Streets for People / Three Crashes = 3 Bicycle Rider Deaths Leads 2022’s Top 10 Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Stories
By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on December 16, 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.
Breaking ground on an expanded airport. Planning for refurbishing Mallory Square, revitalizing Duval Street, renovating the Diesel Plant and building a new Clinton Square. Introducing Llama scooters, “Key West Rides” On-Demand Transit and maybe soon Freebee transit. Sorry bus stops, QR code Loop stops and Final Mile Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops. Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach bike trails envisioned, and Wickers bike trail planned. Votes on 3.2, Mayor and District IV. A City strategic plan that gets stuff done. Workforce housing at Wreckers Cay opens, nears completion at Garden View and is in planning at The Lofts and Roy’s Trailer Park. Kmart closed. Searstown is bought. N. Roosevelt reimagined. First and Bertha Streets construction goes on and on. Three cars crash into bikes = 3 bicycle rider deaths. These are just some of the bike, walk, transit and streets for people developments that happened during the year.
As 2022 comes to an end, for the fourth year in a row we’re going to try to make some sense of all this and rank the issues we’ve been covering by their importance from number 10 to number 1. We’ll try to provide some insight on our reasoning and updates along the way.
10 – Scooter Share Comes to Key West
Our story Innovative Lama E-Scooter Share Comes to Key West, March 18, 2022 shows the e-revolution finally landed in Key West. In March, local entrepreneur and hotel owner Marc Meisel opened at 48 e-scooter pilot at his three properties H20 Suites, Santa Maria Suites and Southwinds Motel called Lama Mobility. He needed a Commission-approved pilot because the City is still in the midst of a now going on three-years moratorium on recreational vehicles rentals.
The service is innovative because, unlike controversial dockless e-scooter shares in other cities that get left on the street, Lama operates as a round trip rental. Putting the scooter away in a dock solves the problem of needing to charge the vehicle. And by putting the docks on private property Mr. Meisel got around the problem the City doesn’t allow these kinds of operations in the City right-of-way – an Achilles heel that doomed attempts at Key West based private bikeshare, public bikeshare and Zipcar carshare. Best of all, anyone at least 18 years of age can use the scooters, not just hotel guests.
The pilot is important because if it proves successful, Mr. Meisel could expand it across the City and even include bikes in the docks in addition to the scooters, thus instantly providing bike AND scooter share. The more options residents, workers and visitors have to get around, the better!
9 – Airport Expansion Can Mean Fewer Cars and Opens Up the Possibility for Two New Bike Trails
A couple months ago the County broke ground on a $100 million expansion of Key West Airport. Our story Airport’s Need for Additional City Land Could Help Spur Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach Locals Bike Trails, February 11, 2022 discusses how the County’s need for a little bit of additional land in the area of the Hawks Missile site may help spur the building of two bike trails identified in the City’s Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan. The Salt Ponds Trail would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with a time-saving and safer short-cut downtown through the back of the airport. The Smathers Beach Trail would provide a safe and time-saving trail from the High School directly to the beach behind the pink Key West By the Sea building. Both trails would be good for local residents and workers.
Our April 8 story Ten Ways to Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors – Part 1: Marketing, and the April 15 follow-up 10 Ways to make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors – Part 2: Services, Infrastructure and Policies discusses how the airport expansion means fewer cars on our island IF we do the following:
- Educate visitors they don’t need a car – before they get here.
- Educate visitors about transportation options – once they’ve arrived.
- Direct visitor to existing long-term lots with better wayfinding.
- Enlist the help of recreational vehicle rental companies.
- End free on-street parking for visitors.
- Make the Duval Loop every 15 minutes, again.
- Install more green paint and bike racks.
- Lift the moratorium on recreational vehicles.
- Build the parking lot/garage on Stock Island.
- Increase ferries and add “buses-as-flights.”
Key West is getting more and more visitors and most of them arrive by car. This makes the airport expansion important because it provides an opportunity to get these travelers onto bikes, buses, and e-scooters to get around. IF we make it easy for them to use these options. The choice is ours.
