crosstown Greenway?YesNo*
7. Fan of Lama E-Scooter Pilot?YesNo*
8. Fan of Duval St. Revitalization Plan?YesNo*
9. Higher wages for KWT drivers?YesYes*
10. Phase out gas scooter/golf cart rentals in 5 yrs.?YesNo*
11. Fund Wickers Bike Trail now or wait to 2028 for FDOT $?YesDon’t know*
12. Put bike lanes on First and Bertha Streets? Don’t Know*
*Note: Ms. Romero expands upon each of these in question 5.
Mayor Johnston opens the Mall on Duval pilot program which begat the Duval Street Revitalization project which should get under contract later this year.

Who I’m Voting for Mayor – Teri Johnston

Based simply on the answers to these questions, in my estimation it must be to re-elect Mayor Teri Johnston. Add in a four-year record of steady, reliable, and visionary service and the choice is a slam dunk. Two years ago, we strongly endorsed Mayor Johnston saying: 

“The Mayor’s record and vision stands head and shoulders above her competitors… 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.”

This is just as true today as it was two years ago. We give Mayor Johnston credit for saying the lack of bicycle facilities on S. Roosevelt and First and Bertha Streets were missed opportunities and vows not to let them happen again. And we remember that it was Ms. Romero who voted for no bicycle facilities and four through car lanes on S. Roosevelt in 2017. Ms. Johnston wasn’t even on the dais yet, so it isn’t on her. We also give Mayor Johnston credit for saying that one of the disappointments of 2021 was not being able to put more money into the transit system to get more frequency. The money went instead to $2.8M in additional salary for City workers. Towards that end she’s making sure that Key West Transit has the resources in the coming year to commence with on-demand transit and work with the County on transit innovations on Stock Island

It takes time to change our car-centric culture, especially as State and local engineering practice for decades has favored cars. But there are signs that things are turning around. Last November we discussed how people are thankful for a bike-friendly City. In December we made the case that 2021 was a good one for our issues, citing progress on the Crosstown Greenway, initial work on the Smathers Beach and Salt Ponds Trails, the Lama e-Scooter pilot, new City legislation on e-bikes restricting their use on sidewalks, Wickers Trail, a new and fantastic Transportation Coordinator, and developing a strategic plan that codifies a path forward on bike, walk, transit and streets for people. 

To top it off Mayor Johnston believes that Key West can be the #1 bicycling small city in the U.S.A. Here’s how she said it just last month:

“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.”

Please join us in voting to re-elect Teri Johnston as Mayor!

Additional Information About the Candidates:

Mayor Teri Johnston:
https://www.teriformayor.com
https://www.facebook.com/TeriJohnstonKeyWestMayor

Former Commissioner Margaret Romero:
https://www.romeroformayor.com
https://www.facebook.com/romerokeywest

District IV Race: Ryan Barwick, Lissette Cuervo Carey, Kim Highsmith, and Steven Nekhaila

1 – Describe how you have and will demonstrate leadership in making it safer and easier for more people to bike more often? Why is this important?

Ryan Barwick: 
“The bicycle community is a big one in Key West. My wife and I love biking downtown and exploring the island. I believe in making it safer for more bicycles not only through infrastructure like the Wicker Trail in District 4, but through education as well. This is important to continue promoting pushing safe travel on bicycles and bringing the community together no matter what side of the isle you’re on.”

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“In the cooler months, I walk and ride my bike to work. I also live on the bike path, so I have a real understanding of the daily challenges and use of the bike path. I have demonstrated leadership because I am leading by example and showing others it is a safe and convenient way of getting around the island, while also helping to preserve our environment. It is economical, which is most significant during a time where we are seeing extremely high costs for gas and energy. 

I would like to champion efforts to improve specific areas in my district like the parking lot and streets behind the former Kmart, improving pedestrian cross over paths for our seniors and other residents to have a safer transit to and from our shopping centers. I’d also like to consider the areas on Kennedy drive where the traffic patterns of parents dropping off their children, the workforce crossing Kennedy via the greenway as well as drivers getting to high density office buildings cause congestion and confusion at peak morning and afternoon hours. These areas can be improved and made safer. 

Lack of shade along the greenway/bike-path also needs addressing, perhaps by working with city staff to identify areas along the way that we can plant more shade trees.”