8 – City Adopts E-Bike/E-Scooter Regulations
In our most read story of the year Here’s the Real Lowdown on the Do’s and Don’ts for E-Bikes and E-Scooters in Key West, January 28, 2022 we discussed e-bikes and e-scooters. Everyone has seen more and more of these vehicles. And while they provide a real and inexpensive alternative for residents to commute and get around, lots of people find their speed and use on our sidewalks dangerous. So, the City Commission adopted some new rules based on changes at the State level. That’s important! We went into the details about how all of this came about and the fine distinctions in the law, but here’s a summary of the new rules:
- Bicycles MAY ride on sidewalks but must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.
- E-vehicles may NOT ride on sidewalks.
- E-powered ADA mobility devices MAY ride on sidewalks.
- E-vehicles MAY ride on multi-use paths that include the promenades.
- E-vehicles may NOT go faster than 15 mph on multi-use paths.
- E-vehicles/ADA mobility devices must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.
7 – Workforce Housing Coming to Downtown; But Parking Issues Remain
That we need more affordable workforce housing in Key West is something we can all agree on. In our story 3 Reasons You May Not Have Thought of for Voting YES on 3.2 on January 18, January 7, 2022 we talked about how:
- More locals living downtown creates a more local focused, less touristy vibe and that’s good for our historic business district,
- Housing downtown makes it easier to bike, walk and use transit to get around, and
- Not being car dependent brings livability costs down even further for residents of the project.
But even as we applauded that the referendum passed to give A.H. Monroe a 99-year lease on City land in Bahama Village next to the Truman Waterfront Park to build 126 units called The Lofts, we were concerned about the then proposed 189 surface parking spaces. Especially given the abundant and little-used parking on surrounding properties. We detailed those concerns, as well as conducted a parking study and presented alternatives for reducing the amount of surface parking and turning the land saved from asphalt into amenities for the residents or even more units in our story Too Much Surface Parking at The Lofts Is a Wasteful Use of Valuable Downtown Land, February 3, 2022. We’ll note that the project is still making its way through the Planning process, and we hope City leaders wake up to the fact that the proposed abundant and ugly surface parking looks like it belongs on the mainland in Boca Raton and not in a compact, historic downtown. We need the City to consider sharing the use of some of the unused Truman Waterfront Park parking and reducing the asphalt on this site.
6 – Kmart Closes and Searstown Plaza Being Bought by Publix Provides Opportunity to Reimagine Sites Into Island-Friendly Centers With Workforce Housing
In January we learned that Kmart was closing in March and that the Publix Corporation had bought the entire Searstown Plaza. In our third most popular story of the year Time to Reimagine Car-Centric, Mainland Style Searstown and Kmart into Island-Friendly Centers with Housing, January 21, 2022 we talked about the possibilities these two news items presented. We discussed in detail how Publix was building mixed-use, urban centers with housing in other parts of the country and how the City had some incentives to redevelop with workforce housing and what it could look like. We closed with:
“Kmart closing and Searstown being bought by Publix offer a golden opportunity to remake these mainland style, suburban parking lots into mixed-use centers that are nice to look at, more pedestrian and bicycle friendly and that include a mix of uses, including much needed affordable workforce housing, that exude Key West charm….In the end our whole island will be better for remaking these outdated strip shopping centers, that look like they belong in another place and time, not our beloved Key West.”
5 – New Housing Comes to Stock Island Sparking Need for Better Transit and Bike Facilities Between the Islands
Stock Island was in the news a lot this year as the 280-unit Wreckers Cay started opening buildings for occupancy in September, the 104-unit Garden View Apartments is fast under construction, Roy’s Trailer Park was sold to be redeveloped from 108 trailers to 240 workforce apartments and 148 transient condos were approved at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club. That’s a lot of new housing. So in stories Stock Island and Lower Keys Workforce Housing Needs Frequent Transit, March 11, 2022 and Traffic Nightmare Looms as 132 Housing Units Added to 700 in the Pipeline on Stock Island and the Lower Keys, May 20, 2022 we detailed what’s happening and made the case for the City and County to ramp up transit to serve all these new residents lest U.S. Route 1 and the Cheryl H. Cates Bridge get overrun by cars.