Kim Highsmith:
“My husband and I are bikers. We bike wherever we can whenever we can, despite the heat! It is rare that you will see my car downtown. District 4 is a mostly residential district. We have to make sure people can safely get from where they live to where they work downtown. I think it was a tragedy what happened to the South Roosevelt improvement plan. We could have easily added bike lanes, and green space, and yet all we did was accommodate more cars. Just sit out there during rush hour and you will notice that there aren’t that many cars that would necessitate a 2-lane road in both directions. We really missed an opportunity there and as a commissioner I won’t let that happen again.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“Currently Key West is a highly biked and walked pedestrian city by American standards, however, we also rank among the highest in pedestrian fatalities and accidents. There are several issues at hand, one is the lack of knowledge of road rules by pedestrians, the other is narrow and congested roadways shared with motor vehicles. As a motorcyclist myself, I understand just how little “cagers”, cars and trucks, see us smaller vehicles, it’s even worse on a self-propelled, quiet, and slow vehicle like a bicycle. I would be willing to work with City Management to find solutions to these safety issues including educational campaigns and infrastructure which make it safer to be a pedestrian.”

Column Note: All four candidates say things that sound friendly for better bicycle infrastructure. But Mr. Nekhaila puts the onus on pedestrians “lack of knowledge of road rules.” Mr. Barwick mentions Wickers Trail, infrastructure, and education. Ms. Highsmith bicycles herself, talks about making it safe for people in District IV to get to downtown safely and laments about the lack of bike lanes being added to South Roosevelt vowing to not let opportunities like this be missed again. Ms. Carey hits all the right notes, saying she often bikes to work, lives along the Crosstown Greenway, champions efforts to improve the pedestrian and bicycle access to the big shopping centers on N. Roosevelt and Kennedy drive – both very much needed and advocates for needed shade trees all while tying up the reasoning with economics, the environment and high gas prices.

2 – According to the U.S. Census less than one percent of City residents use Key West Transit to get to work. What solutions do you have to improve public transit to make it useful to residents and workers? Any additional thoughts regarding serving residents of the new workforce housing complexes on Stock Island? Why is better transit important?

Ryan Barwick:
“Improving public transit to ensure there are enough opportunities and stops to supply the residents and workers with a clean ride to work without the parking hassle, should encourage is use.”

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“To improve public transit, I would like to explore ideas on decreasing the time public transit takes to get from one location to the next. The closer we can get public transit time to private vehicle drive time the more likely residents are to use public transit options. Also, more pick-ups, more often. Of course, the very first step to this is to ask the Transportation Director what ideas they have, discuss the funding needed to execute those ideas and look for as much grant funding as possible to support them. Then of course seek public feedback and opinion on the actual needs of our residents and workers for consideration. 

As to ideas on serving the residents of the workforce housing complexes on Stock island, I would like to explore programs that would allow and encourage multilevel parking garages for vehicles and bicycles featuring, electric scooter and bike rentals and a workforce specific, express bus route and even ferry services to our hotels, restaurants both in New Town and the downtown area. This could also potentially serve our tourism industry and take a lot of visitor’s vehicles out of the congestion on our island. 

Better transit is important because it ultimately improves the quality of life for residents and visitors.”

Kim Highsmith:
“People aren’t going to use transit that they don’t know about. They’re not going to use transit that is sporadic, and they’re not going to use transit if they have a car, and it is easier to drive than to take transit. We have an availability problem and a perception problem. When the additional workforce housing comes online on Stock Island, we absolutely must make it easy for those residents to get to and from their homes and to work.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“I would need to investigate the most highly traffic areas, traffic flows, peak times of transportation needs, and other data to make decisions on how to better help. We need a more data driven analysis of traffic flow to see who needs rides, where to, and at what hours.”

Column Note: It seems as if Mr. Barwick and Mr. Nekhaila haven’t given much thought to public transit. Not a good sign. Ms. Highsmith understands frequency and marketing are needed. Ms. Carey provides a thorough response and understands the need for frequency. Her ideas for a parking garage on Stock Island and electric scooters, an express service for workers and even ferries show some promise.

3 – How would you align parking policy downtown with making the island a better place to walk, bike, take the bus and use some of our streets for people? For example, on-street parking spaces are often cited as a reason for not putting in bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, or pedestrian zones. Are you willing to trade some on-street parking for these?

Ryan Barwick:
“I believe there is a need for more bike racks downtown to promote more use of bicycles while providing a safe place to lock up bikes. As far as parking spaces go, I believe we do need the delivery zones for businesses on Duval. I would have to do more research into what spaces that aren’t delivery zone would be up for discussion.”