In our story Freebee On-Demand Ride-Hailing-to-Transit Might Provide Stock Island Residents With Reason to Leave Their Cars at Home, July 22, 2022 we talked about an $850,000 project the County is considering to provide residents with an Uber-like lift to a future long-haul frequent transit service direct to downtown as a partial solution. And in our story Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Ride Bikes Between Stock Island and Key West, September 2, 2022 we detailed how woefully inadequate the current efforts are to help new residents at Wreckers Cay to bike to Key West.
We can’t keep building car-dependent housing for workers five+ miles from downtown and not provide them with good, reliable, and safe bus and bike options, otherwise all these new residents will drive and worsen our traffic and parking congestion.
4 –Key West Transit Starts to Turn Around a Sinking Ship
Buffeted by Covid, a shortage of workers and a lack of investment in the system our Key West Transit bus service has been rocked by declining ridership over the last few years. We’ve amply covered this decline in stories including this year in The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops Revisited – What’s Happening One Year Later, May 6, 2022 and Duval Loop Ridership is Plummeting. Save the Duval Loop! June 3, 2020, where we discussed the awful state of bus stops on the Duval Loop, City Routes, and Lower Keys Shuttle and how this combined with a lack of frequency and non-branded plain white buses was causing ridership on the Loop to nosedive. But toward the second half of the year, it seemed things started to change a bit for the better.
In our story Staff Takes Bull By Horns and Upgrades Embarrassing Duval Loop Bus Stop Signs, August 20, 2022 we talked about how some enterprising staff took it upon themselves to not wait for a bigger fix a few years out and instead fabricated some quick but elegant signs with a QR Code that takes people to real-time information on the whereabouts of the next Duval Loop bus. It works wonderfully. And then last month in City to Begin Work On Making It Easy to Bike to lower Keys Shuttle and Enhancing Bus Stops from Marathon to Key West, November 4, 2022 we detailed a $1.4 million project, now underway, to add bike racks, information signs, lights and trash/recycle cans to 74 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops between Marathon and Key West. And the transit agency says they have plans to duplicate this project on the rest of the stops in Key West in the coming years. That’s a big deal for a system that has third-world level bus stops.
As we’ve documented in many stories over the last couple of years the buses have been getting less frequent and the ridership has been declining. Seeing no way to hire enough drivers to increase frequency substantially on fixed-route lines, Key West Transit is trying something completely out of the box. Instead, like Uber, they’ll run a bus when a customer requests a ride. In stories City’s Uber-Like On-Demand Transit Service is Back On Track, June 24, 2022 and Key West Transit’s Uber-Like On-Demand “Key West Rides” Service Begins November 30, November 18, 2022 we discuss the behind the scenes maneuvering to make this happen and how the system works. The new on-demand service called “Key West Rides” started November 30 and by January 1 the North and South Line fixed-routes will disappear, meaning if you want a bus ride on Key West or Stock Island, you’ll need to download the app and request a trip. So far over 400 people have done so.
In our story Key West Transit’s New On-Demand Service Is Off and Running. Now the City Needs to Put Real Marketing Money Into It, December 9, 2022, we talked about how the City needs to spend some real money and hire a marketing contractor to leverage the investment in the new way of riding and make sure it is successful. If it is, that’s good for our residents and workers especially and that’s why this was such an important development coming in at #4.
3 – Downtown Revitalization Back On Track
For a few years we’ve championed investing in our historic downtown. It’s the reason for our Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown name and “Streets for People” column. Key West citizens have long discussed and tried to grapple with refurbishing Mallory Square, revitalizing Duval Street, renovating the historic Diesel Plant, building housing on the 3.2-acre Bahama Village site, and cleaning up Clinton Square in front of the Custom’s House for a decade plus. We lamented that the history of each project was strewn with false promises, hopeful beginnings, and dashed dreams. In a story at the beginning of the year, Mallory Square, Diesel Plant, Duval Street and Bahama Village Housing Projects Create Synergy to Bolster Downtown, January 14, 2022 we discussed how we could start to see light at the end of the tunnel as each of these projects was just getting underway.