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“Over the last five years we have sacrificed on street parking for better sidewalks, safer streets, etc. I don’t think we have much more available to sacrifice. Local families and groups of friends still enjoy going downtown together, however with less parking, it’s harder for an entire family who may not have the capability of all members able to bike or walk due to age (small children or elderly), those with mobility issues, special needs etc., to get from parking areas to commerce areas or through the streets of oldtown. They should have the ability to park and enjoy all areas of the island.  We need to consider the diversity of our island’s residents and try to serve them all.”

Kim Highsmith:
“There really is no reason to have any on-street parking on Duval Street. We should encourage Duval Street to be walkable, safe, and attractive. If people are on foot or on bike, they are more likely to visit stores and spend money in our local businesses.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“We need off street parking specifically for residents. Unfortunately, due to Key Wests design as a horse and buggy town, the streets are narrow, and parking has become a hot commodity for residents. HOWEVER, dedicated biking areas such as the Key West Greenway are great ideas that can be more accommodating to residents. Making them much more usable.”

Column Note: This question is revealing as the only candidate who seems to say they’d treat our streets more equitably and trade some downtown street parking for bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks or pedestrian zones is Ms. Highsmith who says she’d do it on Duval Street. Ms. Carey, who said many good things about bicycles makes the case for abundant parking on our community’s streets at the expense of wider sidewalks, bike lanes and people saying we don’t have available parking to “sacrifice” for these things. It seems Ms. Carey is trying to have her cake and eat it too in saying bike friendly things but not wanting to give up any parking in return. It isn’t surprising that uptown candidates would advocate for more parking downtown. Ms. Highsmith’s answer stands out for being brave in that respect and that’s why we asked the question. Now we know who’d make the tough decisions and who wouldn’t in favor of street amenities instead of cars.

 4 – The City and County are discussing swapping ownership of Higgs Beach for a portion of the Hawks Missile site to assist the Airport Authority. One of two potential bicycle trails identified in the Bike/Ped Plan would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with a time-saving and safe bike trail behind the airport out to Government Road. Will you fight to ensure the building of these trails are part of any land swap?

Ryan Barwick:
“I would need to do more research on this plan as it is the first time, I’ve heard of it.”

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“I need to research the bike trail proposal more in depth and hear from the residents that this would affect most. Those at the Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside Communities as well as those in the Airport Blvd. Riviera Canal resident input, and Linda Avenue or any close or surrounding resident areas.”

Kim Highsmith
“I will absolutely fight to ensure the building of these trails is part of any land swap. The trails need to be environmentally friendly and not disturb the fragile ecosystem.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“Absolutely, government road is currently underutilized as a park and making it into a greenway for bikes and pedestrian traffic is a great way to utilize the space. Many residents live in Seaside and constructing a bikeway can help connect to the Greenway and encourage more bikes, and less vehicles on the road. This could also further development in the government road park area for recreational use for Seaside residents who make up a sizeable population.”

Column Note: Ms. Highsmith and Mr. Nekhaila both say they’d fight for the Salt Ponds Trail from Ocean Walk, Las Salinas sand Seaside behind the airport to Government Road and on to the Greenway. Ms. Carey said she needs to do more research and talk to residents and Mr. Barwick has never heard of it. 

5 – Anything you’d like to add regarding transportation in Key West?

Ryan Barwick:
“While we continue to navigate the transportation in Key West, which is ever changing. It’s on the people themselves to be responsible and respectful to each other no matter if you’re on a bicycle or in a car. We need to share the road and be mindful both ways to make the island a safer place.

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
“There are some needs that need attention and addressing, but there are a myriad of solutions, and our city employs an amazing and talented staff that have the ability to implement those solutions.”

Kim Highsmith:
“I’d like to expand on the Duval Loop, to include a Midtown Loop and a New Town Loop, and even a Stock Island Loop, making it convenient for all residents to get across the island and support our local businesses, and like the Duval Loop, this should be free. Perhaps the City could partner with HTA, which pays drivers $20/hour plus gratuities, so that we would have the drivers and vehicles to get this off the ground sooner rather than later. I also will fight to improve marketing for transit, because as I said people will not take transit if they do not know about it. 

Additionally, I’d like to see convex traffic mirrors installed at intersections where visibility is frequently blocked by parked cars, within neighborhoods and especially along Fifth Street, First Street, White Street, and Flagler Avenue.  