In a story this fall, Progress on Five Historic District Projects means More Life, Locals, Prosperity, and Resiliency for Our Downtown, October 21, 2022, we talked about how the accountability built into the City’s Strategic Plan (see our #1 item) was delivering real progress on all five of these projects. Clinton Square Park is now under construction. The planning process for the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square Master Plan is well underway and will be completed this winter. Interim work on the Diesel Plant will start soon and a solicitation for a developer will happen in the spring. The Lofts at Bahama Village are expected to start construction in the spring too. And the new Duval Street Economic Corridor Resiliency and Revitalization Plan process completed ranking planning firms to be hired in October. A vendor should be under contract shortly.
The actions, all happening in quick and overlapping succession, with plenty of resident and business community input, are giving us a synergy to bolster our entire historic downtown commercial district, the lifeblood of our city, for decades to come. It means more prosperity for our local Mom-and-Pop shops, a more locals focused destination for residents and enhanced experiences for visitors. THAT’s why this is such an important story and comes in at #3.
2 – Three Bicyclist’s Deaths Bring Bicycle Safety Concerns to Forefront
Sadly, and tragically, there were three instances of cars crashing into bikes that resulted in three deaths by bicyclists on Stock Island and Key West in 2022. In each case the person on the bicycle was following the rules of the road. We chronicled two of the three deaths in our story Two Fatal Bike Crashes This Week Are Two Too Many. Here’s 10 Things To Make Bicycling Safer, November 12, 2022.
In the story we provided data about how Key West is full of cars AND bikes and that’s different than most cities. As we are different, we suggested 10 things we should do:
1 – Slow down. This ain’t the mainland.
2 – Educate visitors this isn’t the mainland and that they must behave differently on our little island’s streets.
3 – Enforce existing speed limits.
4 – Engineer our streets for slower speeds.
5 – Invest in new and upgraded bicycle facilities
6 – Connect all of our bicycle facilities in one seamless network.
7 – For a change, let’s choose people on bikes over car storage and convenience.
8 – Do something about N. Roosevelt Boulevard.
9 – Safety in numbers: Get more people, especially visitors out of their cars.
10 – Install speed and red-light cameras and eliminate right-turn-on-red.
It doesn’t help matters that the County and City have for years been behind the eight-ball when it comes to putting in infrastructure that would make bicycling safer. The elephant in the room is our story Construction on First and Bertha Street Doesn’t Follow the Bike Plan. Is It Too Late? July 8, 2022, where we lay out the sad reality that when the County and City were presented with an opportunity to put in a bike facility, called for in the City’s adopted Bike/Ped Plan, on an important cross island throughway, they chose to ignore making it safer for bikes and put in parking instead. THIS has been repeated in street projects across the City. Duval Street, Simonton Street, Whitehead Street, Front Street, and Palm Avenue have all been resurfaced and rebuilt in the last two years. And it is going to happen in the future on S. Roosevelt – they just haven’t started construction yet. In every case the Bike/Ped plan calls for bicycle facilities on these streets and roads. And in Every. Single. Case. The City and County put or will put the road back together with a shiny new surface and the same old parking spaces that were there before. No new bike facilities. Not even green paint. You’ll hear City officials tout the new and improved asphalt. Yep. That’s nice. But it’s lipstick on a pig when it comes to making our streets safer for people on bicycles.
In our story 10 Things to Make It Safer to Bike from the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West, June 17, 2022 we lay out the case for 10 things the City and County can do to make it safer for people to bike between the two islands and in our story Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Ride Bikes Between Stock Island and Key West, September 2, 2022 we lay out similar arguments. We’re still waiting to hear from any officials that they hear bicyclist’s plight.
Three deaths in one year are a wakeup call to County and City officials that more needs to be done. This isn’t rocket science. The City spends $6 million annually on transit service. They spend god awful amounts on parking amenities. On bike infrastructure, its only thousands of dollars unless the State gives the City money in grant funds like with the bike racks for the Final Mile Grant or the Wickers Field Bike Trail. It is time to turn the car-centric paradigm upside down and finally spend some real money on bike facilities, green paint, signs, and marketing and education to make our islands safer to bike on. THAT’s why this story is #2 in our countdown.
1 – Mayor’s Re-Election and Strategic Plan Help Get Things Done and THAT Bodes Well for the Future
We want our top story to end on a more hopeful note. Despite the fact that people on bikes feel unsafe and that people who want to take the bus still don’t have a proven and reliable alternative to driving just yet, there’s hope on the horizon. That hope starts with our story PeopleforBikes’ 2022 City Ratings Ranks Key West 15th in North America. What Can We Achieve If We Really Try? Our Mayor Says #1, July 1, 2022. Of 1,105 cities rated by PeopleforBikes, Key West rated #15 as a best biking city. Yay! But the data reveled that the reason we ranked so high was because we’re flat, compact and have good weather – so lots of us bike. Not necessarily because of anything the City or County have done to make using a bike safe and easy. But the good news is that our Mayor and City officials understand this. Here’s Mayor Johnston’s response to the PeopleforBikes ranking:
“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.”
In our story Key West Mayoral and District IV Candidates in Their Own Words on Bike, Walk and Transit Issues, August 5, 2022 we go into detail about how our Mayor understands the shortcomings of past bicycle and transit actions and is determined to make it better. In short, our says our Mayor on bikes:
“As Mayor, I will continue to prioritize dedicated bicycle lanes and complete streets on all new road construction in Key West.” And on transit: “The solution is to provide a free, frequent and reliable public transportation system.” Her vision is extraordinary.
Our story The Mayor’s Strategic Plan is Helping the City Bureaucracy Get Stuff Done, September 16, 2022 provides the crux for a hopeful future on bike, walk, transit and streets for people issues.
Key West has a reputation for muddling along and well, let’s face it, not addressing the big things. Decades later we wonder how our problems got so bad. Think our lack of affordable workforce housing, our crumbling roads and sidewalks, traffic and parking congestion, our moribund transit system and withering on the vine projects such as Duval Street, Mallory Square, the Diesel Plant and so much more. Not to mention sea level rise and our degrading environment. But Mayor Johnston said we could do better by developing and following a strategic plan to do the things the citizens think are the most important. And to her credit she got that plan developed and passed.
What’s amazing, rather than in the finest Key West tradition of putting the plan on the shelf and congratulating themselves, she insisted on some mechanisms for accountability and implementation. And lo and behold, during the past year, a TON of stuff has been accomplished. Everything we just mentioned is in the works. Most of the stories from a new transit service, better bike facilities, plans for Mallory Square, Duval Street, affordable housing, and so much more in the above-mentioned articles are because they are embedded in the Strategic Plan.
There’s no question the Plan is concentrating the Manager, department heads and staff on what’s essential and not just responding to the loudest complainers in a game of whack a mole as bureaucracies tend to do when they aren’t pointed in the right direction. The results from 2022 and the new momentum make the next few years look even more fruitful. That means a better Key West future for all of us and THAT’S why this is our #1 story of the year. HOPE!
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And for those that are interested, here’s a look at our most popular stories for 2022 as measured by readership:
10 – 10 Things To Make It Safer to Bike From the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West, June 17, 2022
9 – Ian’s Lesson: Key West Infrastructure Needs to Be as Resilient as Its People, October 7, 2022
8 – The Sorry State of Key West Bust Stops Revisited – What’s Happening One Year Later, May 6, 2022
7 – Innovative Lama E-Scooter Share Comes to Key West, March 18, 2022
6 – Traffic Nightmare Looms as 132 New Housing Units Added to Over 700 in the Pipeline on Stock Island and Lower Keys, May 20, 2022
5 – Key West Mayoral and District IV Candidates in Their Own Words on Bike, Walk and Transit Issues, August 5, 2022
4 – Two Fatal Bike Crashes This Week Are Two Too Many. Here’s 10 Things to Make Bicycling Safer, November 12, 2022
3 – Time to Reimagine Car-Centric, Mainland Style Searstown and Kmart Into Island-Friendly Centers with Housing, January 21, 2022
2 – Stock Island and Lower Keys Workforce Housing Needs Frequent Transit, March 11, 2022
1 – Here’s the Real Lowdown on the Do’s and Don’ts for E-Bikes and E-Scooters in Key West, January 28, 2022
End of Year Top 10 Stories from Previous Years
Recap of Friends of Car-Free Key West Top Stories of 2019 December 18, 2020
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