Regarding phasing out gas-powered scooter and golf cart rentals in five years, I am 100% in support of this! The technology and costs will be much better and lower in five years to actually make that happen. Imagine how quiet some of our streets would be if we didn’t have gas scooter and golf cart rentals wheezing down our residential streets.”

Steven Nekhaila:
“Key West is a challenging City to retrofit for bicycle and pedestrian use, while it also a great candidate for smart urban planning. Many European cities are primarily pedestrian cities; however, Key West has evolved over the past century as a primarily vehicle dominated town. We need to ensure that safety is a priority as we are also the capitol of bicycle and scooter accidents, typically these are tourists. For residents, it’s a matter of getting to work and around town in an economically feasible way, while also enjoying the recreation of biking or walking. Another part of my plan to is to encourage mixed use recreational/commercial zoning for business areas such as the Sears town Plaza and K Mart Plaza where residents living above the area can simply walk to work and shop instead of driving across town. This will expand capacity while lowering traffic.”

Column Note: Ms. Highsmith and Mr. Nekhaila used the free question to provide more good ideas. Ms. Highsmith wants to expand on the Duval Loop with additional Loops in Midtown, New Town and Stock Island, wants to make transit free and to do better marketing. All great points. Convex traffic mirrors at problem intersections are a good idea. She also expands on why phasing out gas-powered rental vehicles is a good idea. Mr. Nekhaila’s idea for redeveloping Searstown and Kmart Plaza with residential so that more people can walk is a winner.

Lightening Round – Simply answer YES, NO, or DON’T KNOW. If you really need to expand upon any of these, please use question 5. 

Answers to Lightening Round Questions
 BarwickCareyHighsmithNekhaila
6. Fan of Greenway?YesYes, mostlyYesYes
7. Fan of Lama e-scooters?NoDon’t knowYesNot Sure
8. Fan of Duval Revitalization?NoNeeds workYesNot Sure
9. Higher wages for KWT driversYesYes, or incentivesYesNot Sure
10. Phase out gas scooter rentals in 5 years?NoNoYesNo
11. Fund Wicker Bike Trail now?YesDon’t knowYesNot Sure
12. Put Bike Lanes on First/BerthaYesDon’t knowYesNot Sure

Who I’d Vote for If I Lived in District IV – Kim Highsmith

I live downtown in Commissioner Weekley’s District. I consider myself lucky to have Mr. Weekely ably representing us. When we did an analysis of Commissioner’s in 2020, Mr. Weekley rated very highly on bike, walk, transit and streets for people issues. As did Mr. Kaufman. And Ms. Hoover has shown real leadership on these issues of late. The hope is that someone joins them on the dais that can support Mayor Johnston’s excellent vision for a bike, walk, transit and streets for people friendly city. Based upon the answers here I think that person is Kim Highsmith narrowly over Lissette Cuervo Carey. And we do like Mr. Nekhaila’s stance on adding more housing density. 

Ms. Highsmith’s campaign literature advocated for more sidewalks, bike paths and green spaces before we’d asked any of these questions. She favors all our lightening round projects across the board too. While Ms. Carey had some thoughtful stands on biking and transit, in the end not being able to say she’d treat our community’s streets more equitably and trade some parking spaces for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and street amenities is a non-starter because so many of the failures in the past on getting better people-friendly infrastructure are because commissioners wouldn’t sacrifice a few parking spaces. 

So please vote for Kim Highsmith.

A Concurring Opinion

Bike advocates Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen and Roger McVeigh helped me with the questions. Tom provided an additional concurring opinion that he said I could share:

“I don’t know any of the commissioner candidates personally and it’s great to have a choice! I concur with your selections. Highsmith seems to be the most active and aware commission candidate of the bunch. The comment about not worrying about biking in the heat and leaving the car at home cinched it for me. A commissioner that actually bikes to work would be fantastic. Hopefully the winner will jump on fixing Jr. College road. At some 1.5 miles long with a college, elementary school, hospital, retirement community, SPCA, golf course community, botanical gardens, jail, marina, marina development, KW D.O.T., homeless shelter, new affordable housing project, Florida Keys aqueduct facility and no place to safely bike, infuriating.”

Additional Information About the Candidates:

Ryan Barwick:
Ryan said he had no campaign website or Facebook page but said we could share his phone number and email: 352-870-2939; barwick.ryan@gmai.com

Lissette Cuervo Carey:
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100082416438955 

Kim Highsmith:
https://www.kimhighsmith.com
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100082316841583

Steven Nekhaila:
http://stevenforkeywest.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/snkwccd4 

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You can find a year’s plus 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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

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